Marcelo Medeiros @marcelo_meds Inequality. Development studies. News and research in these areas. Currently, visiting scholar at Princeton. Oct. 14, 2018 5 min read

1/ I taught courses on Global Inequality during almost four years. My goal was to use this literature to introduce the theoretical and technical aspects of inequality research. Well, I think it worked. This thread is about the literature I used

2/ At first, ‘Global’ was just motivational. But I learned that the ‘Global’ research puts inequality in broad perspective. Let me make a few comments about the literature in my course. I hope this is as helpful to you as it was to me. I learned a lot by teaching this.

3/ The haves and the have nots is not the newest book of Branko Milanovic on Global Inequality. But in my view, it is the best introductory book about the issue (my students agree!). It is clear and easy to read, but based on rigorous material.

4/ Global Inequality is based on a series of more recent papers, so it is a good choice for those looking for updated material (I would recommend the book over the papers, unless you want the technical stuff). The important ‘Elephant Graph’ is one of the subjects of this book.

5/ 'Global Inequality' also contains an innovative idea: Kuznets Cycles – inequality long term cycles. It is still in its infancy, in terms of empirical testing, but the idea itself deserves attention.

6/ We then move to Tony Atkinson’s Inequality: what can be done? I really like the way this book summarizes some key ideas of Atkinson. It is concise and objective. We stay with the ‘theory’ parts and skip the ‘what can be done’ in the course, but I recommend reading it.

7/ Atkinson’s book is not about ‘Global’ inequality, that is, among persons in the world as if it was a place without borders. It is more about ‘general’ inequality and his emphasis is more on what is behind inequality in developed countries. Never mind, read it if you haven’t.

8/ In 2014, Science published an issue on the science of inequality. The most important (short) papers, imo, are those by Deaton, Corak, Chin & Elizabeth Culotta; Marshall; Mara Hvistendahl; Piketty & Saez; Autor; Ravallion and Anna Aizer & Janet Currie.  http://science.sciencemag.org/content/344/6186 

9/ Some of the people in this issue of Science is on twitter. There is a twitter list here, if you want to follow them (I recommend you do!):  https://twitter.com/marcelo_meds/lists/global-inequality 
(not all are on the list, but some are on twitter, not hard to find)

10/ For those interested in the classic papers about Global Inequality, read Bourguignon & Morrisson, Inequality among world citizens: 1820-1992. It is an amazing effort to measure in inequality among persons in the world over two centuries.

11/ But if you just want an overview, go with Heshmati, 2006, The world distribution of income...: A review of the economics literature. I don’t agree with every idea in this paper, but it is still worth reading. If you hit a paywall, there is a working paper, 2004, same thing.

12/ Not long ago I posted a tweet about the Global Inequality course.
You can find the syllabus here

13/ In the course we cover more recent changes in inequality with three texts. The first is Bourguignon’s book The globalization of inequality, 2015...

14/ If you don’t want or can’t access the book, try this paper, it’s open access (as in ‘honestly free’):

15/ Bourguignon, Atkinson and Milanovic books are complementary. In my opinion, after them students (and researchers, myself included – again, I learned a lot from teaching this course) can easily move to a more ‘specific’ literature.

16/ So far, almost everything is about relative inequality. Absolute inequality is an important issue, but is often neglected. I suggest ‘Global Inequality: Relatively Lower, Absolutely Higher’, from Niño-Zarazúa, Roope, & Tarp  https://doi.org/10.1111/roiw.12240 

17/ If you hit a paywall, there is a working paper version of it. Pretty much the same thing. Or you can ask the authors a copy: Miguel NZ @MiguelNinoZ, Larry R @larryroope, Finn T @FinnsAngle

18/ Continuing my list of books and papers, there is also Global earnings inequality, 1970-2015 by Hammar & Waldenström. Interesting paper because it uses highly comparable data. Earnings only. But surveys in over 60 countries, if I am not wrong.

19/ We read part of The Great Leveler. By @WalterScheidel. It brings a uncomfortable argument: in history, inequality declines significantly only when the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse ride. It is a good, but very long read. In the course we stay with parts 1 and 7.

20/ No inequality course would be complete without examining the Top Incomes literature. It is more than using better data to correct survey deficiencies. These studies changed – profoundly – the landscape of inequality research.

21/ The *must read* paper is Top incomes in the long run of history, published in JEL, Atkinson, Piketty, & Saez, 2011, but there are others. There are many important ideas in this paper, I better not try to pick one to highlight… Ok, just one, a Political Theory of Inequality

22/ Top incomes research became well known about the success of Piketty’s Capital in the 21st Century. This long book summarizes his work - and the work of many others - in the area. We don’t read it in the course to save time. But it is an important book.

23/ Instead, we read comments Piketty made about his own book. Two overlapping papers, with some repetition of arguments. The first one is ‘Putting Distribution Back at the Center of Economics: Reflections on Capital in the Twenty-First Century’  http://doi.org/10.1257/jep.29.1.67 

24/ The second paper Piketty wrote about his book is ‘About Capital in the Twenty-First Century’  http://doi.org/10.1257/aer.p20151060  . So much was written about this book that I believe students can find good reviews by themselves.

25/ There are two reviews covering the fairly extensive literature published before the top incomes subject became so popular: ‘The rich, the affluent and the top incomes’  http://doi.org/10.1177/0011392114551651  and ‘The One Percent’  http://doi.org/10.1146/annurev-soc-070513-075314 

26/ These papers are behind paywalls. But you get a free version (much longer) of ‘The rich, the affluent and the top incomes’ here  http://irle.berkeley.edu/files/2014/The-Rich-the-Affluent-and-the-Top-Incomes.pdf , or ask @phgfsouza or @marcelo_meds (me) a copy

27/28 We finish the course looking forward. The last class is about the research agenda, by Emmanuel Saez in After Piketty… by Boushey, H., DeLong, J. B., & Steinbaum, M. (2017). FF: @HBoushey @delong @Econ_Marshall

28/28 I hope this was useful. Any suggestions to improve this course are very welcome. Apologies for making this thread much longer than it should, I thought I would get this done in a few tweets. Sorry
(Yes, I love graffiti)


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