Ultra-Low Rates and Extra-High Inequality

By Karen Petrou

On March 12, the Financial Times ran one of Martin Wolf’s insightful columns, this one focusing on a critical facet of post-crisis monetary policy – ultra-low interest rates – to see why so much monetary-policy firepower had had such minimal macroeconomic impact.  Mr. Wolf suspects that the secular stagnation first framed by Lawrence Summers means that ultra-low real rates are here to stay due in part to economic inequality.  However, what if ultra-low rates on their own exacerbate inequality and thus create a negative feedback loop with dangerous implications not only for long-term growth and financial stability, but also for inequality?  Considerable evidence shows that ultra-low rates are inextricably intertwined with extra-high inequality.  Fed thinking on the new neutral rate thus must prick the traditional neo-Keynesian bubble to ensure that Chairman Powell’s new normalization isn’t a path to still worse inequality. Continue reading “Ultra-Low Rates and Extra-High Inequality”

SIFIs and Sisyphus: The Latest Bank-Regulation Rewrite

By Karen Petrou

Starting in 2010, U.S. regulators erected a pyramid of complex, costly, and stringent safety-and-soundness, resolution-planning, and conduct regulations for the largest U.S. banking organizations that have come to be called SIFIs (i.e., systemically-important financial institutions).  Starting in 2018, the agencies began to demolish the still-incomplete SIFI pyramid, issuing on October 31 two sweeping proposals (here and here) not only to implement new U.S. law, but also to go farther.  Bankers say this is nice, but not enough; critics lambast the proposals as forerunners of the next financial crisis.  Either could be right – the proposals repeat the most fundamental mistake of post-crisis financial regulation:  rules piled upon rules or, now, rules subtracted from rules without even an effort to anticipate how all of the revised rules work taken altogether in the financial marketplace as it exists in the real world, not in a set of academic papers or political edicts. Continue reading “SIFIs and Sisyphus: The Latest Bank-Regulation Rewrite”

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”

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”

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”