Despite obvious ties between political uncertainty and financial markets, the nature of this connection has not been studied in detail. This column describes a theoretical framework for evaluating the influence of political uncertainty on financial markets. Political uncertainty commands a risk premium, especially when the economy is weak. By raising firms’ cost of capital, it depresses investment and real activity. Furthermore, by raising risk premia, political uncertainty destroys market value.
The recent debate on the link between austerity and growth has focused on the short run. This column discusses recent research into the link between fiscal consolidation and medium-term growth under different financial conditions. If credit is not available to consumers and investors, private demand is less able to compensate for cutbacks in public demand, so large spending cuts can have a negative effect on growth. Difficult financial conditions probably explain why fiscal adjustments that worked in the 1990s have not produced similar beneficial effects on growth in recent years.
Although progress has been made on resolving the Eurozone crisis – vulnerable countries have reduced their current-account deficits and implemented some reforms – more still needs to be done. This column argues for a ‘consistent trinity’ of policies: structural reforms within countries, more symmetric macroeconomic adjustment across countries, and a banking union for the Eurozone.
Multinationals take advantage of heterogeneity in tax deduction rules by reallocating debt to high-tax countries. This reduces tax revenue and distorts the trade-off between debt and equity financing. Some countries have enacted thin capitalisation rules that restrict deductibility when the debt-to-leverage ratio exceeds a certain threshold. This column provides evidence that such rules are only effective when restrictions are automatic, rather than allowing for government discretion.
Eswar Prasad talks to Viv Davies about his recent book, ‘The Dollar Trap: How the US dollar tightened its grip on global finance’, which examines how, paradoxically, in light of the financial crisis, the dollar continues to play a central role in the world economy and why it will remain the cornerstone of global finance for the foreseeable future. They also discuss the current frameworks for international economic cooperation as well as currency wars, unconventional monetary policy and the prospects for the renminbi becoming the world's reserve currency. The interview was recorded in London in March 2014.
Excessive short-termism is always a problem for policy, but the Global Crisis has brought it sharply into focus. This column introduces a report that discusses how a shift to longer-term solutions is necessary and possible. A key message is that businesses as well as governments need to take a longer-term view. The report identifies ways to overcome the current impasse in key economic, climate, trade, security, and other negotiations.
While many economists argue that demand stimulus is needed, this column argues that supply side measures are necessary to avoid secular stagnation. In the Eurozone, it is necessary to clean up and strengthen the balance sheets of banks, which can kick-start the flow of new lending. The comprehensive assessment by the ECB is an important step in this direction.
The recent crisis has highlighted some problems in the current structure of the Eurozone, such as the lack of political integration. This column introduces the Eiffel group – a group of French experts – and its call for a ‘political community of the euro’. The economic and political rationales behind the proposal are discussed in detail. This proposal (also shared by experts in other countries) calls for a debate about the architecture and institutions underpinning the European Monetary Union.
Inequality – long ignored – is now centre stage in debate about economic policy around the globe. This column introduces the Chartbook of Economic Inequality, a summary of long-run changes in economic inequality for 25 countries over more than 100 years.
The generation born in the UK after 1979 has suffered grave disadvantages. By the early 2000s, housing had become very expensive relative to income; since 2007, labour market conditions for new entrants have been poor. University fees have increased, and soaring public debt will in future have to be serviced by this self-same generation. Restorative justice is one of the aims of the six fiscal reforms proposed in this column.
The Eurozone needs to further ease monetary policy because under the current low inflation and high unemployment periphery countries need to suffer painful deflation. However, the ECB faces challenges other central banks do not face. This column proposes a way to overcome some of these hurdles. It argues that the ECB should buy US treasury securities, lowering the foreign exchange value of the euro. That would be the best way to restore the export sector of the periphery countries.
In 2003, the UK adopted a ‘say on pay’ policy, whereby quoted companies’ executive compensation offers have to be put to a shareholder vote. This column presents evidence that this policy has had a relatively modest impact on executive pay. A 10% increase in compensation is associated with an increase in shareholder dissent against the proposal of just 0.2%. However, remuneration committees representing the more highly rewarded CEOs are quite sensitive to dissent, provided it exceeds a critical threshold of about 10%. Shareholders do not appear more anxious about pay since the crisis.
Competition policy is central to the management of a modern economy. This column analyses some key distortions caused by competition policy and argues in favour of criminal sanctions in nations lacking resources for an appropriate fine-tuning of antitrust fines.
The US unconventional energy boom has reversed the decline of domestic production, lowered oil and gas imports, reduced gas prices, and created political space for tougher regulations on coal-fired power plants. This column argues that it is not a panacea, however. Even if current estimates prove accurate, the long-run benefits to the US economy will be relatively small. Improving energy efficiency and promoting low-carbon technologies will be just as important as before – especially for the EU, given its more limited known reserves of unconventional oil and gas.
Charles Calomiris talks to Romesh Vaitilingam about his recent book, co-authored with Stephen Haber, ‘Fragile by Design: The Political Origins of Banking Crises and Scarce Credit’. They discuss how politics inevitably intrudes into bank regulation and why banking systems are unstable in some countries but not in others. Calomiris also presents his analysis of the political and banking history of the UK and how the well-being of banking systems depends on complex bargains and coalitions between politicians, bankers and other stakeholders. The interview was recorded in London in February 2014.
Since 2007, there has been a buildup of TARGET imbalances within the Eurosystem – growing liabilities of national central banks in the periphery matched by growing claims of central banks in the core. This column argues that, rather than signalling the collapse of the monetary system – as was the case for Bretton Woods between 1968 and 1971 – these TARGET imbalances represent a successful institutional innovation that prevented a repeat of the US payments crisis of 1933.
Internationalisation and innovation policies are frequently considered to be key drivers of growth. This column documents a strong positive association between internationalisation, innovation, and productivity at the firm-level across seven European countries. This association continues to hold after controlling for country, size, industrial sector, and firm specific characteristics, with some evidence of causality running from innovation to internationalisation. The analysis suggests that policymakers should coordinate, if not integrate, innovation and internationalisation policies in order to boost productivity and growth.
The world has become healthier and wealthier since 1960, as measured by life expectancy and GDP per capita. In this column Angus Deaton introduces his new book and argues that the world is indeed a better place than it used to be, albeit with big setbacks, and that progress opens up vast inequalities.
US universities resemble high-end shopping malls. They use nice buildings and good reputations to attract good students and good faculty. To pay for this, external funding – once viewed as a luxury – is a necessary condition for tenure and promotion. This column argues that this model emerged at the initiative of universities not the federal government. Today’s stress is the harvest of what universities and faculty sowed in the 1950s and the 1960s.
Since the onset of the sovereign debt crisis, the argument for a system of fiscal transfers to offset idiosyncratic shocks in the Eurozone has gained adherents. This column argues that what the Eurozone really needs is not a system which offsets all shocks by some small fraction, but a system which protects against shocks which are rare, but potentially catastrophic. A system of fiscal insurance with a fixed deductible would therefore be preferable to a fiscal shock absorber that offsets a certain percentage of all fiscal shocks.
The recent global crisis hit output, but the decline in international trade was twice as big. Standard models of trade fail to account for the severity of the event. This column proposes a new model that argues the great trade collapse was due to uncertainty. The uncertainty lead firms to postpone orders. As a result, trade declined substantially more than production. Data from the US for the past 50 years show quantitatively large effects of uncertainty shocks on the trade.
John Maynard Keynes traded currencies using a discretionary and fundamentals-based strategy. This column shows that he underperformed rules-based carry, momentum and value strategies. The returns to these strategies in the 1920s and 1930s were time-varying and are in part explained by the contemporary limits to arbitrage. The excess returns might also represent compensation for exposure to the considerable macroeconomic volatility of the time.
The European Resolution Fund is intended to reach €55 billion – much less than the amount of public assistance required by individual institutions during the recent financial crisis. This column argues that the Resolution Fund can nevertheless be large enough if it forms part of a broader architecture resting on four pillars: prudential regulation and supervision, ‘no forbearance’, adequate ‘reserve capital’, and provision of liquidity to the bank-in-resolution. By capping the Resolution Fund, policymakers have reinforced the need to ensure that investors, not taxpayers, bear the cost of bank failures.
Do voters care about economic outcomes? Evidence on this question, especially in the context of developing countries, is rather scant. This column reports the findings from analysis of the 2009 parliamentary elections in India. Voters favoured parties that delivered high growth in their states and rejected those that did not. The authors also find that voters preferred candidates who had served in the parliament before, were wealthy, educated, and affiliated with a large party.
In an op-ed for the New York Times, Paul Krugman calls the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) “No big deal”. This column looks at Krugman’s main arguments against the TPP. First, Krugman suggests spending political capital on domestic initiatives, and not on the TPP. Second, he argues that the pay-off from TPP will be trivial since tariffs are already low. The column points to a larger message in Krugman’s op-ed, namely that the era of globalization and policy-driven liberalisation is over.
The dollar remains dominant in the global monetary system. The clearest sign for its prevailing status is the dollar’s role as an exclusive currency used in the global oil market. This column suggests that there is room for more than one international currency even in a market as homogenous as the oil one. This is consistent with the view that network increasing returns are not as strong as sometimes supposed, first-mover advantage is not everything, and incumbency is no guarantee for continued dominance.
The financial crisis that swept the global economy at the end of 2008 provides a natural experiment to test the proposition that international reserves are useful during crises. This column presents cross-country evidence based on a panel of 112 emerging and developing countries. Countries with more reserves relative to short-term debt fared better.
Though skilled immigration is of great importance to the US, no consensus has been reached in the public discourse about its effects on citizen workers and economic growth. This column looks at a different perspective of this relationship. It explores the effect of skilled immigrants on the employment structures of US firms using employer-employee data. The results show the total skilled employment by the firm increases with increases in skilled immigrant employment. However, the employment expansion is greater for younger natives than for their older counterparts.
Eastern Europe was hit especially hard by the credit crunch during the global financial crisis. This column presents new evidence suggesting that reliance on foreign funding was more important than foreign bank ownership per se in exacerbating the post-crisis credit contraction. These findings point to the need to put more emphasis on the discussion of bank business models, regulatory standards, and supervisory arrangements.
Macroprudential stress tests have been employed by regulators in the US and Europe to assess the solvency condition of financial firms in adverse macroeconomic scenarios. The capital required by regulators in such adverse scenarios is strongly dependent on Basel capital standards. This column argues that macro stress tests would be more effective if capital requirements were measured differently from the current regulatory risk weight-based approach, and in particular, were based on total assets and on market risks.
Viral Acharya talks to Viv Davies about his recent work with Sascha Steffen that, using publicly available data and a series of shortfall measures, estimates the capital shortfalls of EZ banks that will be stress-tested under the proposed Asset Quality Review. They also discuss the difference in accounting rules between US and EZ banks and the future potential for banking union in the Eurozone. The interview was recorded by phone on 25 February 2014.
Economic performance is increasingly defined by the idiosyncratic characteristics of companies operating across national borders, making anachronistic the treatment of the country as the basic unit of economic analysis when measuring performance. This column presents a new way of measuring economic performance and describes the Economic Performance Index (EPI) developed by the Global Economic Symposium and Towers Watson. Heterogeneous activity at the industry level better informs decision-makers acting in specific contexts.
The German constitutional court declared the OMT program to against EU law. This column argues that the economic logic used by the German judges was flawed – based on economic theories that have been rejected empirically.
Social norms have been shown to have important effects on economic outcomes. This column discusses new evidence showing that social norms are deeply rooted in long-standing cultures, but do evolve in reaction to major changes. It draws on a fully global sample involving migrants in more than 130 countries, using seven waves of the Gallup World Poll.
Policies aimed at enhancing firm productivity may greatly benefit from firm-level evidence. Unfortunately, micro-founded data, particularly of cross-country nature, remain largely unavailable. This column presents a new firm-level database built by a research network of the EU system of central banks (CompNet). This data base allows investigating how firm size and labour costs interact at different levels of productivity. This new cross-country data base, and its potential to expand, could be of great policy value.
The speed at which events in Ukraine are unfolding is astounding. This column argues that the real goal of Russian President Putin is to make the February 2014 changes look like a failure. Root causes of the Ukrainian protest also exist in Russia and a victory of reform forces in Kiev could encourage stronger protest movement in Russia than that of 2011-2013 and potentially lead to a similar outcome.
Recent research has sought to quantify the magnitude of the welfare gains from trade. One of the main findings from this literature is that the gains from trade are relatively modest. This column suggests a channel that the standard approach typically abstracts from. It argues that trade induces changes in domestic productivity through a more efficient organisation of production within the supply chain.
Firms hoping for regulatory favours may direct their business purchases towards firms controlled by politicians, who benefit from the additional revenue. This column provides evidence from Italy consistent with this channel. It shows that the share of advertising on Berlusconi’s televisions increased while he was in power, and this even more so in the most regulated industries.
Excessive drinking during pregnancy is known to harm the foetus, but estimating the effects of moderate prenatal alcohol consumption is difficult, since mothers who choose to drink may differ systematically from those who do not. This column presents recent research showing that a genetic variant in a maternal alcohol-metabolising gene (ADH1B) is negatively related to prenatal alcohol exposure, and unrelated to any of the background characteristics associated with prenatal drinking. Using this genetic variant as an ‘instrumental variable’, the authors find strong negative effects of prenatal alcohol exposure on child educational achievement.
The surge in unemployment in many EU countries has prompted concerns that the underlying structural unemployment has shifted upwards, so that high rates of joblessness could persist also once the recovery is on a solid footing. In this column we draw on recent analysis (European Commission, 2013) and focus on two issues: to what extent the reduced efficiency of labour market matching is contributing to growing structural unemployment? Which are the main drivers of matching efficiency across the EU?
The GNI is often regarded as the best indicator of a country’s living standards, but it does not record unilateral transfers – most importantly remittances – which are amongst the largest types of income inflows to developing countries. For many developing countries GNDI is significantly larger than GNI, from 3% for India to 75% for Liberia. This column argues that GNDI is preferable, since GNI masks heterogeneity in purchasing power.
Inequality has the potential to undermine growth. However, greater redistribution requires higher tax rates, which reduce incentives to work and save. Moreover, the evidence that inequality is bad for growth might simply reflect the fact that more unequal societies choose to redistribute more, and those efforts are antithetical to growth. This column presents evidence from a new dataset on pre- and post-tax inequality. The authors find that income equality is protective of growth, and that redistributive transfers on average have little if any direct adverse impact on growth.
After joining the WTO in 2001, China has entered into a number of trade agreements. Those currently in consideration are substantially larger than the initial ones. China, more than any other large economy, needs to attempt to enhance its export growth, which has turned negative in 2013. This column discusses some of China’s trade agreements and summarizes the implemented negotiation strategy. The impact of these trade agreements on China’s economic growth also deserves attention.
The question of why people vote has intrigued social scientists for decades. This column discusses a model of voting due to social image motivations and presents empirical tests based on it. In this model, an individual would be motivated to vote because of an anticipation of being asked after the election. The results of a conducted field experiment suggest that the anticipation of being asked provides a large motivation to vote. In fact, the motivation is as large as being paid $5-15 to vote. Applying this methodology to other elections would provide more rigorous evidence about the validity of the proposed model.
Study after study has shown that those who live with children are less satisfied with their lives than those who do not. Is there something wrong with these empirical analyses? Or is it that happiness measures are unreliable? This column argues that the results are correct but that comparisons of the wellbeing of parents and non-parents are of no help at all for people trying to decide whether to have children.
The US has once again ranked among the top two recipient countries for foreign direct investment. This column examines the effects of these large FDI inflows on the US domestic economy. Foreign multinationals are – alongside US-headquartered American multinationals – the most productive and highest-paying segment of the US economy. In addition, they provide positive spillovers to US firms. About 12% of the total productivity growth in the US from 1987 to 2007 can be attributed to productivity spillovers from inward FDI.
Urbanisation and GDP per capita are positively correlated across countries. However, when the sample is restricted to developing countries, urbanisation and growth are more loosely related – particularly in Africa. This column argues that the low share of manufacturing in developing-country cities may help to explain this discrepancy. Strengthening urban finances, embracing technology, improving skills, and stimulating the formal sector will help cities to promote growth. Since decisions affecting urban development can have lasting impact, longer-term planning deserves greater attention than it is currently receiving.
Language is not only a tool of communication but also of empowerment and cultural identity. This column presents evidence that mandatory instruction in Catalan strengthened perceptions of regional identity and boosted political support for Catalanist parties. This evidence of the efficacy of multiculturalist policy should instruct policymakers in ethnically diverse societies.
Although teen birth rates have been decreasing in the past two decades, teen motherhood continues to be an important public policy issue. Women who give birth as teens (and their children) have much worse outcomes as adults than those who did not. An alternative explanation is that teen mothers have had disadvantaged childhoods. This column reviews research that tries to disentangle the causation from the correlation, using biological fertility shocks. The most consistent results state that there are no large adverse adult outcomes stemming from teenage motherhood. The key to reduce teen pregnancy is changing the environment. Policies should focus on providing opportunities that disadvantaged women would not like to forgo due to a teen birth.
When a dispute in the WTO does not reach any resolution, the offended member country can request the right to retaliate against the offender. This column reviews the profile of most common retaliation-requesting members. There is a preference among certain countries to either pursue retaliation, or resist compliance. The magnitude of requests and the means of retaliation are also discussed. Overall, requesting retaliation is an important tool of analysis, as it often reveals a country’s goals in the WTO disputes.
Financial development and growth have long been linked. This column argues that there remain fundamental lacunae in our understanding of the finance-growth nexus. Three main areas for future research are identified: aid, institutions and technology.
Economic theory predicts that international environmental agreements will fail due to free-rider problems, and previous empirical work suggests that such agreements do not in fact reduce emissions. This column presents evidence that the Basel Convention and Ban on trade in hazardous waste has also been ineffective. The authors find no evidence that Annex-7 countries that ratified the Ban slowed their exports to non-Annex-7 countries as the agreement requires.