For Richer or Poorer: America's Standard of Living

Apr 11, 2007Apr 13, 2007
B-339 Rayburn House Office Building


Session One: Wednesday, April 11th:
Inequality: A Big Picture Perspective

Dr. Russell Roberts
Professor of Economics
Mercatus Center, George Mason University

Session Two: Thursday, April 12 th
Mining the Data: The Numbers Behind Inequality in America

Dr. Russell Roberts
Mercatus Center, George Mason University

Session Three: Friday, April 13 th
Inequality and Economic Growth: What Gets Worse as Things Get Better?
Dr. John V.C. Nye

Professor of Economics at Washington University in St. Louis

The twentieth century saw unprecedented technological advancement and economic growth that exponentially increased the average American's standard of living.  However, this economic growth was not distributed evenly across the population.  Numerous reports show growing income disparity between the wealthy and the poor and a shrinking middle class.

From these reports, a focus has emerged on the haves and the have-nots in our society.  More often than not, it appears that the wealthiest and most economically successful groups disproportionately enjoy economic growth.  From education to health care, policy decisions are often discussed within a framework that divides society between economic classes.  But is our understanding of rich and poor accurate?  How do we effectively measure inequality?

The Mercatus Center hosted a three-day course that featured new insights from economists Dr. Russ Roberts from The Mercatus Center at George Mason University and Dr. John Nye from Washington University in St. Louis.  Participants discussed the following questions:

  • What is inequality? How is it measured? Can it be measured accurately?
  • What are the causes of rising inequality?
  • Do perceptions of inequality match objective measures?
  • Do various policies to alleviate inequality achieve their intended outcomes?
  • What are potential future sets of conflicts concerning inequality and economic growth? How will these conflicts affect the debate about income inequality?
  • Is income inequality the most important measure?