Three beliefs about globalization have propagated since the early 1980s. First, that globalization leads to a reduction in global inequality. Second, that high income growth among the richest will lift the incomes of the poorest. Third, that there is no alternative to rising inequality without turning our backs on trade and technology. The recently released World Inequality Report, the first research study to comprehensively examine wealth and income inequality trends across rich and emerging countries over approximately 40 years, dispels these notions.
Globalization has led to a rise in global income inequality, not a reduction
Inequality between individuals across the world is the result of two competing forces: inequality between countries and inequality within countries. For example, strong growth in China and India contributed to significant global income growth, and therefore, decreased inequality between countries. However, inequality within these countries rose sharply. The top 1% income share rose from 7% to 22% in India, and 6% to 14% in China between 1980 and 2016.
Until recently, it has been impossible to know which of these two forces dominates globally, because of lack of data on inequality trends within countries, which many governments do not release publicly or uniformly. The World Inequality Report 2018 addresses this issue, relying on systematic, comparable, and transparent inequality statistics from high-income and emerging countries.
The conclusion is striking. Between 1980 and 2016, inequality between the world’s citizens increased, despite strong growth in emerging markets. Indeed, the share of global income accrued by the richest 1%, grew from 16% in 1980 to 20% by 2016. Meanwhile the income share of the poorest 50% hovered around 9%. The top 1% — individuals earning more than $13,500 per month — globally captured twice as much income growth as the bottom 50% of the world population over this period.
Income doesn’t trickle down
The second belief contests that high growth at the top is necessary to achieve some growth at the bottom of the distribution, in other words that rising inequality is necessary to elevate standards of living among the poorest.
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