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Unequal Societies: Income Distribution and the Social Contract

  • Roland Benabou

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.

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Article provided by American Economic Association in its journal American Economic Review.

Volume (Year): 90 (2000)
Issue (Month): 1 (March)
Pages: 96-129

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Handle: RePEc:aea:aecrev:v:90:y:2000:i:1:p:96-129
Note: DOI: 10.1257/aer.90.1.96
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  1. 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 937-69, July.
  2. Bertola, Giuseppe, 1991. "Factor Shares and Savings In Endogenous Growth," CEPR Discussion Papers 576, C.E.P.R. Discussion Papers.
  3. Kenneth A. Couch & Thomas A. Dunn, 1995. "Intergenerational Correlations in Labor Market Status: A Comparison of the United States and Germany," Discussion Papers of DIW Berlin 111, DIW Berlin, German Institute for Economic Research.
  4. Roland Benabou, 1991. "Workings of a City: Location, Education, and Production," NBER Technical Working Papers 0113, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  5. Abhijit V. Banerjee & Andrew F. Newman, 1990. "Occupational Choice and the Process of Development," Discussion Papers 911, Northwestern University, Center for Mathematical Studies in Economics and Management Science.
  6. Alberto Alesina & Dani Rodrik, 1991. "Distributive Politics and Economic Growth," NBER Working Papers 3668, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  7. 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 966-91, October.
  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.
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