Economic Growth and True Inequality

Aug 14, 2003


John V.C. Nye 
Associate Professor of Economics and History
Washington University in St. Louis 

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Increasingly, policy decisions are being made based on their implications on equality. From health care to trade policy, proponents of open markets argue that those with the least stand to gain the most. But many feel that, under a market system, the rich benefit the greatest.

Studies of health and income inequality often focus on the widening gap between the haves and the have-nots. It sometimes seems that whatever gains in progress may have come through the market system were disproportionately enjoyed by the wealthiest and most economically successful groups. But perhaps our understanding of rich and poor has been skewed by what we choose to measure. This program will help policymakers address the following questions :

  • What framework should we use to gauge the success or failure of an economic system? 
  • What do we really mean when we say inequality has increased or decreased?
  • Do perceptions of inequality match the objective measures?
  • Do the various policies to alleviate inequality do what we think they do?
  • And what role does economic growth play in shaping such perceptions?