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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. To summarize our main argument: in a society where distributional conflict is more important, political decisions are more likely to produce economic policies that allow private individuals to appropriate less of the returns to growth promoting activities, such as accumulation of capital and productive knowledge. In the paper we first 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 testable empirical implications with two sets of data. A first data set pools historical evidence-which goes back to the mid 19th 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, hetroskedasticity, 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. Sala-I-Martin, X. & Barro, R.J., 1991. "Public Finance in Models of Economic Growth," Papers 640, Yale - Economic Growth Center.
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  9. Lindert, Peter H. & Williamson, Jeffrey G., 1985. "Growth, equality, and history," Explorations in Economic History, Elsevier, vol. 22(4), pages 341-377, October.
  10. Roberts, Kevin W. S., 1977. "Voting over income tax schedules," Journal of Public Economics, Elsevier, vol. 8(3), pages 329-340, December.
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  13. Terrones, M., 1990. "Influence Activities And Economic Growth," UWO Department of Economics Working Papers 9006, University of Western Ontario, Department of Economics.
  14. Alesina, Alberto & Tabellini, Guido, 1988. "Credibility and politics," European Economic Review, Elsevier, vol. 32(2-3), pages 542-550, March.
  15. Grandmont, Jean-Michel, 1978. "Intermediate Preferences and the Majority Rule," Econometrica, Econometric Society, vol. 46(2), pages 317-30, March.
  16. 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.
  17. 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.
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