The super-rich and the income inequality:
the evolution of top incomes in the West in the last century
The aim of this work is to explore the wide and «take off» literature on empirical evidence about top incomes shares series over the 20th century in several countries. Despite the methodological differences due to the availability of data (tax returns), the findings of the recent studies on the upper tail of income distribution are similar for most of the countries analyzed: they show indeed a common pattern of pronounced decline in top incomes in the first half of the century – mainly due to shocks on capital incomes engendered by the two World Wars and the Great Depression – with no recovery in the following decades, probably owed to the introduction of mass progressive tax schemes. Since the half of the 1970s, however, top income shares in English-speaking-countries – unlike continental Europe series – have shown a quite substantial increase. This dramatic surge in income concentration – maybe linked to fiscal and redistributive policies adopted after the political conservative turn in the USA and the UK – appears to be mostly referable to a marked rise in top wages probably resulting from a new labour market order led by a mix of technological and fiscal changes coupled with the emerging of a new corporate governance class (i.e. the CEO). Factors other than technology such as social norms are proposed to account for the observed facts, rising doubts on the technical change view of inequality in the long run.