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Website spreads the word on high income

29 Nov 2011

The World Top Incomes Database’ website, launched earlier this year, has been attracting global interest from academics, journalists and politicians. The website, a result of collaboration between the Institute for New Economic Thinking @ Oxford Martin School, the Paris School of Economics, and the Center for Equitable Growth was launched in January 2011 at the PSE G-MonD conference. One of its authors, James Martin Fellow, Facundo Alvaredo explained the thinking behind it.

The World Top Incomes Database aims to provide convenient on line access to all the existing data on the dynamics on high incomes,” said Facundo. Website coordinators, Dr. Alvaredo, Professor Sir Tony Atkinson, Prof. Thomas Piketty and Prof. Emmanuel Saez initially used the series generated by the research published in two books as the basis for the website; Top Incomes : a Global Perspective (2010, Oxford University Press) and Top Incomes over the 20th Century (2007, Oxford University Press).

This data is from European countries (France, Germany, Netherlands, Switzerland, UK, Ireland, Norway, Sweden, Finland, Portugal, Spain, Italy), Northern America (United States and Canada), Australia and New Zealand, Argentina, and five Asian countries (Japan, India, China, Singapore, Indonesia).

More recently, data from South Africa, Mauritius, Tanzania and Denmark have been added to the database.Some forty-five additional countries are currently under study, including Brazil, Chile and Iceland. Further information will be incorporated as it becomes available.

“I would like to stress that the construction of this database has only been possible thanks to the research of over 35 contributing authors around the world, who have participated and who are still working on the top incomes project” said Facundo. “The data are intended as a research resource for further analysis. This is an ongoing endeavour, and we will progressively update the database with new observations.” The database authors also plan to add information on the distribution of earnings and wealth.

However the database has already revealed some interesting findings. Facundo reports: “The share of income received by the top 1 percent varied markedly between 1900 and 2008 both in developed and developing economies. Over the last 30 years, top income shares have increased substantially in English-speaking countries and in India and China but not in continental European countries or Japan. Moreover, the biggest earners changed as well. When the century began, the top 1 percent was dominated by capital owners. By the end of the century the hired hands—the top executives—shared with capital owners the highest part of the income distribution. The increase in recent decades in the share of income going to the top 1 percent in English-speaking countries is due to a partial restoration of capital incomes and, more significantly, to very large increases in compensation for top executives. In the United States, for instance, the working rich have joined capital owners at the top of the income hierarchy.”

Certainly it is worth bookmarking the database to chart how much recession affects that top 1 percent.

Selected press coverage for the World Top Incomes Database

Bloomberg Business Week 23/11/11
No College Degree Will Buy Your Way Into The Top 1%

Guardian datablog May 2011
Top income earners: are they getting richer? See the data

Canberra Times, 22/11/11
Government doing little to narrow the income gap

Times 19/11/11
No end to inequality, thanks to the elites

Forbes 14/11/11
Who are the real 1%

IMF-Finance & Development, 48(3): 28-29
Inequality over the Past Century

The New Republic 20/09/11
David Brooks Is Unwell

Bloomberg Businessweek 24/10/11
Ms. Rand, Meet Singapore. Mr. Hayek, Meet Norway

Reuters 23/11/11
The two sides of inequality

New York Times 14/11/11
The 1% Across Space And Time (Paul Krugman's blog)

Time 21/09/11
Obama Tax Plan: Would Buffett Rule Kill Jobs?

US House MP 18/09/11
Levin: "Buffett Rule" Right on Target

The Washington Post
(Not) spreading the wealth

Seattle Post 07/06/2011
More financial data than you can handle