One of the most striking findings will probably give comfort to the plutocrats: In contrast to previous generations, the super-rich today tend to have earned their fortunes rather than inherited them.Interestingly it seems that these researchers are calling for higher taxes for the very rich:
Steven Kaplan of the University of Chicago and Joshua Rauh of Stanford University in California studied Forbes magazine’s annual list of the 400 richest Americans. They found that in 1982 just 40 percent of these plutocrats had built their own businesses. By 2011, the super-rich had gotten much richer — the combined wealth of the Forbes 400 was $92 billion in 1982 and had surged to $1.53 trillion by 2011 — and many more of them had, as the meme of the 2012 U.S. presidential election campaign had it, built it themselves: 69 percent.
“This isn’t the ‘Downton Abbey’ rentier class,” explained Van Reenen, who has found a similar trend in Britain. “These incomes come from the labor market. You can say it is a triumph of the human capitalists over the physical capitalists.”
Among economists who study the surge in pay at the top, it is pretty much a truth universally acknowledged that taxes should rise at the summit, too. “Economics would suggest that when you have big increases in inequality, the top tax rate should rise,” Van Reenen said. “That seems very right and very reasonable.”...
The impact and the structure of higher taxes for the rich are a more complicated and controversial issue. Timothy Besley and Maitreesh Ghatak, both of the London School of Economics, make a robust case for higher taxes on bankers’ bonuses. Their work is theoretical, but beyond the campus green what may be particularly interesting is the way they frame the wider debate.
“Little undermines the case for a market economy more than the perception that there is injustice in the rewards that it generates,” they argue in a recent paper. “The greatest clamor for reform should come from those who support the market system.”
“We have shown that some form of bonus taxation in the financial sector is optimal above and beyond standard progressive income taxation,” they conclude. “We have identified a form of taxation that we believe makes the market system both fairer and more efficient.”
Emmanuel Saez, an economist at the University of California, Berkeley, who is one of the pioneering students of incomes at the very top, has offered an even more provocative suggestion. At the American Economic Association meeting, he argued that when tax rates at the top are low, “top earners extract more pay at the expense of the 99 percent.” Higher tax rates for the rich, he suggested, “reduce the pretax income gap without hurting economic growth.”