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Does Inequality Lead to a Financial Crisis?

  • Michael D. Bordo
  • Christopher M. Meissner

The recent global crisis has sparked interest in the relationship between income inequality, credit booms, and financial crises. Rajan (2010) and Kumhof and Rancière (2011) propose that rising inequality led to a credit boom and eventually to a financial crisis in the US in the first decade of the 21st century as it did in the 1920s. Data from 14 advanced countries between 1920 and 2000 suggest these are not general relationships. Credit booms heighten the probability of a banking crisis, but we find no evidence that a rise in top income shares leads to credit booms. Instead, low interest rates and economic expansions are the only two robust determinants of credit booms in our data set. Anecdotal evidence from US experience in the 1920s and in the years up to 2007 and from other countries does not support the inequality, credit, crisis nexus. Rather, it points back to a familiar boom-bust pattern of declines in interest rates, strong growth, rising credit, asset price booms and crises.

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Paper provided by National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc in its series NBER Working Papers with number 17896.

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Date of creation: Mar 2012
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Publication status: published as 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.
Handle: RePEc:nbr:nberwo:17896
Note: DAE ME
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  1. Martha L. Olney, 1999. "Avoiding Default: The Role Of Credit In The Consumption Collapse Of 1930," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, MIT Press, vol. 114(1), pages 319-335, February.
  2. Philip Lowe & Claudio Borio, 2002. "Asset prices, financial and monetary stability: exploring the nexus," BIS Working Papers 114, Bank for International Settlements.
  3. Ben Bernanke & Mark Gertler, 1999. "Monetary policy and asset price volatility," Economic Review, Federal Reserve Bank of Kansas City, issue Q IV, pages 17-51.
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  5. Gadi Barlevy & Daniel Tsiddon, 2004. "Earnings Inequality and the Business Cycle," NBER Working Papers 10469, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  6. Enrique G. Mendoza & Marco E. Terrones, 2008. "An Anatomy Of Credit Booms: Evidence From Macro Aggregates And Micro Data," NBER Working Papers 14049, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  7. Olney, Martha L., 1989. "Credit as a Production-Smoothing Device: The Case of Automobiles, 1913–1938," The Journal of Economic History, Cambridge University Press, vol. 49(02), pages 377-391, June.
  8. Mishkin, Frederic S., 1978. "The Household Balance Sheet and the Great Depression," The Journal of Economic History, Cambridge University Press, vol. 38(04), pages 918-937, December.
  9. Roine, Jesper & Vlachos, Jonas & Waldenström, Daniel, 2007. "The Long-run Determinants of Inequality: What Can We Learn from Top Income Data?," Working Paper Series 721, Research Institute of Industrial Economics, revised 30 Apr 2008.
  10. Kumhof, Michael & Rancière, Romain, 2011. "Inequality, Leverage and Crises," CEPR Discussion Papers 8179, C.E.P.R. Discussion Papers.
  11. Michael Bordo & Barry Eichengreen & Daniela Klingebiel & Maria Soledad Martinez-Peria, 2001. "Is the crisis problem growing more severe?," Economic Policy, CEPR;CES;MSH, vol. 16(32), pages 51-82, 04.
  12. 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, MIT Press, vol. 125(1), pages 91-128, February.
  13. Eugene N. White, 2013. "Lessons from the Great American Real Estate Boom and Bust of the 1920s," NBER Chapters, in: Housing and Mortgage Markets in Historical Perspective, pages 115-158 National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  14. Schularick, Moritz & Taylor, Alan M., 2009. "Credit Booms Gone Bust: Monetary Policy, Leverage Cycles and Financial Crises, 1870-2008," CEPR Discussion Papers 7570, C.E.P.R. Discussion Papers.
  15. Olivier Jeanne & Michael D. Bordo, 2002. "Monetary Policy and Asset Prices; Does "Benign Neglect" Make Sense?," IMF Working Papers 02/225, International Monetary Fund.
  16. Attanasio, Orazio P & Weber, Guglielmo, 1994. "The UK Consumption Boom of the Late 1980s: Aggregate Implications of Microeconomic Evidence," Economic Journal, Royal Economic Society, vol. 104(427), pages 1269-1302, November.
  17. James Lothian, 2011. "Why Money Matters: A Fourth Natural Experiment," Open Economies Review, Springer, vol. 22(2), pages 179-187, April.
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