A key feature of globalisation over the last three decades has been the wave-like growth of foreign direct investment. This column shows that conglomerate cross-border acquisitions, which are closely associated with mispricing in financial markets, play a significant role in explaining these developments.
The internet is lauded for increasing access to information, but it is unclear whether this translates into a better-informed and more engaged voting populace. This column uses UK data to determine how the internet has changed voting patterns and aggregate policy choices. Internet penetration is found to be associated with a decrease in voter turnout, mainly among the lower socioeconomic demographic. Internet diffusion is also found to reduce local government expenditure, in particular on policies targeting less-educated voters. These findings point to a trade-off between the ‘digital divide’ and the ‘political divide’.
How shocks reverberate throughout the economy has been a central question in macroeconomics. This column suggests that input-output linkages can play an important role in this issue. Supply-side (productivity) shocks impact the industry itself and those consuming its goods, while a demand-side shock affects the industry and its suppliers. The authors also find that the initial impact of an industry shock can be substantially amplified due to input-output linkages.
The dual labour markets of Southern Europe and France create a ‘revolving door’ through which many workers – especially youths – rotate between dead-end jobs and unemployment. The problem lies in the difference between the costs of firing workers on permanent versus temporary contracts. This column proposes a framework for evaluating what the optimal single contract should look like taking account of transitional issues and political economy constraints.
Now that the worst of the Eurozone Crisis has passed, one question that emerges is whether improving current account balances should be an objective for policymakers. And if so, what tools are available? This column argues that because of the emergence of global value chains, trade imbalances within the Eurozone are to a large extent an endogenous result of the international organisation of production at the firm level. It is therefore better to disregard intra-EZ imbalances and focus on the total.
Many observers believe that pharmaceutical firms prefer to invest in drugs to treat diseases rather than vaccines. This column presents an economic rationale for why such a pattern may emerge for diseases like HIV/AIDS. The population risk of such diseases resembles a Zipf distribution, which makes the shape of the demand curve for a drug more conducive to revenue extraction than for a vaccine. Based on revenue calibrations using US data on HIV risk, the revenue from a drug is about four times greater.
Helmut Schmidt, one of the great post-war architects of Europe, passed away in November 2015. This column, by a former governor of the Central Bank of Cyprus, reminds us of Schmidt’s analysis of the political and economic dimensions of the Eurozone Crisis delivered in speeches in late 2011. As Schmidt said: “What we have, in fact, is a crisis of the ability of the EU’s political bodies to act. This glaring weakness of action is a much greater threat to the future of Europe than the excessive debt levels of individual Eurozone countries.”
The current inflow of refugees into Europe has left policymakers in disagreement over how to react. A major concern is the perceived financial burden that can result from large intakes. This column discusses the fiscal impact of refugees on the Swedish economy. The current net redistribution from the non-refugee population to refugees (excluding arrivals in 2015) is estimated to be 1.35% of GDP. The economic burden of a generous refugee policy is therefore not particularly heavy, especially if the host country incorporates them as quickly as possible into the labour market.
Labour market liberalisation is both one of the most important structural reforms and one of the least well understood. This is partly due to a lack of data. This column introduces a new index of labour market regulations rigidity covering over 140 countries from 1950 onwards. Trade liberalisation and per capita income are shown to be more powerful explanations of the dynamics of labour market reform than ‘legal origins’.
The beginning of 2016 has seen dramatic developments in key markets, including falls in share prices, low oil prices, and a slowdown in some emerging market economies. This column summarises the views expressed on these issues by leading experts in the monthly Centre for Macroeconomics survey. While all recognise the considerable uncertainty in the world economy, fewer than a third fear that these events will have a significant negative impact on the UK’s economic recovery. The prevailing argument is that any negative effects of lower foreign demand and market instability will be compensated by the benefits of lower oil prices.
Vocational training programmes offer a second chance to those who drop out of the formal education system. Most studies of the success of such programmes, however, typically only analyse outcomes directly after participation. This column examines the medium- and long-term outcomes of a vocational training programme in Colombia. Results suggest that vocational training and formal education are complementary investments and that there are educational spillover effects for family members, in particular among applicants with high baseline educational attainment.
Since the beginning of the Global Crisis, illicit capital flows out of China have been in decline. This column argues that a key factor behind this is the relative money supply between China and the US. China’s rapidly increasing money supply, combined with the Fed’s expansionary monetary policy, prompted investors to reallocate their portfolios between the two countries. Another contributing factor is China’s gradual process of capital account liberalisation. The Fed’s interest rate hike in December may see a resurgence in China’s capital flight.
The Shanghai Stock Exchange Composite Index has dropped substantially in the past few months. China’s growth rate has also slowed. This column argues that the slowdown of the Chinese economy has little to do with the stock exchange, and is mostly due to economic forces. The author recommends a package of policies that need to be implemented to smooth the transition to a sustainable growth rate.
Prices of cable TV services are rising, leading to calls for the introduction of cable TV à la carte. This column argues against the proposal. Some would win while others would lose, but on average households would be no better off. Given the tremendous uncertainty associated with such a regulatory intervention, more convincing evidence of the consumer benefits is needed.
Wage differences across countries offer individuals the possibility of huge wage gains through moving abroad. This column uses data on lottery-selected migrants from Tonga to New Zealand to assess the effect on productivity and wages for workers moving from a poor country to a rich country. These randomly selected workers appear to be immediately more productive, and their wage gains are stable over time. It seems that cross-country wage differences are due to better institutions, higher quality capital, and other factors in rich countries that serve to raise the productivity of all workers, whether natives or migrants.
The growth of e-commerce has seen an enormous increase in the choice of products available online. With recent evidence from psychology suggesting that too much choice can impede decision making, this column examines whether consumers’ online choices are consistent with models of limited attention. High-frequency, transaction-level data from an online retail store reveal that consumers are influenced by recommendations. This suggests consumers do indeed have limited attention and simplify decision making by focusing on a subset of available products.
The migrant crisis will continue to top headlines in 2016. This column takes a detailed look at the EU’s response to dealing with migration, concluding that everything points towards failure as the likely outcome. Unlike the most critical aspects of the Eurozone Crisis, the main drivers of the current migration emergency are external factors such as war. These circumstances are highly unlikely to change in the medium term. The hardball politics and threats that proved extraordinarily effective in coercing member states into accepting domestic political conditionality in return for financial aid during the Eurozone Crisis are doomed to fail when it comes to migration.
Cash welfare programmes are widely thought to discourage work because unearned income reduces the labour supply even when it does not alter work incentives. This column discusses recent evidence from Swedish lottery players suggesting that this ‘income effect’ is economically significant, but modest in magnitude and surprisingly similar across various demographic groups. Introducing ‘unconditional basic income’ programmes in developed countries may reduce the labour supply across a broad cross-section of the population.
Reorganisation doesn’t always create a more efficient and effective firm. This column assesses the extent to which a firm’s physical productivity varies as a result of reorganisation. The results suggest significant variation. For policymakers, studying and understanding the internal organisational responses of firms to firm-specific and economy-wide shocks is essential to understanding the level and distribution of productivity in an economy.
While some of the costs of climate change won’t be incurred for centuries, the actions to mitigate them need to be taken today. Over such a long timespan, small changes in discount rates can drastically change the attractiveness of such investments. This column presents estimates of appropriate discount rates for very long time horizons. The long-run discount rate for one important risky asset class – real estate – is estimated at 2.6%. This provides an upper bound on long-run discount rates for climate change abatement, one that is substantially lower than some of the rates currently being employed.
There is ongoing debate about the impact of technological progress on the geography of trade and production. One view is that cheap technology has attenuated the effect of distance, while others argue that location still matters. This column explores the issue in the context of foreign exchange markets. It examines how submarine fibre optic cables that link locations to financial hubs have affected the location of transactions. The findings suggest, on balance, that technological progress has made proximity to a trading centre more important.
Nudges are modifications of people’s choice architecture that impact their behaviour but don’t change their incentives or coerce them. As a policy instrument, nudges have been shown to be effective in changing certain kinds of behaviours. This column explores the ethical issues that arise in employing such potentially manipulative policies. An evaluation programme is outlined that explores a potential policy’s impact on people’s wellbeing, autonomy, and integrity, along with its practical implications.
Not everyone responds to pressure in the same way. This column suggests that girls and boys respond differently to the pressure of exams, depending on the significance of the exams. Girls perform relatively better when the stakes are low, but boys outperform them when the stakes are very high. This has a number of implications for the choices that young men and women make over degree subjects and careers.
Assimilation of migrants can be measured in various ways, one such measure being their access to the homeownership market. This column argues that the evolution of homeownership rates of immigrants is a complex process, with important selection effects. In France, the homeownership rate among northern African immigrants lags behind not only that of natives, but also southern European immigrants. A possible reason is discrimination against northern African immigrants not only on the labour market, but also on the credit and housing markets.
During the past couple of months alone, floods have displaced 100,000 people or more in Kenya, in Paraguay and Uruguay, and in India, as well as more than 50,000 people in the UK. And rising sea levels due to climate change loom. This column assesses the risk and the challenges for policymakers. It details the effects of flooding in cities around the world, showing that economic activity is concentrated in low-elevation urban areas, despite their much greater exposure to flooding. And worryingly, economic activity tends to return to flood-prone low-lying areas rather than relocating.
Intel dominates the market for microchips, an essential component of innumerable electronic devices. This column proposes a structured antitrust test that could tackle the issue of how antitrust authorities make decisions on whether a dominant firm’s rivals can compete for exclusive contracts effectively. This decision depends on the size of the dominant firm’s competitive advantage, which isn’t something that we can easily measure but is something that is correlated with other variables, such as the firms’ market shares.
The price of oil rose to unprecedented highs in the 2000s, and its recent plunge took many by surprise. Although there are many consequences of such price fluctuations on the world economy, they are notoriously difficult to pin down. This column examines the trade consequences of varying shipping costs caused by oil price fluctuations. High oil prices are found to increase the distance elasticity of trade, making trade less global. The recent drop in oil prices could thus be a boon for globalisation.
A city’s metropolitan governance structure has a critical influence on the quality of life and economic outcomes of its inhabitants. This column quantifies the impact of governance on productivity using data from five OECD countries. Administrative fragmentation, which complicates policy coordination across a city, has a negative effect on individual productivity. This finding, combined with benefits from good governance such as improved transport and lower pollution levels, highlights the importance of well-designed metropolitan authorities.
Although the Great Recession was viewed as a US problem, the Eurozone was affected by it from the start. This column compares the monetary policy responses to the Crisis by the Fed and the ECB. It argues that the US approach has been much more aggressive and proactive. The ECB failed to provide stimulus when needed, and as a result the Eurozone might slip into a low-inflation trap.
Policymakers have employed various new tools in response to the Global Crisis to revitalise economic performance. This column introduces a new eBook that brings together key Vox columns to reveal the evolution of the economic profession’s thinking about one such tool – quantitative easing.
The world economy at the start of 2016 is a genuinely confusing place, with stock markets plummeting. This column discusses the mainstream narratives behind this – China and the oil price dip – and finds them wanting. The economic linkages seem too weak to justify the gyrations. Instead, they may be the result of herding or a delayed reaction to the global economy’s lower-for-long growth prospects.
Concerns about both the level of bond market liquidity and its fragility have risen lately, prompted partly by events such as the October 2014 Treasury bond flash rally in the US, or the April 2015 Bund tantrum in Europe. This column assesses current market liquidity and resilience, discerning several key policy recommendations from the evidence.
The goal of universal health coverage has been pursued by countries in a number of ways, most notably through demand-side policies. In 2005, Turkey extended basic healthcare services to its entire population under a free-of-charge, centrally administered system. This column examines the impact of this supply-side programme on mortality and birth rates. Results show that the program was successful in lowering both mortality and birth rates across provinces, particularly for the most vulnerable populations. These findings provide compelling evidence in favour of providing accessible healthcare services to all citizens.
Previous research has shown that the corporate governance practices of firms are constrained by the legal standards of their country of incorporation. This column explores how an active international market for corporate control can substitute for weak institutions in a host country. Using firm-level data from 22 countries, it shows how cross-border M&A activity improves the governance of non-target firms in the same industry, via peer pressure. These findings provide evidence for corporate governance improvements as a novel positive spillover from FDI.
Firms that engage in international markets tend to pay higher wages. This column provides new evidence on the wage premiums for exporters and multinational firms in Japan. The results show that wage premium for foreign-owned firms is far more important than that for exporters and domestically owned multinational firms.
Economists now tend to stress the role of global banks in the transmission of the Global Crisis. This column argues that the retrenchment of Eurozone banks opened regulatory arbitrage opportunities for US banks. The fact that US banks, and in particular the most risky US banks, fully exploited these opportunities had a salubrious effect on credit-constrained corporates and employment. It seems the move from Basel I to Basel II with risk-sensitive capital requirements amplifies the credit cycle.
Informal collaboration is an integral part of academia. Studies of academic collaboration have mostly focused on formal collaboration, as measured by co-authorships. This column instead constructs a network of informal collaboration in financial economics, exploiting acknowledgements of assistance appearing in published papers. Three rankings of financial economists are constructed based on acknowledgement occurrence and centrality. Being helpful is not found to predict centrality in the informal collaboration network.
Many candidate explanations for the low level of real interest rates have been put forward. Less progress has been made on bringing together the different hypotheses into a unifying framework, on quantifying their relative importance and on predicting the future path for real interest rates. This column attempts to fill that gap, and suggests that persistent shifts to global desired savings and investment are behind the bulk of the fall in real interest rates. Those trends are unlikely to unwind anytime soon, so that the global equilibrium rate is likely to remain low, perhaps settling at or below 1% in the medium to long-run.
Studies of the effects of economic fluctuations on health have come to wildly different conclusions. This may be because the effects are different for different groups. Using US data, this column looks at the health consequences of the Great Recession on mothers, a sub-population that has thus far been largely neglected in the literature. Increases in unemployment are found to have large negative health effects and to increase incidences of smoking and substance abuse among mothers. These effects appear to be concentrated on disadvantaged groups such as minorities, and point to short- and long-term consequences for their children.
It is widely agreed that the Global Crisis qualifies as a period of ‘systemic’ financial stress. However, identifying and classifying other similar periods is challenging. This column presents a new framework for a transparent and objective identification of systemic financial stress episodes, beyond the expert-selected stress events available so far. The approach is applied to 27 EU countries to successfully identify episodes of financial stress.
Global value chains have increased the complexity of good economic analysis no end. This column assess the extent to which global value chains change how we think about the world, and argues that the evolution of global market shares is no longer an adequate indicator of a country’s competitiveness in most cases. ‘Made in China’ has changed almost everything.
Inequality, both in firm revenues and wages, varies greatly across sectors, has increased over time and is positively correlated to export opportunities. To explain these observations, this column propose a new theory in which firms’ investment at the entry stage affects the variance of the possible realisations of their productivity. It suggests that export opportunities and competition, besides reallocating resources across existing firms, increase the value of technological heterogeneity. This hints to a new powerful channel through which globalisation is making firms and wages more unequal.
Economists frequently discuss the ‘scarring effects’ the Great Recession has had on young people in Europe. This column tentatively challenges the received wisdom of permanent scarring. Young graduates mitigate some of the negative welfare effects of graduating during bad times by living with their parents for longer.
Adverse early childhood environments can have persistent effects. This column suggests that early childhood programmes have many beneficial effects, and their success should be evaluated on a multitude of outcomes. The returns to investing in the early lives of disadvantaged children in terms of social mobility and economic productivity are high – comparable to returns on equity investment.
The monetary policy of ‘leaning against the wind’ involves a higher policy interest rate. It is usually justified as reducing the probability and severity of a future crisis. This column argues that the costs of the policy exceed the benefits by a substantial margin, especially when taking into account that the cost of a crisis is higher if the economy is initially weaker due to the leaning itself. Furthermore, contrary to the common argument that the policy may be justified when macroprudential policy is less effective or even non-existent, less effective macroprudential policy actually makes the case against leaning against the wind policy stronger, not weaker.
The standard empirical evaluations of labour market policy only consider the direct effects of single programmes on their participants. This column argues that this fails to capture important aspects of real-world labour market policy – policy regimes and strategies. Using Swiss data, it employs a novel empirical approach that concurrently examines the effects of supportive and punitive policies (‘carrots’ and ‘sticks’). Policy regimes are shown to exert economically relevant effects, and accounting for these effects is crucial when designing labour market policy.
Competitive devaluation is a long-standing idea in international macroeconomic theory. This column takes a step back from the current debate and assesses a different perspective on monetary and exchange rate policies. Strategic behaviour is shown to be detrimental from a global welfare perspective. Due to negative spillovers elsewhere, devaluations invite retaliation – which in turn reduces manufacturing at the global level. Monetary policy can provide a non-negligible contribution to fostering comparative advantage in high-value branded manufacturing goods by pursuing efficient macroeconomic stabilisation.
An agreement on the Trans-Pacific Partnership has finally been reached, after many twists and turns. This column examines the new set of rules comprising the agreement, and asks whether the TPP is, as claimed, a 21st century agreement or just an expanded version of a US-style FTA. While the TPP is undoubtedly a highly ambitious agreement that includes areas unaddressed by WTO disciplines, its success rests ultimately on the dispute settlement procedures.
In the recent crisis in Southern Europe both sovereign governments and private citizens faced increased borrowing costs on their external debt. By contrast, no spillover to private borrowers occurred from the recent US state government debt crisis. This column argues that this different experience stems from much weaker European protections from government interference – the risk that governments will encumber private debt contracts by redenominating the currency of the contract, imposing capital controls, or passing debtor relief legislation.
The US dollar has played a central role in the international monetary system, but it currently faces stiff competition from other currencies. This column argues that the benefits of international liquidity provision might be higher than previously thought when one accounts for general equilibrium effects. Quantitatively, the welfare cost of losing international status is not inconsequential for the issuing country. For the US, it amounts to between 0.4% and 1.1% of consumption each year.
Crises of confidence turn booms into busts. Bloated household balance sheets and high debt offer the right ingredients for a confidence-driven housing bust. This column develops an analytic framework that accommodates the potential role of confidence fluctuations as a source of uncertainty in the economy. Current debt levels are shown to determine the exposure to crises of confidence. The results point to a clear role for macroprudential policy in the prevention of such crises.
During the Great Recession, governments famously (and in some cases, infamously) provided banks with lower-cost capital and liquidity so that they would lend, expanding economic activity. This column assesses the efficacy of these policies, estimating marginal propensities to consume and borrow between 2008-2012.
Shylock's insistence in 'The Merchant of Venice' that his “pound of flesh” be paid as per the contract, regardless of the extreme and grotesque cost to the debtor, is an apt parallel with vulture funds holding out on Argentinian debt pay-outs. This column assesses the Argentinian debt situation and develops an accord that would create a compromise between the extremes on both sides.
Taxation in developing nations has always been difficult, but the Global Crisis has brought further complications. This column examines and compares the tax revenue trends in Asia and Latin America to shed light on some of these issues. Despite their similarities, there is no one-size-fits-all explanation for tax/GDP ratios between the two regions. While progress has been made, the gap between the advanced economies and developing countries offers ample room for improvement. This is particularly important for developing nations as they face growing demand for fiscal spending.
Emerging markets face their fifth consecutive year of slowing growth. This column examines the nature of the slowdown and appropriate policy responses. Repeated downgrades in long-term growth expectations suggest that the slowdown might not be simply a pause, but the beginning of an era of weak growth for emerging markets. The countries concerned urgently need to put in place policies to address their cyclical and structural challenges and promote growth.
Negotiations on the Trans-Pacific Partnership were far from smooth sailing, leaving the outlook of Japan’s trade policy uncertain for some time. This column examines the effect of the TPP agreement and the resulting resolution of trade policy uncertainty on the promotion of trade and innovation activities.
Economists take a keen interest in patent rights and their effect on innovation. The primary argument for the existence of patents is, after all, that they incentivise entrepreneurs to seek profit through innovating. This column looks at how patent rights affect innovation by small and large firms, finding that the results vary greatly depending on size.
Education is considered to be of key importance to economic growth, jobs, and development. This column argues that higher education is not a deterministic factor driving economic performance in itself. Rather it is the skills acquired through education that drive economic development. Policymakers should take into account a range of different indicators to make a proper judgement about where education is heading and how to improve it.
Tax policy varies widely across countries and across regions within countries. This column presents evidence suggesting that in the case of the US, harmonising tax rates could lead to significant increases in aggregate economic output. EU policymakers should take note.
Developing economies are characterised by low tax revenue and widespread tax evasion. This column assesses what tax policy instruments governments should use to raise revenue. Optimal tax policy in developing countries may diverge from what is prescribed in standard textbook models. A turnover tax, for instance, is known to distort production decisions but may also to be more difficult to evade than a profit tax, and so can be optimal in high-evasion contexts.
Many argue that China has had a higher total factor productivity growth rate than India and the US since the late 1970s. This column assesses changes in China’s technology gaps between both the US and India from 1979 to 2008 with a constant elasticity of substitution production framework. The calculations suggest that the technology gap between China and the US was significantly larger than that between India and the US for the period before 2008.
Recent policy recommendations suggest that the output growth ‘bang’ for each additional ‘buck’ of public investment depends on the efficiency of public investment spending. This column argues that high-efficiency and low-efficiency countries may have similar growth impacts from additional public investment spending. This is because efficiency and scarcity of public capital are likely to be inversely related across countries. Efficiency and the rate of return need to be considered together in assessing the impact of increases in investment.
Are you more likely to get a job if you’re seen to be intensively social? This column presents experimental evidence demonstrating that intensive social engagement credibly signals willingness to cooperate in teams to potential employers. But it comes at a cost – extracurricular activities and being in demonstrably social positions takes time and resources.
‘Helicopter tax credits’ have been proposed as a means of injecting new purchasing power into the economies of Eurozone Crisis countries. This column outlines one such system for Italy. The Tax Credit Certificate system is projected to accelerate Italy’s recovery over the next four years, and will likely be sustainable. It also provides a tool to avoid the breakup of the Eurosystem and its potentially disruptive consequences.
There are common geographical differences in working hours between countries and regions. Working hours are longer in developing countries, as well as in more urbanised regions compared to rural ones. This column explains these differences with two key factors: production technology and urban agglomeration. Technological progress leads to a decrease in working hours, whereas urban agglomeration leads to an increase.
The Global Crisis renewed debate on the benefits and limitations of coordinating international macro policies. This column highlights the rare conditions that lead to international cooperation, along with the potential benefits for the global economy. In normal times, deeper macro cooperation among countries is associated with welfare gains of a second-order magnitude, making the odds of cooperation low. When bad tail events induce imminent and correlated threats of destabilised financial markets, the perceived losses have a first-order magnitude. The apprehension of these losses in times of peril may elicit rare and beneficial macro cooperation.
Economists continue to debate whether preferential treatment in financial regulation increases banks’ demand for government bonds. This column looks at bank purchases of government bonds and other types of bonds when constrained by a capital or liquidity requirement. Financial regulation seems to be a main driver of banks’ demand. If regulators wish to break the vicious circle from weak banks to weak governments, revising financial regulation seems to be a good starting point.
Contingent debt has been gaining ground as a tool for banking stability. This column argues for the advantages of sovereign debt with a contingent payment standstill. Sovereign contingent debt would have instigated early responses for Eurozone crisis countries ranging from a couple of months (Ireland) to almost two years (Cyprus). Pricing simulations illustrate how this financial innovation creates appropriate incentives for sovereigns and addresses creditor moral hazard. Using contingent debt for Greece, we illustrate that the country’s debt profile can improve significantly.
The Trans-Pacific Partnership is being held up as a model for 21st century trade agreements. This column looks into its implications for Japan. It says that agricultural sectors such as rice and beef won’t be affected as some form of protection will remain. It concludes that while the TPP may help Japan gain access to foreign markets, Japanese agriculture has lost another opportunity for revitalisation.