Whose opportunities ? (Colloque, oct. 2009, National Library of Portugal)

Measuring Unfair (In)equality

vendredi 23 octobre 2009, par Ingvild Almas

Thèmes : Inégalités

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Most people view a strict egalitarian income distribution as unfair. It is evident from the political debate, surveys, economic experiments and contemporary theories of justice that people view some inequalities, e.g. inequalities arising from differences in the number of hours worked, as fair, and other inequalities, e.g. inequalities arising from gender or race, as unfair. Hence, we can have both unfair equalities and unfair inequalities, and the question is how we should measure overall unfair (in)equality, or unfairness, in society. The standard approach to inequality measurement does not make a distinction between fair and unfair inequalities. All inequalities are considered unfair, and any movement towards a more equal distribution is considered an improvement in terms of fairness. However, such a movement may take place through eliminating what many consider to be fair inequalities, and thus, may actually represent a step towards a more unfair society. Therefore, we propose a framework for inequality measurement that allows for alternative viewpoints of what is a fair income distribution. The defining feature of our approach is that, for a given interpretation of a fair income distribution, we measure how much each individual’s actual income deviates from what would be his fair income. Alternative approaches to cope with the distinction between fair and unfair inequalities are given in Bourguignon, Ferreira, and Menéndez ; Devooght ; Roemer, Aaberge, Colombino, Fritzell, Jenkins, Marx, Page, Pommer, Ruiz-Castillo, San Segundo, Tranaes, Wagner, and Zurbiri. Our paper differs from these by generalizing the standard framework of inequality measurement and by introducing the unfairness Lorenz curve and the unfairness Gini as generalizations of their standard counterparts. This makes it straightforward to compare our measure of unfairness and the standard Gini. In fact, the standard approach is a special case within this framework, in which the fair income of each individual is equal to the mean income in society. With this more general framework in place, we study the implications of responsibility-sensitive theories of justice for the evaluation of the pre-tax income distribution in Norway from 1986 to 2005, where a responsibility-sensitive theory of justice specifies what are acceptable and unacceptable sources of inequality in society. In particular, we focus on the implications of applying a generalized version of the proportionality principle. Our main finding is that the pre-tax income distribution in Norway has become less fair, even though the standard Gini has decreased in the same period. We show that this holds for different views on what individuals should be held responsible for, and for alternative speci_cations of responsibility-sensitive theories of justice. We also show that an important explanation of this finding is the change in women’s economic situation, reected in an increase in the share of women in the labor force and an increase in the average number of hours worked by women. Finally, we show that there also has been an increase in unfairness in the post-tax income distribution in the period. This is partly due to the increase in unfairness in the pre-tax income distribution, but also partly due to the tax system in Norway contributing less to the elimination of unfairness in 1986 than in 2005.

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par Ingvild Almas

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