Poster Paper: How Have Financial Markets Shaped US Income Inequality Since The 1980s?

Thursday, November 7, 2013
West End Ballroom A (Washington Marriott)

*Names in bold indicate Presenter

Bert Azizoglu, The New School
Since the early 1980s the US economy has experienced dramatic changes many of which evolved around financial markets. Financial businesses have expanded their influence on the economic and political life thanks to the emergence of new financial actors, instruments and regulatory measures. Similarly, non-financial firms have engaged more heavily in financial markets both to generate more income but also to take out more debt. Households, on the other hand, have increasingly relied on financial services to manage their retirement savings, finance their consumption, homeownership and more recently higher education. In the meantime, economic inequality has reached record levels. The paper at hand investigates the relationship between the changes in the financial markets and growing inequality with the aim of informing the contemporary policy discourse. It develops an analytical framework of financialization which begins with an outline of how monetary, fiscal and regulatory reforms in the 1980s have shored up financial sector income. I argue that this has then led to the expansion of credit services and increased equity ownership in the 1990s. Especially corporate governance reforms aiming to improve shareholder value did not only put employment and wages under pressure, but also awarded managers who adopted this agenda. Growing inequality since the 1980s can therefore be framed as one where financial markets not only facilitate income concentration at the top but also wage stagnation, jobless recoveries and growing debt for the broader economy. Hence, there is value in discussing policy measures about reducing inequality, improving labor market outcomes and regulating finance in junction with each other.