DP12409 Indian income inequality, 1922-2014: From British Raj to Billionaire Raj ?

Author(s): Lucas Chancel, Thomas Piketty
Publication Date: October 2017
Programme Areas: Public Economics, Economic History
Link to this Page: www.cepr.org/active/publications/discussion_papers/dp.php?dpno=12409

We combine household surveys and national accounts, as well as recently released tax data in a systematic way to track the dynamics of Indian income inequality from 1922 to 2014. According to our benchmark estimates, the share of national income accruing to the top 1% income earners is now at its highest level since the creation of the Indian Income tax in 1922. The top 1% of earners captured less than 21% of total income in the late 1930s, before dropping to 6% in the early 1980s and rising to 22% today. Over the 1951-1980 period, the bottom 50% group captured 28% of total growth and incomes of this group grew faster than the average, while the top 0.1% incomes decreased. Over the 1980-2014 period, the situation was reversed; the top 0.1% of earners captured a higher share of total growth than the bottom 50% (12% vs. 11%), while the top 1% received a higher share of total growth than the middle 40% (29% vs. 23%). These findings suggest that much can be done to promote more inclusive growth in India. Our results also appear to be robust to a range of alternative assumptions seeking to address data limitations. Most importantly, we stress the need for more democratic transparency on income and wealth statistics to avoid another "black decade" similar to the 2000s, during which India entered the digital age but stopped publishing tax statistics. Such data sources are key to track the long run evolution of inequality and to allow an informed democratic debate on inequality.