Exactly 5 years ago today, the WSJ published this post (Plutonomics) about a rather fascinating study on wealth inequality.

It was written by of all folks, Citigroup global strategist Ajay Kapur. In 2005, Kapur’s research team “came up with the term ‘Plutonomy’ in 2005 to describe a country that is defined by massive income and wealth inequality. According to their definition, the U.S. is a Plutonomy, along with the U.K., Canada and Australia.”

What are the basic characteristics of Plutonomies? According to Kapur:

1. They are all created by “disruptive technology-driven productivity gains, creative financial innovation, capitalist friendly cooperative governments, immigrants…the rule of law and patenting inventions. Often these wealth waves involve great complexity exploited best by the rich and educated of the time.”

2. There is no “average” consumer in Plutonomies. There is only the rich “and everyone else.” The rich account for a disproportionate chunk of the economy, while the non-rich account for “surprisingly small bites of the national pie.” Kapur estimates that in 2005, the richest 20% may have been responsible for 60% of total spending.

3. Plutonomies are likely to grow in the future, fed by capitalist-friendly governments, more technology-driven productivity and globalization.

Kapur also noted the impact massive income and wealth inequality had on other aspects of the economy: Savings rates, national debt level, spending patterns, reaction to high commodity prices, and more.  All of these, he claimed are substantially affected by the ultra wealthy.

Note that this was from 5 years ago today — circa January 2007 was, ten months before the market peaked, 11 months before the Great Recession began, and 15 months before Bear Stearns, 21 months before Wall Street (AIG BAC C FNM LEH, etc.) collapsed, and about 55 months  before Occupy Wall Street began.

Quite fascinating . . .


Robert Frank
WSJ, January 8, 2007

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