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Unequal Societies

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  • Bénabou, Roland

Abstract

This paper seeks to explain the significant variations in the social contract observed across nations. It shows how countries with similar technologies and preferences, as well as equally democratic political systems, can sustain very different average and marginal tax rates. Similarly, it provides an explanation for the striking difference between the US and European systems of education finance and health insurance. With imperfect credit and insurance markets some redistributive policies can have a positive effect on output, growth, or more generally ex-ante welfare. Aggregate efficiency gains, in turn, imply a very different political economy from that of standard models: the extent of political support for such redistributions decreases with the degree of inequality, at least over some range. Moreover, capital market imperfections make future earning a function of current resources. Hence there exists potential for multiple steady states, with mutually reinforcing high inequality and low redistribution, or vice versa. Temporary shocks to the distribution of income or the political system can then have permanent effects.

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Bibliographic Info

Paper provided by C.E.P.R. Discussion Papers in its series CEPR Discussion Papers with number 1419.

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Date of creation: Jun 1996
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Handle: RePEc:cpr:ceprdp:1419

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Keywords: Education Finance; Income Distribution; Inequality; Political Economy; Social Contract; Taxation; Welfare State;

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References

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  1. Alesina, Alberto & Rodrik, Dani, 1994. "Distributive Politics and Economic Growth," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, MIT Press, vol. 109(2), pages 465-90, May.
  2. Fernandez, Raquel & Rogerson, Richard, 1998. "Public Education and Income Distribution: A Dynamic Quantitative Evaluation of Education-Finance Reform," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 88(4), pages 813-33, September.
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  6. Grossman, Gene M & Helpman, Elhanan, 1998. "Intergenerational Redistribution with Short-Lived Governments," Economic Journal, Royal Economic Society, vol. 108(450), pages 1299-1329, September.
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  8. Gilles Saint-Paul, 2001. "The Dynamics of Exclusion and Fiscal Conservatism," Review of Economic Dynamics, Elsevier for the Society for Economic Dynamics, vol. 4(2), pages 275-302, April.
  9. Keefer, Philip & Knack, Stephen, 2002. " Polarization, Politics and Property Rights: Links between Inequality and Growth," Public Choice, Springer, vol. 111(1-2), pages 127-54, March.
  10. Clarke, George R. G., 1992. "More evidence on income distribution and growth," Policy Research Working Paper Series 1064, The World Bank.
  11. Thomas Piketty, 1994. "Social Mobility and Redistributive Politics," Working papers 94-15, Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), Department of Economics.
  12. Perotti, Roberto, 1993. "Political Equilibrium, Income Distribution, and Growth," Review of Economic Studies, Wiley Blackwell, vol. 60(4), pages 755-76, October.
  13. Cohen, Daniel & Michel, Philippe, 1990. "Which rules rather than discretion/ii/," CEPREMAP Working Papers (Couverture Orange) 9014, CEPREMAP.
  14. Saint-Paul, Gilles & Verdier, Thierry, 1992. "Education, Democracy and Growth," CEPR Discussion Papers 613, C.E.P.R. Discussion Papers.
  15. Lindert, Peter H., 1996. "What Limits Social Spending?," Explorations in Economic History, Elsevier, vol. 33(1), pages 1-34, January.
  16. Durlauf, Steven N, 1996. " A Theory of Persistent Income Inequality," Journal of Economic Growth, Springer, vol. 1(1), pages 75-93, March.
  17. repec:fth:coluec:636 is not listed on IDEAS
  18. Chamley, Christophe, 1985. "Efficient Tax Reform in a Dynamic Model of General Equilibrium," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, MIT Press, vol. 100(2), pages 335-56, May.
  19. Roemer, J.E., 1995. "Why the Poor Do not Expropriate the Rich in Democracies: A New Argument," Department of Economics 95-04, California Davis - Department of Economics.
  20. Piketty, Thomas, 1997. "The Dynamics of the Wealth Distribution and the Interest Rate with Credit Rationing," Review of Economic Studies, Wiley Blackwell, vol. 64(2), pages 173-89, April.
  21. Saint-Paul, Gilles & Verdier, Thierry, 1992. "Historical accidents and the persistence of distributional conflicts," Journal of the Japanese and International Economies, Elsevier, vol. 6(4), pages 406-422, December.
  22. Benabou, Roland, 1996. "Heterogeneity, Stratification, and Growth: Macroeconomic Implications of Community Structure and School Finance," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 86(3), pages 584-609, June.
  23. Judd, Kenneth L., 1985. "Redistributive taxation in a simple perfect foresight model," Journal of Public Economics, Elsevier, vol. 28(1), pages 59-83, October.
  24. Banerjee, Abhijit V & Newman, Andrew F, 1993. "Occupational Choice and the Process of Development," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 101(2), pages 274-98, April.
  25. Roland Benabou, 1991. "Workings of a City: Location, Education, and Production," NBER Technical Working Papers 0113, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
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Citations

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Cited by:
  1. Raquel Fernandez & Jordi Gali, 1997. "To Each According To...? Markets, Tournaments, and the Matching Problem with Borrowing Constraints," NBER Working Papers 5930, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  2. Birdsall, Nancy & Nellis, John, 2003. "Winners and Losers: Assessing the Distributional Impact of Privatization," World Development, Elsevier, vol. 31(10), pages 1617-1633, October.
  3. Glaeser, Edward & Scheinkman, Jose & Shleifer, Andrei, 2003. "The injustice of inequality," Journal of Monetary Economics, Elsevier, vol. 50(1), pages 199-222, January.
  4. Murat F. Iyigun & Andrew T. Levin, 1998. "Macroeconomic implications of competitive college admissions," International Finance Discussion Papers 613, Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System (U.S.).
  5. Gradstein, Mark, 2002. "Rules, stability, and growth," Journal of Development Economics, Elsevier, vol. 67(2), pages 471-484, April.
  6. Anil Duman, 2010. "Risks in the labor market and social insurance preferences: Germany and the USA," International Journal of Social Economics, Emerald Group Publishing, vol. 37(2), pages 150-164, January.
  7. Grüner, Hans Peter, 1999. "Inequality and Political Consensus," Discussion Paper Serie A 591, University of Bonn, Germany.
  8. Bassett, William F. & Burkett, John P. & Putterman, Louis, 1999. "Income distribution, government transfers, and the problem of unequal influence," European Journal of Political Economy, Elsevier, vol. 15(2), pages 207-228, June.

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