Insights Speaker Series presentation highlights research on income inequality

January 31, 2024

Contact: Jon Meerdink ([email protected])

ANN ARBOR — Income inequality is growing in the United States and around the world, but few people seem interested in doing anything about it. So argued Charlotte Cavaillé, Ph.D., in the latest edition of the Institute for Social Research (ISR) Insights Speaker Series on Jan 31, 2024.

A recording of the event is available below:

Charlotte Cavaillé , January 31, 2024

Drawing from her book “Fair Enough: Support for Redistribution in the Age of Inequality,” Cavaillé, a faculty associate at ISR’s Center for Political Studies, explored a major question concerning inequality: why don’t more people act in their own self-interest concerning the distribution of wealth in societies around the world?

“Why isn’t the bottom trying harder to expropriate the top?” she said. “You could say that’s a very left-wing question to ask, but there are very simple models of political economy that predict that they should, just because it’s in their self interest.”

Finding the answer to that question, or building the framework by which it can be found, is a complicated process according to Cavaillé. But it’s not an impossible one. She argues that researchers need to do a better job in identifying questions that will help explore and explain how the economy addresses people’s conception of fairness.

What is fairness? Another complicated question for researchers to untangle, but Cavaillé summarizes it neatly as a broken promise of capitalism to provide appropriate pay for a given product, in this case fair wages for labor.

“When you look into designing institutions that are fair, it means institutions that reward skills. Your wage is equal to your marginal productivity.”

Cavaillé’s first presentation is the first Insights talk of 2024. The Insights Speaker Series highlights work from researchers throughout ISR and across the University of Michigan. campus. For further information about the Insights Speaker Series and for recordings of past presentations, click here.

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