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”

Disquiet on the Home Front

By Karen Shaw Petrou and Basil N. Petrou

On June 20, FRB Chairman Powell said, “Nine years into an expansion that has sometimes proceeded slowly, the U.S. economy is performing very well.”  Although Mr. Powell noted low labor participation, puzzling inflation, and problematic wage growth, he said that all will come right as long as the Fed stays the course.  No mention was made of unprecedented U.S. income and wealth inequality or of a housing market serving mostly the oldest, wealthiest, and most coastal among us.  Too bad – inequality and the impediments to effective monetary-policy transmission it erects are among the most important reasons that the nine years Mr. Powell cites have seen the slowest recovery in decades in concert with new threats to financial stability. Continue reading “Disquiet on the Home Front”

Baseball Cards for the Equality Game?

By Karen Shaw Petrou

Although the Federal Reserve resolutely rebuffs suggestions – mine included – that it’s exacerbated U.S. economic inequality, the Bank of England has been forced by public outcry to deal directly with its own inequality impact.  Reacting to strong public protest and withering fire from the Prime Minister, the BoE recently released not only a report denying the charges itself, but now also an exculpatory speech by Andrew Haldane, its influential chief economist.  Clearly feeling the heat, the Bank of England has even come up with a way to sell its positive message:  personalized “scorecards” proving to the skeptical citizenry that it’s better off than personal economic problems might lead it to believe.  Continue reading “Baseball Cards for the Equality Game?”

Caught in CCAR’s Cross-Fire

By Karen Shaw Petrou

  • CCAR now tries to make big banks a shadow U.S. central bank.
  • Result: more systemic risk and still less economic inequality.

How do you make the financial system less stable and increase U.S. economic inequality at the same time?  It’s not easy, but if you’re the Fed, then you accomplish this frightening feat by toughening up the annual CCAR stress test for the biggest banks without an eye to its systemic or market impact.  Stress testing is fine – indeed an important addition to the post-crisis supervisory arsenal.  But, CCAR itself is founded on two flawed premises:  big BHCs are the heart of financial stability and nothing the central banks does adversely affects economic inequality.  Continue reading “Caught in CCAR’s Cross-Fire”

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”