Working Paper No. 332 | June 2001

Contradictions Coming Home to Roost?

Income Distribution and the Return of the Aggregate Demand Problem

It is widely believed that the current economic slowdown will be mild and temporary in nature, the result of a momentary wobble in the stock market. This paper argues that the slowdown stands to be more deep-seated, owing to contradictions in the existing process of aggregate demand generation. These contradictions are the result of deterioration in income distribution. They have been held at bay for almost two decades by a range of different demand compensation mechanisms: steadily rising consumer debt, a stock market boom, and rising profit rates. However, these mechanisms are now exhausted, confronting the US economy with a serious aggregate demand generation problem. Fiscal policy adjustments may be the only way out of this impasse, but such adjustments should be accompanied by measures to rectify the structural imbalances at the root of the current impasse. Absent this, the problem of deficient demand will reassert itself, and the next time around public sector finances may not be in such a favorable position to deal with it.

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