Income inequality may contribute to financial crises, says Harvard economic historian






David A. Moss, an economic and policy historian at the Harvard Business School, has spent years studying income inequality. While he has long believed that the growing disparity between the rich and poor was harmful to the people on the bottom, he says he hadn’t seen the risks to the world of finance, where many of the richest earn their great fortunes.

Now, as he studies the financial crisis of 2008, Mr. Moss says that even Wall Street may have something serious to fear from inequality — namely, another crisis.

The possible connection between economic inequality and financial crises came to Mr. Moss about a year ago, when he was at his research center in Cambridge, Mass. A colleague suggested that he overlay two different graphs — one plotting financial regulation and bank failures, and the other charting trends in income inequality.

Mr. Moss says he was surprised by what he saw. The timelines danced in sync with each other. Income disparities between rich and poor widened as government regulations eased and bank failures rose.

“I could hardly believe how tight the fit was — it was a stunning correlation,” he said. “And it began to raise the question of whether there are causal links between financial deregulation, economic inequality and instability in the financial sector. Are all of these things connected?”

Professor Moss is among a small group of economists, sociologists and legal scholars who are now trying to discover if income inequality contributes to financial crises. They have a new data point, of course, in the recent banking crisis, but there is only one parallel in the United States — the 1929 market crash....



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Michael Glen Wade - 8/25/2010

It has been common currency for years among historians that maldistribution of wealth and failure to regulate were major factors in the 1929 Crash and the Depression which ensued somewhat later.