What Is the Relationship Between Income Inequality and Revolution?
A pair of interesting-looking papers, particularly interesting when paired, about income inequality and its relationship (or not?) to revolutions. From “Russian Inequality on the Eve of Revolution,” by Steven Nafziger and Peter H. Lindert:
Just how unequal were the incomes of different classes of Russians on
the eve of Revolution, relative to other countries, to Russia’s earlier history, and to Russia’s income distribution today? Careful weighing of an eclectic data set provides provisional answers. We provide detailed income estimates for economic and social classes in each of the 50 provinces of European Russia. In 1904, on the eve of military defeat and the 1905 Revolution, Russian income inequality was middling by the standards of that era, and less severe than inequality has become today in such countries as China, the United States, and Russia itself. We also note how the interplay of some distinctive fiscal and relative-price features of Imperial Russia might have shaped the now-revealed level of inequality.
And from “American Incomes 1774-1860,” by Lindert and Jeffrey G. Williamson:
Building what we call social tables, this paper quantifies the level and inequality of American incomes from 1774 to 1860. In 1774 the American colonies had average incomes exceeding those of the Mother Country, even when slave households are included in the aggregate. Between 1774 and 1790, this income advantage over Britain was lost, due to the severe dislocation caused by the fight for Independence. Then between 1790 and 1860 US income per capita grew even faster than previous scholars have estimated. We also find that the South was initially much richer than the North on the eve of Revolution, but then suffered a severe reversal of fortune, so that by 1840 its white population was already poorer than free Northerners. In terms of inequality, our estimates suggest that American colonists had much more equal incomes than did households in England and Wales around 1774. Indeed, New England and the Middle Colonies appear to have been more egalitarian than anywhere else in the measurable world. Income inequality rose dramatically between 1774 and 1860, especially in the South.