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”

How Equality Hangs in the Balance Sheet

By Karen Shaw Petrou

As Thomas Piketty’s book and much other research show, economic equality is a cumulative-return construct – that is, absent engines of growth, the rich get richer and middle-income households fall ever farther behind.  Thus, when bank balance-sheet capacity shrinks and lending to core economic engines such as housing and small business falters, income distribution widens and wealth inequality grows inexorably worse.  Continue reading “How Equality Hangs in the Balance Sheet”