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Macroeconomic Fluctuations, Inequality, and Human Development

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  • Joseph E. Stiglitz

Abstract

This paper examines the two-way relationship between inequality and economic fluctuations, and the implications for human development. For years, the dominant paradigm in macroeconomics, which assumed that income distribution did not matter, at least for macroeconomic behavior, ignored inequality—both its role in causing crises and the effect of fluctuations in general, and crises in particular, on inequality. But the most recent financial crisis has shown the errors in this thinking, and these views are finally beginning to be questioned. Economists who had looked at the average equity of a homeowner—ignoring the distribution—felt comfortable that the economy could easily withstand a large fall in housing prices. When such a fall occurred, however, it had disastrous effects, because a large fraction of homeowners owed more on their homes than the value of the home, leading to waves of foreclosure and economic stress. Policy-makers and economists alike have begun to take note: inequality can contribute to volatility and the creation of crises, and volatility can contribute to inequality. Here, we explore the variety of channels through which inequality affects fluctuations and fluctuations affect inequality, and explore how some of the changes in our economy may have contributed to increased inequality and volatility both directly and indirectly. After describing the two-way relationship, the paper discusses hysteresis—the fact that the consequences of an economic downturn can be long-lived. Then, it examines how policy can either mitigate or exacerbate the inequality consequences of economic downturns, and shows how well-intentioned policies can sometimes be counterproductive. Finally, it links these issues to human development, especially in developing countries.

Suggested Citation

  • Joseph E. Stiglitz, 2012. "Macroeconomic Fluctuations, Inequality, and Human Development," Journal of Human Development and Capabilities, Taylor & Francis Journals, vol. 13(1), pages 31-58, February.
  • Handle: RePEc:taf:jhudca:v:13:y:2012:i:1:p:31-58 DOI: 10.1080/19452829.2011.643098
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    Cited by:

    1. Alberto CARDACI & Francesco SARACENO, 2015. "Inequality, Financialisation and Economic Crises: An Agent-Based Macro Model," Departmental Working Papers 2015-21, Department of Economics, Management and Quantitative Methods at Università degli Studi di Milano.
    2. repec:jle:journl:173 is not listed on IDEAS
    3. Dan Breznitz & Amos Zehavi, 2013. "What Does Politics Have to Do with Innovation? Economic Distribution and Innovation Policy in OECD Countries," Carlo Alberto Notebooks 303, Collegio Carlo Alberto.
    4. Alberto Cardaci & Francesco Saraceno, 2015. "Inequality, Financialisation and Economic Crisis : an Agent-Based Model," Documents de Travail de l'OFCE 2015-27, Observatoire Francais des Conjonctures Economiques (OFCE).
    5. Niño-Zarazúa, Miguel & Roope, Laurence & Tarp, Finn, 2014. "Global interpersonal inequality Trends and measurement," MPRA Paper 52881, University Library of Munich, Germany.
    6. Jacopo Costa & Roberto Ricciuti, 2013. "Sources for the Euro Crisis: Bad Regulation and Weak Institutions in Peripheral Europe," Working Papers 15/2013, University of Verona, Department of Economics.
    7. Giampaolo Gabbi & Elisa Ticci, 2014. "Implications of financialisation for sustainability," Working papers wpaper47, Financialisation, Economy, Society & Sustainable Development (FESSUD) Project.
    8. Ángeles Sánchez-Domínguez & Maria J. Ruiz Martos, 2016. "Europe 2020 Strategy Under the Scope of Life Satisfaction," ThE Papers 16/01, Department of Economic Theory and Economic History of the University of Granada..
    9. Joseph E. Stiglitz, 2016. "The state, the market, and development," WIDER Working Paper Series 001, World Institute for Development Economic Research (UNU-WIDER).
    10. Adalgiso Amendola & Roberto Dell’Anno, 2014. "Income inequality and economic growth: an empirical investigation in Mediterranean countries," RIEDS - Rivista Italiana di Economia, Demografia e Statistica - Italian Review of Economics, Demography and Statistics, SIEDS Societa' Italiana di Economia Demografia e Statistica, vol. 68(2), pages 35-58, April-Jun.
    11. Sangheon Lee & Megan Gerecke, 2015. "Economic development and inequality: revisiting the Kuznets curve," Chapters,in: Labour Markets, Institutions and Inequality, chapter 2, pages 39-64 Edward Elgar Publishing.

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