The crisis has revealed the vulnerabilities of the Eurozone financial sector and the critical role the sector plays in the real economy. It also made it clear that the Eurozone banking system needs fixing. But what reforms should we implement? It is critical that much better legislation be both discussed and implemented if we wish to properly regulate the financial sector. This column opens a Vox debate on banking reform whose aim is to stimulate an open and broad-ranging discussion on banking reform.
Art, as any form of creativity, advances through innovations. But what is the cause of new artistic ideas? What can art history tell us about the relationship between demand and innovation? This column argues that during the Renaissance, it was demand for art – and entrepreneurial painters seeking to profit – that drove greats such as Titian, Tintoretto, and Canaletto to innovate.
Should debt-ridden and economically struggling Western governments be doing everything possible to reduce their deficits? Should we cut spending or hike taxes to reduce our debt-to-GDP ratios? This column argues that the answer is obvious: the cheapest, most effective and confidence-inspiring route is to cut spending. Coupled with other pro-growth policies, the evidence suggests that it is only really spending cuts that will spur private investment and economic recovery in Europe.
Services trade policies in both the telecommunications and the air transport sector are more restrictive in landlocked than in coastal countries. Why would landlocked countries choose restrictive policies if they have such a big stake in improving international connectivity? This column suggests the explanation could be related to both weak political institutions and adverse location. It adds that trade-facilitating aid will earn a poor return if not accompanied by services reform.
There is an ongoing debate about debt restructurings, debt buybacks and other strategies to resolve sovereign debt crises. Unfortunately there is limited empirical knowledge about the process and outcome of past restructurings to guide the debate and help tackle future crises. This column is an attempt to fill this gap by surveying new data and lessons learned from debt crises of the past six decades.
David Miles talks to Viv Davies about the conclusions of his recent research on quantitative easing and unconventional monetary policy. Miles discusses the different types of 'asset purchasing programmes' adopted by the Bank of England, the Fed and the ECB; they also discuss the importance of current research in these areas and the potential risks associated with quantitative easing. The interview was recorded at the Bank of England on 21 November 2012. [Also read the transcript]
The 18th UN Conference on climate change negotiations has just started in Doha. This column suggests that the probability of success is a mere 2.3%. Recently, over $100 million per year was spent on fruitless negotiations. Having flogged, ever harder for 18 years, the dead horse of legally binding emission targets, the UN should close that chapter and try something new.
An integrated banking system saved Nevada after a local real estate boom turned to bust. Without an integrated banking system, the same wasn’t true of Ireland. This column argues that comparing Ireland and Nevada shows that banking union is far more important for Europe than current proposals of fiscal union. And, in the absence of a proper banking union that covers losses, it seems ever more likely that Europe will be pushed back towards nationally segmented financial markets.
For the euro to survive, the recession must be halted without piling on more debt. This column argues that the unpalatable conclusion is that public debts must be written down. The massive moral hazard problem this will cause must be dealt with by making sure that public debts will never again be allowed to grow to unsustainable levels. To this end, decentralised US-style fiscal discipline is needed.
Geographical distance is a fundamental impediment to virtually all economic transactions. This column, using data on technology adoption in 161 countries over 140 years, argues that it also inhibits the spatial diffusion of technology. Moreover, it shows that technology spreads like an epidemic. As more people adopt a technology, the importance of distance to the technological leader diminishes until it eventually becomes irrelevant.
In many countries, incumbent broadband providers are required to let new entrants access their network, what is called ‘local loop unbundling’ (LLU). This column uses data from the UK to ask whether such a policy stimulates broadband penetration. In contrast to what is commonly believed, local loop unbundling doesn’t provide more choice. However, it does raise both the quality of service and the speed of internet connections.
How can we explain the ‘Spanish paradox’ – a modest market share loss since the launch of the euro alongside a real exchange rate appreciation? This column argues that the non-price determinants of competitiveness have been more important than export prices in explaining the change of world exports shares. Notably, Spanish firms’ strategic decision-making has helped shape Spain´s internationalisation and may, ultimately, be the crucial factor explaining the paradox.
The Eurozone is moving towards a banking union with the ECB at its centre. This column argues that there are problems with the European Commission’s proposal. The ECB can never supervise all 6000 banks in the Eurozone, supervision should be separated from monetary policy to avoid conflicts of interest, and joint deposit insurance and resolution funds must be created. Furthermore, the ECB should exert constructive ambiguity in its supervision.
Despite its meagre real returns in the long run, many people still think that investing in housing is a good idea. This column argues that a major reason for the tendency to buy houses is that it’s rare to lose money. Recent research shows people’s perceptions of housing transactions to be shaped by whether they gain or lose money – above and beyond the real returns.
Capital controls are experiencing a renaissance, due in part to the current financial crisis. But do they really have an effect? This column assesses the Brazilian experience, arguing that policies may be more politically or electorally convenient than effective in any economic sense. It seems policymakers understand capital controls’ relative economic impotence, but nevertheless feel forced to resort to adopting them.
Amid the current economic slowdown there is renewed interest in what type of capitalism fosters growth and best improves welfare. This column argues Nordic-style capitalism may provide higher welfare but in an interconnected world, it may be the cut-throat US capitalism, with its extant inequalities, that makes possible the existence of more cuddly Nordic societies.
Are countries that have previously experienced banking crises less vulnerable to them in the future? This column argues that, in fact, previous crises might make future crises more likely. There isn’t much evidence of a learning process from past mistakes because the regulator often lags behind banking’s pace of innovation. Preparing to prevent the last crisis does not prevent the next and it seems that the ‘too big to fail’ doctrine provides cover for banks, delaying the day of adjustment.
Do trade costs still matter in a modern era characterised by a fall in transaction costs? This column argues that there is a dearth of good analysis in the debate around market access difficulties. Complaining about restrictions in accessing foreign markets is political leaders’ current favourite hobby yet. In light of stalled WTO negotiations, shouldn’t rigour, not rhetoric, lead this debate?
Can we agree that capital controls are an effective tool for macroeconomic policy? If so, should they be permanent or temporary? This column argues that under a permanent system of capital controls, a country will always bear costs whether there is a surge or capital flight or not. Looking at the Indian experience, it’s clear that capital controls do not necessarily help a government meet its macroeconomic goals in times of need.
Philippe Weil, newly appointed Chair of CEPR’s Euro Area Business Cycle Dating Committee, talks to Viv Davies about the Committee’s recent announcement of a peak in economic activity in the Eurozone in the third quarter of 2011 and that the Eurozone has been in recession since then. They discuss the issue of heterogeneity of business cycles of Eurozone countries, the likely impact of subsequent data revisions, and future plans for the Dating Committee. The interview was recorded on 16 November 2012. [Also read the transcript]
Should developed countries fear trade in services? Won’t high skilled jobs be lost to cheaper, developing country service workers? This column argues that trade in services represents a profitable opportunity as long as international trade in services is liberalised. The US and other developed countries should aggressively pursue fairer and thus more favourable terms under the WTO’s Government Procurement Agreement.
Does emigration create a brain drain or – as commentators have recently been suggesting – do diasporas in fact represent a net brain gain? This column argues that if sending countries can protect intellectual property rights, they will foster the necessary diaspora knowledge networks to significantly help economic development in sending countries.
Are poorly-educated immigrants’ kids dragging native classmates down? Or do schoolchildren push themselves when new, smarter immigrants join their class? This column argues that although child immigrants may sometimes bring down native minorities, on the whole, poorly educated natives upgrade their education in response to new immigrants in the classroom.
What difference does the release of the iPhone 5 really make to the US economy? This column argues that idiosyncratic shocks to individual firms significantly contribute to aggregate fluctuations. Using empirical evidence from France, this column argues that shocks to the largest firms, combined with firm-to-firm linkages, can travel far beyond the sector and country of origin.
The global decline in ill health has not been met with greater prosperity. What are we to make of healthier and larger populations undercutting per capita economic progress? This column argues that early-life health changes do, in fact, have a huge effect on economic outcomes over the lifecycle. However, the jury is out on how we can best manage – and measure – the apparent play off between better health, higher populations, and poorer per capita economic outcomes.
Discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation is perceived as widespread in the EU. This column provides the evidence. Fake CVs, some explicitly gay, were sent to job ads in Rome and Milan. Gay men were found to have a 30% lower chance of being called back. And while beauty increased callback rates for women, being overtly lesbian had no effect.
Advertising is expensive and thus raises the cost of goods, but it may encourage competition that keeps prices down. This column addresses the old question with data from a natural experiment brought about by tax harmonisation in Austria. It argues that on average advertising decreases consumer prices and estimates that if the 5% tax were abolished, consumer prices would decrease by about 0.25 percentage points.
Why aren’t Eurozone imbalances adjusting? This column argues that there is heartening evidence that they are. Labour markets are beginning to be reformed across Europe, thereby increasing countries’ competitiveness. However, the road ahead will surely long and hard; for external adjustment to really work, it is crucial that financial markets start to take a lead supportive role.
Investment through global funds increases year on year. But how and where are global funds’ portfolios allocated? How and which recipient countries, underlying investors, and policymakers benefit? This column argues that global funds in fact represent restrictive investment practises. If we want as many countries, investors and companies to benefit as possible, we must aim to change global funds’ organisational structures and thereby managers’ behaviour.
The sovereign debt crisis has revealed severe flaws in the EU internal market. Common monetary policy has not been accompanied by the transfer of authority to supervise banks and risks of banks and states have become dangerously intertwined. This column summarises the proposal of the German Council of Economic Experts for a full banking union which aim at correcting these deficits.
Eating fruit and vegetables could be good for your mental health. This column explores the evidence, arguing that better surveys need to be carried out if we are to accurately establish causality. If we can understand how mental health is linked to diet, the benefits to the public – and those who decide public policy – could be huge.
Policymakers in many commodity-exporting countries confront the question of how much to consume, save, and invest out of revenues from commodity exports. This column says policy should focus on improving productivity in the tradeable sector and reducing volatility through diversifying this sector. This would lower precautionary saving needs, increase investment, raise consumption, and improve welfare.
The Swiss National Bank (SNB) is again the focus of much debate, accused as it is of currency manipulation. This column outlines the effects of the SNB’s minimum exchange rate. On balance, the authors argue that the move is a boon, effectively enacting a much-needed relaxation of monetary policy within the Eurozone.
How do members of existing monetary unions share risk? Drawing on a decade of research, this column argues that fiscal transfers in fact make a limited contribution to economic coherence. In the context of Europe’s current crisis, the evidence suggests that unfinished capital market integration must be completed if we wish to see adequate and effective risk sharing.
Since the Arab Spring, Egypt has seen some political transformation. But what of its economic policy? This column debates whether Egypt, under its newly elected president, will pursue both badly needed short- and long-term economic reform, or succumb to myopic populism.
In late September 2012, John Sides of George Washington University spoke to Romesh Vaitilingam about the 'Moneyball' approach to politics – using systematic economic and polling data (rather than 'narrative' and 'gut feeling') to forecast election winners. The US presidential election result confirms the value of this scientific method. The interview includes discussion of the influence of the state of the economy on voters’ intentions, the role of campaign finance and what might happen to US political gridlock after the election. The interview was recorded in Washington DC.
Measuring financial risk is difficult. But what lessons, if any, have we learnt from the current crisis? This column argues against a move to leverage ratios and instead proposes continuing to measure financial risk (despite the difficulties), but with higher capital charges for banks. Focusing on the basics can only bolster central banks’ ability to fulfil their duties – looking for imbalances, and promptly tackling them with informed decisions.
Do incidental large-scale bond purchases have a global portfolio balance effect? This column argues that one country’s bond purchases can ease monetary conditions abroad. Whether this effect is welcome depends on the phase of the business cycle, but the authors emphasise that it is of paramount importance for resolving the current crisis that Eurozone policymakers closely consider the effects of large-scale bond buying.
With the US presidential election turning on a handful of swing states, suspicion arises that an incumbent could ‘buy’ the election by shifting the federal government’s state-level spending to critical states. This column reports ongoing research that suggests this is not likely to be the case. Voters do not seem to reward presidents for more federal spending on private contracts in a given state. As such, it does not seem that Obama could buy votes in swing states such as Ohio using his power as the incumbent.
Conversations about the breakup of the Eurozone are changing. This column argues that an 'avoid breakup at all costs' dogmatism may not be a prudent view. Getting good data may well be difficult, but any arguments about the cost of a Eurozone breakup must be compared to the ongoing cost of the status quo.
The US economy is recovering. But what explains the stubborn malaise in its labour market? This column argues that future recovery from recession will likely be jobless because technological advances and mechanisation now enable troubled firms to shed middle-income jobs in favour of machines and automation. If these jobs are not recouped during subsequent economic recovery, future recoveries may well remain jobless.
The Eurozone crisis has meant slow growth, rising unemployment, and social unrest. This column gauges the impact of all this on European citizens‘ opinions about the euro and EU institutions. Using Eurobarometer surveys, the authors find that, within the Eurozone, the crisis has only marginally lowered support for the euro but has led to a sharp fall in public trust in the ECB.
How can Spanish firms innovate to overcome strong economic headwinds? This column presents empirical evidence to show that, in a time of economic crisis, Spanish firms would do well to orient themselves toward foreign markets. The authors propose that there could well be mutiple – and durable – benefits to both the firms and the Spanish economy.
Today, most of Europe is free from dictatorships and conflict. Yet, these spectres loom in neighbouring states and nearby regions. This column suggests that this year’s Nobel Peace Prize, awarded to the EU, was perhaps a call to action. Can the EU, preoccupied as it is with a growing Eurozone crisis, encourage peace and democracy in its neighbourhood? And what are the lessons we can learn from recent EU policy history?
Income inequality has been rising in the US for almost four decades. President Obama plans to increase taxes on those with high incomes while Governor Romney is against such “class warfare”. This column argues a better focus would be on restoring America’s place as a world leader in public education and thereby tackling the human capital deficit that is at the heart of the inequality challenge.
A systemic Eurozone breakup would be the mother of all financial crises. This column – a rejoinder to Hans-Werner Sinn’s recent column – agrees that Germany would lose massively from a breakup, but argues that the ultimate source is the €600 billion current account surpluses it ran with other EZ nations during the good years, not the TARGET2 system. German banks lent vast amounts to peripheral countries without doing a proper credit analysis. No one other than Germany itself is responsible for taking on these risks.
Even before the turmoil of Hurricane Sandy, many Americans were considering not bothering to register a vote for their next president. By looking at the costs and benefits of voting, this column argues that not voting may actually be the rational choice.
Hurricane Sandy destroyed an massive amount of US wealth, but the impact on human wellbeing surely goes far beyond any dollar figure. This column argues that the ‘subjective wellbeing’ literature can inform policy choices in the area of emergency response. Since the ‘happiness’ cost of short-term weather changes far exceeds that of long-term changes, prevention policies are likely to yield a higher payoff in terms of life satisfaction than rebuilding policies with equivalent financial payoffs.
EU governments have individually embraced severe austerity programmes in an effort to avoid becoming the next Portugal. This column presents results from the National Institute Global Econometric Model suggesting that these individually rational polices are leading to collective folly. Keynes’ 'paradox of thrift' is in full swing since EU nations continue to act like small open economies while in fact they are a large closed economy.
Iceland is in the middle of a major constitutional overhaul. This column looks at the unorthodox use of a referendum in drafting the constitution and argues that this democratic element could lead to its long-term success.