Russ Roberts

Inequality and Stagnation

There is now a widely held view that the last 10 or 20 or even 40 years have been a time of great stagnation for the average American. Yes, the overall economy has grown, but all or most or nearly all of the gains have gone to the top 1% or top 10% or top 20%.

These claims are accompanied by various data that seem to confirm the claim.

These claims conflict with casual evidence available to people over a certain age who remember the 1970′s or 1980s. We are an immensely more prosperous nation than we were back then. Our cars are nicer. Our homes are bigger. Our toys are more clever. And more people have more of them. Some things are more expensive but that is because more people have access to those things–such as health and education–they are labor intensive and we’ve driven up their price. But these kind of claims are not totally convincing, nor should they be. The fact that the world looks dramatically more prosperous may be due to cloudy vision, or bias. But they do cause you to wonder if the data that are being used to measure stagnation are not completely accurate or perhaps the data are distorted by the way they’re collected.

Don and I have both written about these issues and the data problems with the claims many times.

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