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”

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”

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”

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?”

Should The Fed Become a “Social Wealth Fund?”

By Karen Shaw Petrou

On November 30, the New York Times ran an op-ed arguing that the Fed could make a big economic-equality difference by becoming, in essence, a giant equity holder on behalf of the nation’s least wealthy.  This concept takes Milton Friedman’s idea of “helicopter money” one step farther, creating “helicopter equity” in hopes of improving long-term wealth accumulation instead of the consumption for which Mr. Friedman wanted his dollars dropped from the sky.  From a progressive-policy perspective, turning the Fed into a giant, redistributive mutual fund has considerable appeal.  Continue reading “Should The Fed Become a “Social Wealth Fund?””