During the economic and financial crisis, fiscal positions across OECD countries deteriorated sharply. This column agues that population ageing and trends in social spending will further challenge the sustainability of fiscal balances. Research suggests that the scale of fiscal consolidation that will be needed to ensure long-term sustainability is large, but policymakers can look at the potential benefits of policy reform in mitigating budget pressures.
Investment in infrastructure can bring growth and social benefits. This column highlights the infrastructure opportunities open to depressed economies, stressing that the main obstacles are governance-related. To bring opportunities to life will require an overhaul of infrastructure governance – a root cause of infrastructure projects’ poor productivity.
To what extent can historical and cultural factors explain the reversal of the gender gap? Using a new comprehensive dataset from Italy, this column explores the long-term determinants of the education gender gap. The evidence suggests that cultural values can persist for centuries, but that there have also been critical evolutionary turning points on the road towards equality.
The Eurozone and US business cycles seems to have decoupled, but is Germany on the US or Eurozone side of the divide? This column presents recent results from the Now-Casting model on whether this US-Eurozone decoupling also applies to Germany. If this is right, the German stock market – which seems to predict Germany’s convergence to the US path – is due for a correction.
How much do we really know about net capital flows? Presenting new research, this column lays out a number of new stylised facts on the dynamics of gross capital flows and their implications for policymaking. Interestingly, if we’re to learn from relatively crisis-resilient middle-income countries, policymakers may well need to monitor and perhaps regulate the separate behaviour of domestic and foreign investors to weather future crises.
Cyprus has imposed temporary capital controls. This column sheds light on how temporary and how damaging they are likely to be, based on Iceland’s experience. The longer controls exist, the harder they are to abolish. Icelandic capital controls, which have been ‘temporary’ for half a decade, deeply damage the economy by discouraging investment. We can only hope the authorities that created the chaos in the first place realise that temporary really needs to mean temporary.
How confident are we that major developed countries remain fiscally prudent? Having developed a new dataset, this column gauges the degree of fiscal prudence or profligacy for major economies over the past several decades. From the evidence, it’s clear that the global financial crisis has posed the biggest policy challenge in living memory, with varying responses. How these responses turn out very much depends on whether the slowdown in growth is long-lasting or not.
Is foreign direct investment different in times of crisis? This column tests the ‘fire-sale foreign direct investment hypothesis’, finding that acquisitions undertaken during crisis periods do not fundamentally differ from those undertaken during non-crisis periods. The fire-sale foreign direct investment notion may well be ‘all smoke, and no fire’.
The Monday morning Eurozone Cyprus bailout is now public, although details are scant. This column argues that this package cancels out some of the mistakes in last week’s package. Last week, the Troika should have vetoed the small-deposit tax and prepared a plan B for the Cypriot parliament’s rejection. Avoiding the risky scenario of a Cyprus exit will require further fiscal commitments from Eurozone partners. One possibility is a temporary, but EZ-wide, 'deposit reinsurance', or backing of national deposit-guarantee schemes by the ESM.
What happens after the crisis ends? This column estimates the long-term effects of the current cyclical downturn on Eurozone economies. In the absence of any real impetus for bold reform, estimates show that the damage will indeed be long lasting, permanently impairing growth for an ageing population that requires higher growth capacity more than ever before.
The EU is planning to harmonise data protection. This column balances the benefits of harmonisation against the estimated costs to business – especially small and medium-sized enterprises – and the macroeconomic costs more generally. The net compliance costs will perhaps be larger than the EU predicts.
Crisis-stricken governments have enacted large stimulus packages to counteract the recent recession. But how are these financed, and are consumers responding? This column argues that we must understand marginal propensity to consume in order to optimally design fiscal policy, outlining new research on how to get the best measurements. Through several policy simulations, it’s clear how important it is to truly understand the relationship between stimulus packages and marginal propensities to consume.
History influences the politics of every nation. But how exactly can we measure it? This column presents new research that assesses the influence of empires on Poland’s current political makeup. In particular, the centuries-old partition of Poland continues to influence politics through its long-lasting effects on infrastructure and religion.
Cypriot banks urgently need restructuring and downsizing, but a functioning financial system is necessary to handle Cyprus’s transformation to an economic model not based on an oversized banking sector. This column argues that splitting the Cypriot banking system into a bad ‘legacy’ part and a good forward-looking part seems the only feasible and effective solution to resolve the current crisis and restore trust. The Eurozone's resources would be most useful in this bank-resolution process.
The crisis has shot holes in government budgets devoted to pro-growth public goods. This column argues that health-related public goods support long-term economic growth. Governments may be more inclined to focus on spending related directly to jobs, such as education and welfare-to-work programmes, but health should not be forgotten
The euro cannot have a centralised monetary authority and decentralised bank supervision. This column draws on US banking history, detailing how a banking crisis in the nineteenth century led to the creation of dual systems of bank supervision. The US system was imperfect, and the central role and powers of the ECB within the Single Supervisory Mechanism will be to limit the weaknesses of a dual system of supervision. Despite this, hazards remain. For those looking for a guide to the potential threats to financial stability under this system, understanding the US experience is relevant.
Josh Lerner of Harvard Business School talks to Romesh Vaitilingam about his book "The Architecture of Innovation: The Economics of Creative Organizations". They discuss a variety of issues around the challenges of innovation, including corporate venturing, venture capital-based enterprises, patents and public investment in science. The interview was recorded in Washington, DC, at the annual meeting of the Toulouse Network on Information Technology in September 2012.
The US and the EU have announced their intentions to launch trade talks – the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership. This column argues that this should not be thought of as a standard tariff-lowering deal with a few extras thrown in for good measure. Rather, we don’t really know what it will do because trade economists have failed to develop the necessary tools for understanding its impact. It is time for policy analysts to re-tool.
How do everyday Italians feel about their economic prospects? How are political reactions related to economic events? This column presents evidence suggesting that Italians are becoming disillusioned. Comparing Berlusconi's and Monti’s resignation, sentiment was more positive after Belusconi's. Rather than a test on Italian citizens’ realism or on their views on austerity, recent political elections should instead be read as a test of voters’ utter disaffection with political institutions.
Eurozone leaders’ radical step of putting insured depositors in Cypriot banks in harm’s way was not their only option. This column argues that none of the alternatives were pleasant but some were less ominous.
The Cyprus rescue package has elicited sharp reactions. This column argues that a tax on deposits is logical given the limited options, but guaranteed deposits should be spared on fairness and systematic grounds; a 15% tax on big deposits would be enough. Contagion is unlikely since Cyprus is different. Italian and Spanish savers are already alert to surprises such as the 1992 Italian bank deposit tax.
Who saved Italy? This column argues that the crisis began with Silvio Berlusconi and ended with Mario Monti. Evidence suggests that restoring a sense of credibility to Italian policymaking was difficult to earn but may be very easy to lose (as the recent run on Italian debt suggests). New and old Italian politicians cannot afford to underestimate the formidable challenge ahead: getting Italy out of this depression without jeopardising its credibility.
David Cameron’s promise of a referendum on British participation in the EU has re-ignited the debate about the EU’s democratic legitimacy, just as the struggle to overcome the crisis continues. This column argues that in order to both successfully resolve the crisis and maintain states’ ability to sustain liberal finance, a substantial shift in policy is required. Enhancing the democratic legitimacy of crisis resolution measures and wider financial reforms is essential. Without diffuse support for reforms, crisis resolution is likely to collapse under centrifugal populist pressures.
The Cyprus bailout package contains a tax on bank deposits. This column argues that the tax is a deeply dangerous policy that creates a new situation, more perilous than ever. It is a radical change that potentially undermines a perfectly reasonable deposit guarantee and the euro itself. Historians will one day explore the dark political motives behind this move. Meanwhile, we can only hope that the bad equilibrium that has just been created will not be chosen by anguished depositors in Spain and Italy.
Zoning policies and land use regulations are widespread. This column presents recent research suggesting that regulations have in fact gone too far. Land use regulation is the outcome of competing property owner and land developer pressure groups, and it seems that local authorities respond well to lobbying, in addition to more traditional welfare and electoral considerations. The most over-restrictive regulation is in highly desirable places, New York and San Francisco being some of the worst offenders.
The world ain’t flat. Distance has massive effects on all manner of international flows, but measuring its empirical impact has been hindered by poor measurement of bilateral trade costs. This column introduces a new global dataset of bilateral trade costs prepared by UNESCAP and the World Bank. The data stress the importance of supply chains and connectivity constraints in explaining the higher costs and lower levels of trade integration observed in developing countries.
Since 2008, we have learned that the root causes of global economic instability are more than the sum of domestic instabilities. This column calls for a broad reconsideration of the principles underpinning current global economic governance; arguing that in a globalised world, isolated domestic economic policymaking is not enough. The international community needs to adhere to a ‘Good Global Citizen’ remit – housed by the IMF – if we are to tackle global economic policy under collective responsibility.
Against a backdrop of road accidents, pollution and congestion, many governments subsidise railways with the aim of reducing such externalities. But do improvements in public transport work? This column argues that recent empirical evidence confirms our expectations and, moreover, that public-transport improvements offer good value for money.
Inflation targeting once seemed sufficient, but the Global Crisis showed that maintaining financial stability and price stability requires more than the monetary-policy tool. We are witnessing the rise of macroprudential policy. This column discusses how monetary and macroprudential policies interact and what it means for policy and institutional design. Regardless of whether both policies are assigned to the same authority or to two authorities; separate decision-making, accountability and communication structures are required.
As the Eurozone growth continues to be negative, debates over the correct degree of austerity continue. This column presents the Commission’s view on how and why austerity continues to be necessary.
Although policymakers want to help foster a global recovery, they are not sure how. Presenting lessons from the last two centuries, this column argues that we need to reduce unemployment first and deal with debt second if we are to see the back of this recession. Ultimately, the problems we face necessitate international cooperation. History shows us that international leadership is possible, and our current circumstances also show us that it is urgently necessary.
Economists tend to agree that explosive deleveraging in the banking sector was a central element of the 2008 global financial crisis. This column argues that such deleveraging is far from unique. In fact, there is a ‘bank leverage cycle’ in which bank leverage, assets and GDP ramp up and down together; and this is true across financial subsectors. Such procyclicality strengthens the case for macroprudential regulations.
Broadly speaking, there are three types of economic crisis: banking crises and panics, credit frictions and market freezes, and currency crises. This column argues that features from these types of crises have been at work and interacted with each other to shape the events of the last few years. From an extensive review of literature on these issues, it’s clear that the biggest challenge policymakers and economists face is in developing integrative models that better describing contemporary economic realities.
Violations of the uncovered interest-rate parity – a zero-profit equilibrium condition in foreign-exchange markets – seems to consistently give rise to profitable currency trading. This column highlights the risky nature of this phenomenon, arguing that it is the exposure to stock-market cash flows that is the key secret to making money from global currency portfolio investments. High returns from currency trading compensate investors for taking on severe stock-market risks.
Will addressing large internal imbalances lead us out of the Eurozone crisis? This column argues that it might. Periphery countries should devalue in order to regain competitiveness and reduce imbalances. As to whether they should pursue internal or external devaluation, the answer remains unclear. Overall, given that policymakers have excluded the option of exit, economic policymaking must focus on the possibilities for internal devaluations, despite some of the difficulties it may bring.
Are African education policies reaching the marginalised? This column reports results from a cross-country analysis, finding that the sharing of textbooks has a positive effect only for the most privileged students. For the average student, textbook access has no impact on academic outcomes. Indeed, less privileged students perform poorly due to a combination of low parent and teacher expectation, poor health, and routine classroom disruptions. It is these factors that reduce the effectiveness of policies like the improvement of access to textbooks. For education to be truly for all, educational reforms must target the least privileged students.
How do we solve worryingly high unemployment across Europe? In a time of crisis, would reform actually exacerbate unemployment? This column argues that labour markets – especially in southern Europe – have to be reformed, presenting policy prescriptions to that effect. If we are to break the back of sluggish labour markets, policymakers need to learn from Europe’s success stories.
Not so long ago, cap-and-trade mechanisms for environmental protection were popular in Congress. Now, such mechanisms are denigrated. What happened? This column tells the sordid tale of how conservatives in Congress who once supported cap and trade now lambast climate change legislation as ‘cap-and-tax’. Ironically, conservatives are choosing to demonise their own market-based creation. The successful conservative campaign that disparaged cap-and-trade means it may now be politically impossible to promote it in the US. The good news? Elsewhere, cap and trade is now a proven, viable option for tackling large-scale environmental problems.
The last decade has seen unprecedented economic and social achievements in Latin America. This column investigates the relationship between changes in the labour market and the drop in income inequality across the continent. There is certainly room for more research to help us better understand Latin America’s spectacular decline in income inequality, but what is clear is that the good news is tempered by the fact that the specialisation of the region’s economies are relatively low in skill intensity and therefore productivity.
How are spending, income and debt affected by minimum-wage hikes? This column argues that putting money into the hands of consumers, especially low-income consumers, ultimately leads to predictable increases in spending. Evidence suggests that a $1 wage hike increases household spending by minimum-wage workers – usually in the form of collateralised debt – by around $700 per quarter.
Is the fact that different banks have different risk models problematic? Contrary to the Basel Committee and the European Banking Authority, this column argues that heterogeneity is a good thing. It leads to countercyclicality, and thereby reduces instances of procyclical price movements. Both the Basel Committee and the European Banking Authority have indicated that they are troubled by heterogeneity and are seeking to rectify the problem. Their conclusion is plainly wrong.
The EU was once a champion of global financial regulatory convergence. What happened? This column argues that the EU should drop its lacklustre inertia and pursue Basel III because, in the end, it’s in its interests to comply. EU policymakers ought to aim at enabling the adoption of a Capital Requirements Regulation that would be fully compliant with Basel III.
Despite recent calm in the markets, the Eurozone crisis seems far from over. So far, responses have worked little magic. This column argues that at some point soon, Eurozone governments will be forced by voters to reverse austerity and stimulate growth. A number of policy options are available, but it is clear that pro-growth fiscal stimulus policies should take their place. Longer-term fiscal consolidation will nonetheless also be required to reduce excessive levels of public spending relative to GDP.
Can we avoid delayed sovereign defaults? This column sketches out a flexible mechanism focused on the international lender, and competition between lenders, of last resort to ensure timeliness, transparency and larger sums than are currently available. The threat of competition should provide strong incentives for addressing imbalances in the governance of the main multilateral financial institutions
Is policy-related uncertainty at the root of lacklustre Eurozone job creation? This column presents evidence that is consistent with this idea. The main implications for policy are straightforward: credible solutions to the Eurozone debt crisis will alleviate the critical unemployment situation of a number of Eurozone countries. How? Not only by helping to kick start investment and production, but also by an additional, direct boost to job creation that is linked to confidence.
Policymakers charged with sovereign debt restructuring would do well to take an engineer’s approach: know what’s broken, and know exactly what your solution aims to fix. This column argues that Europe may yet face several complex sovereign defaults and, like engineers, in dealing with these defaults we must find a way to avoid characteristically panicked policymaking.
Did inward capital controls work for Brazil? This column assesses the evidence, concluding that capital controls are desirable if they help avoid excessive debt and asset price bubbles, a risk given the appetite of foreign investors towards Brazilian assets. That said, policymakers needs to complement capital controls with foreign savings in order to enable an investment rate compatible with sustaining GDP growth.
Does terroir really affect a wine’s quality? This column argues that alleged experts repeatedly cannot tell a superstar wine from a cheaper bottle. Like many cultural commodities, it seems that the quality of wine is not an objective trait. Rather, these commodities become whatever we want them to become.