Clinton. Bush. Kennedy. Political family dynasties have survived the establishment of democracies in the developed and developing world and, in some cases, are strengthening. This column argues that political dynasties are still with us, and that it’s fairly easy to see why. Whoever said that elections are the only time that the vote of the richest citizen is equivalent to that of the poorest needs to start rethinking whether this still holds true.
The Eurozone crisis continues to take centre stage. This column discusses how deep the EZ crisis is, how long it will last, and what should be the policy priorities. A number of findings emerge. First, the difference in labour market performance between the US and the Eurozone is one of degree but not of kind. Second, the economic consequences of the sovereign debt crisis will be mostly gone by 2018, but the political crisis will continue. Third, enforcing fiscal rules via political arm twisting is a recipe for disaster. Market discipline must instead be brought back, but without financial fragmentation. Limited and conditional Eurobonds are the best way to do so.
Early school leaving and criminal behaviour are important social problems. This column argues that delinquency and arrests both lead to early school leaving. The findings show that the overall reduction in education due to delinquency is at least as large as the reduction due to arrest. Crime prevention efforts thus need to extend beyond youth who come into contact with the justice system.
Economists have been exploring the relationship between prosperity and trust since the 1950s. This column explores the possible relationships, arguing that enhanced economic prosperity acts as a signal that fellow citizens are trustworthy. The more optimistic assessment then breeds trust among individual citizens. This theory suggests the possibility of a mutual feedback between trust and economic growth.
Economic models suggest that competition will prevent those subjected to discrimination from being affected adversely. This column uses an unusual case study of sex workers in Singapore to reveal that having many actors on both sides of the market does not, in fact, eliminate discrimination. Policy intervention remains the best tool to end price discrimination.
Since the onset of the Global Crisis, a number of central bank reforms have been implemented. This column suggests that since the Crisis, a silent restoration towards lower central bank independence might have been in place. The trend is more pronounced in non-OECD countries and, in particular, for the level of operational independence. The findings suggest that governments might be willing to trade off central bank independence to cope with concerns regarding financial stability, high debt and unemployment levels.
‘Learning by exporting’ refers to productivity gains experienced by firms after they commence exporting. Such gains are argued to be due to access to new knowledge and resources. This column explores some of the preconditions for learning-by-exporting effects, using data on the overseas activities and affiliations of Japanese firms. Firms that enter markets in which they don’t have affiliates or subsidiaries are found to enjoy the most learning-by-exporting productivity gains. These findings have implications for the timing of new market entry.
The export-less depreciation of the yen has opened a debate on the power of exchange rates to boost exports. This column presents new evidence on how the exchange rate elasticity of exports has changed over time and across countries, and how global value chains have affected it. The upshot is that greater integration in global value chains makes exports substantially less responsive to exchange rate depreciations.
In this column, Director of the Yale Center for the Study of Globalization and ex-President of Mexico, Ernesto Zedillo, introduces an eBook he co-edited that illustrates some of the ambitious but necessary steps needed to unleash the tremendous potential of the African people towards the development of their nations.
It is still not clear which firms issue equity and bonds, what happens to their assets, sales, and employment, and how the performance of issuers compares to that of non-issuers. This column addresses these three questions. First, only a small number of large firms issue securities in a typical country. Second, issuers grow faster than non-issuers in terms of assets, sales, and employment. Third, smaller issuing firms grow faster than larger ones, but larger non-issuing firms grow faster than smaller ones.
Economists continue to debate whether – and to what extent – Greek debts should be relieved. This column takes through the details of Greek debt, what relief options are open to Greece, and what the likely consequences of relief might be for all parties. Yet again, there are no easy choices – but that doesn’t mean economists and policymakers shouldn’t try.
Central banks have typically targeted their communication at financial markets. Increasingly, however, many have started actively communicating with the general public. Using Dutch survey data, this column finds that the public’s knowledge of monetary policy objectives is far from perfect, and varies widely across respondents. Those with a greater understanding of ECB objectives tend to form more realistic inflation expectations. Central banks seeking to target the general public must take account of discrepancies in households’ knowledge of and interest in monetary policy.
Not much is known about the impact of housing tax hikes on consumer spending for different groups of society. This column shows that in Italy, households with mortgage debt responded to a property tax increase with a decrease in their expenditures, mostly of net vehicles purchases. The short-run direct cost (in the form of forgone consumer spending) of the tax change was small relative to the amount of extra taxes raised, but the overall negative consequences for the car industry were significant.
While small and medium-sized enterprises are important for economic growth and employment, we have little insight in their financing needs. Using a novel methodology, this column presents new research that estimates the gap between demand and supply of financing in several European countries. We find that the financing gap is three to five times larger than that of US SMEs. Initiatives under the Capital Markets Union umbrella can help to reduce this financing gap.
Investments in ICT could affect different types of workers within the firm in a different way. This column shows that firms that invest in ICT reorganise their production processes in a way to raise the productivity of workers who perform complex, cognitive-intensive works. This ICT investment and firm reorganisation has little effect on other types of workers.
Rising auction prices for paintings in recent years have reinforced the widespread belief that art markets are irrational and arbitrary. This column discusses new evidence that decisively rejects this belief. Analysis of 50 years of auction results for Jackson Pollock and Andy Warhol show that the peaks of both artists’ estimated age-price profiles closely match age profiles for these artists derived from textbooks of art history and the composition of retrospective exhibitions. Auctions produce strong and rational patterns. The most innovative works of the most innovative artists bring the highest prices.
Internet-based communications technologies appear to be integral to the diffusion of social movements today. This column looks back at the Protestant Reformation – the first mass movement to use the new technology of the printing press to drive social change. It argues that diffusion of the Reformation was not driven by technology alone. Competition and openness in the media were also crucial, and delivered their biggest effects in cities where political freedom was most limited.
Growth theories traditionally focus on the Kaldor-Kuznets stylised facts. Ravi Kanbur and Nobelist Joe Stiglitz argue that these no longer hold; new theory is needed. The new models need to drop competitive marginal productivity theories of factor returns in favour of rent-generating mechanism and wealth inequality by focusing on the ‘rules of the game.’ They also must model interactions among physical, financial, and human capital that influence the level and evolution of inequality. A third key component will be to capture mechanisms that transmit inequality from generation to generation.
The case for immigration restrictions is periodically debated in the political arena. This column shows that fully opening the border to neighbouring countries increased immigrants to Switzerland only by 4% of the labour force over eight years. Such an increased inflow did not have significant aggregate effects. Highly educated workers, however, benefited in terms of higher wages, while middle-educated ones experienced employment losses.
The strength of the US dollar can impact the economic activity in emerging economies in various ways. This column argues that appreciation of the dollar mitigates the impact of real GDP growth in emerging markets. The main transmission channel is through an income effect. As the dollar appreciates, commodity prices fall, depressing domestic demand via lower real income, and as a result real GDP in emerging markets decelerates. Emerging markets’ growth is expected to remain subdued, reflecting the expected persistence of the strong dollar.
EZ inflation has been falling steadily since early 2013, turning negative in late 2014. This column surveys a host of recent research from Banca d’Italia that examined the drivers of this fall, its macroeconomic effects, and ECB responses. Aggregate demand and oil prices played key roles in the drop, which has consistently ‘surprised’ market-based expectations. Towards the end of 2014 the risk of the ECB de-anchoring inflation expectations from the definition of price stability became material.
Fiscal transfers are successful in stimulating aggregate demand to the extent that they reach households with a high marginal propensity to consume. Using micro evidence from Italian earthquakes, this column argues that a well-designed programme of temporary transfers, targeted to relatively wealthy but possibly illiquid households, can be quite helpful in speeding up recovery.
The ECB believes that most Eurozone banks are out of the woods in terms of non-performing assets and capital shortfalls. This column argues that small and medium-sized banks – and among them the unlisted banks – remain under considerable stress. These banks are in the worst affected Eurozone countries, and their continued stress significantly impedes the flow of credit and also reduces lending. Policymakers need to seriously consider how and when to restructure and resolve these banks.
The Greek and the Icelandic crisis have much in common, not the least the heavy pressure from foreign countries and the hectoring from their public officials. In Iceland and in Greece this was counterproductive, hardening the opposition to any settlement. The will to reform needs to come from within, and the sooner the Troika realizes this, the easier it will be to deal with the Greek situation.
Greece’s crisis has invited comparisons to the 1953 London Debt Agreement, which ended a long period of German default on external debt. This column suggests that looking back, the 1953 agreement was unnecessarily generous given that Germany’s rapid growth lightened the debt repayment burden. Unfortunately for Greece, the motivations driving the 1953 agreement are nearly entirely absent today.
Some experts view Greek debt as sustainable, while others claim it is not sustainable. This column argues that the distinction between tactical and strategic debt sustainability can explain this difference of opinions. Moreover, strategic debt sustainability analysis should account for tail risk. This approach shows that Greek debt is highly unsustainable, but sustainability can be restored with a nominal haircut of 50%, interest rate concessions of 70%, or a rescheduling of debt to a weighted average maturity of 20 years. Greece and its creditors should ‘bet on the future’ and embrace debt relief.
Anticipation of future economic policy changes may impact assets such as foreign exchange. This column argues that expectations of a return to gold were an important determinant of the sterling-dollar exchange rate in the early 1920s. The probability of sterling’s return to gold increased from around 15% to over 70% in the second half of 1924, a few months before Churchill announced it in April 1925.
Greece is the first developed country to default on the IMF. But it continues to service its debt owed to private bondholders. How does this compare to historical experience? This column presents new evidence on seniority in sovereign debt markets. Despite the lack of a sovereign insolvency procedure, there is a clear-cut pecking order of sovereign debt repayments, which holds across countries and over time. Greece is an outlier case, and the Eurozone rescue loans face an elevated risk of arrears and haircuts in the future.
Monetary policies pursued by developed countries in the wake of the Global Crisis have had profound spillover effects on emerging economies. This column documents the unprecedented post-Crisis bond issuance surge in emerging markets. The findings indicate that benign international funding conditions favoured bond issuance in these economies. But the large issuance volumes, currency risks, and high exposure to global factors could pose a challenge for policymakers, particularly when global cycles reverse.
Two billion people across the world are infected with parasitic worms. The World Health Organization recommends mass deworming where there are large and growing populations of infected people. This column assesses whether mass deworming has been ‘debunked’ in favour of deworming on a case-by-case basis, as has recently been reported, but with a particular focus on education. Mass deworming usually takes place in schools and therefore plays a huge and under-researched role in getting children to turn up to school. In fact, it is a more cost-effective way of increasing school attendance than a number of other popular policy options.
Cyprus has been striving to get back on its feet after a painful bailout in 2013. This column examines the lessons that could have been drawn from the Cypriot experience by Greece in its recent attempt to seal a bailout deal. Specifically, lengthy negotiations – while tending to mitigate the risk of contagion – offer little benefit for debtor countries, and capital controls, once implemented, cannot be easily undone. While they come too late for Greece, these lessons can be important for countries in need of financial assistance in the future.
Informality is widespread in most developing countries. A challenge for governments is to lure informal firms into the formal economy. This column presents evidence from an experiment designed to induce formalisation in Colombia. Assistance through the bureaucratic process and the removal of the fixed costs of formalising increased the likelihood of formalisation. However, this effect did not persist over time, with many firms returning to the informal sector when minimal fixed costs came back into effect.
Many countries provide subsidies and tax incentives for the purchase of electric cars, since it’s believed electric vehicles have various benefits. This column argues that it is difficult to justify a large uniform subsidy based on environmental benefits alone. In some states in the US, the subsidy should indeed be large and positive, but in others it should be large and negative. This conclusion may need to be revisited in the future as the electricity grid becomes cleaner.
In international trade disputes, coercion is often used against governments whose trade practices are deemed unfair. This column presents a theoretical model that offers a new rationale for the greater effectiveness of multilateral compared to unilateral coercion, and hence provides a new argument in favour of commitment to international organisations.
Exchange rate appreciations could potentially have a damaging effect on competiveness and domestic production. This column argues that the relationship between exchange rate appreciations and growth depends on the underlying shock. Appreciations due to the surge of capital inflows could be relatively less favourable for growth. Concern about appreciations is therefore well-founded when they are due to shocks in global financial markets.
The long-running Greek crisis and China’s recent stock market crash are the latest threats to the stability of the global financial system. But as this column explains, systemic risk is an inevitable part of any market-based economy. While we won’t eliminate systemic risk entirely, the agenda for researchers and policymakers should be to create a more resilient financial system that is less prone to disastrous crises and that still delivers benefits for the economy and for society.
During the Global Crisis, sovereign debt-to-GDP ratios grew substantially in the face of shocks to growth, increased fiscal deficits, bank recapitalisation costs, and rising borrowing costs. This column looks at how these various shocks interact with each other to exacerbate or mitigate the eventual impact on debt. Choice of monetary policy regime is an important determinant of how public debt reacts to these shocks.
Many commentators continue to think that Greece’s best bet is Grexit and the drachma, but few are talking about what will happen to contracts. This column uses Franklin D Roosevelt’s devaluation of the US dollar to give an historical perspective on currency devaluations and contract litigation. Roosevelt got away with it because the Supreme Court ruled that prices in old contracts were void and, importantly, because everyone trusted the Supreme Court’s rulings. Grexit would mean litigation in international courts – courts that are likely to side with the plaintiffs.
Some financial authorities have proposed designating asset managers as systemically important financial institutions (SIFIs). This column argues that this would be premature and probably ill conceived. The motivation for such a step comes from an inappropriate application of macroprudential thought from banking, rather than the underlying externalities that might cause asset managers to contribute to systemic risk. Further, policy authorities are silent on the question of what SIFI designation should mean in practice, despite the inherent link between identification and remedy.
There has been much talk about using macroprudential policy to manage systemic risk and reduce negative spillovers, but there is little agreement on how it could be operationalised. This column highlights the findings of a new book on the topic and offers a framework for operationalising macroprudential policy. Macroprudential measures, together with higher capital requirements, could be used to tame the build-up of leverage and credit booms in order to prevent financial crises.
Finding employment in the formal sector in developing countries is difficult. Countries with an abundance of informal firms suffer from low aggregate productivity. This column suggests that as countries develop, more workers transition from the informal to the formal sector. A ten-year period of rapid growth in Vietnam displayed a decrease in the employment in the informal sector in favour of the formal one. Most of it was due to changing cohorts in the workforce. In addition, this transition leads to gains in aggregate productivity in the formalised sectors.
Italy’s productivity has been stagnant since the late 1990s. This column argues that public sector inefficiency could be partially responsible for the country’s low labour productivity. The evidence suggests that Italy could realise significant macroeconomic productivity gains if average public sector efficiency were to improve from its current faltering levels.
A key question for policymakers is how long-term unemployment can be effectively reduced. This column presents new evidence from a large-scale field experiment in which job seekers were provided with information and encouragement. The results indicate that targeted information provision can be an effective policy tool, in particular in the combat against long-term unemployment.
Corporate Japan is known for avoiding uncertainty. This is one of the reasons why changes of any kind are difficult – but not impossible – to realise. This column employs firm data to show that foreign direct investment has been changing corporate Japan by pursuing risk taking in private Japanese firms. This risk taking is positively related to firms’ sales growth and corporate earnings.
Does monetary policy really face a zero lower bound or could policy rates be pushed materially below zero per cent? And would the benefits of reforms to achieve negative policy rates outweigh the costs? This column, which reports the views of the leading UK-based macroeconomists, suggests that there is no strong support for reforming the monetary system to allow policy rates to be set at negative levels.
China’s spectacular growth over the 2000s has slowed since 2013. The driving force behind the country’s growth was investment, so the key to understanding the slowdown lies in understanding what sustained investment in the past. This column shows how a preferential credit policy promoting heavy industrialisation explains the trends and cycles in China’s macroeconomy over the past two decades. This policy was not without negative consequences, particularly in terms of the distortions it introduced for business finance. Going forward, China needs to focus on creating the right incentives for banks to make loans to small productive businesses.
Effective delivery of ‘credit-sensitive’ financial services depends on the credit-worthiness of whoever provides the service. This column presents a new framework for understanding the relationships between customers, intermediaries and investors. From the perspective of the framework, designing efficient contracts that insulate customers from the credit risk of the intermediary and impose idiosyncratic risk on investors makes economic sense.