Inequality Hits Fiscal Reality

By Karen Petrou

Readers of this blog know well that we think U.S. economic inequality is not only a profound social-welfare and political-consensus problem, but also a scourge to financial-market stability.  We have not generally wandered into fiscal-policy questions, preferring to focus on a far less well-known, but potent inequality force:  U.S. monetary and regulatory policy.  However, financial and fiscal policy are inextricably intertwined.  If inequality increases the risk of financial crises – which it does – and financial crises pose macroeconomic risk – which of course they do – then fiscal policy must ride to the rescue to prevent prolonged recession or even depression.  Could it, given how acute U.S. economic inequality has become?  A new report from Moody’s says that the rating agency may well have to downgrade U.S. debt – the AAA sine qua non of global finance – due to inequality.  Continue reading “Inequality Hits Fiscal Reality”

It Wasn’t the Butler

By Karen and Basil Petrou

Summary

In the raft of crisis retrospectives released during the ten-year anniversary of the Great Financial Crisis, general consensus continues the conventional wisdom that subprime mortgages were the spark of the subsequent conflagration.  A new study from the Federal Reserve Banks of Atlanta and New York mobilizes formidable data to show that hapless subprime purchase-money borrowers were victims, not perpetrators.  The borrowers who did the damage that precipitated the debacle were, they find, prime borrowers whipped into a speculative frenzy by the combination of low rates and flagrantly-unwise mortgage lending.  Theoretically, post-crisis reforms have solved for this.  Actually, maybe not given the exodus of mortgage securitization from regulated entities, sharp rise in cash-out refis, and investment-focused borrowing with house prices well above affordability thresholds in many major markets.  Continue reading “It Wasn’t the Butler”

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”

How the Other Half Goes Broke

By Karen Shaw Petrou and Matthew Shaw

In our last blog post, we laid out the most telling inequality-data points from an important new study from the Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis which for the first time runs from 1949 to 2016 and adds many critical equality measures.  These data show more decisively than ever not only that wealth inequality in 2016 is the worst since at least the Second World War, but also that this is due to who holds the assets that have gained the most.  Since which assets return how much is due now in large part to post-crisis monetary and regulatory policy rather than to market forces and broader macroeconomic trends, it’s post-crisis policy – not forces from beyond – that increasingly dictates U.S. economic equality. Continue reading “How the Other Half Goes Broke”

It’s Worse Than You Thought

By Karen Shaw Petrou and Matthew Shaw

Janet Yellen, Ben Bernanke, and Jerome Powell have each bemoaned U.S. economic inequality and then asserted that it’s everyone else’s fault.  On the blog and in our speeches, we counter that post-crisis monetary and regulatory policy had an unintended but nonetheless dramatic and destructive impact on the income and wealth divides.  In doing so, we often point to just how much worse and how much faster inequality became as post-crisis policy took hold.  Demographics, technology, and trade policy didn’t change anywhere near that much that fast.  Now, a new study from the Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis takes the story forward with a trove of data evaluating U.S. economic inequality from 1949 through 2016.  For all the recovery and employment the Fed cites in its equality defense, these data tell a far different tale.   Continue reading “It’s Worse Than You Thought”