Theory and empirical data contest the direction of causality in the relationship between economic performance and income inequality – a relationship that is of great political importance. This column uses evidence from OECD countries to show that the relationship is not linear. While some countries can improve economic performance only at the cost of increasing economic inequality, other countries can improve both economic performance and equality without such a trade-off.
Modern discussions about a country’s ‘decline in manufacturing’ are seldom meaningful. Such talk of industrialisation and deindustrialisation across the entire sector tends to ignore important variation across individual industries. This column draws lessons from the revealed comparative advantage of late-Victorian Britain – the ‘workshop of the world’. Advantage lay mainly in industries that were relatively capital-intensive and that didn’t rely on large pools of unskilled labour. Despite its resource wealth, even Britain in the first era of globalisation was at a measurable comparative disadvantage in a number of industries.
Behavioural economics has made many gains in recent years, but much uncertainty persists about the effectiveness of different behavioural interventions. This column uses data from a large-scale experiment to find the relative effectiveness of multiple treatments within one setting, and to gauge the accuracy of academic experts’ forecasts of responses. It finds monetary incentives are strong motivators, non-monetary psychological inducements are moderately effective, and results using behavioural factors are generally consistent with models of social and time preferences. Further, the interviewed experts correctly anticipate several results, including the effectiveness of psychological inducements, but fail to predict other important features.
In light of the Eurozone Crisis, some countries have implemented reforms to collective wage bargaining institutions, which can be responsible for wage rigidities that are problematic in the face of rising unemployment. This column describes collective wage bargaining in France and how national minimum wage increases are transmitted to wage floors set by industry-level agreements. An increase in the national minimum wage leads to an increase in negotiated industry-level wage floors, which firms then use as references for their wage policy. This might partly explain why French base wages have continued to increase despite recent rising unemployment.
The Global Crisis emphasised the fragility of international financial networks. Despite this, there has been little historical research into how networks propagate financial shocks. This column explores how interbank networks transmitted liquidity shocks through the US banking system during the Great Depression. During banking panics, the pyramided-structure of reserves forced troubled banks to reduce lending, thus amplifying the decline in investment spending.
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