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Unequal Societies: Income Distribution and the Social Contract

Author

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  • Roland Benabou

Abstract

This paper develops a theory of inequality and the social contract aiming to explain how countries with similar economic and political "fundamentals" can sustain such different systems of social insurance, fiscal redistribution, and education finance as those, of the United States and Western Europe. With imperfect credit and insurance markets some redistributive policies can improve ex ante welfare, and this implies that their political support tends to decrease with inequality. Conversely, with credit constraints, lower redistribution translates into more persistent inequality; hence the potential for multiple steady states, with mutually reinforcing high inequality and low redistribution, or vice versa.

Suggested Citation

  • Roland Benabou, 2000. "Unequal Societies: Income Distribution and the Social Contract," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 90(1), pages 96-129, March.
  • Handle: RePEc:aea:aecrev:v:90:y:2000:i:1:p:96-129
    Note: DOI: 10.1257/aer.90.1.96
    as

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    References listed on IDEAS

    as
    1. Bertola, Giuseppe, 1993. "Factor Shares and Savings in Endogenous Growth," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 83(5), pages 1184-1198, December.
    2. Kenneth A. Couch & Thomas A. Dunn, 1997. "Intergenerational Correlations in Labor Market Status: A Comparison of the United States and Germany," Journal of Human Resources, University of Wisconsin Press, vol. 32(1), pages 210-232.
    3. Alberto Alesina & Dani Rodrik, 1994. "Distributive Politics and Economic Growth," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, Oxford University Press, vol. 109(2), pages 465-490.
    4. Evans, William N & Oates, Wallace E & Schwab, Robert M, 1992. "Measuring Peer Group Effects: A Study of Teenage Behavior," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 100(5), pages 966-991, October.
    5. Epstein, Larry G & Zin, Stanley E, 1989. "Substitution, Risk Aversion, and the Temporal Behavior of Consumption and Asset Returns: A Theoretical Framework," Econometrica, Econometric Society, vol. 57(4), pages 937-969, July.
    6. 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 274-298, April.
    7. Roland Benabou, 1993. "Workings of a City: Location, Education, and Production," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, Oxford University Press, vol. 108(3), pages 619-652.
    8. Shantayanan Devarajan & Vinaya Swaroop & Heng-fu Zou, 1993. "What do governments buy?," CEMA Working Papers 513, China Economics and Management Academy, Central University of Finance and Economics.
    9. Philippe Weil, 1990. "Nonexpected Utility in Macroeconomics," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, Oxford University Press, vol. 105(1), pages 29-42.
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    More about this item

    JEL classification:

    • D31 - Microeconomics - - Distribution - - - Personal Income and Wealth Distribution
    • P16 - Economic Systems - - Capitalist Systems - - - Political Economy of Capitalism
    • I22 - Health, Education, and Welfare - - Education - - - Educational Finance; Financial Aid
    • E62 - Macroeconomics and Monetary Economics - - Macroeconomic Policy, Macroeconomic Aspects of Public Finance, and General Outlook - - - Fiscal Policy

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