TIME Economy

The Real Meaning of $9 an Hour

Walmart’s decision on Feb. 19 to raise its base wage to $9 an hour, $1.75 higher than the federal minimum, has been heralded as a major victory for American labor. Wall Street punished the world’s largest retailer for the pay hike–which will cost the firm $1 billion this fiscal year–by driving down its shares. But labor economists and liberals lauded the raise as a new wave of “Fordism,” referring to Henry Ford’s historic 1914 decision to double wages in his factories, which not only boosted productivity and reduced turnover but also created more customers for his company’s products.

Walmart’s move is seen by some as a sea change for the retail sector. “Walmart sets the standard, and the fact that they’ve kept wages so low has made it hard for others to raise them,” explains Isabel Sawhill, co-director of the Center on Children and Families at the Brookings Institution. Now it’s likely that pay for other low-income workers will rise, not just in retail but also in other sectors like home health care, child care and fast food, all of which compete for the same workers as Walmart.

The question is, how much will it matter? Labor’s share of the economic pie has been decreasing since the 1970s, thanks to globalization, which has outsourced low-wage jobs (and technology, which has destroyed them outright); the shrinking of unions; and pressure from Wall Street to reduce costs, which turbocharged all these trends. The corporate share, meanwhile, is at record highs. That means Walmart’s move to $9 an hour won’t make much difference in macroeconomic terms. The $1 billion it will effectively put in the hands of 40% of its 1.3 million U.S. employees is a tiny fraction of our $16 trillion economy. Damon Silvers, the policy director of the AFL-CIO, estimates that even if all low-wage employers followed Walmart’s lead, it wouldn’t move the needle on labor’s share by even a single percentage point. “That’s not to say that the Walmart workers’ victory isn’t an important step forward for low-wage workers,” he says. “But it also shows what a small piece of the pie they’ve been getting.”

Indeed, the Walmart workers who have spent much of the past year in parking lots with bullhorns were asking for $15 an hour and better schedules. “When I started, I saw how many of us were working for one of the richest companies in the world and yet we had to be on public assistance,” says Kelly Sallee, 22, who has worked for Walmart for eight months and took part in wage protests in Dayton, Ohio. Despite the pay increase, employees like Sallee, who says she’d like to work full time but can’t get enough hours, are still struggling for improvements in scheduling, an important labor-rights issue. Retailers across the country use software to optimize scheduling around store traffic. This often means less notice given for when workers must report to their jobs and erratic cuts in some of their hours, which labor activists believe may also be intended to decrease the number of workers on full-time benefits. Walmart denies this and says it would prefer more full-time workers to multiple part-timers. The company also says that the $9 it will pay is better than the $7 and change paid by many other retailers, even some unionized ones, and that it gives more notice of shift changes than many others. It says that workers can ask for more hours via Walmart’s intranet system and that 1 million hours a week regularly go unclaimed.

But the fact that Walmart workers, who aren’t unionized in the U.S., got anything at all shows the PR pressure that companies like it are coming under as economic inequality gains clout as a political issue. Twenty-nine states have raised the minimum wage, and presidential candidates from both parties are expected to wrestle with the challenge for the next 18 months. Whether or not Walmart’s top brass, a conservative bunch, has experienced an ideological shift is not the point. That it is concerned about turnover costs as a better economy gives laborers more options for where to work is most significant.

An extra couple bucks an hour will certainly help low-wage workers, and they’ll be more likely to spend it than the rich, meaning it will drive more economic growth. It will not be a net job destroyer, as some believe. The nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office found that while a $9 minimum wage could put from zero to 500,000 low-end jobs at risk as companies try to limit staffing, it would also lift 1 million people out of poverty and increase earnings for 16.5 million workers. As Sawhill puts it, “That’s not quite a free lunch, but it’s pretty cheap.” That’s a reason for Congress to raise the federal minimum wage. But even if it doesn’t, Walmart workers have proved they can move the most powerful retailer in the world to change. That means they, and others, can do it again. And that, more than anything else, may be the real victory.

TIME Economy

What’s Really to Blame for Weak Economic Growth

The George Washington statue stands covered in snow near the New York Stock Exchange (NYSE) in New York, U.S. Wind-driven snow whipped through New Yorks streets and piled up in Boston as a fast-moving storm brought near-blizzard conditions to parts of the Northeast, closing roads, grounding flights and shutting schools.
Jin Lee—Bloomberg via Getty Images The George Washington statue stands covered in snow near the New York Stock Exchange

Finance is a cause, not a symptom, of weaker economic growth

After years of hardship, America’s middle class has gotten some positive news in the last few months. The country’s economic recovery is gaining steam, consumer spending is starting to tick up (it grew at more than 4 % last quarter), and even wages have started to improve slightly. This has understandably led some economists and analysts to conclude that the shrinking middle phenomenon is over.

At the risk of being a Cassandra, I’d argue that the factors that are pushing the recovery and working in the favor of the middle class right now—lower oil prices, a stronger dollar, and the end of quantitative easing—are cyclical rather than structural. (QE, Ruchir Sharma rightly points out in The Wall Street Journal, actually increased inequality by boosting the share-owning class more than anyone else.) That means the slight positive trends can change—and eventually, they will.

The piece of economic data I’m most interested in right now is actually a new report from Wallace Turbeville, a former Goldman Sachs banker and a senior fellow at think tank Demos, which looks at the effect of financialization on economic growth and the fate of the working and middle class. Financialization, a topic which I’m admitted biased toward since I’m writing a book about it, is the way in which the markets have come to dominate the economy, rather than serving them.

This includes everything from the size of the financial sector (still at record highs, even after the financial crisis and bailouts), to the way in which the financial markets dictate the moves of non-financial businesses (think “activist” investors and the pressure around quarterly results). The rise of finance since the 1980s has coincided with both the shrinking paycheck of most workers and a lower number of business start-ups and growth-creating innovation.

This topic has been buzzing in academic circles for years, but Turberville, who is aces at distilling complex economic data in a way that the general public can understand, goes some way toward illustrating how the economic and political strength of the financial sector, and financially driven capitalism, has created a weaker than normal recovery. (Indeed, it’s the weakest of the post war era.) His work explains how financialization is the chief underlying force that is keeping growth and wages disproportionately low–offsetting much of the effects of monetary policy as well as any of the temporary boosts to the economy like lower oil or a stronger dollar.

I think this research and what it implies—that finance is a cause, not a symptom of weaker economic growth—is going to have a big impact on the 2016 election discussion. For starters, if you believe that the financial sector and non-productive financial activities on the part of regular businesses—like the $2 trillion overseas cash hoarding we’ve heard so much about—is a cause of economic stagnation, rather than a symptom, that has profound implications for policy.

For example, as Turberville points out, banks and policy makers dealt with the financial crisis by tightening standards on average borrowers (people like you and me, who may still find it tough to get mortgages or refinance). While there were certainly some folks who shouldn’t have been getting loans for houses, keeping the spigots tight on average borrowers, which most economists agree was and is a key reason that the middle class suffered disproportionately in the crisis and Great Recession, doesn’t address the larger issue of the financial sector using capital mainly to enrich itself, via trading and other financial maneuvers, rather than lending to the real economy.

Former British policy maker and banking regular Adair Turner famously said once that he believed only about 15 % of the money that followed through the financial sector went back into the real economy to enrich average people. The rest of it merely stayed at the top, making the rich richer, and slowing economic growth. This Demos paper provides some strong evidence that despite the cyclical improvements in the economy, we’ve still got some serious underlying dysfunction in our economy that is creating an hourglass shaped world in which the fruits of the recovery aren’t being shared equally, and that inequality itself stymies growth.

TIME Davos

Down and Out in Davos

Why the world’s powerful are worried about 2015

It’s a perennial question: What is the World Economic Forum (WEF) actually good for? The annual confab of the world’s rich and powerful in Davos, Switzerland, has evolved significantly in the past few decades, from a gathering of hardcore economists and financiers to a broader forum for the discussion of ideas ranging from the role of women in the workplace to the future of the Internet. In my opinion, it’s still the best place on earth to get a sense of what global decisionmakers will be thinking about in the year ahead. I made my way around the Magic Mountain listening to bankers, executives, policymakers and world leaders, and here’s what I found.

Tech Brings Bad With Good

Digital Disrupters and Web Pioneers–Google executive Chairman Eric Schmidt, Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer and Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg among them–were out in force as always, extolling the virtues of concepts like the “Internet of things,” which could create entirely new markets. But average people don’t necessarily share their enthusiasm for, and abiding faith in, tech. The Edelman Trust Barometer report, a 27-country survey measuring confidence in the public and private sectors that was released during the conference, found that the majority of the world’s consumers think technological change is moving too fast for them. By a margin of 2 to 1, people don’t believe that governments or businesses are thinking enough about the broad societal impact of developments like social media, digital security, genetically modified foods and fracking. Technology for technology’s sake, most people feel, is not a good thing.

That, in part, may be because the gains made possible by technology over the past decade or so have been unevenly shared. A WEF white paper prepared by the Swiss bank UBS found that sectors boosted by new technologies, such as finance and manufacturing, “have delivered a large share of U.S. economic growth without adding significant numbers of new jobs.” Smarter software and the advent of such innovations as 3-D printing are making some people very wealthy. But technological advances have done comparatively little to replace the middle-class jobs lost over the past couple of decades.

How to explain the divide? Technologists like MIT’s Andrew McAfee, who made waves at Davos last year with a book he co-wrote, Race Against the Machine, would argue that the scope of the digital revolution is so massive that it will destroy more jobs before it starts creating them and that the broader growth-enhancing effects of technology will simply take longer to be felt. As the UBS paper notes, it took around 50 years for the benefits of electricity to completely filter through the economy. Still, for a civilization that reflexively looks to technology to deliver us from seemingly unsolvable predicaments, this is a worrisome trend.

Global Growth May Be in Peril

We need that broader tech boom to goose productivity. Globally, productivity grew at a good clip over the past half-century, rising 1.7% a year. But as countries become more developed, productivity growth slows. One of the most sobering presentations, given by the consulting giant McKinsey, made the point that when you combine slower productivity with a dramatic decrease in the global birth rate, you get economic growth that could be much lower over the next 50 years than it has been in the past 50.

Economic growth is basically a function of the number of workers and their productivity. The former is falling sharply as countries get richer and women have fewer children, and the latter is more or less stagnant. “It’s as if we’ve been flying a plane on two engines, and one of them is about to go out,” says James Manyika, head of the McKinsey Global Institute. If current trends continue, McKinsey projects that global growth will slow to about 2.1% a year, even as more people than ever have expectations of a middle-class life. Not a great formula for social stability.

Women and Children First

People can keep praying that technology will produce more middle-class jobs, but there is one proven solution for boosting economic growth: putting more women to work. The picture of gender parity from Davos is never great; this year, the meeting had a record 17% female participation, up from 9% in the early 2000s. One WEF study found that at the current rate of change, it would take women 81 more years to reach economic equality with men.

Ironically, this seems to have created a cottage industry in gender-parity consulting. Employees of both sexes from firms like Mercer and Ernst & Young were at Davos hawking strategies about how to promote women. My advice: think less about leaning in and more about how to help families create support structures that allow more women to work. Warren Buffett once suggested to me that the U.S. government should offer subsidized child care, allowing caregivers (mostly women) to earn a better wage while freeing women who are higher up the educational food chain to take bigger jobs. It remains one of the best policy proposals I’ve ever heard.

Plenty of Band-Aids, Not Many Cures

Of course, that would require action from politicians, something that everyone agrees is in short supply. The divide between the fortunes of global markets (which have remained surprisingly buoyant) and national economies (which are sluggish in many parts of the world) was a big topic yet again. In the middle of the WEF meeting, the European Central Bank (ECB) launched its version of quantitative easing, a $1.3 trillion bond-buying program of the type that the U.S. Federal Reserve–which bought some $4 trillion in assets over the past few years–has only just reined in. It is an effort to help Europe avert another recession, and markets responded instantly, with European stocks rising, bond yields falling and the euro weakening, which should help exports.

While many at Davos were grateful for the uptick in their portfolios, some high-profile financiers fretted that the ECB’s move comes with a downside that will thwart a lasting solution to the European debt crisis. As hedge funder Paul Singer put it to me, “The QE program takes the pressure off European leaders to take the fiscal, tax, regulatory, trade, education and other steps necessary to generate real sustainable growth. [ECB president] Mario Draghi is an enabler, because the money printing enables the Presidents and Prime Ministers to avoid making real structural reforms.”

Polarized politics on both sides of the Atlantic has made it hard for governments to make the sorts of moves that create real growth. (The recent Greek elections won’t change much there.) So central bankers have kept the easy money flowing to give countries more time. But the emerging-market crises of the 1980s and ’90s teach us that printing money isn’t a substitute for fixing structural problems. If you do one without the other, the market will punish you viciously later on.

And all that easy money has exacerbated the growth of inequality globally, since most of it has gone to pumping up stocks, which are mainly held by the top 25% of the population. Wages remain stagnant and middle-class jobs elusive. That divide, which reflects the one between Davos and everywhere else, is what we’ll be grappling with in the year ahead.

TIME Economy

Europe’s Economic Band-Aid Won’t Cure What Really Ails It

Prime Minister David Cameron Tries To Take A Harder Line with Europe
Carl Court—Getty Images E.U. flags are pictured outside the European Commission building in Brussels on Oct. 24, 2014

Quantitative easing is a good start, but it won't fix the Continent's underlying wounds

Markets always love a money dump, which is why European stocks are now rallying on news that the European Central Bank will purchase 1.1 trillion worth of euro-denominated bonds between now and September 2016. Bond yields are dropping, implying less risk in the European debt markets. And the value of the euro itself is falling, which should make European exports more competitive, which could in turn bolster the European economy over all.

All good, right? For now, yes, it is all good.

But let’s remember that central bank quantitative easing (QE) of the kind that Europe is now embarking on is always just a Band-Aid on economic troubles, not a solution to underlying structural issues in a country (or in this case, a region). Just as the Fed’s $4 trillion QE money dump bolstered the markets but didn’t fix the core problems in our economy—growing inequality, a high/low job market without enough work in the middle, flat wages, historically low workforce participation—so the ECB QE will excite markets for a while, but it won’t mend the problems that led Europe to need this program to begin with.

Those consist primarily of a debt crisis stemming from the lack of real political integration within the EU. Right now, Europe has a currency and an economic union that exists in a kind of fantasy land, with no underlying political unity. Until the Germans start acting more European (meaning creating a consumption society and realizing that they’ll have to do some fiscal transfers to struggling peripheral nations in exchange for the huge export benefits they get from the euro), and countries like Spain, Italy, Portugal and France start making the changes they really need (all the usual stuff—labor market reforms, cutting red tape, fighting corruption, opening up service markets), the debt crisis won’t go away.

Indeed, the challenge now is for countries is to use the breathing room that the ECB has given them to really come together over the next 18 months and make those reforms happen while committing to a truly integrated Europe. Germany should say it will unequivocally back peripheral nations financially in exchange for a promise of real reforms in those nations. (There should also be tough penalties for failure on both sides of the bargain.)

That will be tough for sure, but Europe will find itself in an even worse place come September 2016 if it doesn’t take action now. Post QE, without any real structural reform, the EU will simply have an even more bloated balance sheet, and the market will exact punishment for it. For a historical lesson on this, look to the many emerging market crises of the past where countries tried to spend themselves out of their problems without doing underlying reforms; it always ends in a stock market crash, a financial crisis, and plenty of tears.

The buck has stopped for Europe. The ECB has called policy makers’ bluff. It’s time to create a real United States of Europe to match the common currency.

TIME Davos

The Coming Crisis Making the World’s Most Powerful People Blanch

TIME.com stock photos Money Dollar Bills
Elizabeth Renstrom for TIME

If global growth slows, as some predict it will, the globe is in for a lot of very big problems

The past 50 years have been the most exceptional period of growth in global history. The world economy expanded sixfold, average per capita income tripled, and hundreds of millions of people were lifted out of poverty. That’s the good news. But according to a new McKinsey report on the next 50 years of global growth revealed today at the World Economic Forum in Davos, it’s very unlikely that we’ll be able to equal that in the future. There are two main reasons for this gloomy conclusion: the global birthrate is falling dramatically and productivity is slowing. Economic growth is basically productivity plus demographics. The result? McKinsey is forecasting that if current trends continue, global growth will fall by 40% over the next half century, to around 2.1% year.

A while back, I wrote a column about what a 2% economy would mean for the U.S. Imagine if the whole world, including emerging markets that need much higher rates just to keep social unrest under control, were growing that slowly too. Not good.

McKinsey got a bunch of big brains—Larry Summers, Martin Sorrel, Martin Wolf, Laura Tyson, Michael Spence, and others—together to discuss all this and figure out some possible solutions. A few interesting points that came out: while we are in the middle of a digital revolution that seems to be disrupting nearly every aspect of business and the economy, not to mention our personal lives and culture, the revolution isn’t showing up in productivity numbers yet. Part of that could be that the way we measure productivity isn’t capturing everything that individuals are doing on their smartphones, tablets, and other gadgets. (It’s also worth noting that a lot of what is being created by individuals on those devices is free, which is an economic problem all its own, in the sense that only a few big companies like Facebook and Google and Twitter capture those creative gains, and they don’t create enough jobs to sustain what’s being lost in the economy.) There’s also the possibility that this “revolution,” simply isn’t as transformative, at least in terms of broadly shared economic growth, as those of the past—the Industrial Revolution or even the 1970s computer revolution. (For more on this, check out research by Northwestern University academic Robert Gordon, who is all over this topic.)

There are things we can do to boost productivity, like getting the private sector more involved in areas like education (for more, see The School That Will Get You a Job), and by allowing the gains from the internet of things (meaning the connection of all digital devices to each other) to filter through over the next few years. It’s not yet clear that will create more jobs though. Indeed, it may create jobless productivity which is a whole new challenge to cope with, one that might require bigger wealth transfers from the small number of wealthy people who do have jobs to the larger number of people who don’t. (Paging Thomas Piketty!)

There are some other ideas on the demographic side. Women are still dramatically underrepresented in the workforce in many countries. (One WEF study estimates it will take 81 more years for global gender parity at the current rate of change—argh!) Putting more of them to work could help a lot with growth; indeed, Warren Buffet once suggested to be that the federal government should provide inexpensive, partly federally funded child care to allow other women to take jobs higher up the food chain, this boosting economic growth. A win win.

Of course, this requires governments to take the lead on what can be politically contentious policy decisions, not easy when most politicians spend much of their terms trying to get reelected. Unfortunately short-termism is rife in the private sector too. CEO tenures are now five years on average and CFOs only last 3. All of which tends to lead to decision-making that benefits corporate compensation more than real economic growth.

Depressing, I know. But I saw one ray of hope when I ran into an emerging market CEO outside the panel, one who runs a family business that does planning in 10- to 20-year cycles rather than quarterly, investing quite a lot in areas like training and education. McKinsey research shows these types of firms will make up the biggest chunk of new global multinationals. Perhaps they can take the long view and come up with some better ideas about how to ensure global growth for the future.

TIME Davos

How Technology Is Making All of Us Less Trusting

A technician checks the light in the Congress Hall before the start of the annual meeting of the World Economic Forum (WEF) 2014 in Davos Jan. 21, 2014
Denis Balibouse / Reuters

The world's major tech companies better pay attention to the growing backlash — before it's too late

Davos Man, take note: the technology that has enriched you is moving too fast for the average Joe.

That’s the takeaway from the 2015 Trust Barometer survey, released by public relations firm Edelman every year at the World Economic Forum in Davos. This year’s survey, which came out Wednesday, looks at thousands of consumers in 27 countries to get a sense of public trust in business, government, NGOs and media. This year, it’s falling across the board, with two-thirds of nations’ citizens being more distrustful than ever of all institutions, perhaps no surprise given that neither the private nor the public sector seems to have answers to the big questions of the day — geopolitical conflict, rising inequality, flat wages, market volatility, etc.

What’s interesting is how much people blame technology and the speed of technological change for the feeling of unease in the world today. Two to one, consumers in all the countries surveyed felt that technology was moving too quickly for them to cope with, and that governments and business weren’t doing enough to assess the long-term impact of shifts like GMO foods, fracking, disruptors like Uber or Apple Pay, or any of the myriad other digital services that affect privacy and security of people and companies.

That belies the conventional wisdom among tech gurus like, say, Jeff Bezos, who once said that, “New inventions and things that customers like are usually good for society.” Maybe, but increasingly people aren’t feeling that way. And it could have an impact on the regulatory environment facing tech companies. Expect more pushback on sharing-economy companies that skirt local regulation, a greater focus on the monopoly power of mammoth tech companies, and closer scrutiny of the personal wealth of tech titans themselves.

Two of the most interesting pieces of journalism I have read in recent years look at how the speed of digital change is affecting culture and public sentiment. Kurt Andersen’s wonderful Vanity Fair story from January 2012, posited the idea that culture is stuck in retro mode — think fashion’s obsession with past decades, and the nostalgia that’s rife in TV and film — because technology and globalization are moving so fast that people simply can’t take any more change, cognitively at least. Likewise, Leon Wieseltier’s sharp essay on the cover of the New York Times book review this past Sunday lamented how the fetishization of all things Big Tech has led us to focus on the speed, brevity and monetization of everything, to the detriment of “deep thought” and a broader understanding of the human experience.

I agree on both counts. And I hope that some of the tech luminaries here at Davos, like Marissa Mayer, Eric Schmidt and Sheryl Sandberg, are paying attention to this potential growing backlash, which I expect will heat up in the coming year.

TIME Davos

What Obama and Davos Plutocrats Have in Common

A logo sits on a glass panel inside the venue of the World Economic Forum (WEF) in Davos, Switzerland on Jan. 19, 2015.
Chris Ratcliffe/Bloomberg—Getty Images A logo sits on a glass panel inside the venue of the World Economic Forum (WEF) in Davos, Switzerland on Jan. 19, 2015.

Global wealth has changed dramatically. It's time our tax code should, too

If President Obama’s State of the Union speech Tuesday night and the chatter at the World Economic Forum in Davos, which opened Wednesday, are any indication, inequality will be the hot economic topic for another year running.

The president’s proposals for changes to parts of the US tax code that mainly benefit the wealthy revives the conversation Warren Buffett started a few years back with his op-ed about why his secretary pays a higher tax rate than he does. (Answer: She works for wages, whereas the Oracle of Omaha earns money on money itself, in the form of capital gains, interest income, etc.) At the WEF in Davos, where world leaders meet every year to hash out the big geopolitical and economic issues of the day, one of the most talked about reports is Oxfam’s new brief looking at how the 85 richest people on the planet have the same amount of wealth as the poorest 50%, a huge jump from last year when it took a full 388 plutocrats to equal that wealth. Some 20% of the billionaires come from the world of finance and insurance, a group whose wealth increased by 11 % in the last twelve months. And $550 million of it was spent lobbying policy makers in places like Washington, something Oxfam believes has been a major barrier to tax and intellectual property reform that creates a fairer economic system.

Plenty of those plutocrats are here on the Magic Mountain, and some are undoubtedly checking in with their tax planners. I expect that we’ll hear lots more in Davos this week about how to restructure tax codes for the 21st century, mainly because the nature of wealth and how it gets created has changed so dramatically. Today, more than ever since the Gilded Age, money begets money; income earned from wages has been stagnating for years, or decades even, depending on which type of workers you tally. Meanwhile, changes in the tax code and corporate compensation over the last 30 years or so has concentrated more financial resources at the very top of the socio-economic food chain. Indeed, financial assets (stocks, bonds, and such) are the dominant form of wealth for the top 0.1 %, which actually creates a snowball effect of inequality.

As French economist Thomas Piketty explained so thoroughly in his now famous 693 page tome on wealth inequality, Capital in the 21st Century, the returns on financial assets greatly out-weigh those from income earned the old-fashioned way—by working for wages. Even when you consider the salaries of the modern economy’s super-managers—the CEOs, bankers, accountants, agents, consultants and lawyers that groups like Occupy Wall Street railed against—it’s important to remember that somewhere between 30% to 80 % of their incomes are awarded not in cash but in stock options and stock equity. This type of income is taxed at a much lower rate than what most of us pay on the money we receive in our regular checks. That means the composition of super-manager pay has the booster-rocket effect of lowering taxes (and thus governments’ ability to provide support for the poor and middle classes) while increasing inequality in the economy as a whole.

MORE How 7 ideas in the State of the Union would affect you

It’s a cycle that spins faster and faster as executives paid in stock make short-term business decisions that might undermine long-term growth in their companies even as they raise the value of their own options in the near. It’s no accident that corporate stock buybacks, which tend to bolster share prices but not underlying growth (you know, the kind that creates jobs for you and me), and corporate pay have gone up concurrently over the last four decades. There are any number of studies that illustrate the intersection between the markets, our tax system, and wealth gap; one of the most striking was done by economists James Galbraith and Travis Hale, who showed how during the late 1990s, changing income inequality tracked the go-go NASDAQ stock index to a remarkable degree.

As Piketty’s work shows, in the absence of some change-making event, like a war or a Great Depression that destroys financial asset value, the rich really do get richer–a lot richer–while the rest of us become relatively worse off. One of the few levers that governments have to combat this trend is the tax code. While Piketty argues for a global wealth tax, something that will likely never happen, President Obama’s stab at capital gains taxes and trust taxes is probably just the opening round in a tax debate that will go on throughout this year, and into the 2016 presidential race.

I say, bring it on—given that the nature of wealth has changed, it’s high time the tax system should too.

TIME 2016 Election

This Could Be Hillary Clinton’s Economic Policy

A new report from her allies offers some 2016 clues

Hillary Clinton’s allies appear to be taking their first shot at framing an economic policy agenda for her presumptive 2016 presidential campaign, with a new report out Thursday from the Clinton-friendly liberal think tank Center for American Progress.

This report is very significant for many reasons. For starters, as I mentioned in my TIME column this week about how progressive Elizabeth Warren is pushing Clinton further left, the CAP report was spearheaded by former Clinton economic adviser and former Treasury Secretary Larry Summers. Like his predecessor Robert Rubin, this is a guy much better known for deregulating financial markets than worrying about the working classes. I think the report is a sign not only that Summers is trying to reinvent himself, but that wage stagnation and the plight of the middle class is going to be the key economic issue in the 2016 presidential race.

MORE 9 Times Hillary Clinton Has Taken a Stand

So, how does Hilary stack up on this front? The CAP report, which is quite extensive, has some very good ideas. Among my favorites are ideas for tax reform befitting an era in which so much of the world’s income comes from assets (stocks, capital gains, etc.) rather than from wages. See my article on Thomas Piketty, the author of the bestseller “Capital in the 21st Century,” which explains why that’s important.

There’s also a lot on educational reform and vocational training, both good ideas. Most important, the report lays out how other developed countries—like Canada and Australia, for example—do a better job keeping wages up than we do (it has a lot on international best practices that the U.S. might adopt).

But on that score, the report is also quite telling about Clinton’s potential Achilles heel in this election: the legacy of Clintonian market deregulation that was carried out by her husband, along with both Rubin and Summers. These are the guys that got rid of Glass-Steagall banking regulations that had kept the system safe for years (Rubin went to work for Citibank, which pushed that move, shortly after rolling back the regulation that allowed it to become the original Too Big To Fail bank). Yes, we’d still have financial crises with that regulation in place, but it would help stem some of them, and most important, the rollback is symbolic of how the Clintonian wing of the Democratic Party completely capitulated to the financial community—a battle that is still taking place today as Jamie Dimon rails against regulators and a Republican Congress attempts to roll back Dodd-Frank.

The CAP report has a few interesting ideas about helping change corporate governance to make companies think longer-term, but it goes very light on the key reason behind short-termism in the market: the financialization of American business, and the fact that finance, an industry that takes over 30% of corporate profits while creating only 6% of American jobs, calls the shots in corporate American today

This is going to be the biggest challenge for Clinton in 2016: how to distance herself from the money culture, but also how to really address the deeper root-to-branch shifts in our financial system, and the market system at large, that must happen in order to truly fix the wage and middle class issue.

Read next: Huckabee Explains Why His Next Campaign Will Be Different

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