IDEAS home Printed from https://ideas.repec.org/a/bla/jecsur/v28y2014i3p421-448.html
   My bibliography  Save this article

Did Inequality Cause The U.S. Financial Crisis?

Author

Listed:
  • Till Treeck

Abstract

In his widely discussed book ‘Fault Lines’ (2010), Raghuram Rajan argues that many low and middle income consumers have reduced their saving and increased debt since income inequality started to soar in the United States in the early 1980s. This has temporarily kept private consumption and employment high, but it also contributed to the creation of a credit bubble. This surge in household indebtedness turned out to be unsustainable in the financial crisis starting in 2007. Although Rajan and others emphasize the role of government in promoting credit to those households with declining relative (permanent) incomes, other strands of the literature have focused more explicitly on the implications of rising inequality for aggregate demand and households’ demand for credit. These differences in emphasis may explain why the literature on the inequality-crisis nexus appears somewhat disparate, even though the various strands are far from mutually exclusive but rather complement each other. We therefore place the ‘Rajan hypothesis’ in the context of competing theories of consumption, and survey the empirical literature on the effects of inequality on household behaviour. We conclude that the empirical evidence calls for a renaissance of the relative income hypothesis of consumption.

Suggested Citation

  • Till Treeck, 2014. "Did Inequality Cause The U.S. Financial Crisis?," Journal of Economic Surveys, Wiley Blackwell, vol. 28(3), pages 421-448, July.
  • Handle: RePEc:bla:jecsur:v:28:y:2014:i:3:p:421-448
    as

    Download full text from publisher

    File URL: http://hdl.handle.net/10.1111/joes.12028
    Download Restriction: Access to full text is restricted to subscribers.

    As the access to this document is restricted, you may want to search for a different version of it.

    References listed on IDEAS

    as
    1. Neumark, David & Postlewaite, Andrew, 1998. "Relative income concerns and the rise in married women's employment," Journal of Public Economics, Elsevier, vol. 70(1), pages 157-183, October.
    2. Jonathan Heathcote & Fabrizio Perri & Giovanni L. Violante, 2010. "Unequal We Stand: An Empirical Analysis of Economic Inequality in the United States: 1967-2006," Review of Economic Dynamics, Elsevier for the Society for Economic Dynamics, vol. 13(1), pages 15-51, January.
    3. Thomas Philippon & Ariell Reshef, 2009. "Wages and Human Capital in the U.S. Financial Industry: 1909-2006," NBER Working Papers 14644, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    4. Frank Levy & Peter Temin, 2007. "Inequality and Institutions in 20th Century America," NBER Working Papers 13106, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    5. Hall, Robert E, 1978. "Stochastic Implications of the Life Cycle-Permanent Income Hypothesis: Theory and Evidence," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 86(6), pages 971-987, December.
    6. repec:ilo:ilowps:470934 is not listed on IDEAS
    7. Claudia Goldin & Robert A. Margo, 1992. "The Great Compression: The Wage Structure in the United States at Mid-Century," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, Oxford University Press, vol. 107(1), pages 1-34.
    8. repec:hrv:faseco:30703979 is not listed on IDEAS
    9. Christopher Brown, 2008. "Inequality, Consumer Credit and the Saving Puzzle," Books, Edward Elgar Publishing, number 12877.
    10. Thomas Lemieux & W. Bentley MacLeod & Daniel Parent, 2009. "Performance Pay and Wage Inequality," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, Oxford University Press, vol. 124(1), pages 1-49.
    11. Dirk Krueger & Fabrizio Perri, 2006. "Does Income Inequality Lead to Consumption Inequality? Evidence and Theory -super-1," Review of Economic Studies, Oxford University Press, vol. 73(1), pages 163-193.
    12. Anthony B. Atkinson & Thomas Piketty & Emmanuel Saez, 2011. "Top Incomes in the Long Run of History," Journal of Economic Literature, American Economic Association, vol. 49(1), pages 3-71, March.
    13. Robert Moffitt & Peter Gottschalk, 2008. "Trends in the Transitory Variance of Male Earnings in the U.S., 1970-2004," Boston College Working Papers in Economics 697, Boston College Department of Economics.
    14. Barry Bosworth & Gary Burtless & John Sabelhaus, 1991. "The Decline in Saving: Evidence from Household Surveys," Brookings Papers on Economic Activity, Economic Studies Program, The Brookings Institution, vol. 22(1), pages 183-256.
    15. Frank, Robert H, 1985. "The Demand for Unobservable and Other Nonpositional Goods," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 75(1), pages 101-116, March.
    16. Maury Gittleman & Mary Joyce, 1999. "Have family income mobility patterns changed?," Demography, Springer;Population Association of America (PAA), vol. 36(3), pages 299-314, August.
    17. Daron Acemoglu, 1999. "Changes in Unemployment and Wage Inequality: An Alternative Theory and Some Evidence," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 89(5), pages 1259-1278, December.
    18. Eckhard Hein & Achim Truger, 2012. "Finance-dominated capitalism in crisis—the case for a global Keynesian New Deal," Journal of Post Keynesian Economics, Taylor & Francis Journals, vol. 35(2), pages 187-213.
    19. Bell, Linda A. & Freeman, Richard B., 2001. "The incentive for working hard: explaining hours worked differences in the US and Germany," Labour Economics, Elsevier, vol. 8(2), pages 181-202, May.
    20. Samuel Bowles & Yongjin Park, 2005. "Emulation, Inequality, and Work Hours: Was Thorsten Veblen Right?," Economic Journal, Royal Economic Society, vol. 115(507), pages 397-412, November.
    21. Milton Friedman, 1957. "Introduction to "A Theory of the Consumption Function"," NBER Chapters,in: A Theory of the Consumption Function, pages 1-6 National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    22. Thomas Piketty & Emmanuel Saez, 2007. "How Progressive is the U.S. Federal Tax System? A Historical and International Perspective," Journal of Economic Perspectives, American Economic Association, vol. 21(1), pages 3-24, Winter.
    23. Thomas I. Palley, 1994. "Debt, Aggregate Demand, and The Business Cycle: an Analysis in the Spirit of Kaldor and Minsky," Journal of Post Keynesian Economics, Taylor & Francis Journals, vol. 16(3), pages 371-390, March.
    24. Slesnick, Daniel T, 1992. "Aggregate Consumption and Saving in the Postwar United States," The Review of Economics and Statistics, MIT Press, vol. 74(4), pages 585-597, November.
    25. Thomas Piketty & Emmanuel Saez, 2003. "Income Inequality in the United States, 1913–1998," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, Oxford University Press, vol. 118(1), pages 1-41.
    26. Dirk Krueger & Fabrizio Perri, 2004. "On the Welfare Consequences of the Increase in Inequality in the United States," NBER Chapters,in: NBER Macroeconomics Annual 2003, Volume 18, pages 83-138 National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    27. David Card & Thomas Lemieux & W. Craig Riddell, 2004. "Unions and Wage Inequality," Journal of Labor Research, Transaction Publishers, vol. 25(4), pages 519-562, October.
    28. Dilip Soman & Amar Cheema, 2002. "The Effect of Credit on Spending Decisions: The Role of the Credit Limit and Credibility," Marketing Science, INFORMS, vol. 21(1), pages 32-53, September.
    29. Michael Kumhof & Romain Rancière & Pablo Winant, 2015. "Inequality, Leverage, and Crises," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 105(3), pages 1217-1245, March.
    30. Matteo Iacoviello, 2008. "Household Debt and Income Inequality, 1963-2003," Journal of Money, Credit and Banking, Blackwell Publishing, vol. 40(5), pages 929-965, August.
    31. Kevin M. Murphy & Andrei Shleifer & Robert W. Vishny, 1991. "The Allocation of Talent: Implications for Growth," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, Oxford University Press, vol. 106(2), pages 503-530.
    32. Thomas I. Palley, 2002. "Economic contradictions coming home to roost? Does the U.S. economy face a long-term aggregate demand generation problem?," Journal of Post Keynesian Economics, Taylor & Francis Journals, vol. 25(1), pages 9-32.
    33. Milton Friedman, 1957. "A Theory of the Consumption Function," NBER Books, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc, number frie57-1, June.
    34. van Treeck, Till. & Sturn, Simon., 2012. "Income inequality as a cause of the Great Recession? : A survey of current debates," ILO Working Papers 994709343402676, International Labour Organization.
    35. Raghuram G. Rajan, 2010. "Fault Lines: How Hidden Fractures Still Threaten the World Economy," Economics Books, Princeton University Press, edition 1, number 9111.
    36. Anthony B. Atkinson & Salvatore Morelli, 2011. "Economic crises and Inequality," Human Development Research Papers (2009 to present) HDRP-2011-06, Human Development Report Office (HDRO), United Nations Development Programme (UNDP).
    37. Pollin, Robert, 1988. "The growth of U.S. household debt: Demand-side influences," Journal of Macroeconomics, Elsevier, vol. 10(2), pages 231-248.
    38. Bordo, Michael D. & Meissner, Christopher M., 2012. "Does inequality lead to a financial crisis?," Journal of International Money and Finance, Elsevier, vol. 31(8), pages 2147-2161.
    39. Raghuram G. Rajan, 2005. "Has financial development made the world riskier?," Proceedings - Economic Policy Symposium - Jackson Hole, Federal Reserve Bank of Kansas City, issue Aug, pages 313-369.
    40. Robert J. Gordon & Ian Dew-Becker, 2008. "Controversies about the Rise of American Inequality: A Survey," NBER Working Papers 13982, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    41. Katharine L. Bradbury & Jane Katz, 2002. "Women's labor market involvement and family income mobility when marriages end," New England Economic Review, Federal Reserve Bank of Boston, issue Q 4, pages 41-74.
    42. Martha L. Olney, 1999. "Avoiding Default: The Role of Credit in the Consumption Collapse of 1930," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, Oxford University Press, vol. 114(1), pages 319-335.
    43. David H. Autor & Lawrence F. Katz & Alan B. Krueger, 1998. "Computing Inequality: Have Computers Changed the Labor Market?," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, Oxford University Press, vol. 113(4), pages 1169-1213.
    44. Robert A. Moffitt & Peter Gottschalk, 2002. "Trends in the Transitory Variance of Earnings in the United States," Economic Journal, Royal Economic Society, vol. 112(478), pages 68-73, March.
    45. Frank, Robert H, 1997. "The Frame of Reference as a Public Good," Economic Journal, Royal Economic Society, vol. 107(445), pages 1832-1847, November.
    46. Gennaro Zezza, 2008. "U.S. growth, the housing market, and the distribution of income," Journal of Post Keynesian Economics, M.E. Sharpe, Inc., vol. 30(3), pages 375-401, April.
    47. Engelbert Stockhammer, 2012. "Rising Inequality as a Root Cause of the Present Crisis," Working Papers wp282, Political Economy Research Institute, University of Massachusetts at Amherst.
    48. Erich Battistin, 2002. "Errors in Survey Reports of Consumption Expenditures," 10th International Conference on Panel Data, Berlin, July 5-6, 2002 C4-2, International Conferences on Panel Data.
    49. Romain Ranciere & Nathaniel A. Throckmorton & Michael Kumhof & Claire Lebarz & Alexander W. Richter, 2012. "Income Inequality and Current Account Imbalances," IMF Working Papers 12/8, International Monetary Fund.
    50. Thomas Palley, 2010. "The Relative Permanent Income Theory of Consumption: A Synthetic Keynes-Duesenberry-Friedman Model," Review of Political Economy, Taylor & Francis Journals, vol. 22(1), pages 41-56.
    51. David S. Lee, 1999. "Wage Inequality in the United States During the 1980s: Rising Dispersion or Falling Minimum Wage?," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, Oxford University Press, vol. 114(3), pages 977-1023.
    52. Markus Christen & Ruskin Morgan, 2005. "Keeping Up With the Joneses: Analyzing the Effect of Income Inequality on Consumer Borrowing," Quantitative Marketing and Economics (QME), Springer, vol. 3(2), pages 145-173, June.
    53. Galbraith, James K., 2012. "Inequality and Instability: A Study of the World Economy Just Before the Great Crisis," OUP Catalogue, Oxford University Press, number 9780199855650.
    54. Richard Blundell & Luigi Pistaferri & Ian Preston, 2008. "Consumption Inequality and Partial Insurance," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 98(5), pages 1887-1921, December.
    55. Amitava Krishna Dutt, 2006. "Maturity, Stagnation And Consumer Debt: A Steindlian Approach," Metroeconomica, Wiley Blackwell, vol. 57(3), pages 339-364, July.
    56. Massimo Guidolin & Elizabeth A. La Jeunesse, 2007. "The decline in the U.S. personal saving rate: is it real and is it a puzzle?," Review, Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis, issue Nov, pages 491-514.
    57. Edward N. Wolff, 2010. "Recent Trends in Household Wealth in the United States-- Rising Debt and the Middle-Class Squeeze--An Update to 2007," Economics Working Paper Archive wp_589, Levy Economics Institute.
    58. Fisher Jonathan D & Johnson David S, 2006. "Consumption Mobility in the United States: Evidence from Two Panel Data Sets," The B.E. Journal of Economic Analysis & Policy, De Gruyter, vol. 6(1), pages 1-38, September.
    59. Auten, Gerald & Gee, Geoffrey, 2009. "Income Mobility in the United States: New Evidence From Income Tax Data," National Tax Journal, National Tax Association;National Tax Journal, vol. 62(2), pages 301-328, June.
    60. Sabelhaus, John & Song, Jae, 2009. "Earnings Volatility Across Groups and Time," National Tax Journal, National Tax Association;National Tax Journal, vol. 62(2), pages 347-364, June.
    61. Rosen, Sherwin, 1981. "The Economics of Superstars," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 71(5), pages 845-858, December.
    62. Heather Boushey & Christian Weller, 2008. "Has Growing Inequality Contributed to Rising Household Economic Distress?," Review of Political Economy, Taylor & Francis Journals, vol. 20(1), pages 1-22.
    63. Wojciech Kopczuk & Emmanuel Saez & Jae Song, 2010. "Earnings Inequality and Mobility in the United States: Evidence from Social Security Data Since 1937," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, Oxford University Press, vol. 125(1), pages 91-128.
    64. Aldo Barba & Massimo Pivetti, 2009. "Rising household debt: Its causes and macroeconomic implications--a long-period analysis," Cambridge Journal of Economics, Oxford University Press, vol. 33(1), pages 113-137, January.
    Full references (including those not matched with items on IDEAS)

    Citations

    Citations are extracted by the CitEc Project, subscribe to its RSS feed for this item.
    as


    Cited by:

    1. Caiani, Alessandro & Russo, Alberto & Gallegati, Mauro, 2016. "Does Inequality Hamper Innovation and Growth?," MPRA Paper 71864, University Library of Munich, Germany.
    2. Eckhard Hein & Daniel Detzer, 2015. "Finance-Dominated Capitalism and Income Distribution: A Kaleckian Perspective on the Case of Germany," Italian Economic Journal: A Continuation of Rivista Italiana degli Economisti and Giornale degli Economisti, Springer;Società Italiana degli Economisti (Italian Economic Association), vol. 1(2), pages 171-191, July.
    3. Hein, Eckhard, 2017. "Financialisation and tendencies towards stagnation: The role of macroeconomic regime changes in the course of and after the financial and economic crisis 2007-9," IPE Working Papers 90/2017, Berlin School of Economics and Law, Institute for International Political Economy (IPE).
    4. repec:bla:jecsur:v:31:y:2017:i:2:p:463-496 is not listed on IDEAS
    5. Salvatore Morelli & Anthony Atkinson, 2015. "Inequality and crises revisited," Economia Politica: Journal of Analytical and Institutional Economics, Springer;Fondazione Edison, vol. 32(1), pages 31-51, April.
    6. Nina Dodig & Eckhard Hein & Daniel Detzer, 2016. "Financialisation and the financial and economic crises: theoretical framework and empirical analysis for 15 countries," Chapters,in: Financialisation and the Financial and Economic Crises, chapter 1, pages 1-41 Edward Elgar Publishing.
    7. Nadja König, 2016. "Household Debt and Macrodynamics - How do Income Distribution and Insolvency Regulations interact?," Macroeconomics and Finance Series 201603, University of Hamburg, Department of Socioeconomics.
    8. repec:elg:ejeepi:v:14:y:2017:i:2:p131-172 is not listed on IDEAS
    9. Rémi Bazillier & Jérôme Hericourt, 2017. "The Circular Relationship Between Inequality, Leverage, And Financial Crises," Journal of Economic Surveys, Wiley Blackwell, vol. 31(2), pages 463-496, April.
    10. Detzer, Daniel & Hein, Eckhard, 2014. "Financialisation and the financial and economic crises: The case of Germany," IPE Working Papers 44/2014, Berlin School of Economics and Law, Institute for International Political Economy (IPE).
    11. Zwickl, Klara & Disslbacher, Franziska & Stagl, Sigrid, 2016. "Work-sharing for a sustainable economy," Ecological Economics, Elsevier, vol. 121(C), pages 246-253.
    12. Bofinger, Peter & Scheuermeyer, Philipp, 2016. "Income Distribution and Aggregate Saving: A Non-Monotonic Relationship," CEPR Discussion Papers 11435, C.E.P.R. Discussion Papers.
    13. Hein, Eckhard, 2018. "Inequality and growth: Marxian and post-Keynesian/Kaleckian perspectives on distribution and growth regimes before and after the Great Recession," IPE Working Papers 96/2018, Berlin School of Economics and Law, Institute for International Political Economy (IPE).
    14. Thomas Goda, 2017. "A comparative review of the role of income inequality in economic crisis theories and its contribution to the financial crisis of 2007-2009," REVISTA FINANZAS Y POLÍTICA ECONÓMICA, UNIVERSIDAD CATOLICA DE COLOMBIA, vol. 9(1), pages 151-174, February.
    15. Christian Alexander Belabed & Mariya Hake, 2018. "Income inequality and trust in national governments in Central, Eastern and Southeastern Europe," Working Papers 222, Oesterreichische Nationalbank (Austrian Central Bank).
    16. Yun K. Kim, 2017. "Rise of Household Debt and the Great Recession in the US: Comparative Perspectives," Working Papers 2017_03, University of Massachusetts Boston, Economics Department.
    17. Eckhard Hein, 2017. "Post-Keynesian macroeconomics since the mid 1990s: main developments," European Journal of Economics and Economic Policies: Intervention, Edward Elgar Publishing, vol. 14(2), pages 131-172, September.
    18. Amaral, Pedro S., 2017. "Monetary Policy and Inequality," Economic Commentary, Federal Reserve Bank of Cleveland, issue January.
    19. Rémi Bazillier & Jérôme Héricourt, 2014. "The Circular Relationship between Inequality, Leverage, and Financial Crises: Intertwined Mechanisms and Competing Evidence," Working Papers 2014-22, CEPII research center.
    20. Belanger, Gilles, 2016. "Inequality Causes Recessions: A Fallout from Ramsey's Conjecture," MPRA Paper 72335, University Library of Munich, Germany.
    21. Scheuermeyer, Philipp & Bofinger, Peter, 2016. "Income Distribution and Household Saving: A Non-Monotonic Relationship," Annual Conference 2016 (Augsburg): Demographic Change 145901, Verein für Socialpolitik / German Economic Association.

    More about this item

    Lists

    This item is featured on the following reading lists or Wikipedia pages:
    1. Did Inequality Cause The U.S. Financial Crisis? (J Econ Surveys 2014) in ReplicationWiki

    Statistics

    Access and download statistics

    Corrections

    All material on this site has been provided by the respective publishers and authors. You can help correct errors and omissions. When requesting a correction, please mention this item's handle: RePEc:bla:jecsur:v:28:y:2014:i:3:p:421-448. See general information about how to correct material in RePEc.

    For technical questions regarding this item, or to correct its authors, title, abstract, bibliographic or download information, contact: (Wiley-Blackwell Digital Licensing) or (Christopher F. Baum). General contact details of provider: http://www.blackwellpublishing.com/journal.asp?ref=0950-0804 .

    If you have authored this item and are not yet registered with RePEc, we encourage you to do it here. This allows to link your profile to this item. It also allows you to accept potential citations to this item that we are uncertain about.

    If CitEc recognized a reference but did not link an item in RePEc to it, you can help with this form .

    If you know of missing items citing this one, you can help us creating those links by adding the relevant references in the same way as above, for each refering item. If you are a registered author of this item, you may also want to check the "citations" tab in your RePEc Author Service profile, as there may be some citations waiting for confirmation.

    Please note that corrections may take a couple of weeks to filter through the various RePEc services.

    IDEAS is a RePEc service hosted by the Research Division of the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis . RePEc uses bibliographic data supplied by the respective publishers.