Most of modern economic history is the story of growth and increased wealth. For the previous century or more, people have become accustomed to improvements, to feeling richer, to believing they and their children can do better. Recent data indicate that previous growth patterns are changing, with growth slowing and with most of the gains going to the wealthy. The topic is controversial. Some economists think inequality is not increasing. Some claim it is, but is not a problem. Some think inequality is the most important problem of the current century.
The data itself supports two trends that at first glance might appear contradictory. The first is that inequality between countries seems to be decreasing. GDP per capita figures are converging, slowly and unevenly, as poorer countries grow more quickly than richer ones. At the same time, inequality within countries seems to be growing. The share of total income and wealth going to the top 1 percent is on the rise in the twenty-first century after many years of falling inequality. Inequality can potentially bear on a broad range of factors in the global economy, including growth trends, investment patterns, policy responses, and political stability.