Dark Corners in “Good Places”

By Karen Petrou and Matthew Shaw

Shortly before Thanksgiving, a new study documented that U.S. life expectancy since 2010 has taken a sharp turn for the worse for younger Americans regardless of race, gender, or education.  We knew that opioids were devastating, but this study confirmed others showing also that the overall reversal in U.S. life expectancy is due to more profound and mysterious afflictions.  Doctors are flummoxed by why U.S. mortality is so much higher than that in other advanced countries, where life expectancy continues to increase for younger citizens, concluding that something endemic is going on behind the epidemic of “diseases of despair.”  The latest inequality data demonstrate yet again that the economic “good place”  that comforts Fed policy-makers is to be found only in the 100th floor penthouses that are the eyries of the one percent.  We thought the data more than dispiriting when we analyzed the Fed’s first distributional financial account; now, we find them devastating, not to mention evil omens of a polarized, angry electorate heading to the 2020 polls. Continue reading “Dark Corners in “Good Places””

Why We Need Baby Warbucks: Equities as a Pathway to Equality

By Karen Petrou

There is an extensive literature on the “unbanked.”  But what of those one might call the “unsecured?”  In previous blog posts, we have pondered “equality banking” and “equality insurance.”  Now, we turn to equality investing, doing so not just because savings at ultra-low interest rates has become the road to ruin, but also because several retail brokers have redesigned entry-level investing with considerable equality upside.  Although caution is always warranted when products are aimed at inexperienced investors, “fractional share” options and no-commission fees could make a meaningful difference for millennial and lower-income households hoping to have enough put aside over time to own a home, ensure a secure retirement, and protect their families from the unexpected. Continue reading “Why We Need Baby Warbucks: Equities as a Pathway to Equality”

“People’s QE” and Noblesse Oblige

By Karen Petrou

As the chimera of the post-crisis recovery fades and central bankers find themselves powerless to reverse recession, “people’s quantitative easing” is gaining attention as a tool a growing number of central bankers fancy gives them a new way to wreak their beneficent will.  People’s QE – also known more colorfully as “helicopter money” – means that, despairing of fiscal-policy remedies, central banks print money and then either just give it to the people or invest it in assets they or their bosses think best for equalizing, trade-deficit dropping, climate-restoring, or other all-to-the-good economic growth.  However, it’s not just central bankers casting longing eyes at the ability of central banks to print money – officials ranging from those in the Trump Administration to the Democratic Socialist candidate for President see it as a new way to do what they think are the voter’s bidding without raising the deficit.  This is really, really central banking, but for all its power, it’s very problematic.  QE so far has done little to spur sustained recovery and much to make the U.S. even more unequal.  There’s no reason to believe a people’s QE will be any better. Continue reading ““People’s QE” and Noblesse Oblige”

America’s Stalwart Savers Get the Sucker Punch

By Karen Petrou

Recently, I had an op-ed in the Financial Times arguing that negative rates make it even harder for moderate-income households to accumulate wealth.  The reason, I said, is simple:  when savings-deposit or similar rates are ultra-low or even negative in real terms, households that save get poorer and poorer both on their own and in comparison to wealthier households with more sophisticated financial-asset investments.  This might seem irrefutable, but the article generated hundreds of comments.  Many were positive but more than a few countered that lower-income households don’t have savings so savings rates don’t exacerbate economic inequality.  To my mind, this is like saying that poor people are already thin so the fact that they don’t have enough food doesn’t matter. Continue reading “America’s Stalwart Savers Get the Sucker Punch”

Cosmopolites, Financiers, Monopolists, and the 2020 Election

By Karen Petrou

…foreign competitors get to make the goods, and we just buy them.
And then they buy up American companies with the profits.  And
yes, in this bargain there are lots of jobs—jobs on Wall Street, or in
Hollywood, or in Silicon Valley…At the same time, it has encouraged
multinational corporations to move jobs and assets overseas to chase
the cheapest wages and pay the lowest taxes.  And it has rewarded
these same corporations for then turning around and investing their
profits not in American workers, not in American development, but in
financial instruments that benefit the cosmopolitan elite.  And where
has this left middle America?  With flat wages, with lost jobs, with
with declining investment and declining opportunity.  We don’t make
things here anymore—at least, not the kinds of things a normal person
without a fancy degree can build with his hands.
Continue reading “Cosmopolites, Financiers, Monopolists, and the 2020 Election”