A World-Systems Methodology for the Study of Inequality
Drawing on historical data on inequality within and between regions of the world-economy, we indicate that inequality within regions in both the core and the semiperiphery of the world-economy tended to rise over a long period extending from the sixteenth to sometime in the nineteenth century. During this same period , inequality between regions of the world-economy remained considerably less pronounced and stable. Beginning during the nineteenth century, however, the trends shifted in significant ways: inequality within many core areas began to decline (as opposed to many peripheral and semiperipheral areas where ineequality remained very high), and inequality between these areas underwent a rapid increase. We link these transformations to social forces that acted to expand various rights (e.g., those of citizens and of workers as wage laborers ) under the aegis of the modern nation-state, with uneven and linked effects in core, semiperipheral and peripheral areas of the world-economy.
Our data allow us to provide a stylized depicition of within- and between-country income distributions to show a multiple and overlapping matrix of distributional arrays –a global income distribution that is both systemic and historical— that has shaped the geography of winners and losers both over the long term and in more recent decades. This depiction suggests that (i) Schumpeterian cycles of innovation and creative destruction in the global production of goods and services have been key to shifting patterns of within- and between-country inequality, as these innovations have included (ii) the deployment of shifting and unevenly successful institutional strategies aiming to facilitate mobility and change for specific regions and/or nations within the world-economy. This exercise allows us to raise new questions for further research, but also to propose some empirical and methodological innovations to better advance future social science inquiry on inequality.