Branko Milanovic’s *Global Inequality*

That is his new book and the subtitle is A New Approach for the Age of Globalization.

To be sure, this is an interesting work and it does go beyond the published articles by Milanovic many of you already are familiar with.  It is the best source on whether global inequality has gone up or down.  The chapter on the Kuznets curve –which considers whether there are general time series patterns in the historical evolution of inequality — will help you see that question in a new light, even though the final answer is the expected inconclusive one.

But ultimately the book is too sprawling and the conceptual discussions are not enlightening or sometimes they are absent altogether.  Not all inequalities are created alike, but we are offered insufficient tools for sorting out which inequalities might matter and whether those are what the data are picking up.  For one example of where this book goes wrong, Milanovic writes “It is the fundamentally ambivalent nature of globalization that I hope to bring out in this book.”  Yet almost all of the historical data involve examples where living standards have been going up because of globalization.  You might plausibly think “inequality on average is bad,” but that doesn’t mean you have to think that the Pareto-improving wealth boosts from globalization, even if they raise measured inequality, are ambiguous in normative terms.  They aren’t, they are strongly positive.

Or to cite another point, the author argues that “income and wealth inequality” are “the root cause” of prostitution.  A significant cause to be sure, but are not other inequalities — non-pecuniary inequalities for instance — relevant here?  I predict there would be plenty of prostitution in a society with full income equality or more realistically a guaranteed annual income.

There is plenty of talk of how plutocracy and rising inequality have an inexorable stranglehold on the American landscape, but very little consideration of whether inequality of happiness has gone up, or what kind of future technologies might lead to more equal real wage distributions.

Overall this book is worth reading, but still it is an example of how the economics profession emphasizes one kind of rigor and almost completely neglects rigor in argumentation and the application of concepts.


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