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Debt, wages and the fiscal cliff

It is well known that while real wages kept the pace with labor productivity up to the early 1970s in the United States, they have lagged ever since, as shown in Figure 1. The causes of the collapse of the so-called Golden Age of Capitalism that allowed for expanding wages in the advanced economies are complex and diverse, but it is clear that the demise of the Keynesian consensus and full employment policies was at center stage.

One of the important consequences of the stagnation of wages in the United States has been the increasing reliance on debt as a source of funds for spending. Pivetti and Barba (2009) have argued that rising household indebtedness should be seen essentially as a reaction to stagnant real wages and the cutbacks in the welfare state. In other words, financialization has been the counterpart of enduring changes in income distribution. A point that has also been raised by Jamie Galbraith in his new book Inequality and Instability.

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