How economists have misunderstood inequality: An interview with James Galbraith

Before 1980, few academics in the United States gave much thought to the idea of economic inequality. It just wasn’t a glaring concern. But in the last 30 years, the incomes of the nation’s wealthiest 1 percent have surged, and more and more economists have been paying attention.

Yet there’s still plenty about economic inequality that’s not well understood. What’s actually driving the gap between the richest and poorest? Does it hurt economic growth, or is it largely benign? Should it be reversed? Can it be reversed? Surprisingly, there’s little consensus on how to answer these questions — in part because good data on the topic is hard to come by.

In his fascinating new book, “Inequality and Instability,” James K. Galbraith, an economics professor at the University of Texas at Austin, takes a more detailed look at inequality by assembling a wealth of new data on the phenomenon. Among other things, he finds that economic inequality has been rising in roughly similar ways around the world since 1980. And this rise appears to be driven, in large part, by the financial sector — and the changes that modern finance has forced in the global economy.

Read the whole story in the Washington Post

What will be learned can be summarized as follows (from an Amazon review):

(1) Inequality generates unemployment, and unemployment generates inequality, this I dub `Galbraith’s Law.’ Unemployment was not much of a problem post-Reagan (post-1984-5), but inequality has been on the rise. What Galbraith’s Law suggests is if inequality is on the rise, unemployment is to follow. This is what happened in 2007-8, inequality destabilized the economy, a crisis manifested, and generated unemployment. Since the Great Recession of 2007-8, the Obama administration has failed to address inequality; consequently Galbraith’s Law suggests the “Jobless recovery” will continue until inequality is reduced.

(2) The financial industry, and its regulation or lack of regulation, is the primary determinant of the degree of inequality in an economy.

(3) The level of inequality radically determines the stability (low inequality) and instability (high inequality) of a macroeconomy.

(4) Economic policy can reduce or increase inequality in a society. Because of the importance of finance, monetary policy and interest rate changes can be argued to be the most important policy as both culprit and mediator of inequality.

(5) Although free-market labor market and wage policy does not necessarily cause severe income inequality, progressive labor market and wage policy is important policy to combat income inequality caused by the functioning (and dysfunction) of the financial industry which generates income inequality. 

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About James Crist

How do we stop America's decline? The country is in trouble and we can all feel it. Where did we go wrong? How do we fix it? We now have an auction-based government, for sale to the highest bidder. Politicians have become nothing more than corporate whores and pawns for the rich. If we want our representatives to represent us, let them get their campaign money from us, their constituents. We have to amend the constitution to get the big money out of politics.
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