The rich really do get richer – a new study found that the wealthiest families in Florence, Italy, have had it good for a while. For 600 years, to be precise.
Two Italian economists, Guglielmo Barone and Sauro Mocetti compared taxpayers’ data from 1427 to data from 2011. When they looked at the names that popped up high on the list, they found the same surnames again and again.
“The top earners among the current taxpayers were found to have already been at the top of the socioeconomic ladder six centuries ago,” Barone and Mocetti note on VoxEU. The study was able to exploit a unique data set—taxpayers data in 1427 was digitized and made available online—to show long-term trends of economic mobility (or the lack of it).
In other words, the richest percentage of the Florentine population has remained unchanged, highlighting a lack of economic change. It makes a lot of sense that wealthy people pass on their wealth to their children, but mobility is considered a sign of a healthy economy, something worth considering when discussing something like an inheritance tax. The fact that these families kept their wealth through six centuries of political turmoil is remarkable – and slightly worrying.
However, the evident flaws in this study also have to be considered. Just because people have the same name doesn’t mean they’re actually a part of the same family. I sincerely hope someone will be able to confirm or infirm this hypothesis, and I also hope similar studies will be carried out in other cities because this finding contradicts some of our theories about economic mobility.
“Existing evidence suggests that the related earnings advantages disappear after several generations. This column challenges this view by comparing tax records for family dynasties (identified by surname) in Florence, Italy in 1427 and 2011. This persistence is identified despite the huge political, demographic, and economic upheavals that occurred between the two dates.”
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