Most everyone who’s interested in global inequality has come across the famous elephant graph, originally developed by Branko Milanovic and Christoph Lakner using World Bank data (see below). The graph charts the change in income that the world’s population have experienced over time, from the very poorest to the richest 1%.
We can update the elephant graph using the latest data from the World Inequality Database, which covers the whole period from 1980 to 2016 using a method called “distributive national accounts”. Here’s what it looks like in real dollars (MER), developed in collaboration with Huzaifa Zoomkawala:
The elephant graph has been used by some to argue that neoliberal globalization has caused inequality to decline since 1980. After all, it would appear that the biggest gains have gone to the poorest 60% of the world’s population, whose incomes have grown two or three times more than those of the richest 40%.
But this impression can be misleading. It’s important to recognize that the elephant graph shows relative gains, with respect to each group’s baseline in 1980. So the poorest 10-20th percentile gained 82% over this period. That sounds like a lot, on the face of it. But remember that they started from a very low base. For people earning $2.40 per day in 1980, their incomes grew to no more than $4.36 per day… over a period of 36 years. So, about 5 cents per year. [ … 433 more words]