Economic inequality in the world

Last updated on Nov 10, 2021

Thomas Piketty’s first part of Capital et Idéologie talks about the unequal distribution of wealth between individuals. Below are some of the graphs that caught my eye because of how much they speak for themselves.

The above graph, dubbed the elephant's curve because of its looks, represents the growth in wealth experienced by the different income groups since 1980. Piketty points to three important parts of the elephant. The hips show the growth of the lower class, the group comprised between the 10th and 50th top percentile. The back, standing at a lower point than the hips, shows the "forgotten middle class" according to the author because of the great difference in growth rates experienced by the latter. The trunk is quite interesting, as it shows how the wealthy have seen their riches grow in comparison with the rest of the people. This last part of the curve is almost exponential-like for the richest have seen their wealth grow at the highest rates compared with the rest of the population.

The app below allows one to see how the share of the top decile (that is, the top 10%) of the total wealth grew over the same period as analyzed in the elephant's curve graph. With greater detail, the graph displays information about different regions and sharp contrasts arise when overlaying the paths. Russia (green) has seen the sharpest rise of all when the Berlin wall fell in 1989. Europe on the other hand has remained stable both politically and in the discussed matter in comparison to the rest of the analyzed regions. India has outpaced its peers, resulting in that the top decile owns more than half of the country's wealth since 2009.

The main issue is not only that the richest have gotten richer as time passed by and that the poorest have gotten poorer during the same period. The app below allows one to compare how the richest 10% have performed in comparison with the poorer 50%.

Piketty points out to the fact that there is a considerable difference between wealth and income with the following phrase:

Il est possible de vivre sans posséder, mais non sans se nourrir.

One may live without owning anything, but not without eating. With that the author draws the attention to the fact that a balanced distribution of the generated income is more crucial than that of wealth. In the app above we can compare the differences in magnitude between the two.

The second tab of the application gives information about income taxes in the Unites States. As it can be seen in the income distribution, the biggest economy in the world is quite unequal when it comes to the distribution of wealth and income. When viewing the "gross income share" in the USA, it is surprising to see how close the top 0.1% are of the bottom 50%.