Does Inequality Lead to a Financial Crisis?

30 Pages Posted: 2 Mar 2012

See all articles by Michael D. Bordo

Michael D. Bordo

Rutgers University, New Brunswick - Department of Economics; National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER)

Christopher M. Meissner

University of California, Davis

Date Written: March 2012

Abstract

The recent global crisis has sparked interest in the relationship between income inequality, credit booms, and financial crises. Rajan (2010) and Kumhof and Rancière (2011) propose that rising inequality led to a credit boom and eventually to a financial crisis in the US in the first decade of the 21st century as it did in the 1920s. Data from 14 advanced countries between 1920 and 2000 suggest these are not general relationships. Credit booms heighten the probability of a banking crisis, but we find no evidence that a rise in top income shares leads to credit booms. Instead, low interest rates and economic expansions are the only two robust determinants of credit booms in our data set. Anecdotal evidence from US experience in the 1920s and in the years up to 2007 and from other countries does not support the inequality, credit, crisis nexus. Rather, it points back to a familiar boom-bust pattern of declines in interest rates, strong growth, rising credit, asset price booms and crises.

Suggested Citation

Bordo, Michael D. and Meissner, Christopher M., Does Inequality Lead to a Financial Crisis? (March 2012). NBER Working Paper No. w17896. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=2014589

Michael D. Bordo (Contact Author)

Rutgers University, New Brunswick - Department of Economics ( email )

New Brunswick, NJ
United States

National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER) ( email )

1050 Massachusetts Avenue
Cambridge, MA 02138
United States

Christopher M. Meissner

University of California, Davis ( email )

One Shields Avenue
Davis, CA 95616
United States

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