Fiscal Policy’s Futile Equality Expectation on Its Own

By Karen Petrou

  • Distributional data show clearly that, fiscal stimulus notwithstanding, the U.S. was still more economically unequal in 2020.
  • Only fiscal policy once combined also with progressive financial policy will put the inequality engine into reverse.

As we have noted before, the Fed’s new Distributional Financial Accounts of the United States (DFA) is a definitive source of economic-equality data we hope the Fed will not just compile, but also use for policy-making purposes.  The latest edition of the DFA demonstrates yet again why distributional data are so compelling, showing now the profound challenge even unprecedented fiscal policy on its own faces slowing down the inexorable engine of inequality.  Still more fiscal stimulus in 2021 will boost absolute income and wealth numbers a bit at some benefit to low-, moderate-, and even middle-income households.  Still, the upward march of financial markets powered in large part by Fed policy inexorably widens the inequality gap.  No matter the “crust of bread and such” from fiscal programs, inequality still increases the slow pace of economic growth, the risk of financial crises, and the odds that the electorate will be even angrier in 2024 than 2020.  

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How Inequality Stymies Monetary Policy and What to Do About It

By Karen Petrou

  • In a dangerous double-whammy, monetary policy not only makes America even less economically equal, but economic inequality also frustrates monetary-policy transmission.
  • Thus, recessions are deeper and longer, reversing the good-times income gains central banks take as proof that their policies are not dis-equalizing even as the wealth divide grows ever wider.
  • Because monetary policy when rightly judged in terms of both income and wealth adversely affects economic equality and inequality stymies monetary policy, we won’t have macroeconomic-effective monetary policy until we have equality-focused monetary policy.
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Rules We Can Really Live By

By Karen Petrou

  • Judging U.S. rulemaking by its benefits to the public good, not just by its impact on private wealth, is transformational and, with a new CBA methodology, also more than possible.
  • Equitable rules can be both effective and efficient.
  • Maximizing the public good is not synonymous with redistribution or reverse discrimination.

In 1993, President Bill Clinton issued Executive Order (EO) 12866, creating hurdles ahead of federal rules that are “economically significant.”  This was measured by a cost of $100 million or more.  On January 20, President Biden began a long-overdue rewrite, stipulating that federal rules are henceforth to be judged not just by their impact on private wealth, but also by what becomes of the public good.

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Of Money and Madness

By Karen Petrou

  • In 1975, the rewards of national economic growth were evenly distributed regardless of income.  By 2018, most Americans lost their fair share based on per capita GDP.
  • The cost of lost income due to increased inequality to the bottom 90% over this period amounts to $2.5 trillion compared to what it would have been if GDP had remained as equitably distributed as it was before 1975.
  • Looked at another way, the majority of U.S. workers never shared in the economic growth from 1975 to 2018.
  • It may seem that racial disparities in U.S. income improved over this period, but this wasn’t the result of a society become more fair, if not also economically more equal.  In fact, racial disparity dropped not because Black male workers with below-median income held their own, but because white men did worse than before.  The same phenomenon erases what appears to be a drop in the gender gap for working women who did a bit better – largely due to more working hours – than men.
  • Fed policy premised on aggregates and averages as well as the benefits of GDP growth without regard to distributional realities is not only doomed to fail, but sure to continue to exacerbate inequality.
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Central Bankers Can Do More Than Just Care about Economic Inequality

By Karen Petrou

  • New evidence reinforces monetary policy’s distributional impact.
  • Monetary policy can also be redesigned to ensure that its distributional impact enhances equality instead of – as now – making it worse.
  • More evidence also reinforces the link between unequal monetary policy and slow growth.
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