And it hasn’t just been theorizing. In 2008, George W. Bush and Nancy Pelosi engineered the tax rebate stimulus, in which everyone received a check in the mail—paid for, eventually, with fresh new money. Studies have found that this stimulus worked quite well; it was just overwhelmed by the Great Recession, and we only received checks once. Mill, Keynes, Friedman, and even Bernanke might argue that we should revive a similar stimulus again—only this time, on a much bigger scale, and on an ongoing basis.
This is why income inequality is dangerous: it is a drag on aggregate demand. As inequality increases, as it has in the U.S., the drag grows commensurately. Stagnant wages mean that consumer borrowing must be steadily increased to keep the economy moving forward. Meanwhile, the fruits of growth flowing to the top mean a vast pile-up in savings and associated asset bubbles, and the recessions that follow are harder and harder to recover from. In other words, keeping an economy that suffers from galloping economic inequality pressurized and growing requires an economic policy regime that contains the seeds of its own destruction. And this leads us to where we are now: consumers today can’t stomach any more debt, interest rates have hit the floor, and a grinding, low-level depression is upon us. Welcome to 2014.
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