America’s Stalwart Savers Get the Sucker Punch

By Karen Petrou

Recently, I had an op-ed in the Financial Times arguing that negative rates make it even harder for moderate-income households to accumulate wealth.  The reason, I said, is simple:  when savings-deposit or similar rates are ultra-low or even negative in real terms, households that save get poorer and poorer both on their own and in comparison to wealthier households with more sophisticated financial-asset investments.  This might seem irrefutable, but the article generated hundreds of comments.  Many were positive but more than a few countered that lower-income households don’t have savings so savings rates don’t exacerbate economic inequality.  To my mind, this is like saying that poor people are already thin so the fact that they don’t have enough food doesn’t matter. Continue reading “America’s Stalwart Savers Get the Sucker Punch”

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”

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 to Craft a 21st-Century Equality Bank

By Federal Financial Analytics

Reflecting a lot of questions and commentary, the American Banker last week published an op-ed by Karen Petrou showing how to build the bankers’ banks to solve at least some of our economic-inequality problems.  Many proposals seek to do so via the U.S. Postal Service, but an Equality Bank is at least as powerful and comes only from the private-sector. Continue reading “How to Craft a 21st-Century Equality Bank”

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?”