The narrative emerging from the aftermath of the 2016 election is that Donald Trump won the U.S. presidency on the back of populist economic insecurity, elected by voters who felt left behind by a globalized economy. While the official unemployment rate continued its descent below 5 percent, Trump claimed a 'real' unemployment rate of 40 percent was driving the frustration.
That rate is drawn from Trump's overactive imagination - like many of Trump's ravings. But the fact that workers so readily believed him while responding so eagerly to his economic message reflects the reality that wages have been stagnant for decades and that we are nowhere near a galloping economy. You'd be hard-pressed to find many Americans who believe the economy is so strong that it needs to be slowed down by higher interest rates right now.
The economic discontent is grounded in data. New research from economists Thomas Piketty and Emmanuel Saez shows that the bottom half of the population in the United States has experienced zero growth since the 1970s.
Even though average national income per adult grew by 61 percent from 1980 to 2014, the average pre-tax income of the bottom 50 percent of individual income earners stagnated at about $16,000 per adult after adjusting for inflation. Meanwhile, income more than doubled for the top 10 percent, more than tripled for the top 1 percent, and for those in the top 0.001 percent, grew more than seven times.
This week, the Federal Reserve is nearly certain to hike interest rates for the second time in a decade, following last December's quarter-point increase in the federal-funds rate. This tightening of monetary policy is intended to slow down economic growth, reduce job creation, and prevent wages from rising.
In the wake of the 2016 election, do Fed officials really think that the American people want a slower, weaker economy than the one we have now?