The Editors wish to thank all our readers and wish them a healthful and restful holiday break. Vox will start posting again on 2 January 2013.
Rejigging financial regulation is in vogue. But, in the world of international finance, how well do different regulatory systems join up? This column argues that the US Dodd Frank Act and Basel III are, in part, incompatible and that harmonising them may lead to unintended consequences. The US ought to tread carefully here but should also try hard to maintain the spirit of better financial regulation.
International trade is traditionally thought of as goods crossing borders. Trade in services, however, is becoming increasingly important for high-income countries. This column, using Belgian firm-level data from 1995-2005, argues that trade in goods and services differ deeply in key aspects such as firm participation rates, size and frequency of shipments, entry and exit rates in foreign markets and in growth strategies.
The internet is an expanding opportunity for growth. This column argues that in recent years, however, policymakers and market actors have been undermining its potential. Governments and market actors are reducing both access to information and freedom of expression, as well as moving towards a splintered, non-global internet. Commitment to an open, free and global internet will be hard, but if bilateral, regional or multilateral trade agreements encourage interoperability, we might see some harmony among signatories’ privacy, online piracy, and security policies.
The idea of having GDP growth as the main target of economic policy has been under attack in recent years. This column addresses some of the criticisms and argues that continued GDP growth would be good for the UK and other European countries – and not just in the short term to reduce high levels of unemployment.
The world of international commerce has changed radically over the past years due to the rise of supply-chain trade. This column argues that the WTO has not kept up with the need for new rules governing the intertwining of trade, investment, intellectual property, and service. Bring these rules to the multilateral level will require the establishment of a new international organisation – a ‘WTO 2.0’.
Many of the emerging economies of the last two decades are now ensnared by ‘the middle-income trap’, in which middle-income countries don’t quite push through to high income status. This column presents recent research suggesting that, if governments act early and decisively to improve access to advanced infrastructure, enhance the protection of property rights, and reform labour markets, trapped economies – like their East Asian counterparts in the 1990s – can push on through.
One of the world’s most influential international economists, Peter Kenen, passed this week. This column highlights the key role his insights played in the construction of the Eurozone and the problems that arose when his insights were ignored.
Are Eurobonds a desirable solution to Eurozone members’ debt crises? Unhappily, it’s difficult to say. This column argues it very much depends on how the system is designed. However, looking at the most prominent proposals, it seems a cleverly designed Eurobonds system may well provide governments with the right incentives to encourage both issuing less debt and pursuing meaningful structural reform.
In the last decade, there has been an explosion in the variety of instruments that permit speculation in oil, such as futures, options, index funds, and exchange-traded funds. This has been called the financialisation of the oil markets. This column examines whether this has affected the oil price and predicts powerful natural limits on the ability of financialisation shifts to raise spot prices in frictionless markets.
Free trade agreements are now the centre of gravity in global commerce. This column says they are also the likeliest pathway to multilateral trade liberalisation. With the US negotiating two mega deals – the Trans-Pacific Partnership and a US-EU free-trade agreement – China and other emerging economies will have no choice but to play by common rules of the game. It concludes that with all heavyweights joining the charmed circle, multilateral talks in Geneva will no longer be needed.
As governments and the EU wring their hands over banking reform, a fragile system remains in place. This column argues that the ECB’s current role undermines its independence. What the Eurozone needs to reduce undue forbearance - while preserving the ECB's independence - is a ‘diarchy’ in which both a newly built Restructuring Authority and the ECB have the power to trigger bank-restructuring.
Eurozone leaders agreed to transfer bank supervision to the ECB with the detail yet to be fleshed out. It is widely acknowledged that giving the ECB two tasks creates a conflict of interest. This column argues that the two functions must be separated by setting up a Supervisory Board, operating independently within the ECB, and by granting the new supervisors a solvency instrument that is independent of the interest rate.
European leaders pieced together an historic compromise last week on a European banking union. This column argues that the agreement, which centred on banking supervision, is only the first step on the long and winding road towards a banking union. But the fact that this step is now essentially confirmed is almost unqualified good news.
The time is right for the world’s central banks to rethink how they conduct monetary policy. This column argues that central banks should follow the lead of Mark Carney, the Bank of England’s new Governor, in considering a move to nominal GDP targeting. If nominal GDP targeting is introduced in two distinct phases, its introduction can deliver the advantage of some stimulus now – when it is needed – while satisfying central bankers’ reluctance to abandon their cherished low inflation target.
Five years after the subprime bubble burst, the self-correcting nature of business cycles is being questioned and, subsequently, orthodox macroeconomic policy is starting to be challenged. This column introduces a radical rethink of options open to macroeconomic policymakers, suggesting that in order to simultaneously achieve economic stimulus without increasing debt, new money creation should be used to directly finance on-going budget deficits.
Do the ‘cuddly’ Nordic countries free ride on the ‘cut-throat’ incentives for innovation in US-style economies? Don’t PCs, the internet, Google, Windows, iPhones and the Big Mac speak for themselves? This column argues that, despite a higher overall tax burden and more generous safety nets, the Nordics have generated at least as much – if not more – innovation than the US. So far, ‘cut-throat’ capitalism has not been the only road to an innovative economy.
Trust among strangers is at the heart of well-functioning market economics. This column argues that individual trust beliefs are related to individual trustworthiness, which in turn is related to the values parents transmit to their children. It adds that if someone forms trust beliefs about unknown people by attributing to others his own trustworthiness, he is bound to make mistakes by being either too naïve or too wary.
Fears of an imminent Greek exit from the Eurozone have subsided, for now. This column attempts to measure the probability of a Greek exit, finding that the changing fortunes of Greek political parties, and the possibility of an early election, mean that the risk of a Greek exit may actually be quite high. It suggests that, despite investors' efforts to measure political risk, a persistent sense of unease about the Eurozone’s future is set to continue into 2013 and that Eurozone financial assets will thus continue to embed significant risk premiums in the coming years.
The current global crisis highlights how interconnected the financial world has become. This interconnectedness is a challenge for global systemic risks analysis. This column argues that much of the data needed for tracking systemic risk are not available and that, in fact, world decision makers are leading in the dark. Recent initiatives that aim to improve aggregate banking statistics and gather better institution-level data are welcome, but the complexity of the system means that we won’t have the data we need for some time yet.
A ‘self-fulfilling recession’ is a long-established idea in economics. This column argues that the US’s economic malaise continues to be caused by leaders’ hysteria rather than by actual engrained economic problems. Obama and Congress need to stop scaring the nation about the ‘fiscal cliff’ because, ultimately, they are coordinating expectations on there being a recession. Tackling the right policies now, and sending out the right message, will help more than hysteria.
The crisis has shown how the Eurozone needs instruments to control bank-funding risks, as implementation of the necessary prudential legislation at the EU level has been much postponed. This column argues that the delay creates a precarious situation, especially in the Eurozone where a banking union is been introduced. Currently all liquidity policy is at the national level. Without some form of coordination, this shift all bank funding risk to ultimate ECB support without the Single Supervisory Mechanism having any adequate transition tools.
How can we predict bad credit booms? This column argues that surges in gross private inflows are good predictors of booms in credit markets, especially those booms that end up in a systemic banking crisis. Using quarterly data on gross capital inflows and real credit, gross private inflows remain a useful measure even when accounting for the past history of credit and asset prices The evidence suggests that surges in capital flows may well mean future financial turmoil.
Global value chains are increasingly viewed as the new paradigm in international production and trade. This column argues that a firm can perform better if it 'improves' its positioning in the world network by offshoring the production of its intermediates.
Many countries experience substantial revenue windfalls from natural resources. The consensus is that these should not be consumed but put in a fund to smooth the benefits across generations. This column examines how policy recommendations may differ among oil-rich countries, here Norway, Ghana and Iraq. It suggests that oil exporters may need to accumulate not only an intergenerational fund but also a liquidity fund to cope with oil price volatility and a domestic investment fund to alleviate the burden of capital scarcity.
Mortgage markets arguably spawned the post-Lehman crises – think subprime, Ireland, and Spain. This column argues that asymmetric information between competing lenders is an important feature in the financing of newly developed homes. Interestingly, lenders differ significantly in their information about true underlying housing collateral values. It is the identification of asymmetric information that allows policymakers to develop proposals that would improve how the market works and, with the right policies, how governments can limit the negative impact of asymmetry.
Did the Federal Reserve act as ‘lender of last resort’ during the worst of the crisis? This column contributes to the current debate on the appropriateness and effectiveness of non-standard measures that have been taken by the Fed. Quantitatively measuring the effect of the Term Auction Facility on participating banks’ liquidity risk, it seems that, because the Term Auction Facility programme provided banks with enough time to adjust exposures on their balance sheets, the Fed did act as ‘lender of last resort’.
The IMF recently endorsed capital controls as useful policy responses to certain circumstances. This column explains the logic and the research that underpins the shift.
It's tough out there for policymakers seeking to stabilise economies, and shocks from abroad aren't helping. This column argues that for countries hit by recession, fiscal stimulus in another country might significantly stimulate demand back at home, softening the worse effects of the current crisis. The evidence suggests that transnational coordination of fiscal policy may well be more valuable than previously thought.
Latin American central banks are facing new challenges in the form of unprecedented levels of uncertainty and exchange rate appreciation pressures. This column, focusing on Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Peru and Mexico, argues that there is an overestimation of the potential output in several Latin American economies, a lack of an explicit policy direction from central banks, and lacklustre frameworks for macroprudential policy. Although inflation targeting has served countries in Latin America well, significant risks remain.
Eurozone banking union discussions are full of questions about the scope of Eurozone microprudential bank supervision. Yet, this column argues that there is surprisingly little debate on the macroprudential supervision that is necessary to safeguard the wider European financial system. After all it is macro developments, such as fast rising housing prices, that lie at the heart of the ongoing crisis in Europe. To safeguard the financial system, Eurozone macroprudential tools should be under the ECB, separate from microprudential functions, with input from national central banks when differentiation is necessary.
Islam spread remarkably quickly before the era of European colonialism. This column argues that an important economic factor in determining the geographic range was spatial inequality that necessitated a politically unifying force like Islam. Regions that harboured such economic inequality were especially ripe for a system like Islam that offered progressive redistributive tenets with centralised authority to enforce them.
What mechanisms are necessary for the euro to survive? This column argues that recently proposed EU policy might have the answer. Having adopted a roadmap for enhanced economic policy coordination, a growth facility and a framework for enhanced debt issuance, the EU might now stave off the threat of Eurozone breakup. However, the road ahead will certainly be tough, the first crucial stumbling block being the design of a European Redemption Fund.
Today’s technological innovation is regarded by many as all about social media and entertainment, with no impact on economic growth. This column argues that such scepticism is premature. A closer look at selected industries suggests that the ‘industrial internet‘ – a network that binds together intelligent machines, software analytics and people – through accelerated adoption of sensors and software analytics, will have a powerful impact on productivity and growth.
Vicky Pryce talks to Romesh Vaitilingam about her book, "Greekonomics: The euro crisis and why politicians don’t get it". They discuss the flaws in the original conception of the single currency, Greece’s dire recent economic experiences and how Greek and European policymakers have responded to the crisis. The interview was recorded at the Bristol Festival of Economics in late November 2012.
With the rise of complex, globalised supply chains is the real effective exchange rate (REER), the most commonly used measure of competitiveness, now outdated? If it is, what should replace it? This column presents a ‘Value-Added REER’ and shows that it differs substantially from the conventional REER. Because it is possible to construct a new Value-Added REER from existing data, policymakers interested in improving their understanding of competitiveness might well consider including it in their toolbox.
In keeping with expectations, recent multilateral climate change talks in Doha have achieved very little. Yet, the good news is that unilateral action is on the up. This column argues that the existing literature explaining unilateral action on climate change by and large neglects the influence of lobbying. Recent research shows that the combined presence of national interests and increased lobbying pressure -- from both business groups and environmentalists -- may create much more scope for unilateral action than previously thought. Yes, getting a ‘broad and deep‘ international treaty remains difficult, but we can look forward to increased unilateral action on climate change, spurred on by lobby groups.
Humans tend to go through midlife crises regardless of context. So too, it appears, do apes. This column draws on recent research showing apes’ midlives to be, like humans’, dogged by the same pattern of unhappiness.
Africa's recent growth is impressive, yet its rate of stable job creation is anything but. This column argues that Africa needs rapid growth in stable, wage-paying jobs in order to ensure future stable growth and prosperity. African governments must develop and implement targeted jobs strategies – which focus on labour-intensive, competitive industries – to get the most out Africa’s rapid economic emergence.
What effect does trade finance have on international trade? This column uses new data to stress the importance of trade finance for international trade both in crisis and in non-crisis periods. The major policy lesson is that there must be high levels of market incentives for supplying trade credit, particularly during a period of ‘deleveraging’ of the financial system. That said, trade credit statistics could be vastly improved if we wish to continue comparing global trade finance transactions against global trade.
Increasingly, people are pointing the finger of blame for economic woe at large firms. This column argues that organisation design is often affected by government trade policy. If firm organisation design has implications for consumer welfare (in terms of prices and quality of product), evidence suggests that governments should make sure that in future, trade policy and corporate governance policy are more complementary.
Faltering housing markets have been central in exacerbating the global crisis and in prolonging its lacklustre recovery. This column warns that similar troubles may lie ahead. In examining the complex interactions between housing investments and stock market investments, evidence suggests that an increase in housing values reduces equity holdings. This correlation is important, and potentially problematic, because housing values are currently creeping back towards pre-crisis levels in many Western economies.