2nd Century Roman Empire Slightly Less Unequal than the 21st Century United States

In a remarkable piece of scholarship, two historians estimate the income inequality in 2nd century Rome and find that our society is a little bit more unequal that Rome at the height of the empire.

We conclude that in the Roman Empire as a whole, a ‘middling’ sector of somewhere around 6 to 12 per cent of the population, defined by a real income of between 2.4 and 10 times ‘bare bones’ subsistence or 1 to 4 times ‘respectable’ consumption levels, would have occupied a fairly narrow middle ground between an élite segment of perhaps 1.5 per cent of the population and a vast majority close to subsistence level of around 90 per cent. In this system, some 1.5 per cent of households controlled 15 to 25 per cent of total income, while close to 10 per cent took in another 15 to 25 per cent, leaving not much more than half of all income for all remaining households.

So what does that mean for America?  Well, in Rome the top 1.5% controlled 15-25% of the national (imperial?) income while in the United States in 2007 the top 1% controlled 23.5% of income thus indicating a bit more inequality in the United States than in Imperial Rome. The authors calculate the GINI coefficient for the Roman Empire at .42 – .44, slightly less than the U.S. coefficient (depending on the source) of around .4 – .45.

Washington fiddles while the American dream burns to the ground…


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2 thoughts on “2nd Century Roman Empire Slightly Less Unequal than the 21st Century United States

  1. Phil, seriously who is stopping you or anyone from the American dream? Opportunities are there to be pursued. Often, it’s government getting in the way with artificial barriers. But others’s success or wealth has nothing to do with you going after your dream.

    I might have to agree with Washington fiddling though… serious problems on the horizon are ignored that will have big consequences. Social Security and Medicare are just about to explode in the coming years, and instead the President advocates defunding those programs. And you guys say Republicans are a theat to those programs!

    The guy who spouted hope and change just a few years ago hasn’t done a lick to right the course and get us to fiscal responsibility. Instead it’s the exact opposite. His deficits are record. I don’t see anyone being able to convince Americans that real change will be needed to right the wrongs. It’s sad.

    1. Generally, what stops people from achieving the American Dream is access to capital. Dress up as an African American and try to start a business. Try to get a loan. Good luck to you.

      The government is the only thing standing between us and the takeover of our democracy by the corporatists.

      And Obama has done more for the economy than the last President who drove it into the ditch, and then set the car on fire.

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