Inequality and Aggregate Demand

By Matthew Rognlie and Adrien Auclert

We explore the quantitative effects of transitory and persistent increases in income inequality on equilibrium interest rates and output. Our starting point is a Bewley-Huggett-Aiyagari model featuring rich heterogeneity and earnings dynamics as well as downward nominal wage rigidities. A temporary rise in inequality, if not accommodated by monetary policy, has an immediate effect on output that can be quantified using the empirical covariance between income and marginal propensities to consume. A permanent rise in inequality can lead to a permanent Keynesian recession, which is not fully offset by monetary policy due to a lower bound on interest rates. We show that the magnitude of the real interest rate fall and the severity of the steady-state slump can be approximated by simple formulas involving quantifiable elasticities and shares, together with two parameters that summarize the effect of idiosyncratic uncertainty and real interest rates on aggregate savings. For plausible parametrizations the rise in inequality can push the economy into a liquidity trap and create a deep recession. Capital investment and deficit-financed fiscal policy mitigate the fall in real interest rates and the severity of the slump.

The approach here is the reverse of what is usually done in such model: shock the heterogeneity to see what it implies for aggregates. The next step would be to identify what the origin of the shock is and then let the aggregates feed back to heterogeneity. General equilibrium in a sense. In any case, this one more testimony that heterogeneity and distribution matters bigly.


One Response to Inequality and Aggregate Demand

  1. This is a great paper! I think including household heterogeneity into business cycle models is really a promising avenue for macro research and it’ll become a “must” in the next years. These models however pose a non-trivial computational challenge and I have a question related to the solution method used in the paper: as far as I understood the authors model the shock as a transition between two steady states. I was wondering though why they don’t introduce explicitely aggregate shock with the Krusell-Smith (or a variant) approach. By doing as they do they assume that agents have perfect foresight over the path of future shock (temporary or permanent increase in inequality) but this seems somehow a bit restrictive..

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