A profile of Branko Milanovic, a leading scholar of inequality

Chris Wellisz profiles Branko Milanovic, a leading scholar of inequality for the March 2019 issue of Finance & Development:

“As a child growing up in Communist Yugoslavia, Branko Milanovic witnessed the protests of 1968, when students occupied the campus of the University of Belgrade and hoisted banners reading “Down with the Red bourgeoisie!”

Milanovic, who now teaches economics at the City University of New York, recalls wondering whether his own family belonged to that maligned group. His father was a government official, and unlike many Yugoslav kids at the time, Milanovic had his very own bedroom—a sign of privilege in a nominally classless society. Mostly he remembers a sense of excitement as he and his friends loitered around the edge of the campus that summer, watching the students sporting red Karl Marx badges.

“I think that the social and political aspects of the protests became clearer to me later,” Milanovic says in an interview. Even so, “1968 was, in many ways, a watershed year” in an intellectual journey that has seen him emerge as a leading scholar of inequality. Decades before it became a fashion in economics, inequality would be the subject of his doctoral dissertation at the University of Belgrade.

Today, Milanovic is best known for a breakthrough study of global income inequality from 1988 to 2008, roughly spanning the period from the fall of the Berlin Wall—which spelled the beginning of the end of Communism in Europe—to the global financial crisis.

The 2013 article, cowritten with Christoph Lakner, delineated what became known as the “elephant curve” because of its shape (see chart). It shows that over the 20 years that Milanovic calls the period of “high globalization,” huge increases in wealth were unevenly distributed across the world. The middle classes in developing economies—mainly in Asia—enjoyed a dramatic increase in incomes. So did the top 1 percent of earners worldwide, or the “global plutocrats.” Meanwhile, the lower middle classes in advanced economies saw their earnings stagnate.

The elephant curve’s power lies in its simplicity. It elegantly summarizes the source of so much middle class discontent in advanced economies, discontent that has turbocharged the careers of populists from both extremes of the political spectrum and spurred calls for trade barriers and limits on immigration.”

Continue reading here.

Posted by at 10:44 AM

Labels: Inclusive Growth


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