The principal problem facing the US and Europe for the next few years is an output shortfall caused by a lack of demand. Nothing would increase the incomes of all citizens – poor, middle-class and rich – as much as an increase in demand and associated increases in incomes, living standards and confidence in institutions and the future.
It would, however, be a serious mistake to suppose that our problems are only cyclical or amenable to macroeconomic solution. Just as the evolution from an agricultural to an industrial economy has far-reaching implications for almost all institutions, so too does the evolution from an industrial to a knowledge economy. Trends that pre-date the Great Recession will be with us long after any recovery.
The most important of these is the strong shift in the market reward for a small minority of citizens relative to the rewards available to most citizens. According to a recent Congressional Budget Office study, the incomes of the top 1 per cent of the US population, after adjusting for inflation, rose by 275 per cent from 1979 to 2007.
Those who remain serene in the face of these trends or favour policies that would disproportionately cut taxes at the high end assert that snapshot inequality is acceptable as long as there is social mobility within lifetimes and across generations. The reality is that there is too little of both.