The generation and diffusion of scientific knowledge and technology are assumed to be drivers of modern economic growth, but there is a lack of firm empirical evidence of this. This column uses the first detailed data on the density of engineers in the western hemisphere to argue that historical differences in innovative capacity, as captured by the density of engineers in 1880, explain a significant fraction of the Great Divergence. The results confirm the imperative of developing higher-order human capital.
With Brexit looming, and protectionist pressures mounting elsewhere in the developed world, the question of whether trade policy matters is taking on more significance. This column looks at the extent to which trade policy was responsible for the shift towards intra-imperial trade in the interwar period. Both tariffs and quotas increased the Empire’s share of British trade, suggesting that trade policy mattered more for interwar trade patterns than the cliometric literature has suggested.
Recent global trade growth is even more disappointing than global GDP growth. This column argues that this unexpected weakness of trade relative to GDP is related to the high volatility and pro-cyclicality of real trade flows, and that cyclical forces are the main drivers. It also shows that the accuracy of existing trade forecasts can be improved using real-time data on business conditions.
Most policies that target climate change – such as carbon taxes and cap-and-trade programmes – have long-term benefits but short-term economic costs. This column argues that population policies may not be subject to this trade-off. In particular, policies that reduce population growth can have a direct positive effect on income per capita as well as lowering growth of carbon emissions. Such policies could play an important role in the portfolio of actions aimed at mitigating climate change.
Failed financial firms should not be bailed out by the taxpayers. Europe, unfortunately, has a weak track record of following this principle of good governance and sound economic policy. The banking union, with its new approach to supervision and resolution, is meant to improve this matter. This column introduces a new Geneva Special Report on the World Economy which reviews the resolution side of the banking union.
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