Wealth Inequality, Network Topology and Financial Instability
Keywords:Wealth inequality, financial crisis, instability, financial network, degree distribution
This paper asks if two, otherwise identical, economies were distinguished only by their distributions of wealth, are they equally stable in response to a random shock? A theoretical financial network model is proposed to understand the relationship between wealth inequality and financial crises. In a financial network, financial assets link individual asset and liability holders to form a web of economic connections. The total connectivity of an individual is described by their degree, and the overall distribution of connections in the network is imposed through a degree distribution--equivalent to the wealth distribution as incoming connections represent assets and outgoing connections liabilities. A network's topology varies with the level of wealth inequality and total wealth and together, simulations show, they determine network contagion in the event of a random negative income shock to some individual. Random network simulations, whereby each financial connection is randomly placed, reveal that increasing wealth inequality makes a wealthy network less stable--as measured by the share of individuals failing financially or the decline in financial asset values. These results suggest a unique architectural role for accumulated assets and their distribution in macro-financial stability.