Monday, February 02, 2015

The Rise of the Inequality Debate

Professor Lars Syll thinks I made of fool of myself in a previous post when I wondered why we have only recently started discussing income inequality so extensively, even though the increase in inequality occurred mainly between 1980 and 2000.  He writes, "Wonder on which planet Greg has been living the last twenty years."

Of course, we economists have been discussing the topic for a long time. Indeed, I had a whole chapter on income inequality in the first edition of my favorite textbook, which came out about 20 years ago.  But the public has been discussing the topic widely only recently.

To document this fact for Professor Syll, I used the NY Times's very cool chronicle website to generate the chart below. As you can see, the percentage of NYT articles that uses the word "inequality" has increased more than ten-fold in the past few years.  So has the percentage that uses the phrase "income inequality."

By the way, the earlier blip in the use of "inequality" was in 1866, the year of the Civil Rights Act of 1866.  The inequality being discussed then was political, not economic.  The wide discussion of "income inequality" is unprecedented and very recent.