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Dynastic Inequality, Mobility And Equality Of Opportunity

Development Economics and Public Economies

Ravi Kanbur, Joseph Stiglitz

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Paper  296kb pdf

One often heard counter to the concern on rising income and wealth inequality is that it is wrong to focus on inequality of outcomes in a “snapshot.” Intergenerational mobility and “equality of opportunity”, so the argument goes, is what matters for normative evaluation. In response to this counter, we ask what pattern of intergenerational mobility leads to lower inequality not between individuals but between the dynasties to which they belong? And how does this pattern in turn relate to commonly held views on what constitutes equality of opportunity? We revive and revisit here our earlier contributions which were in the form of working papers (Kanbur and Stiglitz (1982, 1986) in order to engage with the current debate. Focusing on bistochastic transition matrices in order to hold constant the steady state snapshot income distribution, we develop an explicit partial ordering which ranks matrices on the criterion of inequality between infinitely lived dynasties. A general interpretation of our result is that when comparing two transition matrices, if one matrix is “further away” from the identity matrix then it will lead to lower dynastic inequality. More specifically, the result presents a computational procedure to check if one matrix dominates another on dynastic inequality. We can also assess “equality of opportunity”, defined as identical prospects irrespective of starting position. We find that this is not necessarily the mobility pattern which minimizes dynastic inequality.

About the Authors

Ravi Kanbur
Professor of Economics
Cornell University

Ravi Kanbur is T. H. Lee Professor of World Affairs, International Professor of Applied Economics and Management, and Professor of Economics at Cornell University. He holds an appointment tenured both in the Charles H. Dyson School of Applied Economics and Management in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences, and in the Department of Economics in the College of Arts and Sciences. Dr. Kanbur has served on the staff of the World Bank, as Economic Adviser, Senior Economic Adviser, Resident Representative in Ghana, Chief Economist of the African Region of the World Bank, and Principal Adviser to the Chief Economist of the World Bank. He has also served as Director of the World Bank's World Development Report.

Joseph Stiglitz
Co-President
Initiative for Policy Dialogue (IPD)

Joseph E. Stiglitz is co-President of the Initiative for Policy Dialogue, and Chairman of the Committee on Global Thought at Columbia University. He is University Professor at Columbia, teaching in its Economics Department, its Business School, and its School of International and Public Affairs. He chaired the UN Commission of Experts on Reforms of the International Monetary and Financial System, created in the aftermath of the financial crisis by the President of the General Assembly. He is former Chief Economist and Senior Vice-President of the World Bank and Chairman of President Clinton’s Council of Economic Advisors. He was awarded the Nobel Memorial Prize in Economics in 2001.

Publication Information

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Posted 10/09/15