Ultra-Low Rates and Extra-High Inequality

By Karen Petrou

On March 12, the Financial Times ran one of Martin Wolf’s insightful columns, this one focusing on a critical facet of post-crisis monetary policy – ultra-low interest rates – to see why so much monetary-policy firepower had had such minimal macroeconomic impact.  Mr. Wolf suspects that the secular stagnation first framed by Lawrence Summers means that ultra-low real rates are here to stay due in part to economic inequality.  However, what if ultra-low rates on their own exacerbate inequality and thus create a negative feedback loop with dangerous implications not only for long-term growth and financial stability, but also for inequality?  Considerable evidence shows that ultra-low rates are inextricably intertwined with extra-high inequality.  Fed thinking on the new neutral rate thus must prick the traditional neo-Keynesian bubble to ensure that Chairman Powell’s new normalization isn’t a path to still worse inequality. Continue reading “Ultra-Low Rates and Extra-High Inequality”

More Ways to Make an Equality Bank Make a Difference

After we last year proposed “Equality Banks,” ideas flooded in on possible charters.  We also heard from those who so distrust any venture involving private finance that they believe only a public bank suffices to ensure fair delivery of equality-essential deposit, loan, and payment products.  In this blog post, we build on prior work to lay out an array of charter options suitable for different types of Equality Banks owned by different types of financial or private investors.  We reiterate our worries about public banks, adding to our prior evaluation of state and municipal efforts with an analysis of “low-income” credit unions and of the only equality-focused federal public bank to date.  Each of these well-intentioned initiatives in fact made U.S. inequality a little bit worse, providing important lessons as progressive Democrats ready a raft of proposals not only to craft public banks, but also even to make the Postal Service or Federal Reserve become one. Continue reading “More Ways to Make an Equality Bank Make a Difference”

Public Banking Under a Blue Wave

By Karen Petrou

In a blog post this summer, we assessed the history of U.S. public banks over three centuries.  We concluded that, “The best way to ensure that financial intermediation advances social welfare is to define a carefully-constrained charter, mandate transparent limits on self-dealing up front, and ensure that the bank is fit for purpose under reasonable rules that ensure long-term profit in concert with effective public service.  Public subsidies to support public service make sense, but only when sufficient regulation and private-sector discipline constrain the natural self-serving instincts of all-too-many politicians.”  Maybe so, but sizeable minorities of voters this November said that they so distrust private banks that they want a public alternative no matter the controls that might apply.  In a blue-wave mood, federal legislators are listening.  Continue reading “Public Banking Under a Blue Wave”

SIFIs and Sisyphus: The Latest Bank-Regulation Rewrite

By Karen Petrou

Starting in 2010, U.S. regulators erected a pyramid of complex, costly, and stringent safety-and-soundness, resolution-planning, and conduct regulations for the largest U.S. banking organizations that have come to be called SIFIs (i.e., systemically-important financial institutions).  Starting in 2018, the agencies began to demolish the still-incomplete SIFI pyramid, issuing on October 31 two sweeping proposals (here and here) not only to implement new U.S. law, but also to go farther.  Bankers say this is nice, but not enough; critics lambast the proposals as forerunners of the next financial crisis.  Either could be right – the proposals repeat the most fundamental mistake of post-crisis financial regulation:  rules piled upon rules or, now, rules subtracted from rules without even an effort to anticipate how all of the revised rules work taken altogether in the financial marketplace as it exists in the real world, not in a set of academic papers or political edicts. Continue reading “SIFIs and Sisyphus: The Latest Bank-Regulation Rewrite”

Hard Work, Low Pay, High Costs: Life on the Ground in a “Well-Performing” Economy

By Matthew Shaw and Drake Palmer

Recent jobs data sparked excitement as news reports talked of how America is finally going back to work.  This is understandable optimism, based as it was on a concurrent rise in labor-force participation and a drop in the government’s preferred measure of unemploymentHere, we assess whether the Fed’s “solid” and “very well performing” economy has finally allowed low-and-moderate income (LMI) households to share the prosperity rapidly pooling at the very top of the income and wealth distribution.  In short, and sad to say, it isn’t – hourly pay for low-wage/low-skill workers has declined in real (i.e., inflation-adjusted) terms over the past four decades and is essentially flat since 2010.  As we noted in our last blog post, wealth concentration has soared since the financial crisis.  Even if a corner has now been turned for everyone else, it’s just a very tight one at the bottom of the equality canyon. Continue reading “Hard Work, Low Pay, High Costs: Life on the Ground in a “Well-Performing” Economy”