Benn Steil


A graphical take on geoeconomic issues, with links to the news and expert commentary.

Where Have All the Profits Gone? Karl Marx Could Have Told You

by Monday, March 19, 2012
Labor and Dividend Income

Since 2009, labor’s share of income in the United States has plummeted while personal dividend income as a percentage of disposable income has soared. This is not surprising for the early stage of a recovery in which firms are earning more with less and the stock market has been buoyant. The divergent trends between the two over the last 30 years, however, is notable and important. The small upper-right figure shows that dividend income as a percentage of after-tax corporate profits leapt markedly and permanently in the early 1980s. This corresponds with a general upward trend in corporate profits as a percentage of gross domestic product since that time; a time in which labor’s share of income has fallen almost continuously. Dividend income, not surprisingly, accrues largely to the stock-owning wealthy, as the small bottom-right figure shows. The fuller picture is one of growing inequality; one for which the globalization of business is frequently fingered as a primary culprit. But globalization itself makes the data difficult to parse. When an American firm uses components provided by foreign firms they appear from the data to have no labor content.

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Will Student Debt Add to America’s Fiscal Woes?

by the Center for Geoeconomic Studies Monday, March 5, 2012
Federal Student Loans Outstanding

With a pair of new laws in 2008 and 2010, Congress fundamentally changed the student loan market, making the U.S. government the sole supplier of Federal student loans, rather than just the ultimate guarantor.  In itself, this does not affect the government’s net debt, because it acquires assets—student loans—which carry a market value.  This new direct lending does, however, add to the gross debt held by the public.  The $1.4 trillion in direct federal student loans that will be outstanding by 2020 will amount to roughly 7.7% of gross debt.  This is 6.3 percentage points higher than it would have been had the scheme not been nationalized.  To the extent that one worries about debt from the perspective of a “fiscal crisis,” in which government borrowing costs soar without warning, gross debt is more important than net debt, as student loans are not assets that can be readily sold to reduce borrowing requirements.

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