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The Global Knowledge of Economic Inequality: The Measurement of Income and Wealth Distribution since 1945

November 15, 2018 - November 17, 2018
German Historical Institute London

17 Bloomsbury Square
London WC1A2NJ
United Kingdom

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Economic inequality has become one of the most contentious political topics of our time, and statistics on income and wealth disparities have come to play an increasingly important role in modern political culture, influencing public debates about distributional questions, societal self-descriptions and perceptions of other societies. Global knowledge on economic inequality and poverty evolved incrementally, with important spurts occurring in the 1960s/1970s and then again during the 1990s/2000s. The first initiatives towards an international standardisation of income and wealth statistics were launched by the UN and the OECD during the 1960s/70s, but made only slow progress. This contributed to delaying the debate about global inequality, which had long been confined to measures like GDP per capita, while comparisons in terms of personal income have only recently been possible since more data has become available. Both these debates and the underlying statistics have a history that is not yet fully understood.

Historians have recently begun to historicise the measurement of economic inequality as well as the changing public and academic interest in the subject since the post-war era. The German Historical Institute London will host an international conference to contribute to this growing field of research by bringing together historians and scholars from other disciplines working on the history of inequality knowledge. The conference will take a transnational perspective, but will also include comparative papers and case studies on individual countries that will help us to understand how global developments and entanglements are negotiated domestically.

The conference is generously supported by the Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft

Conference Programme

Thursday, 15 November

1.30 pm: Registration

2 pm: Welcome and introduction

2.30 pm: Panel I | Theory and Construction of Inequality Statistics

Chair: Martin Daunton (Cambridge)

Jean-Yves Tizot (Grenoble): Whither the Bad Gini of Inequality Metrics?

Steven Pressman (Colorado): From the German Historical School to Orshansky and beyond: Measuring Poverty in the US

4 pm: Coffee Break

4.30 pm: Panel I ctd.

Hagen Krämer (Karlsruhe): Bowley's Law and its Consequences: How the Questionable Idea of the Stability of the Wage Share Shaped Modern Distributional Theories

Florence Jany-Catrice (Lille): Conflicts in Calculating and Using a Price Index - the Case of France

6 pm: Break                                      

6.15-7.30 pm: Keynote Lecture

Timothy Smeeding (Wisconsin-Madison): The History of Measurements in National and Cross National Economic Inequality since 1945                                     


Friday, 16 November

9.00 am: Panel II | The Politics of Measurement

Chair: Florence Sutcliffe-Braithwaite (London)

Jim Tomlinson (Glasgow): From Morals to Measurement? Social Democracy and Economic Inequality in Britain from Tawney to Atkinson

Felix Römer (London): Knowledge Regimes surrounding Economic Inequality in Britain and Beyond since 1945

10.30 am: Coffee Break

10.45 am: Panel II ctd.

Poornima Paidipaty (London): Disparities and Decolonisation. Statistical Thinking and the Measurement of Inequality in Nehruvian India

Christoph Lorke (Münster): The Measurement of Inequality in the GDR and State Socialism

Grace Davie (New York): Poverty Knowledge in Twentieth Century South Africa

1 pm: Lunch break

2 pm: Panel III | Dissemination and Discourse on Inequality Statistics

Chair: Mary Morgan (London)

Shuxi Yin (Hefei): Economic Inequality in China's Political Discourse

Yury Nikiforov (Yaroslavl): The Textual and Visual Representation of Inequality, Income and Wealth Statistics in the Context of the Cold War

 3.30 pm: Coffee Break

 4 pm: Panel IV | The Measurement of Wealth

Chair: Martin Chick (Edinburgh)

Frank Stilwell (Sydney): 'Don't let get facts in the way of a good myth': the Measurement of the Distribution of Wealth in Australia

Thilo Albers (Berlin): German Wealth Inequality in the Long Run

5.30: Break

5.45-7.00 pm: Keynote Lecture

Mike Savage (London): Metricisation and the Global Geopolitics of Inequality

7 pm: Reception


Saturday, 17 November

9.30 am: Panel V | Global Inequality

Chair: Poornima Paidipaty (London)

Pedro Ramos Pinto (Cambridge): Global Inequality by Numbers: the Making of a Global Political Issue

Mary Morgan (London): Measuring Difference, Measuring Everything: the UN’s Development Agenda

11 am: Coffee Break

11.30 am: Panel V ctd.

Stephen Macekura (Indiana): Searching for a New Yardstick: International Development, Economic Measurement and Inequality in the 1970s

Federico Pachetti (Hong Kong): Fighting Economic Inequality with Chinese or Western Ideas? China and the World Bank, 1980-89

1.00-1.30 pm: Concluding discussion

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November 12, 2018, 11:00pm BST

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