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Is Inequality Harmful for Growth? Theory and Evidence

  • Torsten Persson and Guido Tabellini.

Is inequality harmful for growth? We suggest that it is. In a society where distributional conflict is important, political decisions are likely to produce economic policies that allow private individuals to appropriate less of the returns to activities which promote growth, such as the accumulation of capital and productive knowledge. In this paper we formulate a theoretical model that formally captures this idea. The model has a politico-economic equilibrium, which determines a sequence of growth rates depending on structural parameters, political institutions and initial conditions. We then confront the model's testable empirical implications with two sets of data. The first data set pools historical evidence - dating back to the mid-nineteenth century - from the US and eight European countries. A second data set contains post-war evidence from a broad cross-section of developed and less developed countries. In both samples we find a statistically significant and quantitatively important negative relation between inequality and growth. After a comprehensive sensitivity analysis, we conclude that our findings are not distorted by measurement error, reverse causation, hetroscedasticity or other econometric problems.

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Paper provided by University of California at Berkeley in its series Economics Working Papers with number 91-155.

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Date of creation: 01 Jan 1991
Date of revision:
Handle: RePEc:ucb:calbwp:91-155
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  1. Greenwood, Jeremy & Jovanovic, Boyan, 1988. "Financial Development, Growth, And The Distribution Of Income," Working Papers 88-12, C.V. Starr Center for Applied Economics, New York University.
  2. repec:tpr:qjecon:v:106:y:1991:i:2:p:407-43 is not listed on IDEAS
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  5. Terrones, M., 1990. "Influence Activities And Economic Growth," UWO Department of Economics Working Papers 9006, University of Western Ontario, Department of Economics.
  6. Sergio Rebelo, 1999. "Long Run Policy Analysis and Long Run Growth," Levine's Working Paper Archive 2114, David K. Levine.
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  9. Alesina, Alberto & Tabellini, Guido, 1988. "Credibility and politics," European Economic Review, Elsevier, vol. 32(2-3), pages 542-550, March.
  10. Romer, Paul M, 1986. "Increasing Returns and Long-run Growth," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 94(5), pages 1002-37, October.
  11. Oded Galor & Joseph Zeira, 1993. "Income Distribution and Macroeconomics," Review of Economic Studies, Oxford University Press, vol. 60(1), pages 35-52.
  12. Robert J. Barro & Xavier Sala-I-Martin, 1992. "Public Finance in Models of Economic Growth," Review of Economic Studies, Oxford University Press, vol. 59(4), pages 645-661.
  13. Lindert, Peter H. & Williamson, Jeffrey G., 1985. "Growth, equality, and history," Explorations in Economic History, Elsevier, vol. 22(4), pages 341-377, October.
  14. Klepper, Steven & Leamer, Edward E, 1984. "Consistent Sets of Estimates for Regressions with Errors in All Variables," Econometrica, Econometric Society, vol. 52(1), pages 163-83, January.
  15. White, Halbert, 1980. "A Heteroskedasticity-Consistent Covariance Matrix Estimator and a Direct Test for Heteroskedasticity," Econometrica, Econometric Society, vol. 48(4), pages 817-38, May.
  16. Alberto Alesina & Dani Rodrik, 1994. "Distributive Politics and Economic Growth," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, Oxford University Press, vol. 109(2), pages 465-490.
  17. Romer, P.M., 1988. "Capital Accumulation In The Theory Of Long Run Growth," RCER Working Papers 123, University of Rochester - Center for Economic Research (RCER).
  18. Romer, Paul M, 1987. "Growth Based on Increasing Returns Due to Specialization," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 77(2), pages 56-62, May.
  19. Robert J. Barro, 1991. "Economic Growth in a Cross Section of Countries," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, Oxford University Press, vol. 106(2), pages 407-443.
  20. Summers, Robert & Heston, Alan, 1988. "A New Set of International Comparisons of Real Product and Price Levels Estimates for 130 Countries, 1950-1985," Review of Income and Wealth, International Association for Research in Income and Wealth, vol. 34(1), pages 1-25, March.
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