The first ever World Inequality Report was published recently by the leading economists who created the World Wealth and Income Database. The report serves as the most authoritative and up-to-date account of the state of global inequality in 2017 and will be vital to policymakers and scholars everywhere.
Income inequality has increased across all world regions in recent decades, but at different speeds. Economists found that even amongst countries with similar levels of development, inequality levels varied greatly, which they attribute to showcasing the importance of government policies and institutions.
The report finds that the top 10% of a nation’s earners took home 37% in Europe, 41% in China, 46% in Russia, 47% in US-Canada, and around 55% in sub-Saharan Africa, Brazil, and India. In the Middle East, the world’s most unequal region according to estimates, the top 10% capture 61% of the national income. Furthermore, from 1980 to 2016, the richest 1% acquired 27% of the world’s income whilst, by contrast, the bottom 50% accounted for only 12% of the world’s income. The report proves that there has been rising inequality since the 1980s (measured by the top 10% share of income distribution).
The poorest sector of the global population has experienced an increase in prosperity due to high growth in Asia (particularly in China and India). However, despite the increased prosperity, the top 1% richest individuals in the world continued to capture twice as much growth as the bottom 50% of individuals since the 1980s. Income growth for the middle class has been slow which leads the segment being squeezed in the US and Western Europe.
Over the past decades, countries have become richer but governments have become poor.
Economic inequality is largely driven by the unequal ownership of capital, which can be either privately or publicly owned. The report shows that since 1980 the world has experienced a transfer from public to private wealth in nearly all countries (i.e. individuals, and not the government, are in control of the nation’s wealth). As a result, the government is limited in its ability to tackle the issue of wealth inequality as the balance between private and public wealth is a crucial determinant of the level of inequality experienced by a nation.
The report recognises that tackling global income and wealth inequality requires important shifts in national and global tax policies. Educational policies, corporate governance, and wage-setting policies need to be reassessed in many countries and data transparency will be key.
The following recommendations were noted in the report:
- Tax progressivity is a proven tool to combat rising income and wealth inequality at the top
- A global financial register recording the ownership of financial assets would deal severe blows to tax evasion, money laundering, and rising inequality.
- More equal access to education and well-paying jobs is key to addressing the stagnating or sluggish income growth rates of the poorest half of the population.
- Governments need to invest in the future to address current income and wealth inequality levels and to prevent further increases in them.