Modigliani Meets Minsky: Inequality, Debt, and Financial Fragility in America, 1950-2016
This paper studies the secular increase in U.S. household debt and its relation to growing income inequality and financial fragility. We exploit a new household-level data set that covers the joint distributions of debt, income, and wealth in the United States over the past seven decades. The data show that increased borrowing by middle-class families with low income growth played a central role in rising indebtedness. Debt-to-income ratios have risen most dramatically for households between the 50th and 90th percentiles of the income distribution. While their income growth was low, ...
Mortgaging the future?
In the six decades following World War II, bank lending measured as a ratio to GDP has quadrupled in advanced economies. To a great extent, this unprecedented expansion of credit was driven by a dramatic growth in mortgage loans. Lending backed by real estate has allowed households to leverage up and has changed the traditional business of banking in fundamental ways. This ?Great Mortgaging? has had a profound influence on the dynamics of business cycles.
Macrofinancial History and the New Business Cycle Facts
In advanced economies, a century-long near-stable ratio of credit to GDP gave way to rapid financialization and surging leverage in the last forty years. This ?financial hockey stick? coincides with shifts in foundational macroeconomic relationships beyond the widely-noted return of macroeconomic fragility and crisis risk. Leverage is correlated with central business cycle moments, which we can document thanks to a decade-long international and historical data collection effort. More financialized economies exhibit somewhat less real volatility, but also lower growth, more tail risk, as well ...
The Great Mortgaging: Housing Finance, Crises, and Business Cycles
This paper unveils a new resource for macroeconomic research: a long-run dataset covering disaggregated bank credit for 17 advanced economies since 1870. The new data show that the share of mortgages on banks? balance sheets doubled in the course of the 20th century, driven by a sharp rise of mortgage lending to households. Household debt to asset ratios have risen substantially in many countries. Financial stability risks have been increasingly linked to real estate lending booms which are typically followed by deeper recessions and slower recoveries. Housing finance has come to play a ...
The College Wealth Divide: Education and Inequality in America, 1956-2016
Using new long-run microdata, this article studies wealth and income trends of households with a college degree (college households) and without a college degree (noncollege households) in the United States since 1956. We document the emergence of a substantial college wealth premium since the 1980s, which is considerably larger than the college income premium. Over the past four decades, the wealth of college households has tripled. By contrast, the wealth of noncollege households has barely grown in real terms over the same period. Part of the rising wealth gap can be traced back to ...
Bubbles, Credit, and Their Consequences
The collapse of an asset price bubble usually creates a great deal of economic disruption. But bubbles are hard to anticipate and costly to deflate. As a result, policymakers struggle to determine how they should respond, if at all. Evaluating the economic costs of past equity and real estate bubbles?with particular attention to how much credit grew during boom phases?can provide valuable insights for this debate. A recent study finds that equity bubbles are relatively benign. More danger comes from housing bubbles in which credit grows rapidly.
No price like home: global house prices, 1870-2012
How have house prices evolved in the long-run? This paper presents annual house price indices for 14 advanced economies since 1870. Based on extensive data collection, we are able to show for the first time that house prices in most industrial economies stayed constant in real terms from the 19th to the mid-20th century, but rose sharply in recent decades. Land prices, not construction costs, hold the key to understanding the trajectory of house prices in the long-run. Residential land prices have surged in the second half of the 20th century, but did not increase meaningfully before. We ...
Income and Wealth Inequality in America, 1949-2016
This paper introduces a new long-run dataset based on archival data from historical waves of the Survey of Consumer Finances. The household-level data allow us to study the joint distributions of household income and wealth since 1949. We expose the central importance of portfolio composition and asset prices for wealth dynamics in postwar America. Asset prices shift the wealth distribution because the composition and leverage of household portfolios differ systematically along the wealth distribution. Middle-class portfolios are dominated by housing, while rich households predominantly own ...
Monetary Policy and Racial Inequality
This paper aims at an improved understanding of the relationship between monetary policy and racial inequality. We investigate the distributional effects of monetary policy in a unified framework, linking monetary policy shocks both to earnings and wealth differentials between black and white households. Specifically, we show that, although a more accommodative monetary policy increases employment of black households more than white households, the overall effects are small. At the same time, an accommodative monetary policy shock exacerbates the wealth difference between black and white ...
Effects of Quasi-Random Monetary Experiments
The trilemma of international finance explains why interest rates in countries that fix their exchange rates and allow unfettered cross-border capital flows are largely outside the monetary authority’s control. Using historical panel-data since 1870 and using the trilemma mechanism to construct an external instrument for exogenous monetary policy fluctuations, we show that monetary interventions have very different causal impacts, and hence implied inflation-output trade-offs, according to whether: (1) the economy is operating above or below potential; (2) inflation is low, thereby bringing ...