The Instability of Inequality

In Nouriel Roubini’s article The Instability of Inequality, he recognizes the successes and failures of varous economic systems. (I have added the emphasis in quotes below.)

Some of the lessons about the need for prudential regulation of the financial system were lost in the Reagan-Thatcher era, when the appetite for massive deregulation was created in part by the flaws in Europe’s social-welfare model. Those flaws were reflected in yawning fiscal deficits, regulatory overkill, and a lack of economic dynamism that led to sclerotic growth then and the eurozone’s sovereign-debt crisis now.

But the laissez-faire Anglo-Saxon model has also now failed miserably. To stabilize market-oriented economies requires a return to the right balance between markets and provision of public goods. That means moving away from both the Anglo-Saxon model of unregulated markets and the continental European model of deficit-driven welfare states. Even an alternative “Asian” growth model – if there really is one – has not prevented a rise in inequality in China, India, and elsewhere.

Any economic model that does not properly address inequality will eventually face a crisis of legitimacy. Unless the relative economic roles of the market and the state are rebalanced, the protests of 2011 will become more severe, with social and political instability eventually harming long-term economic growth and welfare.

I often wonder why the global social system must swing from one extreme to another.  Of course it is true that conditions change and social systems must adapt.  However, the social system going to an extreme so that it sows its own seeds of destruction is a mal-adaptation that it would be nice to stop.


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