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Thursday, August 09, 2012

Monetary Policy and Inequality in the U.S.

I need to read this paper:

Innocent Bystanders? Monetary Policy and Inequality in the U.S., by Olivier Coibion, Yuriy Gorodnichenko, Lorenz Kueng, and John Silvia, NBER Working Paper No. 18170, Issued in June 2012 [open link]: Abstrct We study the effects and historical contribution of monetary policy shocks to consumption and income inequality in the United States since 1980. Contractionary monetary policy actions systematically increase inequality in labor earnings, total income, consumption and total expenditures. Furthermore, monetary shocks can account for a significant component of the historical cyclical variation in income and consumption inequality. Using detailed micro-level data on income and consumption, we document the different channels via which monetary policy shocks affect inequality, as well as how these channels depend on the nature of the change in monetary policy.

And, part of the conclusion:

VI Conclusion Recent events have brought both monetary policy and economic inequality to the forefront of policy issues. At odds with the common wisdom of mainstream macroeconomists, a tight link between the two has been suggested by a number of people, ranging widely across the political spectrum from Ron Paul and Austrian economists to Post-Keynesians such as James Galbraith. But while they agree on a causal link running from monetary policy actions to rising inequality in the U.S., the suggested mechanisms vary. Ron Paul and the Austrians emphasize inflationary surprises lowering real wages in the presence of sticky prices and thereby raising profits, leading to a reallocation of income from workers to capitalists. In contrast, post-Keynesians emphasize the disinflationary policies of the Federal Reserve and their disproportionate effects on employment and wages of those at the bottom end of the income distribution.
We shed new light on this question by assessing the effects of monetary policy shocks on consumption and income inequality in the U.S. Contractionary monetary policy shocks appear to have significant long-run effects on inequality, leading to higher levels of income, labor earnings, consumption and total expenditures inequality across households, in direct contrast to the directionality advocated by Ron Paul and Austrian economists. Furthermore, while monetary policy shocks cannot account for the trend increase in income inequality since the early 1980s, they appear to have nonetheless played a significant role in cyclical fluctuations in inequality and some of the longer-run movements around the trends. This is particularly true for consumption inequality, which is likely the most relevant metric from a policy point of view, and expenditure inequality after changes in the target inflation rate. To the extent that distributional considerations may have first-order welfare effects, our results point to a need for models with heterogeneity across households which are suitable for monetary policy analysis. While heterogeneous agent models with incomplete insurance markets have become increasingly common in the macroeconomics literature, little effort has, to the best of our knowledge, yet been devoted to considering their implications for monetary policy. In light of the empirical evidence pointing to non-trivial effects of monetary policy on economic inequality, this seems like an avenue worth developing further in future research. ...
Finally, the sensitivity of inequality measures to monetary policy actions points to even larger costs of the zero-bound on interest rates than is commonly identified in representative agent models. Nominal interest rates hitting the zero-bound in times when the central bank’s systematic response to economic conditions calls for negative rates is conceptually similar to the economy being subject to a prolonged period of contractionary monetary policy shocks. Given that such shocks appear to increase income and consumption inequality, our results suggest that standard representative agent models may significantly understate the welfare costs of zero-bound episodes.

    Posted by on Thursday, August 9, 2012 at 10:40 AM in Academic Papers, Economics, Income Distribution | Permalink  Comments (99)


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