The debate over reform of the financial system has intensified even as the crisis has started to recede. This Policy Insight argues that too much investment activity has been able to operate without detection by regulators. To prevent a repeat crisis, regulators must have an informational advantage over market participants to assess the weaknesses in the financial system as they develop.
What measures of human wellbeing are the most accurate benchmarks of economic progress and human development? This column presents new research suggesting that while people can adapt to be happy at low levels of income, they are far less happy when there is uncertainty over their future wealth. This may help explain why different societies tolerate such different levels of health, crime, and governance, and why US happiness plummeted during the global financial crisis but has since been restored despite incomes remaining lower.
Joel Waldfogel of the University of Minnesota talks to Romesh Vaitilingam about the economics of digital media, including: music file sharing (both illegal and legal) and the impact on artists and record labels; the threat that intellectual property piracy poses to the movie business; and the future of books and newspapers in the digital age. The interview was recorded in London in December 2009.
Regulators understand the potential threat of crowded trades, but they also recognise the difficulty of tracking them. This column suggests a new approach for regulators to monitor crowdedness of selected trades. Fund managers and financial regulators could use data on crowdedness to assess the risk that a financial market may enter an asset bubble.
Many expect Iceland’s March referendum on Icesave to produce a “no” vote. Despite the dire consequences, this column argues that Icelanders, faced with the hard end of the “ultimatum game”, are likely to reject the standing offer which they regard as unfair. This column proposes lowering the interest rate on the loans as a compromise that could solve the problem and avoid a referendum.
The future of Asian regionalism is in extreme flux, presenting President Obama with both opportunities and dangers. This column argues Trans-Pacific Partnership negotiations present an opportunity to trigger a wholesale reconfiguration of Asian commercial alliances in a way that would meet important and long-held US goals.
Should the political influence of large financial institutions take some blame for the financial crisis? This column presents evidence that financial institutions lobbying on mortgage lending and securitisation issues were adopting riskier lending strategies. This contributed to the deterioration in credit quality and to the build-up of risks prior to the crisis.
Should the Fed scale back its ownership of mortgage-backed securities? This column analyses the effect of the programme on mortgage interest rates. Controlling for prepayment and default risk suggests the programme has had little or no impact, and that the Fed could gradually cut the size of its portfolio without a significant impact on the mortgage market.
Immigration is increasingly recognised by economists as a key factor in promoting trade. This column presents evidence from Spain suggesting that doubling the number of immigrants leads to a 10% increase in exports to their country of origin. The effect is even bigger for countries which are culturally different. This is an important and rarely considered benefit from immigration.
Did allowing financial institutions to become “too big” play a role in the financial crisis? This column argues that being “too interconnected” is also a factor, and that US accounting standards should recognise gross derivatives exposure on the balance sheet to make this interconnectedness, and the resulting exposure, clear.
Icelanders may well reject the terms of the financial deal with Britain and the Dutch in a March referendum. This column introduces a new CEPR Policy Insight arguing that responsibility for Icesave losses falls jointly on Iceland, Britain and the Netherlands. Regardless of the vote, the three governments should come to a more reasonable agreement that enables Iceland to pay its obligations without tipping the economy into the abyss.
Will having more women on the board of trustees at academic institutions increase the number of women in the faculty? This column presents evidence suggesting that if a board is one-quarter women, it reaches the critical mass needed to hasten gender diversity.
Obama’s sweeping proposal for financial regulation took the world by surprise. Here two of the world’s leading professors of finance explain why it is step in the right direction from the standpoint of addressing systemic risk. They also point out a number of drawbacks that should be fixed.
Most feel the Copenhagen summit on climate change failed. This column argues for a “plan B” – to go back to Kyoto. The Kyoto Protocol has the tools needed for international policy. Future negotiations should focus on refining existing agreements instead of trying to impress voters at home.
What saved trade from collapsing totally during the global crisis? This column argues that export credit agencies played a key role in stabilising the trade finance market, and thus helped reduce credit risks and allowed exporters to offer open account terms in competitive markets.
What happened to the capitalist system where everyone was supposed to pay for their own mistakes? Bankers have been playing “I win, you lose” with the general public. This column suggests a return to double liability for bank managers in an attempt to change the game to “If I lose, then I have to pay.”
Mike Young, executive director of the Environment Institute at the University of Adelaide, talks to Romesh Vaitilingam about how Australia has responded to the big shock to its water supply – through new regulations, through technological solutions, through public education and through the introduction of market mechanisms. The interview was recorded at the Global Economic Symposium in Schleswig-Holstein in September 2009.
World poverty is falling. This column presents new estimates of the world’s income distribution and suggests that world poverty is disappearing faster than previously thought. From 1970 to 2006, poverty fell by 86% in South Asia, 73% in Latin America, 39% in the Middle East, and 20% in Africa. Barring a catastrophe, there will never be more than a billion people in poverty in the future history of the world.
Virtually no country was untouched by the crisis. But which countries saw the sharpest declines in GDP – and why? This column shows that those with higher growth rates before the crisis fell harder while relatively closed economies were somewhat insulated. In contrast, the relationship between current account deficits and the decline in growth rates is fuzzier.
Does the “resource curse” exist? This column presents new evidence from Brazil. Municipalities that receive oil windfalls report significant increases in spending on infrastructure, education, health, and transfers to households. However, the windfalls do not trickle down and much of the money goes missing. Indeed, oil revenues increase the size of municipal workers’ houses but not the size of other residents’ houses.
The nationalisation of banks as a result of the global economic crisis has been a source of controversy. This column argues that governments should not feel pressured to re-privatise the banks. Once the black sheep of high finance, government owned banks can reassure depositors about the safety of their savings and can help maintain a focus on productive investment in a world in which effective financial regulation remains more of an aspiration than a reality.
China’s economic growth has profound environmental implications. This column estimates the household carbon emissions of China’s major cities. Even in China’s most polluting city, per household emissions are just one-fifth of those in San Diego, the greenest city in the US.
The rapid growth in the fragmentation of aid donors is seen by many to be a burden for recipient countries. This column argues that too much fragmentation is not the issue; the problem is that there is too little competition between the suppliers of aid.
Was the Great Moderation “something of a fluke”? This column argues that good monetary policy did play a role in taming inflation. It argues that the current recession, while clearly severe by historical standards, does not seem to imply a return to the levels of volatility observed in the 1970s.
Economists largely neglected systemic risk in the financial sector. This column discusses how governments should gather data about systemic risk and assess its implications. It says the new European Systemic Risk Board is far from the ideal – it is too big, too homogeneous, and lacks independence.
What government agency should decide lender-of-last-resort policy? This column discusses the optimal allocation of decision-making authority, suggesting that the central bank decide emergency loans and the deposit insurance agency guarantee them. But providing greater liquidity assistance will also require punishment to deter moral hazard problems.
Anne Murphy, lecturer in history at the University of Hertfordshire and associate director of the Centre for Financial History at Newnham College, Cambridge, talks to Romesh Vaitilingam about her new book ‘The Origins of English Financial Markets: Investment and Speculation before the South Sea Bubble’. The interview was recorded in London in January 2010.
Are the commitments from Copenhagen enough? The bad news is that the answer is “no”. This column examines the informal targets and the agreement to allocate funding to mitigate climate change. The good news is that this funding has the potential to at least reduce the gap between targets and reality.
The global crisis forced central banks to take unconventional measures. This column says that the ECB’s “enhanced credit support” helped support the transmission of monetary policy by reducing money market term spreads. The substantial increase in the ECB’s balance sheet also likely contributed to a reduction in government bond term spreads and a somewhat flatter yield curve.
There are calls to establish a separate resolution fund to deal with future financial crises. This column says such a fund is not desirable. It likely would be procyclical, counterproductive, and give a false sense of safety. Rather, governments should levy Pigouvian taxes on the financial system to address negative externalities.
Global imbalances have been suggested as the root cause of the global crisis. This column argues that another imbalance is the guilty party. The entire world had an insatiable demand for safe debt instruments that put an enormous pressure on the US financial system and its incentives. This structural problem can be alleviated if governments around the world explicitly absorb a larger share of the systemic risk.
The world economy has had a heart attack. “Ambulance economics” is about the immediate reanimation process, i.e. the fiscal stimulus. This column introduces a new CEPR Policy Insight that reviews practical aspects of fiscal stimulus policies, noting especially the inevitable trade-offs involved. It discusses the relationship between a long-term public debt problem caused usually by demographic factors and the need for short-term fiscal stimulus for Keynesian reasons. Also, it analyses critically seven common arguments against fiscal stimuli.
Emerging markets have undergone structural changes that reduced their exposure to a global tightening, but they are still affected by US rates. This column suggests that positive US economic surprises that bring forward the undoing of quantitative easing and steepen the US Treasury yield curve may translate into wider emerging markets spreads. US economic strength may play a welcome sobering role in the surge of emerging market assets.
Financial globalisation makes it easier for individuals to trade financial assets, and that should help them diversify against country-specific risks. But empirical support for improved international risk sharing is limited. This column says that there is evidence of improved international risk sharing, and it comes mostly from the convergence in rates of consumption growth among countries.
The Lisbon strategy for making the EU the world’s most competitive economy is a failure, yet an extension of the failed approach is in the works. This column argues that EU governments should let the strategy die a peaceful death. A new model is needed.
The crisis has raised long-term government bond yield spreads across Europe. This column discusses the causes. Increased risk aversion and concern about public finances explain most of the movements in sovereign bond spreads. Moreover, bank bailouts transferred credit risk from the private sector to governments.
When single women enter the labour force, how do their lifestyles change? This column shows that work in the market substitutes for work at home. For every additional hour that a single woman spends working in the market in response to a change in tax policy, she spends about 40 fewer minutes working at home.
The effect of increasing class size in tertiary education is not well understood. This column estimates the effects of class size on students’ exam performance by comparing the same student’s performance to her own performance in courses with small and large class sizes. Going from the average class of 56 to a class size of 89 would decrease the mark by 9% of the observed variation in marks within a given student. The effect is almost four times larger for students in the top 10%.
US healthcare costs are under scrutiny. Americans have spent billions of dollars on cancer research in recent decades. Has it paid off? This column says that investments in cancer research and development have been quite worthwhile – producing a value to society far in excess of costs.
What is the impact of crisis-led protectionism on trade? This column provides a new way to interpret protectionism – the “Russian doll” effect – and shows that the effect on EU exports has been more severe than the rest of the world.
Pablo Guidotti, Director of the School of Government at the Universidad Torcuato Di Tella and former deputy minister of finance in Argentina, talks to Romesh Vaitilingam about the challenges facing monetary and fiscal policy-makers as they plan their exit strategies from the extraordinary measures taken to deal with the global crisis. The interview was recorded at the Global Economic Symposium in Schleswig-Holstein in September 2009.
Agglomeration effects are important but difficult to measure. This column uses a new database with precise geographical information to investigate the locational interdependence of multinational firms. Knowledge spillovers and capital- and labour-market externalities exert a significant effect on the co-agglomeration of multinational headquarters, while input-output linkages also play a significant role in the case of subsidiary co-agglomeration.
The global financial crisis forced governments facing failing financial institutions to choose between disorderly bankruptcies and costly injections of public funds. This column argues that special resolution regimes are a better alternative. It analyses their structure and function and argues EU member states ought to introduce and strengthen such regimes.
Most policymakers subscribe to the existence of a natural rate of unemployment. This column provides a visual history of unemployment, vacancies, and inflation in the US and says there is no natural rate. It suggests the economy can rest in any equilibrium on the Beveridge curve, as decided by the confidence of households and firms that pins down asset values.
China has promised to lower its carbon intensity by 40%–45% by the year 2020. This column says that standard estimates imply that China could meet that target simply by continuing its long-term historical trend. But China’s recent experience of a lower income elasticity of carbon intensity suggests additional efforts and leadership could be required.
Governments have come to regulate the fees mobile networks charge others for calling their customers. This column warns about the “waterbed effect” – pressing down these “call termination” fees could cause another set of prices to rise. Any welfare analysis of regulation cannot ignore the presence of this effect.
The best US universities outperform their European counterparts. This column says part of the gap is due to how universities choose leaders. Outstanding scholars are more likely to be selected as presidents in the top US universities, a move that is associated with improved research performance.