Inequality Rising

By Karen Petrou

As the COVID crisis continues, some have speculated that wealth inequality will drop because it did in the 1400s during the Black Death.  However, this cure is not only of course considerably worse than the disease, but it’s also no cure.  Economic inequality is a cumulative process – the worse off you are, the worse off you get unless something positive reverses this compound effect.  Conversely, the better off, the still more comfortable unless something comes along to redistribute your gains, however well or ill gotten.  Given how unequal the U.S. was before COVID, it will surely get only more so now, especially if the Fed stays the course with trillions for financial markets and pennies for everyone else. Continue reading “Inequality Rising”

Wheelies on the Yield Curve:  Inequality, Disintermediation and the Hazards of New QE

By Karen Petrou

Starting with our very first EconomicEquality blog post, we demonstrated the direct link between quantitative easing (QE) and the sharp rise in U.S. wealth inequality that differentiates this recovery from all that came before.  QE exacerbates inequality because, combined with post-crisis rules and ultra-low rates, it creates a market dynamic in which banks hold huge excess-reserve balances instead of making equality-essential loans and markets relentlessly chase yield, increasing equity valuations and driving credit to borrowers such as highly-leveraged companies.  In 2019, the Fed bulked up its portfolio in what is now known as QE-lite in hopes of rescuing the repo market, reinvigorating sputtering equity markets no matter the Fed’s ongoing insistence that this round of portfolio increases isn’t QE. Continue reading “Wheelies on the Yield Curve:  Inequality, Disintermediation and the Hazards of New QE”

“People’s QE” and Noblesse Oblige

By Karen Petrou

As the chimera of the post-crisis recovery fades and central bankers find themselves powerless to reverse recession, “people’s quantitative easing” is gaining attention as a tool a growing number of central bankers fancy gives them a new way to wreak their beneficent will.  People’s QE – also known more colorfully as “helicopter money” – means that, despairing of fiscal-policy remedies, central banks print money and then either just give it to the people or invest it in assets they or their bosses think best for equalizing, trade-deficit dropping, climate-restoring, or other all-to-the-good economic growth.  However, it’s not just central bankers casting longing eyes at the ability of central banks to print money – officials ranging from those in the Trump Administration to the Democratic Socialist candidate for President see it as a new way to do what they think are the voter’s bidding without raising the deficit.  This is really, really central banking, but for all its power, it’s very problematic.  QE so far has done little to spur sustained recovery and much to make the U.S. even more unequal.  There’s no reason to believe a people’s QE will be any better. Continue reading ““People’s QE” and Noblesse Oblige”

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”

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”