Politics and Inequality

inequalityThe Federal Reserve has just released a survey indicating that income and wealth inequality has been growing in the United States since 2007. Meanwhile, President Obama has called for government action to reduce inequality. So, it is worth a remark that the growth in inequality reported by the Fed pretty much coincides with the Obama presidency.

One can debate how much government can actually do to affect inequality, but because the president has called for government action to reduce it, that is an indication that President Obama believes government policy has an effect. If so, Obama’s government would have to be responsible for at least a part of the growing inequality the Fed has reported.

Imagine if this news on growing inequality had been announced during the Bush administration. Much of the reporting would have been on how much inequality has grown because of President Bush’s policies. Nobody is saying this today, about President Obama’s policies.

Is the recent increase in inequality really a result of the president’s policies?

The president’s own statements indicate he thinks inequality is enough a product of government policy that those policies could be changed to reduce it. Using the president’s own words, we could find him responsible.

If the president’s policies have had any effect on inequality, there are good arguments to suggest that they have increased it. The president’s regulatory policies, the huge budget deficits, and his low interest rate policies, have slowed economic growth, which disproportionately affects those at the bottom, and clearly, small savers, who tend to rely on interest income more than on appreciation of financial assets, have been hurt by the president’s policies even as upper-income investors have been helped by the stock market boom fueled by the Fed’s policies.

So, I’ll agree with the president part-way on this. Not only can government have some effect on inequality, as the president suggests, the policies he has supported have increased inequality. Despite the president’s rhetoric, his policies have not been good for those at the bottom end of the income distribution.

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