Sunday, September 23, 2012

The Shocking Truth About Inequality in the U.S.

Brace yourself.   A report by two professors, one from U.C. Davis, the other from Harvard, contends that income inequality in the United States today is more severe even than it was during the Revolution - with slavery factored in to boot.

The conclusion comes to us from an newly updated study by professors Peter Lindert of the University of California - Davis and Jeffrey Williamson of Harvard. Scraping together data from an array of historical resources, the duo have written a fascinating exploration of early American incomes, arguing that, on the eve of the Revolutionary War, wealth was distributed more evenly across the 13 colonies than anywhere else in the world that we have record of. 

Suffice to say, times have changed.

Before we dive into their findings, a word of caution about the study. When economists reach back this far into the thinly recorded the past, they're not so much taking a snapshot of what life was like as they are making a messy collage, collecting the disparate bits and pieces of information we have available and fashioning them into a coherent picture. In this case, Williamson and Lindert use occupational directories, tax lists, post-revolutionary census documents, and earlier scholarship, among other resources to build approximations of what people earned when we were getting ready to start turning our muskets on the British. Inherently, such a process involves lots of conjecture.
  
In the end, the pair find that the colonies were an exceedingly egalitarian place, financially, if not politically.  read more here.

 

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