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Long-Run Changes in the Concentration of Wealth: An Overview of Recent Findings

by Jesper Roine (with H. Ohlsson and D. Waldenström), published in the Davies' (ed.) "Personal Wealth from a Global Perspective"

Our objective is to study the dynamics of the wealth distribution over the path of economic development. More specifically, we are interested in distinguishing between changes which seem to be country specific and characteristics shared by all countries. A historical account of the evolution of the wealth distribution in developed countries is interesting in itself. But it can also hold implications for countries that are currently in an early stage of development or in transition. The data we use originate from the taxation of wealth and estates. We, first, review the recent constructions of new historical series of top wealth distribution for the US, France, the UK, and Switzerland. Second, we provide new corresponding data for Denmark, Norway, and Sweden. Comparing Scandinavia to other Western countries is interesting for several reasons: (i) Scandinavia was late to industrialize, we can, therefore, cover the whole period from preindustrial society until today. (ii) The Scandinavian "mixed economies" are extremes in the spectrum of welfare states. (iii) Sweden and Switzerland did not take part in any of the World Wars. Our first main result is that the wealth shares of the top percentiles decreased during the 1900s in all countries except Switzerland. Second, there are much less of common patterns during industrialization in the 1800s.

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