The one thing pretty much all of us agree on is the importance of equal opportunity. Opinion is divided about the significance of rising income inequality per se. Some see it as a problem in and of itself. But for others, a growing economic divide, so long as it is meritocratic, is a healthy characteristic of a growing, entrepreneurial society.
Nowadays, though, no one is in favour of a caste-based society. Income inequality is one thing, but a permanent division into the haves and have-nots is an entirely different thing _ and much less acceptable.
That is why new economic research, released at a conference last week at the Brookings Institution in Washington, is so important. The comprehensive study is by five economists, including two who work at the Federal Reserve Board, Vasia Panousi and Ivan Vidangos, and one, Shanthi Ramnath, of the US Treasury Department. It draws on a powerful new data set: a one-in-5,000, random and confidential sample of the population of US taxpayers.