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.
Continue reading “Fiscal Policy’s Futile Equality Expectation on Its Own”
By Matthew Shaw and Karen Petrou
Every three years, the Federal Reserve releases a unique, illuminating data set, the Survey of Consumer Finances (SCF). The most recent report covering 2016 to 2019 comes at a time of acute political risk for the U.S. central bank due to growing demands for a third, “racial-equity” mandate and heightened recognition of the inequality impact of post-crisis monetary policy. Perhaps for this reason, the Fed’s qualitative release and much subsequent media coverage highlighted what the Fed described as meaningful reductions in both wealth and income inequality. Would it were so – percentages sometimes work in the Fed’s favor, but real dollars in people’s pockets, or the acute lack thereof, don’t.
Continue reading “The Dollars That Make a Difference: Results of the New Survey of Consumer Finances”
By Karen Shaw Petrou
Does economic inequality lead to political polarization that then creates gridlock that increases economic inequality and turns negative feedback into M.C. Escher’s tessellated stairway to a political doom loop?
After the first full year of Donald Trump and a GOP-controlled Congress, it’s easy to conclude that we’re in the part of the cycle where inequality leads to polarization and then to gridlock broken only by anti-distributive policies and more acute polarization before gridlock sets in again. Getting a really bad feeling, I turned to a review of academic literature on economic inequality and political polarization. It generally confuses causality and correlation, but nonetheless shows that conventional wisdom is right: all of these forces make this a particularly parlous political session with potentially dangerous consequences for long-term comity and even stability. Put another way, 2018 will be way ugly. Continue reading “The Mother of All Negative Feedback Loops: Economic Inequality, Political Polarization, and the 2018 Congress”