The Historical Evolution of the Wealth Distribution: A Quantitative-Theoretic Investigation

Joachim Hubmer, Per Krusell, Anthony A. Smith, Jr.

NBER Working Paper No. 23011
Issued in December 2016
NBER Program(s):Economic Fluctuations and Growth, Public Economics

This paper employs the benchmark heterogeneous-agent model used in macroeconomics to examine drivers of the rise in wealth inequality in the U.S. over the last thirty years. Several plausible candidates are formulated, calibrated to data, and examined through the lens of the model. There is one main finding: by far the most important driver is the significant drop in tax progressivity that started in the late 1970s, intensified during the Reagan years, and then subsequently flattened out, with only a minor bounce back. The sharp observed increases in earnings inequality, the falling labor share over the recent decades, and potential mechanisms underlying changes in the gap between the interest rate and the growth rate (Piketty's r-g story) all fall far short of accounting for the data.

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Document Object Identifier (DOI): 10.3386/w23011

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