Wealth, Elites and Tax Justice

This programme analyses wealth as a fundamental driver of inequality dynamics, ranging from the global down to the urban scale. Our team examines how wealth inequality affects the politics of taxation, the entrenchment of race and gender divides, and the renewed significance of inheritance and elites. 

This programme draws on the expertise of numerous LSE academics from different Departments, and from our international partners, including those in the global south.

Professor Mike Savage

This research programme is led by Professor Mike Savage.

Concerns with inequality have tended to focus on the nature and extent of income inequality, which is now well known to be growing in many nations since the 1980s. However, income inequality is only the tip of the iceberg. Following the influential arguments of Thomas Piketty, which rework Marx’s emphasis on capital accumulation, it is increasingly realised that wealth is a more fundamental driver of inequality dynamics. Whereas analyses of the distribution of income inequality are often pitched as reflections of the significance of skill and human capital for affecting income differences, focusing on wealth opens up bigger concerns about the processes driving wealth accumulation, inheritance and privilege. The build-up of wealth can frequently be seen as ‘unearned income’ linked to the proliferation of rent extraction processes and asset markets, which thus threatens liberal and meritocratic values. 

Although wealth is critical to the analysis of economic inequality, it is more difficult to theorise and measure than income. Wealth assets take numerous forms and can be concealed. Wealth is also highly mobile and cannot so easily be associated with national formations as income inequality. We are concerned with the promotion of global financial transparency, off shore wealth, and tax avoidance. Strategies seeking to challenge wealth inequality also require interventions about more positive conceptions of wealth, (e.g. local wealth building strategies, strategies for reaffirming democratic ideals of equal human worth and dignity in the face of growing economic disparities perceived as reflecting the unequal social or moral worth of individuals). 

Research focus and aims

The research programme focusses on the following: 

·   Analysing international flows of wealth - Pioneering work by Arun Advani, David Burgherr, Andy Summers and Mike Savage on the scale and significance of the UK residents who claimed to be ‘non-domiciled’ on their tax returns attracted major public interest when we launched our initial findings in April, feeding into the major public debate about the tax affairs of British political leaders. Drawing on three years of research, we were the first to get access to data collected by the UK tax authorities and were able to show that many of the UK’s top earners were claiming non-dom status, and the extent to which this fuelled geographical divides, both within the UK since non-doms are disproportionately located in the most affluent areas of London, as well as globally due to the close links with former imperial nations and Europe. This work also includes important research on perceptions of wealth inequality and the implications by Katharina Hecht and Kate Summers as well as interests in global flows of wealth, such as those associated with the sale of citizenship by many nations, investigated by Kristin Surak.

·     The World Elite Database. During 2021-22 the III organised the UK team (Victoria Gronwald, Marta Pagnini and Mike Savage) which worked closely with a team of European sociologists from Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Norway, Poland, Russia, Switzerland to develop a systematic data platform and shared analytical approach for analysing elites systematically. Several of our members also led other national teams (Nora Waitkus and Asif Butt in Germany and Elisabeth Schimpfossl on Russia). The WED project will allow us to put the sociological analysis of elites on a systematic comparative basis, for the first time. Our ambition is to mobilise teams from across the globe, and we also held productive talks with colleagues in Chile, China, and South Africa.  

·     The Racial Wealth Divide. The build-up of wealth accumulation amplifies long standing economic racial divides which have existed historically since the era of slavery and colonialism. They therefore challenge the overly optimistic discourse that economic inequalities on racial and ethnic lines can be expected to moderate over time. Hitherto, there has not been sustained research on these racial wealth divides, partly reflecting problems with data sources. Eleni Karagiannaki and Neil Cummins have conducted pioneering research using data from Understanding Society and probate returns to provide unparalleled analyses of the historical and contemporary significance of racial wealth divides in the UK. This work overlaps with qualitative studies exploring perceptions of the racial wealth divide in South Africa (Annalena Oppel, Mike Savage, and Corinne Squire) as part of theTransforming Social Inequalities through Inclusive Climate Action project and the UK (Gargi Bhattacharyya, George Kunnath, Babette May, Mike Savage, Grace Wyld).

Former research:

1. Measuring and conceptualising wealth inequality, including trends over time 

2. Global financial capitalism: offshore wealth and tax havens

3. Wealth and social mobility: meritocracy and the legitimation of inequality

4. Developing comparative studies of plutocratic elites

5. Overarching policy theme: tax justice

This programme drew on the expertise of numerous LSE academics from different Departments, and from our international partners, including those in the global south. We have especially strong relationships in Africa with the African Centre for Excellence in Inequality Research, led by Murray Leibbrandt at UCT, and the Southern Centre for Inequality Studies at University of Witwatersrand which has a specific project on Intergenerational Wealth and Taxation. In South America, we work closely the Chilean Centre for Social Conflict and Cohesion Studies (COES) who have a programme of research.


LSE-based members: 

David Burgherr, Research Assistant, LSE III

Asif Butt, PhD student, Sociology, LSE

Neil Cummins, Professor of Economic History, LSE

Luna Glucksberg, Research Affiliate, LSE III

Victoria Gronwald, PhD student, Sociology, LSE

George Kunnath, Assistant Professorial Research Fellow, LSE III 

Babette May, PhD student, Sociology, LSE

Annalena Oppel, LSE Fellow in Inequalites, LSE III

Marta Pagnini, PhD student, Sociology, LSE

Andy Summers, Associate Professor of Law, LSE

Kate Summers, British Academy Post-doctoral Fellow, Methodology, LSE

Kristin Surak, Associate Professor, Sociology, LSE

Grace Wyld, Researcher, LSE III 

External members: 

Arun Advani, Associate Professor, Economics, University of Warwick

Gargi Bhattacharyya, Professor of Sociology, University of East London

 Katharina Hecht, Post-doctoral Research Fellow, University of Konstanz

Eleni Karagiannaki, Associate Professorial Research Fellow, Centre for the Analysis of Social Exclusion, LSE

Corinne Squire, Professor in Global Inequalities, University of Bristol 


Advani, Arun and Summers, Andy (2022) Measuring and taxing top incomes and wealth. IFS Deaton Review of Inequalities 

Advani, Arun, Ooms, Tahnee and Summers, Andrew ORCID: 0000-0002-4978-7743 (2022) Missing incomes in the UK: evidence and policy implications. Journal of Social Policy. ISSN 0047-2794 

Advani, Arun and Tarrant, Hannah (2021) Behavioural responses to a wealth tax. Fiscal Studies, 42 (3-4). 509 - 537. ISSN 0143-5671  

Advani, Arun and Tarrant, Hannah (2021) Behavioural responses to a wealth tax. Fiscal Studies, 42 (3-4). 509 - 537. ISSN 0143-5671 

Advani, Arun, Bangham, George and Leslie, Jack (2021) The UK's wealth distribution and characteristics of high-wealth households. Fiscal Studies, 42 (3-4). 397 - 430. ISSN 0143-5671  

Advani, Arun, Bangham, George and Leslie, Jack (2021) The UK's wealth distribution and characteristics of high-wealth households. Fiscal Studies, 42 (3-4). 397 - 430. ISSN 0143-5671 

Advani, Arun, Hughson, Helen and Tarrant, Hannah (2021) Revenue and distributional modelling for a UK wealth tax. Fiscal Studies, 42 (3-4). 699 - 736. ISSN 0143-5671 

Advani, Arun, Miller, Helen and Summers, Andy (2021) Taxes on wealth: time for another look? Fiscal Studies, 42 (3-4). 389 - 395. ISSN 0143-5671 

Advani, Arun, Summers, Andrew  and Tarrant, Hannah (2021) Measuring UK top incomes. CAGE Working Paper (490). University of Warwick, Warwick, UK. 

Advani, Arun, Chamberlain, Emma, Summers, Andy (2020) A wealth tax for the UK: Final Report of the Wealth Tax Commission.  

Advani, Arun, Koenig, Felix, Pessina, Lorenzo, Summers, Andy (2020) Importing Inequality: Immigration and the Top 1 Percent, IZA Discussion Papers, No. 13731, Institute of Labor Economics (IZA) 

Cummins, Neil (2022) The hidden wealth of English dynasties, 1892–2016. Economic History Review, 75 (3). 667 - 702. ISSN 0013-0117 Item availability may be restricted. 

Cummins, Neil (2021) Where is the Middle Class? Evidence from 60 million English Death and Probate Records, 1892-1992. Journal of Economic History, 81(2): 359-404.  

Díaz Pabón, F.A., Leibbrandt, M., Ranchhod, V. and Savage, M., 2021. Piketty comes to South Africa. The British Journal of Sociology, 72(1), pp.106-124.

Hecht, Katharina, Burchardt, Tania and Davis, Abigail (2022) Richness, insecurity and the welfare state. Journal of Social Policy. ISSN 0047-2794 (In Press) 

Koch, I., Fransham, M., Cant, S., Ebrey, J., Glucksberg, L. and Savage, M., 2021. Social polarisation at the local level: a four-town comparative study on the challenges of politicising inequality in Britain. Sociology, 55(1), pp.3-29.

Paidipaty, P. and Savage, M., 2021. Debating Capital and Ideology: An introduction to the special issue. The British Journal of Sociology, 72(1), pp.3-7.*

Pfeffer, Fabian T. and Waitkus, Nora (2021) Comparing child wealth inequality across countries. RSF, 7 (3). pp. 28-49. ISSN 2377-8253 

Savage, Mike  and Waitkus, Nora (2022) Property, wealth, and social change: Piketty as a social science engineer. British Journal of Sociology, 72 (1). 39 - 51.

Savage, M. 2021. The Return of Inequality: Social Change and the Weight of History, Boston, MA, Harvard UP, pp. x1 + 422. Korean and Chinese translations pending

Savage, M, and Li, C. "Introduction to thematic series “new sociological perspectives on inequality”." Journal of Chinese Sociology (2021): 1-6*.

Savage, M. and Schmidt, C.M., 2021. The politics of the excluded: abjection and reconciliation amongst the British precariat. The Journal of Chinese Sociology, 7(1), pp.1-27.

Upton-Hansen, C., Kolbe, K. and Savage, M (2021) An institutional politics of place: Rethinking the critical function of art in times of growing inequality. Cultural Sociology15(2), pp.171-190.

Waitkus, Nora and Minkus, Lara (2021) Investigating the gender wealth gap across occupational classes. Feminist Economics, 27 (4). pp. 114-147. ISSN 1354-5701 

Events and recordings 


Are the rich getting richer? The challenge of wealth inequality

Hosted by LSE Festival: How Do We Get to a Post-COVID World?

Speakers: Aroop Chatterjee, Research Manager on Wealth Inequality, Southern Centre for Inequality Studies, University of Witwatersrand; Dr Neil Cummins, Associate Professor of Economic History, LSE; Dr Kristin Surak, Associate Professor of Political Sociology, LSE

Professor Mike Savage, Martin White Professor of Sociology, and Convenor, Wealth, Elites and Tax Justice Research Programme, LSE III


Families and Money: Exploring Gender Inequality in Elite Families

Hosted by the International Inequalities Institute and the Department of Sociology 

Watch the video. Listen to the podcast.

Speaker: Professor Annette Lareau, Professor of Sociology, University of Pennsylvania)

Discussants: Dr Aliya Rao, Faculty Associate, LSE III and Assistant Professor in Qualitative Research Methodology; Sibylle Gollac, Research Fellow in Sociology, French National Center for Scientific Research

Chair: Dr Luna Glucksberg, Research Affliliate, LSE III



Are Countries Building Back Better?

Hosted by the International Inequalities Institute

Tuesday 08 February 2022, 6:00pm to 7:30pm. Online public event. 

Watch the video. Listen to the podcast.

Speakers: Professor Ha-Joon Chang, Professor of Political Economy of Development, University of Cambridge; Dr Francis Mustapha Kai-Kai, Minister of Planning and Economic Development, Sierra Leone); Dr Faiza Shaheen, Visiting Professor in Practice LSE, III and Program Head for the Inequality and Exclusion Grand Challenge of the Pathfinders for Peaceful, Just and Inclusive Societies, New York University; Waleed Shahid, Spokesperson and Communications Director, Justice Democrats) 

Chair: Professor Francisco Ferreira, Director, LSE III and Amartya Sen Professor of Inequality Studies 

Arun Advani_Warwick2 - International Inequalities Institute - III - London School of Economics - LSE - Taxing the Rich - Elites - Resized - June 2020

Global Tax Justice in the 21st Century: promises and challenges

Hosted by the Ralph Miliband Programme and the International Inequalities Institute

Tuesday 01 February 2022, 6:30pm to 8:00pm. Online public event. 

Watch the video. Listen to the podcast.

Speakers: Dr Arun Advani, Visiting Fellow, LSE III and Assistant Professor of Economics, Univeristy of Warwick; Alex Cobham, Chief Executive, Tax Justice Network; Professor Jayati Ghosh, Professor of Economics, University of Massachusetts

Chair: Dr Robin Archer, Director, Ralph Miliband Programme, LSE)