The Life Course Dynamics of Affluence

A new paper by sociologists Thomas Hirschl and Mark Rank (H&R) on PLOS One casts doubt on the arguments that electoral arrangements in the US place disproportionate power in the hands of a tiny elite of rich citizens, at the expense of the interests of ‘the masses’:

Social awareness of the growing distance between top-level earners versus the rest of the income distribution helped to spark the Occupy movement and focus media attention on economic inequality. Much of the associated rhetoric presumes that the same individuals persist in top-level percentiles, in particular the 1 percent. This presumption is erroneous to the extent that year-to-year mobility functions to turnover incumbents. To the extent there is turnover, then this functions to buffer inequality, e.g. take the hypothetical case of 100 percent annual turnover within the composition of the top 10 percent, creating the condition of no inequality at this percentile level when measured across a decade. This study explores this empirical possibility, and other possibilities, by analyzing mobility associated with top-level income in the United States. (p.7)

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