By the end of the 1990s, under the incentive of Eurozone entry, most peripheral European countries were busy undertaking structural reforms and putting their fiscal houses in order. This column argues that the arrival of the euro, and the subsequent interest-rate convergence, loosened a tide of cheap money that reversed the incentives for further reforms. As a result, by the end of the euro’s first decade, the institutions and governance in the Eurozone periphery were in worse shape than they were at the start of the decade.
Benn Steil of the Council on Foreign Relations talks to Romesh Vaitilingam about his book ‘The Battle of Bretton Woods: John Maynard Keynes, Harry Dexter White, and the Making of a New World Order’. They discuss the ‘realpolitik’ of the 1944 conference and the scheming of the two central characters, as well as lessons for today’s efforts to reform the Eurozone and the international monetary system. The interview was recorded in London in April 2013.
The positive spillovers from multinationals to the productivity of their host-country suppliers are empirically well established. Usually, it is assumed that multinationals aid their suppliers by voluntarily sharing knowledge and cooperating with them. This column argues the spillovers might rather result from blunt pressure by the multinationals, forcing their suppliers to adopt new practices and to adapt to new standards.
The UK is under fire for pulling up the drawbridge for bright foreign students by limiting visas and complicating the application process. This column argues that welcoming large numbers of foreign PhD students bodes well for countries and universities interested in scientific and engineering innovation. Science and engineering are, after all, critical for the growth and competitiveness of industrial economies. Policies that serve to limit or discourage the enrolment of international graduate students lead to reductions in the rate of scientific discovery.
Energy-subsidy reform is notoriously difficult. This column argues that the environmental and social payoff from a concerted worldwide effort to replace these subsidies with better targeted measures would be substantial. Subsidy reform is an especially attractive option for countries under pressure to bring public debt to more prudent levels. The success of reform in several countries shows that the challenge is not insurmountable.
Current-account deficits have caused problems in several Eurozone countries, but surpluses are also an issue. This column argues that surpluses are detrimental to the welfare of the population to the extent they are driven by structural weaknesses affecting demand. Addressing these issues through structural reforms, while letting wages and prices respond flexibly to market signals, would be welfare-enhancing for the surplus countries.
The very public Rogoff-Reinhart kerfuffle has focused on what is not true. This column reviews the evidence on what is true. It suggests that the debt-growth link is more complex than commonly thought. While there is evidence that public debt is negatively correlated with economic growth, there is no study that makes a strong case for a causal relationship going from debt to growth.
Is there too much financial development, or too little? Can economists even measure it well? This column argues that commonly used measures of financial development are poor proxies of what the financial system actually does, presenting a new worldwide database that aims to fill some of the gaps. There needs to be a stronger link between the theory and measurement of financial development.
Youth unemployment in Europe seems to be sticking around. This column assesses youth unemployment policy in France using data from a controlled experiment. ‘Job counselling’ – a key French policy that prepares some job seekers for the recruitment process, and connects them with potential employers – seems to improve graduates' chances of employment only marginally. Moreover, the evidence suggests that what’s good for one graduate may be bad for another: the beneficiaries of intensive job counselling are more likely to find employment simply at the expense of other job seekers.
Reducing gender inequity will require a wide range of policies. This column describes a framework for quantifying the growth effects of gender policies in developing economies and, by applying an overlapping generations model to Brazil, shows that gender policy is likely to produce tangible economic results, but only in the long term.
Medieval monetary practices reveal an alternative approach to currency stabilisation. This column examines the role of Mint prices as a device for stabilising the medieval bullion market. This might seem to be of limited relevance to managing modern currencies, yet a longer historical view helps to highlight different approaches to currency stabilisation. This raises a question for modern policymakers: should the price of some of the asset counterparts of today’s money be anchored, as bullion prices once were under the Mint system?
An unintended consequence of tighter banking regulation is that businesses are looking beyond banks for their loans. This column argues that this arbitrage opportunity may create systemic risks, including amongst major insurance companies. Using a new methodology, evidence tentatively suggests that insurers are indeed becoming systemic.
Standard microeconomics ignores personalities, but business studies stress the importance of entrepreneurs. This column presents evidence that shows that personalities are important. Looking into the death of a firm’s founder during the first ten years of a company’s existence, the data suggest that entrepreneurs matter – they are the ‘glue’ that holds a business together.
The IMF has recently argued that Europe’s financial sector has done much to address the recent financial crisis. This column argues that vulnerabilities remain, and calls for intensified efforts. Europe-wide stress tests will play a crucial role: selective asset-quality reviews and a high degree of transparency would add credibility and reduce uncertainty. Europe-wide stress tests will need to focus on structural, cross-border, and funding-related issues.
Timely measurement of the state of the economy traditionally relies on low-frequency observations of a few economic aggregates referring to previous weeks, months, or even quarters. This column presents a new method of a real-time approach to timely and more accurate macroeconomic news.
The Great Recession has been followed by a ‘Not-So-Great Recovery’. Why the recovery has been weak and protracted remains a matter of debate. This column argues that one specific aspect of the current global recovery makes it different from previous ones. Over the course of past recoveries, both monetary and fiscal policies maintained an accommodative stance. In this global recovery, fiscal and monetary policies in advanced economies are pushing in opposite directions.
International banking is under threat in the aftermath of the Global Crisis Supervisors across the world are pushing for a split of international banks into national subsidiaries. This column discusses ‘financial protectionism’, offering some governance solutions that may help to international banks. These solutions boil down to burden sharing. In Europe, the first step is banking union.
Low interest rates and bank deleveraging combine to produce slow growth and rising financial risks in advanced economies. This column argues that appropriate macroprudential policies could contribute to redirecting risk taking, promoting growth and reducing uncertainty through more orderly deleveraging in the financial sector.
The Bank of Japan has now joined the club of central banks practising a new, post-Crisis form of inflation targeting. This column discusses the new goals, new tools and new challenges of ‘augmented inflation targeting’. Despite economists’ worries and the many unknowns ahead, there really is no alternative in a post-Crisis world. Augmented inflation targeting is here to stay.
Implementing comprehensive policies to reduce greenhouse-gas emissions has proved to be difficult. Such sluggishness has increasingly led analysts and researchers to consider geoengineering – the deliberate reduction of the incoming solar radiation – as a viable alternative. Geoengineering used to be seen as somewhat of a ‘last resort’ in terms of climate policy because its implementation would reduce the urgency for current abatement efforts. However, under uncertainty, research suggests that substantial abatement in the short and medium term remains optimal due to the long lead-in time needed for geoengineering projects.
Mega-regional trade arrangements are being negotiated in Asia. This column asks how Europe should respond and assesses which Asian trade deals would provide the biggest boost and the best insurance against discriminatory effects. The evidence tentatively suggests Europe’s best bets are Japan and Taiwan.
A recent ECB household-wealth survey was interpreted by the media as evidence that poor Germans shouldn’t have to pay for southern Europe. This column takes a look at the numbers. Whilst it’s true that median German households are poor compared to their southern European counterparts, Germany itself is wealthy. Importantly, this wealth is very unequally distributed, but the issue of unequal distribution doesn’t feature much in the press. The debate in Germany creates an inaccurate perception among less wealthy Germans that transfers are unfair.
The Global Crisis hit firms hard, making the terms of getting credit worse and thus amplifying the recession. This column discusses new research that isolates the ‘credit crunch’ element from other outcomes of recession. Crisis-linked credit drops caused a 5.5 percentage-point reduction in industrial growth in 2008, with a stronger effect in countries with more highly leveraged banks. The evidence clearly suggests that more attention should be paid to credit supplies to firms at the onset of financial crises.
The Eurozone crisis has produced rapid institutional change with executive powers over national economic policies shifting to the EU. This column introduces a new CEPR Policy Insight that analyses the changes and shifts of power among the EU’s institutions. What is clear is that further reforms are needed in order to safely and accountably underpin new executive power.
Programmes that help developing nations trade are a key part of the global trade and development agenda. But do such policies work? This column summarises lessons from a recent workshop on the issue. One promising way forward is to use benchmarking from existing data sets to identify the aid’s effectiveness.
Inflation targeting did not prevent financial instability before the Crisis nor did it provide sufficient stimulus after the Crisis. In a new Vox eBook, 14 world-renowned scholars, practitioners and market participants analyse inflation targeting and its future. They argue that inflation targeting should be refined not replaced. Indeed, it is needed now more than ever to keep expectations anchored while the advanced economies work their way through today’s slow growth, rickety banks, and over-indebted public sectors.
The recent IMF assessment of Europe’s financial sector found that much has been achieved to address the recent financial crisis in Europe, but vulnerabilities remain, and intensified efforts are needed across a wide front, one of which being bank balance sheet repair. This column looks at progress with bank restructuring in Europe.
The bank ‘stress-test’ is now a crucial crisis-fighting tool. This column discusses research into the shortcomings that arise from ‘ringfencing’, that is, the implicit or explicit regulations that hope to favour domestic markets. Notably, ringfencing could significantly increase some banks’ capital needs.
Elite universities’ admission policies are perennially surrounded by controversy given the thorny efficiency and equity issues involved. This column discusses research into such policies focusing on the degree of meritocracy and non-academic bias. It suggests that men and private-school applicants have somewhat higher application success rates despite being held to higher academic admission standards.
Are healthy lifestyles purely about people’s personal choices? Can we explain why specific people are fit, non-smokers and risk-averse? This column argues that policymaking can incentivise health behaviour but that monetary incentives are not the only approach. Academics and policymakers should aim to influence social norms and society’s role models when monetary incentives are not enough.
Many economists think that the US Federal Reserve’s loose monetary stance in the 2000s fuelled the US housing bubble. Is the Fed thus responsible for the Global Crisis? This column discusses evidence suggesting that monetary policy was, in fact, not to blame. Rather, it was the absence of an effective regulatory function that created the mess we’re in now. It is not fair to blame the Great Recession only on the Fed’s monetary-policy stance nor is the Fed now breeding the next US financial crisis.
The subprime crisis narrative focuses on incentives: ‘they knew it was risky, but didn’t care’. This column argues in favour of a more nuanced explanation, that distorted beliefs also mattered. An analysis of personal home transactions by mid-level managers in the mortgage-securitisation business shows that they increased their personal housing exposure during the boom. ‘Groupthink’ and distorted beliefs in the financial sector is something to take seriously if we want to prevent future crises.
Margaret Thatcher’s economic legacy lives on. This column provides a markedly balanced assessment of her mistakes and achievements. Most pressingly, Thatcherism left the UK failing to properly think about long-run investment, especially in infrastructure, in the skills of those at the lower end of the ability distribution and in innovation. The UK is addressing some of these problems, but this failure to invest in prosperity is the main challenge we face as a nation over the next 50 years.
So far, research on the impacts of free trade agreements in east Asia assume the full utilisation of preferences. This column argues that newer evidence suggests that this assumption is made in error: estimated uptake is particularly low in east Asia. If we assume a more realistic utilisation rate in estimating impacts, results suggest that actual utilisation rates significantly diminish the benefits from preferential liberalisation, but in a non-linear way. In the absence of Doha, the multilateralisation of preferences, even without reciprocity, is the practical route that is most likely to deliver the greatest benefits to WTO members.
Quality, clear communication is a very powerful tool for central banks because it influences expectations. This column presents new research on central-bank communications, using a formal measure of clarity – the ‘Flesch-Kincaid grade level’. The picture is varied: there are significant and persistent differences in clarity over time and across countries. However – and worryingly – the financial crisis is associated with unclear communication for some central banks.
The US and EU have imposed severe trade sanctions on Iran. This column uses Iranian exporter-level customs data to show that many Iranian exporters have successfully diverted trade from the US and EU to Asian, African, and Latin American destinations.
Economists know that your peers’ behaviour affects your economic and social outcomes. But what mechanisms are at work here? This column highlights the two major approaches that hope to explain ‘peer effects’: either people don’t want to deviate from social norms; or they are affected by a ‘social multiplier’, the influence of the sum of their peers’ behaviour. Using detailed data on friendship networks, evidence suggests that there are strong social-multiplier effects in criminal behaviour whereas, for education, social norms matter the most. A detailed understanding of peer effects will undoubtedly help policymakers better tackle social problems.
It is now generally accepted that financial factors can significantly influence output, sometimes driving it away from sustainable levels. Yet, when it comes to assessing potential output – the maximum level of economic activity that can be sustained over time – the influence of financial conditions is generally neglected. This column argues that embedding information from variables that proxy the financial cycle leads to estimates of potential output that are much more precise and, above all, much more robust in real time. These estimates could help improve policymaking.
The crisis in peripheral Europe is deepening and spreading to the core of Europe. This column argues that it’s time for the Eurozone to shift gear. Eurozone members should use the Emergency Liquidity Assistance facility provided for under the statute of the European System of Central Banks to undertake ‘overt money financing’ of government debt. Greater cooperation – for a time – between central banks and fiscal authorities is, despite arguments to the contrary, in no way inconsistent with the independence of the central banks.
Growing the financial sector was viewed as a viable 21st-century competitiveness policy for small, agile nations in the 2000s. Things have changed. This column reviews the empirical literature arguing for a distinction between two roles: finance as intermediation or facilitator, and finance as a growth sector in itself. Evidence suggests that, for rich nations, finance stimulates growth but makes it more volatile, whereas for developing nations its function as a facilitator raises long-term growth and reduces volatility.
The death of Lady Thatcher makes it opportune to consider the difference that her governments made to the UK's economic performance. This column is an ‘economic obituary’.
Recent financial crises have understandably renewed academic interest in properly understanding their causes and consequences. This column surveys a rapidly growing literature. Although we rudimentarily understand the main types of crisis, their main explanatory factors, and the real and financial-sector implications, there remain a number of important questions for future research.
Asia’s trade-policy landscape is set to change with the start of negotiations on a Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership involving ASEAN and major regional economies. This column argues that such a deal could bring economic benefits, but that realising them depends on tackling several challenges during the negotiations and afterwards.
The crisis has highlighted the need for, and difficulties with, a Eurozone banking union. This column argues that, to make a union, you need three crucial ingredients: common supervision, a single resolution mechanism, and common safety nets. The power to control and the resources to rescue must work in parallel. Eurozone leaders have taken the first critical steps, but further progress is needed to strengthen the financial architecture of the single currency.
Fiscal adjustment and structural reform are key parts of Eurozone bailout packages (or key features of government policy that aims to avoid such bailouts). This column argues that patience is the most prized virtue of policymakers implementing fiscal adjustment and structural reform. Reducing unemployment and fiscal consolidation are mutually reinforcing, but they move at different speeds.
Average income per capita is strongly correlated with more schooling, but this relationship is more complex than it appears. This column presents new research showing that a large part of the correlation is attributed to the causal effect of economic prosperity on the formation of human capital via schooling.
Latin America and the Caribbean have less infrastructure than the rest of the world. What they have is also of much poorer quality. This column argues that to reap the rewards of good infrastructure, Latin American and Caribbean countries must increase both investment and saving over the long-term by creating institutional capacity, strengthening the rule of law, and building stable macroeconomic-policy frameworks. It won’t be easy.
The WTO is looking for a new Director-General. The process, which is remarkably open and public, has nine candidates. This column introduces a new VoxEU eBook in which seven of the candidates lay out their views on the challenges confronting the WTO and how to address them. Taken together, they provide a uniquely comprehensive view of the world’s trade governance problems. It will be an important reference long after the selection process ends.
Depositors in Eurozone banks are facing a steep learning curve on just exactly what deposit insurance means. This column points out that the precedents set in Cyprus and Iceland show that deposit insurance is only a legal commitment for small bank failures. In systemic crises, these are more political than legal commitments, so the solvency of the insuring government matters. A Eurozone-wide deposit-insurance scheme would change this.
This reposted column corrects an error, due to the editor, that was in the first posting.
During the 2013 papal conclave the Catholic church has been criticised for failing to give an adequate voice to the global south, which now garners a majority of Catholics. This column applies concepts from voting theory to inquire whether the south and the north are equal in the eye of the church. It suggests that the south is indeed underrepresented. In a fair world, Mexico and the Philippines should each get seven more cardinals. Italy should get 23 fewer.
The global economy was once dominated by north-north relations, with some limited concern for north-south relations. This column argues that south-south economic relations now matter and explains what new ‘look east’ policies that are being implemented in south Asia mean for the global south and the global economy.