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””

“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”

The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly in American Well-Being

By Karen Petrou and Matthew Shaw

Yesterday, FRB Vice Chairman Clarida said that the U.S. economy is in “in a good place.”  However, The Fed’s new study of American economic “well-being” shows that huge swaths of the United States are struggling harder than ever before to make ends meet.  All but the most affluent Americans asked about how well they’re doing don’t feel anywhere near that good about it.  Combine this with new data on the evaporating American middle class and an ugly picture quickly merges.  In it, the prosperity in which the Fed takes such comfort rests thinly atop millions – indeed a hundred plus million – of Americans who are barely getting by at the height of the business cycle following a record-breaking “recovery.”  No wonder that so many Americans remain so angry about their economic prospects and why political polarization is sure to define the 2020 election at least as much as it determined 2016’s outcome.

Continue reading “The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly in American Well-Being”

The Missing Middle Class

By Karen Petrou

When we started this blog in 2017, we began with a plea for the Federal Reserve to factor inequality into its monetary and regulatory policy equation.  We showed at the start, here, here and here, that the Fed’s focus only on averages and aggregates obscures sharp polarization at each end of the U.S. income and wealth distribution.  It is these polarizations, as we’ve repeatedly seen in blog posts that undermine the Fed’s ability to set the U.S. economy on a forward trajectory of shared prosperity and stable growth – i.e., to meet its dual mandate as Congress expressly defined it in the Humphrey-Hawkins Act of 1978.  The Fed is still resolutely crafting monetary policy with its eyes firmly averted from increasing inequality.  Continue reading “The Missing Middle Class”