OCCUPY WALL STREET may be long gone from lower Manhattan, but worries persist about the gap between America’s richest 1% and the rest. Talk of inequality pervades the presidential race. In his January state-of-the-union message, Barack Obama called the struggle for a level economic playing field “the defining issue of our time”.
Republicans bristle at the notion. In February Rick Santorum, the second-placed Republican candidate, declared: “There is income inequality in America. There always has been and, hopefully, and I do say that, there always will be.” New income data from Emmanuel Saez, an economist at the University of California at Berkeley, may fan the flames.
共和党人被这个看法激怒了。二月份，共和党总统提名候选人的第二位热门人选Rick Santorum称：“美国存在收入差距，而且一直以来都有，我希望，我的确是这么说的，将一直有收入差距。”美国加州大学伯克利分校的一位经济学家Emmanuel Saez提供的新收入数据可能更是火上浇油。
Mr Saez is well known for his work on tracking the share of national income that goes to the highest earners. From Internal Revenue Service tax numbers he has constructed a series of data going back to 1913 that has helped frame the debate over rising inequality in America. On the eve of the Great Recession, his numbers show, income gaps reached extremes last experienced in the late 1920s. The top 10% of American earners brought in 46% of the nation’s salary income in 2007. The top 0.1% alone earned over 12% of all salary income. These striking totals capped years of rising inequality. Between 1993 and 2010, over half of all real income gains in America flowed to the top 1%.
Saez 先生致力于追踪美国最高收入者占有的国民收入份额，他因这项工作而广为人知。根据国内收入署提供的税收编号，Saez 构造了一组1913年以来的数据，激起了美国国内对越发严重的社会不公的辩论。其数据显示，在经济大衰退（注1）前夕，收入差距达到极端值，最近一次达到该值是在20世纪20年代末。2007年，排名前10%的美国收入者将全国工资收入的46%收入囊中，而单单是前0.1%的高收入者就挣得了占据逾12%的工资。这些惊人的数据代表多年以来的贫富不均现象达到了顶峰。1993-2010年间，有超过一半的全国实际收入所得流入美国1%的人口手中。
The recession then took a heavy toll on the rich. Between 2007 and 2009 the inflation-adjusted income of the bottom 99% dropped by 11.6%, the largest decline seen since the Depression. The top 1% suffered a much larger drop of 36.3%, substantial enough to suggest the possibility of a break in the previous trend. The distribution of incomes in America levelled off sharply in the 1930s and remained flat until the late 1980s (see chart). A repeat performance seemed possible.
That now looks less likely. On March 2nd Mr Saez updated his figures to the end of 2010. The new data reveal a rebound in the fortunes of the rich. From 2009 to 2010, the top 1% of earners enjoyed an 11.6% rise in income while the rest of the workforce saw a gain of just 0.2%.
Renewed gains at the top are not surprising. Declines in high incomes during the recession were driven by a collapse in stock prices, which have since roared back to their levels of before the crisis. By contrast, salary income has scarcely budged. Excluding capital gains, the top 10% of earners captured a near-record share of income in 2010. More increases may follow.
Mr Saez argues that there was little reason to expect enduring change from the Great Recession. The Depression hurt the rich, but it was the regulatory and tax changes that followed which made a lasting impact on income distribution. Regulatory reform in the wake of the latest crash has been far more restrained.
Despite some Democrats’ rhetoric, big new tax increases are highly unlikely. Mr Obama proposes to cut the deficit by returning the top marginal income-tax rate to the 39.6% level of the late 1990s. Between 1932 and 1944, by contrast, the tax rate on top incomes rose from 25% to 94%. Such confiscatory rates are hard to imagine now.But the resumption of the pre-recession trend may change the political debate.