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Global Income Inequality, 1820-2020: The Persistence and Mutation of Extreme Inequality

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  • Lucas Chancel

    (WIL - World Inequality Lab , PSE - Paris School of Economics - ENPC - École des Ponts ParisTech - ENS-PSL - École normale supérieure - Paris - PSL - Université Paris sciences et lettres - UP1 - Université Paris 1 Panthéon-Sorbonne - CNRS - Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique - EHESS - École des hautes études en sciences sociales - INRAE - Institut National de Recherche pour l’Agriculture, l’Alimentation et l’Environnement, PJSE - Paris Jourdan Sciences Economiques - UP1 - Université Paris 1 Panthéon-Sorbonne - ENS-PSL - École normale supérieure - Paris - PSL - Université Paris sciences et lettres - EHESS - École des hautes études en sciences sociales - ENPC - École des Ponts ParisTech - CNRS - Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique - INRAE - Institut National de Recherche pour l’Agriculture, l’Alimentation et l’Environnement)

  • Thomas Piketty

    (WIL - World Inequality Lab , PSE - Paris School of Economics - ENPC - École des Ponts ParisTech - ENS-PSL - École normale supérieure - Paris - PSL - Université Paris sciences et lettres - UP1 - Université Paris 1 Panthéon-Sorbonne - CNRS - Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique - EHESS - École des hautes études en sciences sociales - INRAE - Institut National de Recherche pour l’Agriculture, l’Alimentation et l’Environnement, PJSE - Paris Jourdan Sciences Economiques - UP1 - Université Paris 1 Panthéon-Sorbonne - ENS-PSL - École normale supérieure - Paris - PSL - Université Paris sciences et lettres - EHESS - École des hautes études en sciences sociales - ENPC - École des Ponts ParisTech - CNRS - Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique - INRAE - Institut National de Recherche pour l’Agriculture, l’Alimentation et l’Environnement)

Abstract

In this paper, we mobilize newly available historical series from the World Inequality Database to construct world income distribution estimates from 1820 to 2020. We find that the level of global income inequality has always been very large, reflecting the persistence of a highly hierarchical world economic system. Global inequality increased between 1820 and 1910, in the context of the rise of Western dominance and colonial empires, and then stabilized at a very high level between 1910 and 2020. Between 1820 and 1910, both between-country and within-country inequality were increasing. In contrast, these two components of global inequality have moved separately between 1910 and 2020: within-country inequality dropped in 1910- 1980 (while between-country inequality kept increasing) but rose in 1980-2020 (while between-country inequality started to decline). As a consequence of these contradictory and compensating evolutions, early 21st century neo-colonial capitalism involves similar levels of inequality as early 20th century colonial capitalism, though it is based upon a different set of rules and institutions. We also discuss how alternative rules such as fiscal revenue sharing could lead to a significant drop in global inequality.

Suggested Citation

  • Lucas Chancel & Thomas Piketty, 2021. "Global Income Inequality, 1820-2020: The Persistence and Mutation of Extreme Inequality," World Inequality Lab Working Papers halshs-03321887, HAL.
  • Handle: RePEc:hal:wilwps:halshs-03321887
    Note: View the original document on HAL open archive server: https://halshs.archives-ouvertes.fr/halshs-03321887
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    References listed on IDEAS

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    1. Parthasarathi,Prasannan, 2011. "Why Europe Grew Rich and Asia Did Not," Cambridge Books, Cambridge University Press, number 9780521168243.
    2. Peter Lindert, 2004. "Social Spending and Economic Growth," Challenge, Taylor & Francis Journals, vol. 47(4), pages 6-16.
    3. Parthasarathi,Prasannan, 2011. "Why Europe Grew Rich and Asia Did Not," Cambridge Books, Cambridge University Press, number 9781107000308.
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    Cited by:

    1. Michael Dauderstädt, 2022. "International Inequality and the COVID-19 Pandemic," Intereconomics: Review of European Economic Policy, Springer;ZBW - Leibniz Information Centre for Economics;Centre for European Policy Studies (CEPS), vol. 57(1), pages 40-46, January.
    2. Ranaldi, Marco, 2021. "Global Distributions of Capital and Labor Incomes: Capitalization of the Global Middle Class," SocArXiv 3g59r, Center for Open Science.

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    JEL classification:

    • N30 - Economic History - - Labor and Consumers, Demography, Education, Health, Welfare, Income, Wealth, Religion, and Philanthropy - - - General, International, or Comparative
    • O10 - Economic Development, Innovation, Technological Change, and Growth - - Economic Development - - - General
    • O40 - Economic Development, Innovation, Technological Change, and Growth - - Economic Growth and Aggregate Productivity - - - General

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