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”

If You Really Want to Be Unequal, Be Disabled

By Karen Petrou and Matthew Shaw*

Like most who assess U.S. economic inequality, we’ve focused in this blog on the way income and wealth divide across Americans in general, by race, by age, by gender, by ethnicity, and even by nothing more than where one lives.  However, working on another pro bono initiative – this time to speed biomedical research – it’s dawned on us that there’s another major factor that divides the haves from the have-nots that’s even less the result of individual action than all these well-studied demographic criteria:  disability. Continue reading “If You Really Want to Be Unequal, Be Disabled”

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”

Public or Perish? The Future of Public Banking

By Karen Petrou and Drake Palmer

“Public” banks have been touted since before the U.S. Revolution as a remedy for a variety of common financial ailments, most recently as a cure for private banking’s presumed indifference to public purpose in order to protect personal profit.  The 21st-Century Equality Bank we previously outlined is one way to align a bank’s private interest with public purpose without public subsidy.  Is it enough or are public banks also required?  The public-bank scorecard documents several centuries of well-intentioned financial institutions brought down due to immunity from effective regulation and a lack of market discipline.  Given the renewed interest in public banks, will this time be different?  We doubt it.  Continue reading “Public or Perish? The Future of Public Banking”

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”