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Law, Wealth and Inequality

‘Law, Wealth and Inequality’ is an interdisciplinary research project based at Edinburgh Law School, which explores the relationship between ‘law’, ‘wealth’ and ‘inequality’, both from a comparative and a historical perspective.

Man walking on tiled ground at daytime

Wealth inequality is a global issue of increasing economic and social importance, with growing awareness that the gap between the wealthy and the poor is increasing. Furthermore, an abundance of statistical research demonstrates that the proportion of GDP of many countries in the developed and developing world consisting of unearned income derived from capital is growing year on year. At the same time the share of GDP paid out as earned income such as wages and salaries continues to fall. A key question is what role the law plays in all of this and what should law do about this situation? And, how do different areas of the law interact to affect inequality?

While lots of research has been undertaken by economists, political and social scientists, criminologists and sociologists to study the causes and impact of inequality, there is comparatively little work carried out by legal scholars on the role that law (including labour law, bankruptcy law, corporate law, inheritance law but also other aspects of both private and public law) has played and plays in this context. In particular, there is little work on the legal foundations of wealth inequality that is also both comparative and historical in outlook. Led by Prof Alexandra Braun, this project aims to fill this gap.

To launch the project, Prof Alexandra Braun and Prof David Cabrelli are holding a set of seminars to discuss and examine, in particular, the role that law has played in facilitating the accumulation and distribution of wealth, thus generating or maintaining inequality understood not just in economic but also in social terms. The purpose is to bring together scholars from across various disciplines and fields of law:

  • to explore a series of topics that are core to the increase in wealth inequality; and
  • to probe whether, and if so, the shape that laws and legal institutions take can have a significant impact on the distributional judgments that societies make on social values such as equality.

The ‘Law, Wealth and Inequality’ project has been generously funded by Edinburgh Law School.

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