Arnold Kling  

Unequal Income Distribution in the World

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Diane Coyle, in a new book The Soulful Science, writes


Branko Milanovic points out that more than a third of Brazilians are richer than the poorest 5% of French people. He calculates a 10% probability that French aid to Brazil...will be a transfer from a poorer person to a richer person.

This is from a chapter called "How to Make World Poverty History." The chapter does not provide the answer. Instead, it helps explain why simple solutions have not worked.

Other topics in the book are behavioral economics and institutional economics. Regular readers of this blog know that I am enamored of the latter and not of the former. The Soulful Science offers a better-balanced view, correctly identifying the strengths and shortcomings of research in these areas.

Coyle is something of the anti-Landsburg. She is cautious, conscientious about presenting the views of other economists as well as her own, and focused on topics that interest many economic researchers. Where Landsburg's book is spicy and provocative, Coyle's suffers from blandness.

I think that an undergraduate economics major wondering about whether to attend graduate school would get a good feel for what economists really do by reading The Soulful Science. Of course, you would have to keep in mind that graduate school itself is very heavy on math and technical training.

On the other hand, I cannot see using The Soulful Science in an introductory course or suggesting it to a lay reader. Given that she wants to reach an audience outside of students of economics, I would question Coyle's carefree use of jargon (e.g., "growth regressions"). Also, in my opinion, the book tries to be overly inclusive with citations of published works--the chapters read a bit too much like the survey articles in the Journal of Economic Literature.


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Eric Wilson writes:

This is a very interesting point when you look at the world poverty level, and which countries are struggling the most from poverty. There was a statistic thrown out there reguarding the pecentage of poor frecn people to those of the same economical state in Brazil. I think that these numbers are a direct reflection on how the econonmy for thses particular countries. It seems to be a very simple and easy equation. Those countries with good and stable economies seem to have more people that are doing better for themselevs economically and less people who are struggling through poverty. I think the better to that we need to be asking ourselves from a world wide perspective is how do we close the economically gap that is held from country to country. Do we need to be bette educaters to our younger generation, or do we need to establish ways to generate more working opportunites for our people? These are two questions that need to be seriously looked at and studied to try and cut down on poverty as much as possible.

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