With equity markets reaching new heights at a time of rising income and wealth inequality, it should be obvious that today's market mania will end in tears, reproducing the economic injustices of the 2008 crash. For all of the talk of supporting households, it is Main Street that will suffer most when the music stops.
NEW YORK – The US economy’s K-shaped recovery is underway. Those with stable full-time jobs, benefits, and a financial cushion are faring well as stock markets climb to new highs. Those who are unemployed or partially employed in low-value-added blue-collar and service jobs – the new “precariat” – are saddled with debt, have little financial wealth, and face diminishing economic prospects.
These trends indicate a growing disconnect between Wall Street and Main Street. The new stock-market highs mean nothing to most people. The bottom 50% of the wealth distribution holds just 0.7% of total equity-market assets, whereas the top 10% commands 87.2%, and the top 1% holds 51.8%. The 50 richest people have as much wealth as the 165 million people at the bottom.
Rising inequality has followed the ascent of Big Tech. As many as three retail jobs are lost for every job that Amazon creates, and similar dynamics hold true in other sectors dominated by tech giants. But today’s social and economic stresses are not new. For decades, strapped workers have not been able to keep up with the Joneses, owing to the stagnation of real (inflation-adjusted) median income alongside rising costs of living and spending expectations.
For decades, the “solution” to this problem was to “democratize” finance so that poor and struggling households could borrow more to buy homes they couldn’t afford, and then use those homes as ATM machines. This expansion of consumer credit – mortgages and other debt – resulted in a bubble that ended with the 2008 financial crisis, when millions lost their jobs, homes, and savings.