Rentiers And Financialization

In his column on rule by rentiers, Paul Krugman observes:

Who are these creditors I’m talking about? Not hard-working, thrifty small business owners and workers, although it serves the interests of the big players to pretend that it’s all about protecting little guys who play by the rules. The reality is that both small businesses and workers are hurt far more by the weak economy than they would be by, say, modest inflation that helps promote recovery.

No, the only real beneficiaries of Pain Caucus policies (aside from the Chinese government) are the rentiers: bankers and wealthy individuals with lots of bonds in their portfolios.

But what about big business? After all, most large American firms aren’t banks. They’re like small businesses—they sell stuff to consumers, and thus have a large stake in consumer welfare.

Or maybe not. Back in 2001, Gerald Epstein argued in “Financialization, Rentier Interests, and Central Bank Policy” (PDF) that “in the case of the United States, financialization during the 1990’s led to a closer alignment of large industrial and financial firms in the U.S., leading to a greater emphasis by Alan Greenspan and the U.S. Federal Reserve on financial asset appreciation as a goal of monetary policy.” And this does to me seem to predict the course of monetary policy after the Great Crash. For all the rising salience of goldbug cranks whining about fiat money, the Fed has hardly been indifferent to the potential for monetary expansion. It’s just that the goal of monetary expansion has been to do just enough to stabilize financial asset prices without going far enough to produce catch-up growth in the labor market.

What’s more, from the point of view of capital maybe it’s better not to catch up. As long as growth is positive and unemployment isn’t rising then maintaining a large 8-9% of the labor force out of work could be a useful tool of wage restraint.