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 2014.
The Ukraine-Russia deal involves politics as much as economics. This column argues that the economics of the deal will eventually lead to problems for one or both.
Germany’s newly established Advisory Council – tasked with monitoring compliance with the constitutionally mandated balanced budget rule – lacks the analytical capacity and independence of its counterparts in the UK, the US, and the Netherlands. It is perhaps by virtue of the current government’s record of fiscal responsibility that a more comprehensive watchdog is not urgently needed, but the newly formed coalition should not miss the opportunity to establish comprehensive fiscal and banking oversight.
A recent food security bill passed by the Indian government has raised criticism due to its high cost but questionable effect on nutrition. This column presents a recent study that finds the food subsidies did not improve nutrition, but affected food consumption patterns. In particular, consumption of subsidised grains increased, and consumption of some cheaper and inferior substitutes decreased.
Government interventions to control capital flows and reduce exchange-rate volatility have long been controversial. The Global Financial Crisis has made the debate more urgent. This column discusses recent research that evaluates such policies against the counterfactual of no intervention. Depreciations and reserve sales can boost GDP growth during crises, but may also substantially increase inflation. Large increases in interest rates and new capital controls are associated with reductions in GDP growth, with no significant effect on inflation. When faced with sudden shifts in capital flows, policymakers must ‘pick their poison’.
Trading in the FX market reached an all-time high of $5.3 trillion per day in April 2013 – a 35% increase relative to 2010. Smaller banks, institutional investors, and hedge funds have grown to become the largest counterparty segment, surpassing the inter-dealer segment. Facilitated by prime brokerage arrangements, these financial customers have become more active market participants, contributing further to a concentration of volume in financial centres like London and New York. A new form of ‘hot potato’ trading has emerged where dealers no longer play an exclusive role.
Fabrizio Zilibotti talks to Viv Davies about his award-winning paper ‘Growing Like China’ (co-authored with Zheng Song, Kjetil Storesletten and Yikai Wang) that addresses the puzzle of the combination of high growth and high return to capital in China with a growing foreign surplus. They also discuss pensions and demographic transition in China, factors that are driving the country’s growth and the country’s future role in the global economy. The interview was recorded on 17 September 2013.
Many regions struggle to attract innovation activity. This column discusses new evidence suggesting that there is no universal ‘best’ policy. Policies focused exclusively on attracting ‘anchor tenants’ or cultivating new ventures may not be as effective as those promoting a mix of large and small firms. Regions with large firms but few young entrepreneurial firms may benefit from policies that cultivate new ventures, while those without large firms may benefit most from policies that attract some.
Poverty and inequality declined over the past 15 years in Latin America and the Caribbean. This column describes these changes and raises the question of sustainability of the discussed trends. Countries in the region should protect the well-being not only of those who live in poverty, but also of those vulnerable to falling back to poverty.
Formal contracts are key to enforcing workers’ rights. This column presents evidence that the Labour Contract Law improved worker outcomes in China, especially among migrant and low-wage workers. The proportion of workers with social insurance increased without any significant negative effect on the employment rate.
Mass political protests are erupting in Ukraine. The conventional wisdom views them as driven by popular dissatisfaction with the government’s rejection of the EU agreement. This column argues that the main cause for the protests is the weak institutional framework that emerged after the collapse of communism. Therefore, a potential EU involvement will be most beneficial in providing a stable institutional setting. Utilising this historical moment is important in order for Ukraine to avoid the example of Argentina.
After the Fukushima incident in 2011, many countries decided to shrink their nuclear power programmes. This article presents recent research on the optimal role of nuclear power in reducing carbon emissions. Phasing out nuclear power would be costly, since it is currently the cheapest low-carbon alternative to fossil fuels. However, these costs would be largely offset by the implicit subsidy to R&D in renewables, which suffers from innovation externalities. Still, carbon pricing and explicit R&D subsidies would be a more efficient way of determining the future of nuclear power.
One of the important trade talks going on outside the WTO is the Trade in Services Agreement, involving nations that account for around 70% of world services trade. China’s request to join has greatly heightened policy interest in the talks. This column explains the initiative and argues that the current negotiations must be broadened if participants' key export interests are to be addressed. This involves either changing some existing PTA commitments, or expanding the number of participants in the negotiations.
During the Great Moderation, central banks focused on price stability, and independence was seen as crucial to limit inflation bias. Since the Global Financial Crisis, emergency support measures for banks, and central banks’ increasing involvement in supervision, have called central bank independence into question. This column argues that the literature has overlooked the distributional effects of the tradeoff between monetary and financial stability. In a political economy framework, heterogeneity in voters’ portfolios can cause the degree of central bank independence to differ from the social optimum.
After witnessing the destruction of almost 18% of its employment during the crisis, the Spanish economy is now recovering. Understanding the effects of the recent labour market reform and wage moderation is crucial in accelerating employment creation. Correctly implemented and accompanied by appropriate policies at the European level, labour and products market structural policies could be the solution to the anomalously high unemployment rate in Spain
The world has just been through a period of unprecedented macro policy activism. More is set to come as central banks exit unconventional policies, governments fix their fiscal positions, and financial regulations are reformed. These national policies have undeniable international spillovers. This column argues that the setting is ripe for more cooperation and suggests some ways forward, even if international macro policy coordination may continue to be heard about more often than it is seen.
Maintaining financial stability is a major concern and central banks have been increasingly involved in assuring it. This column introduces a CEPR Policy Insight written by Italy’s central bank governor on the post-Crisis role of central banks in financial regulation and supervision.
Estimating the trade effect of trade agreements is no easy task. Agreements with higher trade returns may be formed before agreements with lower returns, and comparing these naïvely could bias our estimates of the true effects. This column studies the case of the German Zollverein of 1834 to show that it is important to examine the sequence of membership to estimate the effects of trade agreements.
Fed tapering has started. A revival of last summer’s emerging economy turmoil is a real concern. This column discusses new research into who was hit and why by the June 2013 taper-talk shock. Those hit hardest had relatively large and liquid financial markets, and had allowed large rises in their currency values and their trade deficits. Good macro fundamentals did not provide much insulation, nor did capital controls. The best insulation came from macroprudential policies that limited exchange rate appreciation and trade deficit widening in response to foreign capital inflows.
The recent Bali Ministerial Conference was successful enough to ensure that the WTO lives to fight another day. This column introduces a new VoxEU eBook exploring how the WTO can make the most of this opportunity to restore its central place in world trade governance.
The emergence of intra-firm trade as the primary component of international trade reflects a global interdependence in the production process. In this column the former Director-General of the WTO argues that this necessitates a re-examination of how we think about – and how we measure – trade between nations. Interdependence allows different sectors to add value, and complicates the implementation of trade barriers. Only with a modern perspective can effective trade policy be conducted.
Financial crises cast a long shadow on investment. For nine major Asian economies, average investment as a share of GDP declined sharply during 1998-2012 from its average in the decade before the Asian crisis (if China and India are excluded, the estimated decline exceeds 9%). This column suggests that there is a connection between the sustained reserve accumulation and the significantly lower levels of investment in the region.
The labour market ‘hollowing out’ thesis suggests that there are far fewer intermediate-level jobs and far more low- and high-level jobs than two or three decades ago, primarily due to technological advancement. This column reviews recent research that finds little evidence in support of this conclusion. Though the composition of intermediate-level jobs has changed, their volume has probably not. Policy implications for specific groups of job seekers are discussed.
Recent research shows that capital requirements are only loosely related to a market measure of bank portfolio risk. Changes introduced under Basel II meant that banks with the riskiest portfolios were particularly likely to hold insufficient capital. Banks that relied on government support during the crisis appeared to be well-capitalised beforehand, suggesting they engaged in capital arbitrage. Until the regulatory concept of risk better reflects actual risk, the proposed increases in risk-weighted capital requirements under Basel III will have little effect.
Today's Eurozone operates in a way that is momentarily advantageous for capital-owners in the surplus countries and creditors at large, but damaging for workers and entrepreneurs, debtors of all types and most users of public services. This column argues that this is unsustainable. The Eurozone must be reformed to avoid the risk that the EU itself could be destroyed by political conflict among the winners and losers. 2014 is a window of opportunity for seriously re-considering the Eurozone's functioning and for moving away from the 'Maastricht orthodoxy'. To recover from stagnation and regain citizens’ trust, Europe needs a genuine paradigm shift on the Eurozone.
Natural disasters severely disrupt supply chains. This article presents evidence from the Great East Japan Earthquake that the spillover effects on disaster-hit firms’ suppliers were worse than those on their customers. For those firms that shut down, however, the effects on their customers were worse, and were transmitted along the supply chain. Firms with partners inside the affected area were more likely to form new business relationships, but those whose partners shut down were not. This suggests disaster relief should be targeted to the hardest-hit firms.
Crises expose weaknesses in rules and institutions, and provide impetus for reform. Macroeconomic policy coordination was strong early in the financial crisis, but momentum slowed. There has been significant progress on financial regulation, yet major challenges remain. International safety nets have been reinforced – including a trebling of IMF resources. This column argues that ensuring the future effectiveness and legitimacy of the IMF, its member countries will need to agree on greater voice and representation for emerging market countries in the interest of a better managed global economy.
This column argues that the legacy of public debt resulting from the crisis in the Eurozone is a serious threat. Both the size of the problem and the options to address it make life much more difficult for policymakers than was the case in the late 1930s after the collapse of the gold standard. For some countries, a ‘subservient’ central bank might be preferable to the ECB.
Recent Eurozone events have changed the perception that sovereign debt is a problem of emerging-market economies. This column highlights some major deficiencies of the current framework, and proposes two new and complementary types of state-contingent debt contracts. The first – sovereign cocos – are designed to tackle liquidity crises. The second – GDP-linked bonds – help prevent solvency crises.
The WTO signed a mini-package of trade initiatives in Bali last week. This column argues that the ‘Bali package’ is welcome but not enough. Without some new initiative or direction, the WTO looks set to drift for the next few years. The WTO cannot move ahead until the trans-Pacific and trans-Atlantic ‘mega-regionals’ are done or dead. In the meantime, the WTO should promote research and discussion on how 21st-century trade issues could be brought into the WTO when the time is ripe.
Based on the report issued by a Committee of Experts, the Spanish Parliament will pass a new law that implements an innovative sustainability factor in the public pension system. This column argues that the proposal solves the problem of financial sustainability in the long run while opening a wider debate on the welfare system and growth under conditions of increased global competition.
An expansion in the scope of foreign direct investment in sub-Saharan Africa promises to promote development in one of the poorest regions of the world. This column investigates the extent to which working with foreign multinationals enhances the capabilities of African firms. Acting as a supplier to a multinational enterprise improves a firm’s labour productivity, product and process innovation, while buying from a multinational improves only labour productivity. Governments should take advantage of these spillovers by promoting trade.
In the aftermath of the LIBOR scandal, it is important to re-establish a credible reference rate for the pricing of financial instruments and of wholesale and retail loans. The new candidate must meet the five criteria suggested by the Bank for International Settlements – reliability, robustness, frequency, availability, and representativeness – in all circumstances. This column argues that strengthening governance and/or adopting a trade-weighted reference rate is probably the fastest approach, but not necessarily sufficient for a resilient reference rate in the long run.
Despite support from around 90% of US citizens, expanded background checks for gun purchases failed in the US Senate. This ‘gun-control paradox’ can be explained by the fact that the intensity of voters’ preferences differs across policy issues, and voters only have one vote with which to hold politicians accountable on a bundle of issues. A model incorporating these features predicts Senate voting behaviour very well. Senators closer to re-election are more likely to vote pro-gun, and only Democrats ‘flip-flop’ on guns.
The world is urbanising quickly but many cities are poorly located. Such misplacement is associated with bad access to the world markets and frequent natural disasters. This column explores historical evidence of French and English towns during the Roman Empire and in the Middle Ages. Path-dependency in the city locations explains the difference in their development and suggests relevant policymaking lessons.
Existing data show that the historically well-documented relationship between growth, competitiveness, and trade protectionism does not hold in the context of the recent financial crisis. This column presents new evidence that this relationship, in fact, holds. G20 governments continue to pursue trade-restrictive policies in a recession, or when their competitiveness deteriorates. This holds for a wide array of trade policies, including ‘murky’ protectionism.
Policymakers have long been concerned that large capital inflows are associated with asset-price booms. This column presents recent research showing that the composition of capital inflows also matters. The association between capital inflows and asset-price booms is about twice as strong for debt-related than for equity-related investment. Policymakers should therefore pay attention to the composition of capital inflows, since debt-related inflows may still undermine financial stability even if they do not result in an overall current-account deficit.
Academic economists – especially in the US – are continuously evaluated, with salaries and promotions hanging on outcomes. This column argues that the methods – identified from a survey of economics department chairs – are likely to reduce the amount of research created, perpetuate inefficiently sized research teams, promote false authorship, and penalise honest researchers. They also provide departments with excessive leeway to engage in potentially capricious behaviour.
Except for the period 1992-2000, the dollar’s role as an international currency has been slowly declining since 1976. Since 2010, there has been another pause in this decline – somewhat surprising, given that the financial crisis began in the US, and given Congress’ recent flirtations with default. The dollar’s resilience as the world’s reserve currency is due to a lack of good alternatives – the euro has its own problems, and the yuan only accounts for 2.2% of forex transactions.
The most popular regulation against child labour is a ban against it. This column presents evidence from such a ban in India. Not only did the ban not reduce child labour, but it even increased it. The effects are concentrated among the poorest families. Therefore, policy reforms other than bans could be more effective in reducing child labour, and in improving the lives of children.
Scrapping subsidies were a popular policy to protect car sales in the beginning of the crisis. This column presents new research showing that the subsidies had a strong effect on stabilising sales, but only a small environmental impact. There may thus be more productive investments to stabilise the economy during times of crisis.
While quality upgrading is always viewed positively in both policy and academic circles, little is known about the macro implications for countries of specialising in high-end varieties. This column presents evidence that high-end variety exporters are less sensitive to trade costs. This implies a greater geographic diversification of exports, which compensates for their higher sensitivity to demand shocks and smoothes aggregate volatility. It also increases export growth when business opportunities arise in distant markets.
The profound impact of the ICT revolution on the job market have been widely studied, but the effects of different types of technology can be heterogeneous and even contradictory. This column presents evidence that technologies providing access to stored data tend to empower front line workers, while communicative technologies put more power in the hands of managers.
Fixed and sunk costs are widely accepted as important determinants of export behaviour. This column argues that such costs may be shared by agglomerated collections of firms, and presents evidence of agglomeration’s effects on exporting in China. Agglomeration is more effective in low-tech sectors and land-locked areas. Surprisingly, the effect of agglomeration is different for indigenous and foreign firms.
GDP can be estimated by measuring either expenditure or income. Since a penny spent is a penny earned, both methods should give the same answer, but there is substantial measurement error in both estimates. This column presents a new method of measuring US GDP that blends these two estimates. According to the new measure, GDP growth is about twice as persistent as the current headline measure implies. The new measure also makes the current recovery look stronger, especially in 2013.
Like all other over-the-counter derivatives markets, the UK credit default swap (CDS) market has traditionally been opaque, and important questions have been largely unanswered: How do UK CDS market participants trade? Who are the main players? And how did they behave during the financial crisis? Based on newly available transactions data, this column gives some first answers to these questions.
Labour mobility is one of the keys to a successful currency union – be it within or across nations. This column discusses new evidence showing that the shock-absorbing role of migration has increased in Europe and declined in the US. During the Great Recession, European migration remained high – although not high enough given the vast differences across the Eurozone. Overall, Europe has strengthened this essential adjustment mechanism.
Households tend to smooth their consumption and that’s why expenditures do not display a large variability over time. However, the recent financial crisis has been associated with a large decrease in consumption in certain countries. This column presents evidence that a drop in income during a crisis leads to a lower short-run consumption. Furthermore, micro data analysis shows that some households are affected more than others. Thus, policy recommendations can be made only after taking household heterogeneity into account.