What History Says About Inequality and Technology

6/15/2017 - Associate Professor of History Gregory Clark and Distinguished Professor of Economics Peter Lindert in The Economist.

ONE factor behind the rise of income inequality in America over the past four decades is that the labour market has increasingly favoured the well-educated. Real wages for college graduates have risen by over a third since 1963, whereas wages for those without high-school diplomas have dropped. As more of the economy becomes automated, doomsayers worry that the gap between the haves and the have-nots will only grow. History shows, however, that this need not be so.

The recent rise in earnings for skilled workers is a rare historical phenomenon. Compiling records from churches, monasteries, colleges, guilds and governments, Gregory Clark, an economist at the University of California, Davis, has put together a comprehensive dataset of English wages that stretches back to the 13th century. Mr Clark notes that in the past the skilled-wage premium, defined as the difference in wages between craftsmen, such as carpenters and masons, and unskilled labourers has been fairly stable, save for two sharp declines (see chart).

Read the full story in The Economist.

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