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The haves and the have nots, closing the gap

September 29, 2008

The haves and the have nots, closing the gap

The statistics, especially given the economic meltdown on Wall Street in the past few weeks, are not encouraging. Since the 1970s, incomes in the United States have been dramatically pulling apart, as the rich get richer, and the poor and middle class fall further and further behind.“The incomes are as unequal in American as they have ever been in history,” said Professor Peter H. Lindert, who will speak on campus next week. “The top 10 percent have really pulled away from the rest of us.”

And this pulling apart of the economic classes hasn’t been repeated in other developed countries, he noted. It’s an American phenomenon.

Globalization and the rise of the economies in Southeast Asia hold some of the answer, he said. But not as much as you might think. Much of the change of socio-economic conditions can be traced to the money following those with the highest technical skills, Lindert said in a recent interview.

“Technological changes have favored those with the highest technical skills,” he said. And some of the workers haven’t acquired those skills fast enough.”

And their paychecks show it, he noted.

As for what the United States should do about it? It was here that Lindert laughed. You’ll have to show up to his lecture for his thoughts on that.

Lindert, a distinguished professor of economics at the University of California, Davis, will be speaking on this very topic next week at the fourth annual Dale E. Benson Lecture in Business and Economic History. The lecture – “Globalization and Growing American Inequality” – will be Oct. 6 at 7:30 p.m. at the Scandinavian Culture Center in the University Center.

Lindert is a research associate at National Bureau of Economic Research, and his latest book, “Growing Public: Social Spending and Economic Growth since the Eighteenth Century,” was awarded the Allan Sharlin Prize for the best book in social science history for 2004.

He received the Jonathan Hughes Prize for Excellence in Teaching Economic History in 2007.

Lindert’s lecture includes a question-and-answer period, and it will be followed by a reception. The lecture and reception are free and open to the public. For more information, contact Ms. Brenda Murray at ext. 7595.