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Manufactured Inequality

  • Sherwin Rosen

Many discrete life choices--where to live, what kind of job to hold, and consumption lifestyle--are stratified by income. Stratification and sorting often manifest state-dependent preferences in which the marginal utility of income (consumption) depends on the outcome of prior choices. For example, one can choose to live a quiet life in the country, where money buys few things, or can choose a more active and exciting lifestyle in a large city, where money has greater value because all kinds of goods are available to buy. The natural market equilibrium stratification is for rich people to live in the city, where their money has more value, and for poor people to live in the country, where money is less productive. But before location is chosen, the a priori von Neuman-Morgenstern utility function over both choices can take the Friedman-Savage form, providing pareto efficient social demands for inequality. If there is not enough inequality to produce the socially optimum stratification to begin with, inequality is socially manufactured. People voluntarily participate in gambles and lotteries in which the winners are rich and live in the exciting places and the losers are poor and choose the quiet life. There is a inequality.

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Paper provided by National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc in its series NBER Working Papers with number 5846.

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Date of creation: Dec 1996
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Publication status: published as Journal of Labor Economics, Vol. 15, no. 2 (April 1997): 189-196.
Handle: RePEc:nbr:nberwo:5846
Note: LS
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  1. Freeman, Scott, 1996. "Equilibrium Income Inequality among Identical Agents," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 104(5), pages 1047-64, October.
  2. Marshall, John M, 1984. "Gambles and the Shadow Price of Death," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 74(1), pages 73-86, March.
  3. Gregory, Nathaniel, 1980. "Relative Wealth and Risk Taking: A Short Note on the Friedman-Savage Utility Function," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 88(6), pages 1226-30, December.
  4. William D. Nordhaus & James Tobin, 1973. "Is Growth Obsolete?," NBER Chapters, in: The Measurement of Economic and Social Performance, pages 509-564 National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    • William D. Nordhaus & James Tobin, 1972. "Is Growth Obsolete?," NBER Chapters, in: Economic Research: Retrospect and Prospect, Volume 5, Economic Growth, pages 1-80 National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
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