This paper addresses the influence of foreign trade and investment on inequality or, more generally, on the distribution of income, with a focus on developing countries. There has been some scholarly debate on the influence on economic growth of economic openness to the rest of the world. Since growth affects the level of poverty and the distribution of income, the trade–growth nexus is also addressed.
"Distribution of income" has several quite different meanings, apart from the issue of the specific measurements that are used to describe it. Economic theory has mainly been concerned with the functional distribution of income, that is, with the returns to different identifiable factors of production and their respective shares in total income of a particular country, such as the share of labor income in national income. Popular and political discourse is more concerned with the size distribution of income, such as the fraction of national income accruing to the top ten percent, or the bottom decile, of residents of the country in question — and in particular on whether inequality has risen or declined. In recent years, concern with the size distribution of income has extended to the global distribution, where observations are on countries, grouped by per capita income, rather than on individuals.
The two concepts of distribution are related by the ownership of the factors of production, especially land in a predominantly agrarian economy, capital in a modern economy. If ownership of land and capital were evenly distributed across a population, even significant changes in the functional distribution of income would have little impact on the size distribution of income.
Cooper, Richard. "Growth and Inequality: The Role of Foreign Trade and Investment." Working Paper 01–07, Weatherhead Center for International Affairs, Harvard University, 2001.