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Fault Lines

How Hidden Fractures Still Threaten The World Economy

By Raghuram G. Rajan
  • Read in 16 minutes
  • Contains 10 key ideas
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Fault Lines by Raghuram G. Rajan

In Fault Lines, author Raghuram Rajan unveils the global economy’s hidden fractures that led to the 2008 financial crisis. These blinks show that greedy bankers weren’t the only ones to blame; our economic system had deep systemic flaws as well. Importantly, they outline what we can do as a society to prevent similar crises in the future.

Key idea 1 of 10

The advent of cheap loans was one fault line of the crisis, and banks and politicians were complicit.

One of the most significant fault lines that led to the global financial crisis was growing income inequality in the United States.

In the years leading up to the crisis, the wage gap grew. While the average income of top earners increased, the average median income stayed nearly the same. For example, in 1997, the median household income was $51,704, yet by 2009, it had barely budged to $52,196.

Why the growing gap? Basically, the country’s workforce couldn’t meet the labor demands of the market. America needed more and more highly educated people to work in the growing technological sector, but schools weren’t producing enough qualified candidates.

This drove the top income level up while the median stagnated. It also explains why the income gap was strongly related to education level: In 2008, the median income of a high school graduate was $28 per hour, while the median for a college undergraduate was $48, some 72 percent more.

Every worker is a potential voter, of course; so U.S. politicians sought to do something about the problem. Seeing that their electorate needed more money, they encouraged cheap loans.

With the support of politicians, banks began expanding easy credit, especially to low-income households. This so-called subprime lending, which we'll look at more closely later became popular, while interest rates were lowered.

The immediate positive effects were straightforward: more spending meant more growth. Yet the growth was fueled by debt. People were essentially just postponing paying their bills.

And as you'll see in the following blinks, this American spending spree didn’t just affect the United States but also the rest of the world.

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