It’s been claimed — incorrectly — that overall activity would neither be increased nor diminished by how evenly or unevenly money is distributed within our national economy. According to that line, we’d get the same amount of commerce regardless of whether we have a larger share of the pie held by the wealthy or by the lower and middle classes. “Money is money,” or so they say.
Except that in reality, lower average propensity to consume (APC) results from significantly increased real income.1 Who has how much matters because people tend to spend different portions of their income at different levels of wealth. Wealth and income distributions make a significant difference to effective demand. We’re not concerned with what people would like to have if they had enough money; we’re concerned with what people will spend with the money they’re getting. If Warren is a wealthy person and John is a poor person and over time Warren attains a higher share of the available money, total spending — effective demand — generated by those two consumers will drop.
If there’s $1,000,000 of total income between the two at time T1 and Warren gets $950,000 while John gets $50,000 and Warren spends 33.33%2 of income to John’s 100% of income, then total spending by these two individuals at time T1 will be:
T1: $316,635 + $50,000 = $366,635.00
When income ratios shift and there’s an inflation-adjusted $1,000,000 of total income at time T2 and Warren gets $975,000 while John gets $25,000, Warren’s spending ratio (APC) will likely have fallen slightly from the previous propensity, but we’ll stick with 33.33% for simplicity and understatement. Meanwhile, John can’t spend as much as before because John’s available funds have dropped. Even if Warren still spends at the same rate — which is unlikely — then total spending would be:
T2: $325,967.50 + $25,000 = $349,967.50
That would be a drop from time T1 to time T2 of $16,667.50 in inflation-adjusted spending. I’ve picked an arbitrary APC for Warren, but herein we’re just showing the rough effect. The dollar values are merely for illustration of the concept. Even if the exact average amount might vary slightly from the $16,667.50 of our illustration, the point remains that there would be a shortfall. With more of the money shifted to those with a lower APC, you get lower consumption which is to say lower effective demand.