Profile of Atif Mian

IMF’s Finance and Development Sep-2019 edition profiles Atif Mian who is increasingly worried over our addiction to debt:

Everyone knows someone who buys more than he or she can afford. This has been characterized mockingly as millennials spending beyond their means on avocado toast and expensive lattes, often borrowing to fund those wants. But in the modern era, dependence on credit isn’t a sign of profligacy, according to Atif Mian, a Princeton professor of economics, public policy, and finance. Rather, he argues, excessive borrowing is evidence of an economic system that has become distorted by widening income inequality.

“It’s almost as though the modern economy has become addicted to credit,” Mian says. “We need to understand how, and why, that happened.”

The 44-year-old Pakistani-American has done much to shed fresh light on our modern-day addiction to debt, and in the process, to proffer a new thesis for the greatest economic downturn in more than half a century. He and coauthor Amir Sufi, a University of Chicago finance professor, offer a novel take on the Great Recession in their 2014 book, House of Debt. The book helped land Mian on that year’s list of the world’s 25 most influential young economists, compiled by the IMF.

The authors parse vast amounts of data to show that a dramatic rise in household debt among borrowers least able to repay helped precipitate the greatest global financial crisis since the Great Depression. In their book, they argue that policymakers erred by focusing excessively on the banking system and in bailing out banks, not borrowers.

Sufi says their research has helped put household debt much more prominently on the radar of the IMF, the Federal Reserve, the Bank of England, and central banks of Australia, China, and Israel.

In the five years since the book’s publication, Mian and Sufi have broadened the scope of their research, focusing on household debt and economic inequality. Their more recent work links the worsening of household debt since 1980 to the rise of the superrich. They connect increased income inequality to the concentration of vast amounts of wealth, which has flooded the economic system with easy credit that fuels consumption, rather than contributing to economic growth through real investment.


One Response to “Profile of Atif Mian”

  1. RandomEconMuser Says:

    If i am not wrong, the similar argument was made in the first part of Rajan’s Fault Lines. It will be interesting to read a comprehensive account on the same. Thanks.

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