Posts tagged income inequality
Posts tagged income inequality
10% of people in the US own almost 75% of the wealth in the US.
It’s a well-known fact that household debt has exploded in recent decades, rising from 50 percent of GDP in 1980 to over 100 percent on the eve of the Great Recession. It’s also well-known that household borrowing has increased sharply over this period. Indeed, for most people — including many economists — these are two ways of saying the same thing. In fact, though, they are quite different claims, and while the first one is certainly true, the second is not.
How can debt have increased if borrowing hasn’t? Though this seems counterintuitive, the answer is simple. We’re not interested in debt per se, but in leverage, defined as the ratio of a sector’s or unit’s debt to its income (or net worth). This ratio can go up because the numerator rises or because the denominator falls…
Think of it this way: If you borrow money and your income in dollars rises by 10 percent a year (3 percent real growth, say, and 7 percent inflation) then you will find it much easier to pay off the debt when it comes due. But if you borrow the same amount and your dollar income turns out to rise at only 4 percent a year (the same real growth but only 1 percent inflation) then the payment, when it comes due, will be a larger fraction of your income. That, not increased household spending, is why debt ratios rose in the 1980s.
Neither the 1980s nor the 1990s saw an increase in new household borrowing — on the contrary, the household sector in the aggregate showed a primary surplus in these decades, in contrast with the primary deficits of the postwar decades. So both the conservative theory explaining increased household borrowing by shorter time horizons and a general lack of self-control, and the liberal theory explaining it by efforts of those further down the income ladder to maintain consumption standards in the face of a falling share of income, need some rethinking.
Chart courtesy of Mother Jones. Above, J. W. Mason takes out the popular misconceptions that the debt increase is due to increased borrowing or increased consumption. In reality, the consumption and borrowing hasn’t changed significantly- it’s the stagnation of income that has caused the issue.
One of the central characteristics of highly unequal societies is that two sets of laws develop: One set for the rich and powerful and one set for everyone else. The more unequal societies become, the more easily they accept the unacceptable, and with each unrebuked violation, the powerful actors at the top of the society gain an ever greater sense of entitlement and an ever greater sense that the laws that govern everyone else don’t apply to them. As a result, their behavior becomes increasingly egregious.
I would suggest that the robo-mortgage scandal is a strong indicator that this type of unequal justice is now becoming ever more commonplace in America. Past bank abuses are typically discussed without a sense of outrage. They have, in effect, become a recognized practice of deception with no consequences. Here are three prominent examples from the past few years:
First, the robo-mortgage scandal was discovered. As powerful members of society, the banks effectively decided what laws they wanted to follow and disregarded others. The banks claimed that their violations were technical and harmed no one. Nonetheless, the activities of the banks constituted massive fraud, perjury, and conspiracy. Bank officials have testified in court that they filed as many as 10,000 false affidavits a month. These are effectively undeniable admissions of law-breaking on a massive scale.
It’s a federal crime, punishable by up of five years of imprisonment, to knowingly file a false affidavit with the court. From the perspective of the law, you are guilty of the same perjury when you falsely testify in court or when you submit a false affidavit. In most states, filing false affidavits with the court similarly constitutes a felony offense of perjury.
If an individual citizen perpetrated this kind of massive perjury, he or she would be prosecuted. For illegal activities to take place on this type of massive scale, other serious crimes, such as conspiracy, are undoubtedly committed as well.
The banks committed very clear, easily provable crimes by transferring property titles that they didn’t own- stealing from homeowners, and lying to the court about it. The only consequence they face for these crimes is the “settlement” that affords for less than a $2,000 per loan file fine- not bad for a felony offense that can normally result in five years in prison.
That’s assuming that the banks even comply with that much. Gretchen Morgenson at the New York Times details how Banks often simply forgo their end of settlements:
[T]wo years of statistics, through last September, show 5,771 cases where mediators found that banks had failed to participate in good faith or were not complying with other aspects of the mediation law. That is equivalent to 42 percent of all the mediations completed in the [Foreclosure Mediation Program in Nevada].
This is in addition to other bank fraud settlements in Nevada that Bank of America violated with what appears to be complete impunity. We have two sets of rules now; one of the wealthy and one for the rest of us.
From the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities:
Tax policy should lean against the rising tide of income inequality, not exacerbate it. During the first three decades after World War II, economic growth was robust and widely shared: economy-wide productivity improvements were accompanied by significant increases in the living standards of most Americans. In recent decades, by contrast, the benefits of economic growth have not been widely shared. CBO data show that between 1979 and 2007, the average after-tax income of the top 1 percent of Americans grew by 281 percent, after adjusting for inflation, compared to just 25 percent for the middle 20 percent of Americans, and 16 percent for the poorest fifth of the population.
The tax cuts enacted in 2001 and 2003 provided the largest benefit to the highest-income households and widened these yawning income disparities. Under these tax cuts, households with incomes over $1 million stand to receive an average tax cut of $130,000 in 2012, according to the Tax Policy Center, equivalent to an increase of 6.3 percent in their after-tax income. Meanwhile, households in the middle of the income spectrum will receive tax cuts that equal 2.3 percent of their income. Households in the bottom quintile will receive an average increase in income of less than 1 percent.  (See Figure 3.)
Summary: after tax incomes from Bush’s tax cuts:
- Households > $1 million: increase of 6.3%
- Households in middle income: increase of 2.3%
- Households in bottom quintile: increase of < 1%
The GOP has been actively engaged in bottom-to-top income redistribution. And because of God, guns, and gays, the fundamentalist teabaggers will vote for it — despite their own precarious financial situation.
Want it to stop? Vote next time.
Member this the next time someone complains about the poor paying no income taxes: they have so little income to pay from that it only makes sense.
Your daily #classwar.
Productivity has surged, but income and wages have stagnated for most Americans. If the median household income had kept pace with the economy since 1970, it would now be nearly $92,000, not $50,000.
Plus, 11 other charts that would really piss you off…if you had time to read them.
This is what I think of when people tell me that certain social services or policies would be bad to our GDP. Most Americans won’t notice, even a little.
Changes in proportional share of total national income, 1910-. From the Washington Post.
Since 1970, average wage income is up 26 percent.
Median CEO income is up 430 percent.
Read the Post’s special report: Breakaway Wealth.