It wasn’t long ago that people were blaming banks, not governments – and the issue of the day was financial regulation, not fiscal compacts. This column, the second of two, focuses on the Basel framework for banking regulation that it argues has led to a ‘vast, poorly diversified, highly interconnected banking system’. In this section it outlines how to put this right.
Banking runs are a major threat to modern finance. This column makes the case for preventive tools over ex post intervention. It argues for assigning responsibility and novel tools to microprudential regulators for supervising individual liquidity and capital ratios, and to central banks those tools for aggregate liquidity-risk management, with overall control switching to fiscal authorities once intervention appears to require fiscal means.
What explains Bernanke’s caution as Fed chair? This column argues that one possible factor is ‘groupthink’, where individuals go along with what they perceive as the majority view. Many of the Fed’s features – its tradition of decision-making by consensus, limited interaction with outsiders, and atmosphere of camaraderie – encourage groupthink. And Bernanke’s personality, often described as modest and unassuming, may have reinforced the effects of groupthink.
Amid the chaos of the Eurozone crisis, the debate over how to fix the banking system has been pushed to one side. This column, the first of two, aims to bring banking regulation back to the centre of attention. It argues that the Basel III regulations currently being proposed are already desperately out of date.
What does the distribution of wealth look like in an economy in which all households have identical skills and patience, but there is no redistribution? This column argues that without some redistributive mechanism – either explicit in the form of government tax or fiscal policies, or implicit in the form of limited intergenerational transfers – the wealth in the economy tends to concentrate at the top.
The enduring global crisis is giving rise to fears that economic hard times will feed political extremism, as it did in the 1930s. This column suggests that the danger of political polarisation and extremism is greatest in countries with relatively recent histories of democracy, with existing right-wing extremist parties, and with electoral systems that create low hurdles to parliamentary representation of new parties. But above all, it is greatest where depressed economic conditions are allowed to persist.
Entrepreneurship is often held aloft as the missing ingredient for growth in many economies, particularly developing countries. But for many policymakers, entrepreneurs are a mystery. This column looks at India and asks why entrepreneurs locate where they do.
Europe’s Fiscal Compact is being widely sold as the essence of prudent fiscal management. But this column argues that the rules in the Fiscal Compact severely restrict a country’s ability to use fiscal policy to stabilise its economy and will often require debt levels far below those considered sensible. The rules should be changed before they become a straightjacket.
Services trade has increased dramatically in the last 20 years. This column examines data from Belgium and suggests that the change in IT use does not translate into higher services exports. It argues instead that offshoring is a key factor contributing to the rise of services trade.
Western countries with ageing populations are in the grip a cruel irony. At the same time as having more old people than ever to support, youth unemployment is at its highest levels for a generation. As many of these countries go into elections this year, this column warns against populist politics that panders to the grey vote, and instead calls for leadership that puts the family first.
Just five years ago, macroeconomists talked about a new synthesis, bringing together Keynesian and Classical ideas in a unified, microfounded theoretical framework. Following the Great Recession, it appears that mainstream macroeconomics has once again split into schools of thought. This column explains why macroeconomics, unlike microeconomics, periodically fragments in this way.
Since 2010, Eurozone countries have engaged in unprecedented rescue operations to avoid contagion from a potential Greek sovereign default. This column argues that news about Greek public finances does not affect Eurozone bank stock prices, while news about a Greek bailout does. This suggests that markets consider news about a Greek bailout to be a signal of Eurozone countries’ willingness to use public funds to combat the financial crisis.
As the US Federal Reserve starts to increase the transparency of its decision-making process, including the release of economic forecasts and interest-rate projections, this column asks whether these projections reflect strategic motives that might make them less accurate and less useful to those wanting to predict monetary policy.
Uncertainty rose sharply during the Great Recession, as did saving rates. This column shows that these two developments were related. Using a panel of OECD countries, it estimates that at least two-fifths of the increase in households’ saving rates between 2007 and 2009 was due to increased uncertainty about labour-income prospects. It adds that restoring higher levels of consumption and aggregate demand will require employment-friendly social insurance and reduced policy-induced uncertainty.
The global crisis has plunged the economic profession into a state of anxiety, at least in some quarters. One question, among many, is whether the way economics is taught at universities needs to be rethought. This column summarises the range of views raised at a recent conference on this issue organised by the British government, the Bank of England, and the Royal Economic Society.
When disaster strikes, what happens to foreign firms? Do they move away, leaving an already unstable economy even further off balance? Or do they sit on their sunk costs and help steady the ship? This column looks at data from Ireland during the recent financial turmoil.
Political environments appear systematically different in the aftermath of a financial crisis relative to before the crisis. This column argues that the ensuing gridlock and the delay in potentially beneficial policy reforms should come as no surprise.
Willem Buiter talks to Viv Davies about Greece and the Eurozone. Buiter believes that Greece’s public debt should be written off, it’s banks recapitalised and that the country be provided with sufficient conditional support to grow its economy. They discuss the LTROs and the risks of loss of control over the aggregate size of the balance sheet and potential national central bank insolvencies. Buiter suggests that now is not the time for self-righteousness amongst European policymakers. The interview was recorded on 17 Feb 2012. [Also read the transcript]
Numerous countries faced with debt problems have recently embarked on fiscal tightening. Yet it is not clear if this is a cure or a self-defeating strategy. This column argues that, where sovereign risk is high, fiscal tightening remains an important avenue to bring down deficits at a limited cost to economic activity.
Some blame women’s under-representation in high-level jobs on differences between the sexes in risk aversion and competition. But are these differences in behaviour hardwired or learned? This column describes a study that tackles this thorny question with a controlled experiment in single-sex and mixed classrooms in a British university. Women are found to become far less nervous about uncertainty over time with the men out of the room.
Few would deny that there is a strong link between the health of a country’s banks and its public finances. With that in mind, this column argues that the banking system can learn from banking deregulation in the US, with knock on effects for Europe’s sovereign debt crisis.
Recent theoretical and empirical trade research has shifted from analysing aggregate trade flows to studying the behaviour of exporters. This column examines the case of Jordan and finds that multi-product exporters in Jordan look remarkably similar to their US and French counterparts, confirming the predictions of recent theoretical models. It adds that this implies the policy focus should be on raising the number of exporters, not on helping the existing superstars.
The Great Recession has beckoned the ominous return of protectionism. While not condoning such policies, this column argues that if governments must provide investment subsidies to domestic firms, there is a much larger bang for their buck if they target small businesses rather than larger ones. Cash-strapped governments should take note.
The international community, and particularly policymakers in the US, put great expectations on the contribution that China can make to a global economic recovery by rebalancing its economy through promoting consumption growth. This column, drawing on both official and unofficial data, argues that China’s long-awaited economic rebalancing is already well under way.
Is China’s currency destined to become the dominant global reserve currency? This column argues that despite not yet having a flexible exchange rate or open capital account, China’s government is pursuing ‘liberalisation with Chinese characteristics’. It argues that the renminbi will become a reserve currency within the next decade, eroding but not displacing the dollar’s dominance.
Market conditions in Europe have improved of late – but this column reminds us that improvement on the turmoil of 2011 is hardly difficult. It argues that Europe’s fundamental design problems still remain unresolved and that leaders should use the market lull to prepare the next steps.
At the height of the 2008–09 financial crisis, global trade fell by far more than global output – a pattern that defied past experience and became known as the Great Trade Collapse. This column uses a new model for analysis to argue that the collapse was caused mainly by the crash in global demand.
Spreads on public debts in the Eurozone – with the exception of Greece – are falling hard and fast. This column argues that this is in large part because the ECB is now effectively guaranteeing Eurozone government debts. But it cautions that in doing so, the central bank is taking enormous risks.
Where were economists when the global recession hit? Or rather, where were their forecasts in the years before? This column argues that clearly some of the models were at fault. To correct this, it proposes a ‘comparative approach’ to macroeconomic analysis where models compete for the right to be taken seriously.
Understanding credit crunches is a major concern for policymakers. This column suggests that the severity of a credit crunch in a specific area depends on the hierarchical structure of the banks operating in that credit market. It explores the Italian case and shows that, in the months following the collapse of Lehman Brothers, banks retracted disproportionally from markets that are more distant from their headquarters.
As tariffs have declined steadily since the 1940s, government interventions to restrict imports have increasingly taken non-tariff forms. This column argues these add many trade costs along the supply chain and, in a world where production is fragmented across countries, they are associated with development traps. Regional initiatives and a focus on logistics measures can help bring supply chains to new parts of the world.
As debt crises hit on both sides of the Atlantic, a safe haven for many investors has been Switzerland. This column looks at Swiss public spending over the last century and argues that one reason for its low debt may be its greater use of direct democracy, where people vote on individual policies, as opposed to representative democracy, where people elect others to make decisions on their behalf.
Natural disasters often hit developing countries hardest. To add to the devastating death toll, trade and development can be knocked off course. This column suggests that exports of small developing countries fall by nearly a quarter, and that this effect can be felt for up to three years. Exports of larger developing countries, on the other hand, are not significantly affected.
Almost everyone agrees that the fiscal accounts of several advanced economies are in a pretty bad shape and need to be strengthened. But how rapid should the adjustment be in the present circumstances? At times over the last couple of years the IMF called on countries to step up the pace of adjustment when we thought they were moving too slowly. This column says that in the current environment, some might be going too fast.
English is the dominant language of the Internet, business, and world trade. Do we need another? This column applies an economist’s rationale to the question.
Reading the business press, one gets the impression that the world of policy is in a very uncertain state around the world. This column presents an up-to-date index of policy uncertainty and suggests that the calming of policy uncertainty may have aided recent economic prospects in the US. Unfortunately, policy uncertainty still appears extremely high in Europe with the Eurozone crisis.
What does it mean to be a ‘Keynesian’? This column argues that, like so much in economics, the label has become politicised. The cost is an impoverished policy debate that is resulting in millions of avoidable job cuts.
Over the past three decades, emerging market economies have been rapidly accumulating reserves – a trend that has resumed, and even accelerated, following the 2008 global financial crisis. This column examines factors driving this accumulation and how these factors have evolved over time and differed across countries.
Europe’s new fiscal compact is seen by some as the death of Keynesian government spending. This column argues that such analysis is simply wrong. It says that there is still room for government spending in extreme situations, but that there are now more safeguards to maintain stability, reduce contagion, and placate German taxpayers.
Twenty years ago, communist countries began their shift towards capitalism. What do we know now that we didn’t know then? Harvard's Andrei Shleifer, the Russian-born, American-trained economist, provides his answers and their relevance for contemporary policymakers.
Will Italy be able cut its debt and abide by the new EU fiscal rules? This column presents a simulation of the evolution of the Italian debt-to-GDP ratio. It finds that Italy’s borrowing and saving plans are sustainable – even at today’s high interest rates.
What will happen if the euro collapses? For many people, the answer is unmitigated disaster. But this column argues that to identify the euro, the EU, and Europe as one, as many politicians like to do, is totally misleading. A possible demise of the euro and the EU can be seen as a chance for the evolution of a better future Europe.
Inflation in the UK is now more than double that of France, but only one country has had its credit rating downgraded. This column argues that government credit ratings should be aided by a second rating measuring the potential loss of real value, whether by inflation or default.
The global financial crisis has shown that neglecting liquidity risk comes at a substantial price. This column presents a new framework to run system-wide, balance sheet data–based liquidity stress tests. The liquidity framework includes a module to simulate the impact of bank-run type scenarios, a module to assess risks arising from maturity transformation and rollover risks, and a framework to link liquidity and solvency risks.