This is a book about inequality and its relationship to poverty and wealth. About the fact that we live in a world of very many poor people and a very few extremely rich ones—the poor and the plutocrats of its title. It differs though from many other books on this subject by its global and historical perspective.
From these perspectives the last twenty years have seen declines in inequality between countries and the fastest fall in the numbers of absolutely poor in history—those living on less than the World Bank extreme poverty line of US$1.90 per day. In parallel, inequality within some countries has, since 1980, increased markedly, particularly in the US and the UK. This increase stands in stark contrast to the falls in inequality in now-rich countries from the early part of the twentieth century until the 1970s.
This changing pattern of inequality is viewed through the lens of how, over the course of the last two centuries, the value of relatively unskilled labour has changed. The rising value of such labour has provided a ladder by which, in countries which have found the key, the incomes of all have risen.
To understand the co-existence of the poor and the plutocrats we need to examine patterns of growth in national income and how the 1 per cent have captured, in some countries, an increasing share of that income. This book seeks to explain how we have come to live in a world of such high levels of incomes and such dissatisfaction with how that income is distributed