The financial sector and income inequality

Republished from the Tax Justice Research Bulletin – find it all at TJN, with added Afrobeat.

Since the financial crisis, rather more attention has been given to arguments about the potential inequality impact of the financial sector (it was a major part of this Columbia conference in December, for example). One argument is that bigger financial sectors give rise to lower inequality, because financial development, to quote a World Bank study,“disproportionately boosts incomes of the poorest”. Alternative views are more in tune with TJN authors’ proposal of a ‘finance curse’, through which a larger financial sector undermines democratic processes and more.

An interesting new paper from the Spanish bank BBVA takes a look at the main indicators, and finds – broadly – that the size of the financial sector is at best neutral for inequality; while it is a set of financial inclusion measures that are associated with lower income inequality. The proportion of adults with a bank account, and the ratio of SME loans to GDP, emerge as especially important.

bbvaWP 2015 - fin incl ineq

[NB. The figure summarises some simple results – namely, that inequality tends to be higher when financial inclusion is below average, and lower when credit/GDP is below average. More detailed analysis provides strong support for the first point in particular.]

Separately, Tony Atkinson and Salvatore Morelli provide the most comprehensive overview to date on the relationships between inequality and banking crises over a century or more. ‘More evidence needed’, and ‘no single story’ are major elements of their conclusions – but long-lasting human impacts are to be expected.