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Uneven Growth: Automation's Impact on Income and Wealth Inequality

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  • Benjamin Moll
  • Lukasz Rachel
  • Pascual Restrepo

Abstract

The benefits of new technologies accrue not only to high-skilled labor but also to owners of capital in the form of higher capital incomes. This increases inequality. To make this argument, we develop a tractable theory that links technology to the personal income and wealth distributions – and not just that of wages – and use it to study the distributional effects of automation. We isolate a new theoretical mechanism: automation increases inequality via returns to wealth. The flip side of such return movements is that automation is more likely to lead to stagnant wages and therefore stagnant incomes at the bottom of the distribution. We use a multi-asset model extension to confront differing empirical trends in returns to productive and safe assets and show that the relevant return measures have increased over time. Automation accounts for part of the observed trends in income and wealth inequality and macroeconomic aggregates.

Suggested Citation

  • Benjamin Moll & Lukasz Rachel & Pascual Restrepo, 2021. "Uneven Growth: Automation's Impact on Income and Wealth Inequality," NBER Working Papers 28440, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  • Handle: RePEc:nbr:nberwo:28440
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    More about this item

    JEL classification:

    • E21 - Macroeconomics and Monetary Economics - - Consumption, Saving, Production, Employment, and Investment - - - Consumption; Saving; Wealth
    • E22 - Macroeconomics and Monetary Economics - - Consumption, Saving, Production, Employment, and Investment - - - Investment; Capital; Intangible Capital; Capacity
    • E24 - Macroeconomics and Monetary Economics - - Consumption, Saving, Production, Employment, and Investment - - - Employment; Unemployment; Wages; Intergenerational Income Distribution; Aggregate Human Capital; Aggregate Labor Productivity
    • E25 - Macroeconomics and Monetary Economics - - Consumption, Saving, Production, Employment, and Investment - - - Aggregate Factor Income Distribution
    • J31 - Labor and Demographic Economics - - Wages, Compensation, and Labor Costs - - - Wage Level and Structure; Wage Differentials

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