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Is income distribution holding up the recovery?

A friendly debate between Stiglitz and Krugman (and also further comments here) on the role of income distribution in the recovery has been getting some attention in the blogosphere. Note that I don’t think neither Krugman nor Stiglitz would deny that worsening income distribution was not relevant for the crisis, even if they were slower than some heterodox economists like Jamie Galbraith or Bob Pollin, to name two, in emphasizing the role of inequality. The question is whether inequality has been central for the slow recovery in the last few years.

Stiglitz’s main reason for suggesting that the recovery has been stifled by inequality is that “middle class is too weak to support the consumer spending that has historically driven our economic growth.” Krugman, for some reason, thinks that this argument is a long run one, and suggests that while: “it’s true that at any given point in time the rich have much higher savings rates than the poor. Since Milton Friedman, however, we’ve known that this fact is to an important degree a sort of statistical illusion. Consumer spending tends to reflect expected income over an extended period.” However, he thinks that “you can have full employment based on purchases of yachts, luxury cars, and the services of personal trainers and celebrity chefs.” In other words, worsening of income distribution might actually help the recovery.

I find Krugman’s proposition highly unlikely, even if it is possible.

Read the rest at Triple Crisis.

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