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Analysing Wealth Inequality: A Conceptual Reflection

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As early as 1900, German sociologist Georg Simmel identified a central feature of wealth in his seminal work The Philosophy of Money. Simmel writes about the superadditum of wealth for the rich, namely that a great fortune is encircled by innumerable possibilities of use, as though by an astral body.

In the spirit of Georg Simmel’s remarks on the huge possibilities that come with high wealth, we are currently engaged in developing such an approach to analyze wealth inequality. We introduce different functions of wealth right from the beginning into a class-based analysis of wealth inequality (see our preliminary paper “The Functions of Wealth: Renters, Owners and Capitalists across Europe” presented at the WID conference in December 2017). This allows us to base the analysis of wealth inequality in a setting which is both relational and multidimensional. We use household survey data, since register-based data—which are often used to estimate top shares—hardly allow for such an endeavor.

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