The Low-Skill Losers

By Karen Petrou

As we have noted, here and here, the Fed is devoting increasing analytical – if not yet policy-maker – attention to the unequalizing impact of unconventional policy.  It’s a start – a major problem besetting central banks in countries without a robust middle class – i.e., the U.S. – is that old-school representative-agent thinking leads to unanticipated, unequal outcomes when wealth and income are disproportionately enjoyed by the very few, very rich.  It is for this reason that the Fed’s touted employment benefit and “robust” economy in the wake of post-crisis policy has done so little for so many who remain so angry.  A new Fed paper helps to show why. Continue reading “The Low-Skill Losers”

Income, Wealth, and Well-Being

By Karen Shaw Petrou

In prior blog posts, we’ve looked at recent data on income and wealth to assess U.S. economic equality and the policies that drive it.  Depressed that we are, we soldier on and here turn to a new Federal Reserve staff study that puts these two critical indicators together with a third – consumption – in an impressive effort to judge economic equality not just by separate distribution tables, but also by a “multi-dimensional” approach.  This looks not only at who has how much income or wealth, but also at who has the most of each along with the greatest amount of consumption.  Combining all three measures of prosperity turns out to show that a small group of people who have the most income and wealth control a lot more economic resources than even prior measures of inequality revealed.  Continue reading “Income, Wealth, and Well-Being”

The Mother of All Negative Feedback Loops: Economic Inequality, Political Polarization, and the 2018 Congress

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”

The Morass That Swallowed the Middle Class

By Matthew Shaw

While much of the inequality debate focuses on the gains of “the 1%,” less attention has been paid to the economic well-being of what is broadly termed the middle class, which is all too often just lumped into the other “99%.”  However, focusing the debate on only the 1% obscures important trends within each of these groups, including that there is ample evidence that the gains of the 1% are largely driven by the wealthiest among this already-elite group along with diminishing prospects for the rest of us.  Today, we look at one of these groups with diminishing prospects and a concerning trend recently highlighted by IMF staff: the “hollowing out” of the U.S. middle class.  Continue reading “The Morass That Swallowed the Middle Class”

Another Reason to Avoid Economic Inequality: Increased Financial-Crisis Risk

By Karen Shaw Petrou

In our post on the inequality impact of quantitative easing, we said that QE-driven asset valuations not only favor the rich, but in concert with ultra-low rates also sows the seeds for the type of asset-bubble that all too often leads to crashes and thus still more macroeconomic misery and inequality.  A new staff paper from the Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco finds that, even if the asset-price bubble doesn’t burst, inequality on its own could stoke the next U.S. financial crisis, with heightened inequality also found to be the best crisis predictor of all the other, more typical measures that the paper surveys.
Continue reading “Another Reason to Avoid Economic Inequality: Increased Financial-Crisis Risk”