Eric Thayer / Reuters Protesters demonstrate outside the New York Stock Exchange (NYSE), September 19, 2011.

Does Inequality Matter?

Foreign Affairs' Brain Trust Weighs In

The lead package of the January/February 2015 issue of Foreign Affairs deals with inequality. To complement the individual articles, we decided to ask a broad pool of experts for their take. As with previous surveys, we approached dozens of authorities with deep specialized expertise relevant to the question at hand, together with a few leading generalists in the field. Participants were asked to state whether they agreed or disagreed with a proposition and to rate their confidence level in their opinion; the answers from those who responded are below:

If left unaddressed, economic inequality will cause major political upheavals in the developed world over the next generation.


Full Responses:

DARON ACEMOGLU is Elizabeth and James Killian Professor of Economics at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
Agree, Confidence Level 8     
It depends what aspects of economic inequality and what types of political upheavals. It is clear that the increasing share of national income captured by the top one percent (or the top 0.1 percent) is highly visible right now and worries many citizens and pundits. It also motivates the left. This aspect of economic inequality could certainly lead to some upheaval if left unaddressed. It is probably the most important factor that fueled the Occupy movement and the more recent rise of Bernie Sanders in the United States and the election of Jeremy Corbyn in the United Kingdom.

But this effect is probably not “major.” Neither Sanders nor Corbyn is likely to get elected to office, and their influence on mainstream politicians will probably remain limited. U.S. President Barack Obama, for example, has rightly worried about the top one percent’s rising share of income and the potential negative effects on social mobility, but he has not adopted any radical, or even moderate, policies to counter economic inequality—not that such economic policies would be simple to pass through Congress at the moment or would be likely to be silver bullets.

Another potential political impact of the increased share of income of

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