Martin Ellison, Andrew Scott, 20 October 2017

A new dataset for the market value of British government debt makes a long-run analysis of fiscal sustainability and debt management possible. It shows that the 20th century saw a shift to financing debt by inflation and low bondholder returns, rather than through fiscal surpluses. This column uses a counterfactual analysis to show that long bonds have been an expensive way of financing debt, especially after a financial crisis. Had the government issued only three-year bonds since 1914, the level of debt in 2017 would have been lower by 28% of GDP.

Susanne Frick, Andrés Rodríguez-Pose, 20 October 2017

Big cities have historically been seen as an important prerequisite for a country’s economic growth. In recent decades, however, developing countries have rapidly urbanised, and large cities are increasingly found in relatively poor countries. This column uses a new dataset to revisit the relationship between city size and economic growth. It finds that relatively small cities (with populations under three million) have been more conducive to economic growth, while very large cities are only growth-enhancing in countries with a very large urban population.

Thomas Sampson, 19 October 2017

While we can estimate the economic impact of Brexit, we do not yet understand what made people vote for it. This column argues that political pro-Brexit rhetoric conflates two distinct hypotheses that have different policy implications. If voters wanted to reclaim sovereignty from the EU, they may view a negative economic impact as a price worth paying. But, if 'left-behind' voters blamed the EU for their economic and social problems, post-Brexit policy should focus on the underlying causes of discontent.

Jeffrey Frankel, 19 October 2017

Financial markets have done little, if anything, to moderate the impact of commodity price volatility on the exporting countries. This column reviews four proposals to make exporters less vulnerable to volatility – two attempts at appropriate financial engineering, and two attempts at countercyclical macroeconomic policy. One in each category is tried and tested; the other two have hardly been tried.

Benjamin Bernard, Agostino Capponi, Joseph Stiglitz, 18 October 2017

Worried about the cost of public bailouts, governments have proposed bail-ins whereby banks contribute to rescuing their debtors. This column analyses the conditions under which bail-in strategies can be credibly implemented, showing that this heavily depends on the network structure. While earlier work has suggested that denser networks are socially preferred to more sparsely connected networks, the opposite holds in the presence of the government’s strategic intervention.

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