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Federal Reserve Monetary Policy and Wealth Inequality

This study analyzes the impact of conventional expansionary monetary policy on wealth inequality in the United States from 1976 to 2012. We use the local projections instrumental variable (LP-IV) approach for our estimation method and employ two monetary shock series to identify the causal effect. High-frequency data is obtained on the distribution of real net wealth and the Gini index from two new sources: Realtime Inequality and the Federal Reserve’s Distributional Financial Accounts (DFA). We find that expansionary monetary policy has positive and persistent effects on wealth inequality over the medium term, in contrast to previous research. Specifically, an expansionary policy of 100 basis points cut in the policy rate increases the share of wealth for the top 10 and 1 percent and reduces the share for the bottom 50 and middle 40 percent of the distribution. Overall, wealth inequality, as measured by the Gini coefficient, increases around 0.005 on the Gini scale (between 0 and 1) with Realtime data and around 0.015 using DFA data. We also find that the effect size of expansionary policy on inequality varies over prior decades; the effects between 1976 and 1980 are smaller and transient relative to the periods since. We also find that expansionary policy increases wealth inequality regardless of the business cycle. However, its effects are more substantial during economic expansions. Lastly, we estimate the historical contribution of monetary policy to the variation in wealth distribution and find that it does account for significant variations in wealth distribution during certain periods of recent U.S. history.

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