Rachel Sherman provides a unique contribution to our What is Inequality? theme by focusing on the very top of the income bracket. Based on research among New Yorkers in the “1 percent,” Sherman uncovers the ways they understand and legitimize their wealth, in part through distinguishing their situation from other people of means who may not be “deserving.” Being legitimately “entitled” to affluence, according to the affluent, is based on a set of personal qualities with little reference to broader structural dimensions of inequality.
Adom Getachew engages in a close reading of Eric Williams’s Capitalism and Slavery in our latest essay in the "Reading Racial Conflict" series. Getachew connects Williams’s classic argument for how the institution of slavery fueled capitalist development in the global North to recent demands, emerging from the Caribbean and other regions devastated by the slave trade, for reparations.
Sarah Bruch’s contribution to Items’ "What is Inequality?" theme makes a strong case that scholars need to include a relational perspective in interrogating the roots of inequality. Drawing from her research on how differences in access to quality education shape socioeconomic and political inequalities, Bruch argues that attending to distributional outcomes alone is insufficient in explaining, and ultimately addressing, the ways in which social structural relationships produce inequality and how different forms of inequality reinforce each other.
In the latest essay on "What is Inequality?," Simon Reid-Henry begins by asking, “Where is inequality?” In doing so, he argues that separating out analysis of “within-country” inequality and inequality between nations obscures how they shape and reinforce each other. Reid-Henry suggests that the framing deep poverty as a problem of “international development,” rather than of one of global inequality, limits our analyses and finding prospective solutions.
Pranab Bardhan’s contribution to the “What Is Inequality?” series focuses on the arguments and evidence for whether and how inequality shapes various dimensions of socioeconomic performance. Bardhan finds that, in many areas, there is not a trade-off between inequality and efficiency—indeed, the first may undermine the second. Evidence for the impact of inequality on phenomena that shape economic performance, such as the presence of sociopolitical conflict, is more mixed. Bardhan concludes with a discussion of which inequality matters—that of opportunity or outcome?
Maximilian Kasy’s contribution to the “What is Inequality?” series adopts a perspective of “normative individualism,” which considers overall social welfare through the lens of individual welfare and acknowledges that policy changes inevitably create winners and losers in terms of inequality. Drawing from his open online textbook on inequality, Kasy encourages attention to welfare weights that reveal “how much social welfare changes when we change individual welfare,” particularly as different individuals affect the aggregate differently, and argues that egalitarian outcomes emerge when greater weight is given to the poor in the policymaking that shapes wealth distribution.
In his contribution to the "What Is Inequality?" series, Pedro Ramos Pinto provides a critical history of both scholarly and public attention to inequality. Ramos Pinto examines the development of GDP as a mode of comparing inequality across nation-states as well as recent efforts at documenting changes in income distribution within countries. He concludes with a paradox: a principal focus on the income levels of individuals risks oversimplifying and misunderstanding inequality, but at the same time provides a concise and potent rallying cry for egalitarian movements that contest it.
Ananya Roy, director of UCLA Luskin’s new Institute on Inequality and Democracy, is concerned about the ubiquitous presence of inequality discourse within and beyond the academy. As one mechanism for the “repoliticization” of inequality, Roy calls for revived and critical attention to the concept of poverty. In particular, Roy focuses on impoverishment (and responses to it) as an active social process, how poverty comes to be defined as a social problem, and, at a global level, how conventional notions of North and South need to be reimagined in order to grasp the transnational dimensions of poverty and inequality.