Journal Article

Inequality measures as conventions: new interpretations of a classic operationalization problem

Stephan Kampelmann

in Socio-Economic Review

Published on behalf of Society for the Advancement of Socio-Economics

Volume 7, issue 4, pages 669-694
Published in print October 2009 | ISSN: 1475-1461
Published online August 2009 | e-ISSN: 1475-147X | DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1093/ser/mwp016
Inequality measures as conventions: new interpretations of a classic operationalization problem

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Various authors have identified a consensus among economists as to how inequality should be quantified, namely by implementing the ‘axiomatic approach to inequality measurement’. However, empirical studies have revealed that this method is often in contradiction with the attitudes of ordinary citizens towards inequality. It is thus a relevant question why the axiomatic approach still commands support in academic applications. This article adopts a historical perspective and presents evidence for our main hypothesis: the axiomatic approach can be interpreted as a result of conventions that allowed specialists to overcome the indeterminacy of the concept ‘inequality’. An unintended consequence of today's measurement conventions appears to be the crowding out of non-scientific representations.

Keywords: economic inequality; economic methodology; inequality statistics; conventions; D31 personal income, wealth, and their distributions; D63 equity, justice, inequality, and other normative criteria and measurement

Journal Article.  9849 words. 

Subjects: Moral Philosophy ; Corporate Social Responsibility ; Welfare Economics ; Political Economy ; Economic Sociology

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