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Growing Apart

A Political History of American Inequality

Colin Gordon, Author

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Tracking Top Incomes

Identification of top income shares was pioneered by Simon Kuznets  in the early 1950s, whose work identified what became known as “Kuznet’s curve” – the proposition that inequality would rise in the transition from an agricultural to an industrial economy, and then fall again as the productivity rewards of industrialization were spread more equally. From the perspective of the early 1950s, this proposition had some merit (See Simon Kuznets. Shares of Upper Income Groups in Income and Savings. New York: National Bureau of Economic Research [1953])

The work of Thomas Piketty and Emmanuel Saez (see Piketty and Saez, "Income Inequality in the United States, 1913-1998," Quarterly Journal of Economics [2003]) carries Kuznet’s sources and methods over the full 20th century and into the 21st—and identifies the unraveling of that shared prosperity.  Their work has led to the construction of top income time series for over twenty (and counting) countries. The most recent data can be graphed and downloaded at the World Top Incomes Database.

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