Current-account imbalances in Europe are at the heart of the crisis .This column argues that relative price adjustment need not be as dramatic as some observers claim. In order to foster rebalancing, policy should target obstacles to firms' entry, startup costs, and the incentives for product differentiation, letting relative prices and wages adjust in equilibrium. Setting up firms and new production lines is costly and in the current circumstances, policy should also address tight credit constraints on investment and firms’ activity.
In 2013, China is at an important crossroads in its economic development. This column argues that we cannot continue to extrapolate from China’s recent economic record. If growth is to remain high and stable, choosing the right course will require nothing less than a significant change in China’s economic model, brought about by what might be the most important political reforms since the 1980s. Whether or not its growth performance tips it into the middle-income trap depends on engaging with and implementing widespread reforms that may be incompatible with the primacy of the Communist Party.
The latest GDP figures confirm that the UK economy has been more or less flat-lining since the financial crisis began. This column presents the LSE Growth Commission’s integrated recommendations for reigniting UK growth, arguing that an inability to achieve sustainable growth is rooted in longer-term problems arising from a failure to invest, notably in skills, infrastructure and innovation. The UK must engage evidence-based policy, in both word and deed, if it is to overcome international competition and myriad global changes.
The rise of international production sharing – ‘global value chains’ – has transformed international commerce and pushed economists into new territory. This column argues that there is evidence to suggest that old-fashioned protection can have an unexpected negative effect on firms that are part of a global value chain. In an increasingly globalised world, exporters’ success seems to positively depend on the free entry of imports rather than the other way round.
Do financial institution managers only owe enforceable duties of loyalty, competence and care to their stockholders and explicit creditors, but not to taxpayers or government supervisors? This column argues that in the current information and ethical environments, regulating accounting leverage cannot adequately protect taxpayers from regulation-induced innovation. We ought to aim for establishing enforceable duties of loyalty and care to taxpayers for managers of financial firms. Authorities need to put aside their unreliable, capital proxy: they should measure, control, and price the ebb and flow of safety-net benefits directly.
2013 marks the 100th anniversary of US federal income tax and the establishment of the Federal Reserve. What lessons have we learnt about macroeconomic policy since then? This column assesses the postwar lessons and argues that fiscal expansion is much more likely to be effective in the short term than any monetary expansion stimulus. Indeed, compared with fiscal policy, monetary policy seems more alchemy than science.
Russia aims to diversify its economy and reduce its dependence on natural resources. Despite laudable aims, this column argues that progress has been sluggish. Longstanding obstacles of corruption, low business-entry rates and weak competition afflict other countries that, like Russia, are in transition. Yet Russia comes pretty much bottom of the class. Crucially, the fact that economic diversification requires improvements to education and skills acquisition has been somewhat overlooked by the state. What attempts the state has made, such as supporting technology innovation, appear to have been ineffectual and, at times, counterproductive. Going forward, Russia would do well to focus on improving incentives for market-relevant research and development, complemented by private sector-led sources of finance for early-stage firms.
Charles Calomiris talks to Viv Davies about what he sees as a pervasive change in the politics of banking that has enabled banking regulators and supervisors to pursue bad practices. Calomiris maintains that the keys to effective prudential regulatory reform are, first, to recognise the core incentive problems that encourage risk-taking and ineffective regulation, and second, to design simple reforms that are 'incentive-robust', for which a political coalition of support will be required. The interview was recorded by phone on 24 January 2013.
Migration policy is a pressing issue, but our empirical understanding of it is wanting. This column introduces new estimation techniques for identifying the impact of immigration policies. The novelty is to account for third-country effects since migrants have more options than staying home and moving to the hoped-for destination. Looking at bilateral policies in isolation misses this externality. Disregarding such ‘multilateral resistance to migration’ leads to an underestimation of the effect of bilateral migration policies, and thus potentially leading to severe policy mistakes.
Small and medium-sized enterprises provide the vast majority of employment in developing countries and are keystones in the productive structures of emerging economies. This column argues that the growth of such firms is being hindered by scarce financing. Looking at Latin America, it is clear that public financial institutions are increasingly important in meeting credit demands. If emerging economies want to see long-term growth, there needs to be a comprehensive approach to reducing the ‘traditional’ barriers to small and medium enterprise financing.
Will recovery be jobless? A broad array of analysts, from Vox columnists to McKinsey, are arguing that Okun’s Law is broken. This column presents new research suggesting that, in fact, Okun is alive and well. When output recovers, the jobs will come back, although employment will differ across countries. There may be good reasons for the structural reforms that many propose as a way to boost job creation, but undertaking them in the belief that Okun’s Law has broken down should not be one of them.
Security-market regulations often seek to ensure that all investors have equal access to information about each company. But what are the actual costs of an unequal information playing field? This column reviews evidence from China, Finland, and the US, suggesting that information asymmetry raises companies’ cost of capital. This inhibits investment and thereby long-run economic growth.
The Arab world is undergoing a major political transition. The final outcomes of the changes are far from certain. Nevertheless, there have been and will continue to be economic consequences from the moves towards democracy. This column looks at 90 attempts at transition and finds that countries with rapid transitions, irrespective of whether they are successful or failed, experience swift recoveries and a long-run growth dividend of about one percentage point relative to pre-transition growth levels.
Is European economic recovery being delayed by political procrastination? Are electoral cycles hindering a return to growth? This column argues that by synchronising European nations’ electoral cycles (along with those of the European Parliament), Europe can avoid its current slow and jittery approach. Creating a synchronised Europe-wide voting period would do away with overlapping national electoral cycles. A common national and European voting period would reduce political uncertainty, ensuring quicker policymaking response times for a smoother, quicker route to recovery.
The revolution in manufacturing – increasingly known as ‘global value chains‘ – has changed the world of trade policy as much as it has changed the global industrial landscape. This column discusses new research suggesting that border management and transport and telecommunications infrastructure services matter far more than trade tariffs. Improving infrastructure and management would increase global GDP far more than the complete elimination of tariffs. However, it won’t be easy. Tackling supply chain barriers will require dynamic and responsive national and international trade policymaking procedures that are more in step with industrial practices.
Has unconsidered use of technology and exasperated market competition carried finance way afar from its original purpose, i.e. to serve the economy? This column offers a set of simple suggestions for complex interventions on the financial regulatory world. It suggests incentives be designed to lead financial institutions to place people’s real economic needs at the core of their mission, thus humanising finance.
The efficient market hypothesis – in various forms – is at the heart of modern finance and macroeconomics. This column argues that market efficiency is extremely unlikely even without frictions or irrationality. Why? Because there are multiple equilibria, only one of which is Pareto efficient. For all other equilibria, the whims of market participants cause the welfare of the young to vary substantially in a way they would prefer to avoid, if given the choice. This invalidates the first welfare theorem and the idea of financial market efficiency. Central banks should thus dampen excessive market fluctuations.
The Bank of England’s Governor-elect has argued for a switch to a nominal GDP target. This column points out problems with nominal GDP targets, especially in levels. Among other issues, nominal GDP targeting means that uncertainty surrounding future real growth rates compounds uncertainty on future inflation rates. Thus the switch is likely to raise uncertainty about future inflation and weaken the anchoring of inflation expectations.
'Publish or perish' has been the rule in academic economics since forever, but there is a widespread perception that publishing in the best journals has become harder and much slower. This column presents new evidence confirming the perception. The number of articles published in top journals has fallen, while the number and length of submissions have risen. The profession should consider recalibrating publication demands to reflect this new reality.
Trade agreements have become ‘deeper’ over recent years, and there are initiatives in the pipeline to globalise deeper trade governance through mega-regional agreements (such as the Trans-Pacific Partnership). This column argues that trade agreements in general – and the WTO in particular – should focus on what they do best, reducing protectionist barriers. Broader issues such as intellectual property and regulatory expropriation should be left to governments to deal with on their own. Governments that handle these issues most effectively will be the winners in the new world of supply-chain trade.
Although healthcare innovation can make treatment cheaper, it can also make policy decisions more difficult by introducing new, better but more expensive technologies. This column argues that, unlike other technologies, healthcare technology is intermediated by insurance mechanisms, both private and public. Although health insurance coverage incentivises expenditure on innovation, it does not seem to heighten technology adoption, a challenge to the idea that innovation increases healthcare costs. Indeed, evidence suggests that technology diffusion is limited by other institutional barriers.
The increasing volatility of exchange rates after the fall of the Bretton Woods agreements has been a constant source of concern for both policymakers and academics. Does exchange-rate risk dangerously increase transaction costs and reduce gains to international trade? This column uses recent research to argue that there is indeed a negative impact of exchange-rate volatility on firms’ exporting behaviour, magnified for financially vulnerable firms and dampened by financial development. Thus, emerging countries should be careful when relaxing their exchange-rate regime.
A workforce’s cognitive skills and ability to learn are regarded as crucial factors for countries hoping to develop and become competitive in the global knowledge economy. This column argues that many developing countries‘ basic educational attainment and learning outcomes remain wanting. Taking a look at Europe’s historical record can shed light on the developing-country context, and evidence suggests that simply expanding an ill-functioning educational system will be wasteful. It’s advisable for policymakers to pursue institutional reform aimed at cost-efficiency before they begin implementing school reforms.
Increasingly, services form a larger and larger share a country’s exports. Do exchange rates matter as much for services and they do for goods exports? This column argues that they do. Distinguishing between traditional services (such as trade and transport, tourism, financial services and insurance) and modern services (such as communications, computers, information services) suggests that the effect of the real exchange rate is especially large for exports of modern services.
The Subprime Crisis became the Global Crisis when one too-big-to-fail bank was allowed to fail. This column argues that too-big-to-fail is far from gone despite years of reform efforts. It is important that it not be forgotten. Further analytical work, weighing the costs and benefits of different structural reform proposals, would help keep memories fresh and policies on the right track.
Capital controls are back in vogue. This column argues that we should distinguish between episodic controls (gates) and long-standing controls (walls). Research shows that the apparent success of 'walls' in China and India tells us little about the consequences of capital controls imposed or removed in countries like Brazil and South Korea, as circumstances change. Walls and gates are fundamentally distinct, and policy debate needs to take into account these differences.
There is a view that banks are using more equity capital – and relatively less debt – to finance the assets they hold, creating substantial costs so great as to make more capital unfeasible. This column argues that these costs are exaggerated, but that the benefits of having banks that are far more robust are likely to be large. The argument that equity capital is costly is more an admittance that banks cannot convince people to provide finance in the knowledge that their returns will inevitably share in the downside and the upside. Worryingly, it is as if banks cannot play by the same rules as other enterprises in a capitalist economy. After all, capitalists are supposed to use capital.
All G7 economies are struggling in the post-crisis climate, but US GDP has recovered to pre-crisis levels, while the Eurozone simply hasn’t. This column portrays the global crisis as a transitory shock for the US, but as a quasi-permanent shock for Europe. The policies that are needed get the Eurozone back on track do not seem to be politically feasible. As tension rises with every quarter of stagnation, prospects for the survival of the euro are not only not improving, they are actually getting worse.
The ‘neutral’ rate is the real interest that is consistent with stable inflation and narrow output gaps. This column discusses the various estimation techniques and presents estimates for a range of Latin American nations. No methodology is fully correct: central banks must still make a subjective judgement, but econometrics can significantly help to inform it.
There are two ways to deal with climate change: mitigation and adaptation. This column argues that in order to adapt, we need to take another look at an age-old coping mechanism: migration. Indeed, if overall hotter temperatures lower productivity in hot regions but raise productivity in what are currently cooler regions, the negative economic effects of climate change are likely to stem from frictions preventing the movement of people and goods. Without these frictions, adapting to climate change becomes that much easier. Climate change policy ought to aim at alleviating mobility frictions.
The institutions that manage trade barriers are subject to corruption, imposing additional distortions. This column shows that in China, the government misallocated quota licenses permitting firms to export. When the US and EU abolished quotas governing textile exports in 2005, China experienced productivity gains not only from the actual elimination of the quota but also from the termination of the misallocation due to inefficient licensing.
Internationally prominent economists and politicians have been pushing for effective implementation and better coordination of the new financial regulations currently under construction across the globe. This columns argues that at a time of crisis, financial regulators were forced to act on systemically important assets and liabilities, rather than just on the individual financial institutions holding them. A key turning point towards better regulation will be when we recognise the need for such action ahead of time, building the essential infrastructure that ensures excessive risk-taking is discouraged.
Greater choice and competition in healthcare is a popular reform model. This column discusses recent research suggesting that once restrictions on choice in the UK’s NHS were lifted, patients receiving cardiac surgery became more responsive to the quality of their care. This saved lives and gave hospitals a greater incentive to improve quality.
The risks associated with shadow banking are at the forefront of the regulatory debate. Yet, this column argues that there is as yet no established analytical approach to shadow banking. This means that policy priorities are not clearly motivated. But if we analyse securitisation and collateral intermediation – the two shadow banking functions most important for financial stability – a solid framework that includes existing policy recommendations, as well as some alternative ones, begins to emerge.
The rapid economic growth of emerging markets is the leading headline of our age. But growth is slowing. Using new research, this column asks why this might be, and how policymakers might remedy flagging economies. The answer seems to be education. Recent research suggests, for instance, that the rapid expansion of secondary and tertiary education helped Korea’s successful transition from middle- to high-income status, very much unlike Malaysia and Thailand. Whether China can avoid the middle-income trap will depend in part upon developing an education system producing graduates with skills that Chinese employers require.
Most of Africa spent two generations under colonial rule. This column argues that, contrary to some recent commentaries highlighting the benefits of colonialism, it is this intense experience that has significantly retarded economic development across the continent. Relative to any plausible counterfactual, Africa is poorer today than it would have been had colonialism not occurred.
China is perennially accused of currency manipulation. Yet, this column argues that a weak currency value doesn’t necessarily reflect currency manipulation. China is a fast growing economy with strong financial frictions and a high saving rate, and such countries naturally have weak currencies. Instead of focussing on accusations of currency manipulation, it might be more helpful for economists to encourage policies that foster Chinese consumption, gradually leading the renminbi to an appreciating path.
Africa is not achieving its potential in food trade, increasing the risk of widespread hunger and malnutrition. This column argues that the most serious problems for the continent are problems of political economy and barriers along the value chain. The good news is that, despite demand for food throughout Africa predicted to double over the next decade, governments can act now to overcome these problems. With a regional approach to food security, African governments can spur on benefits to farmers and consumers as well as job creation along the value chain of staples.
Over the last few decades, banking regulators and supervisors have failed to do their job. This column argues that a failure of political will enabled stakeholders to pursue bad practices, and suggests a roadmap for reform. Enforcing a reform agenda marked by simplicity is plausible, and would avoid much of the collateral damage that comes from many hundreds of pages of complex, costly and misguided mandates that typically act as substitutes for credible reform. Overcoming the challenge of political will, however, remains a challenge.
As populations in rich nations continue to age and skill shortages begin to emerge, concern over getting immigration policy right is set to intensify. This column discusses new research on US policymaking, showing that many of the determinants of policymakers’ attitudes towards trade are also in operation when it comes to migration. Using the Heckscher-Ohlin model, it finds that US House members from districts where skilled labour is abundant are more likely to support both trade liberalisation and a more open policy for unskilled immigration.
By promising to reduce fossil fuel demand in the future, some claim that climate policies will induce supply side responses today; firms will pump out emissions now before demand restrictions tighten. However, this column argues that the ‘green paradox’ is a red herring. Evidence from US coal prices suggests that, in industrialised countries, there is little danger of an increase in domestic emissions in response to imperfect climate policies.
US unemployment seems stuck at an unusually high level of 8%, prompting some to suggest a widespread skills mismatch. This column argues that a skills mismatch is not supported by the evidence. Rather, out of the possible explanations, it seems that any shift in the ratio between unemployment and vacancies is driven by either lower search efforts by the long-term unemployed or by a reduction in their employability.
The West perennially complains about China subsidising industry geared towards its domestic market. But what will happen when China enacts its latest Five Year Plan’s emphasis on domestic growth? This column argues that ending ‘pure-exporter subsidies’ – subsidies that boost Chinese exports while simultaneously protecting the least efficient, domestically oriented firms – will benefit Chinese consumers, but will cost the rest of the world.
Financial market quiescence has removed pressure for immediate policy action on the Eurozone crisis. This column argues that while important repairs were made in 2012, the most difficult ones still lie ahead. Much remains to be done by unwilling politicians. Things will have to get worse before they get better. The best hope is that this happens in 2013 rather than in 2014.
Is the brain drain reversing? This column argues that increasing numbers of foreign-educated and economic emigrants are returning home. Evidence suggests that the best of the bunch bring with them strong corporate governance practises and an appetite for internationalisation. Through this ‘brain gain’, the return of skilled professionals boosts emerging markets’ economies.
Globally, large current account imbalances prevail. This column argues that they also continue to represent a systemic risk for the world economy. The WTO has a clear-cut role in the institutional effort to address these imbalances. However, this role has more to do with opening services and government procurement markets than with the often invoked trade sanctions in response to exchange rate misalignments.