In his latest column for the New York Times, best-selling author and award-winning economist Paul Krugman argues that the financial sector of the American economy is not only outsized but that it's hurting the economy and making Americans' lives worse.
Citing journalist Michael Lewis' new book on high-frequency trading — which opens with a story about an expensive tunnel being drilled for fiber-optic cable to cut down the communication time between Chicago's futures markets and the stock market in NYC by three milliseconds — Krugman argues that American public policy has become overly influenced by high finance, with inequality and economic instability as a result. "[American] society," Krugman writes, "is devoting an ever-growing share of its resources to financial wheeling and dealing, while getting little or nothing in return."
After claiming that the large financial sector in the U.S. doesn't increase overall prosperity and doesn't promote economic stability, Krugman writes that its primary function seems to be to prey off of less powerful economic actors. "[Wall Street's] playing small investors for suckers," Krugman says, "causing them to waste huge sums in a vain effort to beat the market." The result, Krugman posits, is a select few Wall Street players making a lot of private profits while contributing little to the overall public.
In short, we’re giving huge sums to the financial industry while receiving little or nothing — maybe less than nothing — in return. [NYU Professor Thomas] Philippon puts the waste at 2 percent of G.D.P. Yet even that figure, I’d argue, understates the true cost of our bloated financial industry. For there is a clear correlation between the rise of modern finance and America’s return to Gilded Age levels of inequality.
So never mind the debate about exactly how much damage high-frequency trading does. It’s the whole financial industry, not just that piece, that’s undermining our economy and our society.