The increasingly digital 21st century economy – with many zero-priced goods and services – is a challenging place for those striving to measure economic activity. This column reviews some of the main themes of the Bean Report on UK economic statistics. It suggests the exploitation of new data sources and the creation of a network of academics, private sector actors, and expert users. They would undertake research and development into the measurement of the economy and propose experimental statistics to capture the new phenomena.
A new National Living Wage (NLW) replaces the UK’s National Minimum Wage from April. This column reports the views of leading experts on its likely effects on employment, wages, and prices. A majority of respondents in the monthly Centre for Macroeconomics survey believe that the NLW will not lead to significantly lower employment; similarly, a majority of respondents believe that the NLW will only have a muted effect on wages and prices. The key unknown for many in considering the overall economic impact of the NLW is how quickly the UK economy will grow over the coming years.
On 23 June, the UK will decide whether or not to leave the EU. While the general population is divided on the issue, the overall consensus among economists at a session on Brexit at the Royal Economic Society’s annual conference was that Britons should vote to stay in the EU. This column presents the views of the four panellists at the session on the trade implications and the economic and political economy costs of Brexit.
The quantity theory of money implies that sustained inflation requires a sustained increase in the money supply. It does not, however, imply that the reverse is also true. This column explores and illustrates this issue by comparing inflation in the US following the collapse of Lehman Brothers with Germany’s hyperinflation experience after WWI. A key factor explaining the vastly different inflation experiences is how the monetary expansion translated into demand. The Fed’s base expansion did not translate into demand for goods and services, whereas the German monetary expansion was motivated by the government’s hunger for seigniorage revenues.
Current de jure measures of labour regulation stringency point to negative consequences of labour laws. This column presents new evidence on cross-country measurements of enforcement of labour laws from almost every country in the world. The authors argue that the consequences of labour enforcement cannot be credibly assessed using de jure measures which ignore the chance that enforcement is lower in places with stricter laws. On average, there is a negative correlation between the stringency of labour regulation and the intensity of its enforcement.
Lower oil prices are putting increasing pressure on Arab oil producers, and many pundits have been quick to blame US shale oil producers for the decline in prices and in Arab oil revenues. This column measures how much the shale oil boom contributed to the fall in the global price of crude oil. The Brent price of crude oil since 2011 would have been as much as $10 per barrel higher in the absence of US shale oil. But as large as this effect is, it pales in comparison with the decline in the price of oil that took place after June 2014, to which shale oil actually contributed little. The column goes on to discuss the policy options facing Arab oil producers.
The European banking system is downsizing. As a consequence, the big US investment banks are on the rise in Europe. This column argues that US investment banks are about to surpass their European counterparts in the European investment banking market. The authors also discuss why leaving global investment banking to the big five American banks might be problematic and offer policy response recommendations.
Initiatives to reduce public debt in low-income countries have made substantial progress over the past decade, but challenges remain and continue to evolve. This column presents the findings from a new IMF-World Bank report on these developments. Low-income countries have benefited from debt relief and favourable economic conditions, resulting in generally lower debt burdens and vulnerabilities. There has also been a shift in debt financing, with greater reliance on emerging market economies, international capital markets, and domestic sources. However, more recently, risks have begun to re-emerge necessitating fiscal prudence and improved debt management.
Gender inequality is greater in Japan than in other developed countries, and in response the country has implemented steps towards improving female employment. This column presents new evidence suggesting that foreign companies are an unexpected ally in promoting female labour market participation. Foreign direct investment has the potential to improve the allocation of talent and contribute to faster economic growth.
Credit booms are not rare and usually precede financial crises. However, some end in a crisis while others do not. This column argues that credit booms start with an increase in productivity, which subsequently falls much faster during ‘bad booms’. When this decline is severe enough, it changes the informational regime in credit markets, leading to a drying up of credit. A crisis may be the result of an exhausted credit boom and not necessarily of a negative productivity shock.
Most conditional cash transfer programmes around the world target women as the recipients of transfers as a means of empowering them and promoting gender equality. However, the mechanisms at work are poorly understood and empowerment is not well defined or measured. This column discusses a new measure of female empowerment in the household within the context of a national cash transfer programme in Macedonia. Whereas conventional survey questions about power and decision-making don’t reveal any empowerment effects of the programme, this new measure reveals a positive effect.
There has been much debate about the poverty impacts of economic growth and structural transformation in developing countries. This column revisits these issues using a newly constructed dataset of poverty measures for India spanning 60 years. There has been a downward trend in poverty measures since 1970, with an acceleration post-1991, despite rising inequality. Post-1991 data suggest stronger inter-sectoral linkages. Urban consumption growth came with gains to both the rural and urban poor. The primary/secondary/tertiary composition of growth has ceased to matter, as all three sectors contributed to poverty reduction.
Was the euro a straitjacket that caused an inevitable crisis? Or would earlier action have staved off a debt catastrophe? In this Vox Talk, Martin Sandbu – author of "Europe’s Orphan: The Future of the Euro and the Politics of Debt" – argues that rather than blaming the euro for the political and economic failures in Europe since the Global Crisis, the responsibility lies firmly on the authorities of the Eurozone and its member countries.
Back in the 1960s, many thought that the computer and automation would herald less work and more leisure, but the debate has changed. These days, economists debate the extent to which jobs will be lost due to technological innovation. This column explores whether technology is becoming more labour-saving and less job-creating. Concerns over automation causing mass unemployment seem exaggerated, at least for now.
Domestic violence is a significant public health problem with high economic and social costs. This column discusses the roots of domestic violence in sub-Saharan countries. The evidence shows that the economic value of women affects violence perpetrated against them by men. Where ancient socioeconomic arrangements made women economically valuable, social norms developed in ways that viewed women as productive and more equal to men. These gender roles bring about less intra-family violence today.
There is a lot in a name. This column looks at the ideas that are wrongly attributed to Irving Fisher and David Ricardo. Incorrect attribution can be more dangerous than it seems, and the prestigious names of Ricardo and Fisher have been used to justify inattentive fiscal and monetary policies. Fisher, for instance, understood that under certain circumstances, including perfect foresight, real interest rates might be immune to changes in inflation, at least over the long haul. But he rejected the premises needed to erect such a theory.
The rise of shadow banking in China after the Global Crisis helped stabilise output growth. This column looks at entrusted lending, a unique feature of Chinese shadow banking. Banks played a prominent role in the rapid rise of entrusted lending during the period of monetary tightening following the Crisis; the bulk of shadow lending was channelled by non-state banks into risky industries. Such financial distortions will eventually hamper the progress of transforming from investment-led growth to balanced growth, unless proper regulations are put in place.
Following the Global Crisis, regulators around the world have shown a greater commitment to investigating and sanctioning corporate wrongdoers. This column argues that fines are only one (surprisingly small) component of the overall sanctions available to regulators. Reputational sanctions are, for some categories of misconduct, far more potent than direct penalties.
One of the many impacts of the Global Crisis was on stress levels, and these can be a risk factor for adverse birth outcomes. This column shows that exposure to the Crisis resulted in a significant reduction in the birth weight of babies in Iceland, comparable in size to the effect of smoking during pregnancy. The full costs of poor health at birth as a result of the Crisis will not materialise until the children exposed in utero become adults.
Economists continue to debate how to safeguard the Eurozone, with some countries exiting the Crisis and some still reeling from it. This column, by members of the German Council of Economic Experts, concludes that reforms have mostly moved the Eurozone in the direction of ‘Maastricht 2.0’, stabilising the Eurozone. But it’s clear that more needs to be done.
Innovation drives macroeconomic growth, determines the competitive position of firms, and leads to factor reallocation. This column introduces a new CEPR Press eBook which argues that firms must implement more risky innovations as the economy approaches the technological frontier. The five contributions, from leading economists in the field, suggest that priority should be given to research, selection of firms, and reducing frictions.
Screening loan applicants is a key principle of sound banking, but it can be challenging when trustworthy information about applicants is not available. Many countries have therefore introduced credit registries that require banks to share borrower information. This column examines how the introduction of a new registry affected the functioning of the credit market in Bosnia and Herzegovina. Mandatory information sharing allowed loan officers to lend more conservatively at both the extensive and intensive margins. The improved credit allocation improved loan quality and lender profitability.
Hindsight is a wonderful thing. In the midst of a crisis, it is of course very hard to understand causality. This column uses the benefit of hindsight to present a nuanced view of the causes of the Eurozone Crisis as seen by members of the German Council of Economic Experts. To prevent the same crisis happening again, the Maastricht Treaty needs to be revitalised to enhance the future stability of the Eurozone and relieve the ECB of its role as crisis manager.
Some economists argue that income inequality suggests intra-generational mobility in society. This column provides comprehensive evidence across a large number of advanced economies on the importance of intra-generational mobility and its relationship with earnings inequality. The findings do not support the belief that higher earnings inequality necessarily goes hand-in-hand with greater mobility over the working life. Higher inequalities are not systematically compensated by higher mobility opportunities.
Many countries have increased the tax support they provide for research and development (R&D). This column looks at the impact of such support on innovation outcomes in the UK. The findings suggest that tax breaks are an innovation policy that works. UK business R&D would be 10% lower in the absence of the tax breaks.
Evidence suggests that smaller family size can spur economic development and reduce poverty. This column revisits the quantity-quality trade-off between family size and education in India. The findings show that family size indeed has a negative impact on schooling. The high fertility rate within households may therefore have caused the low level of human capital accumulation in India.
In the last decades the world economy has seen firms organise production into global value chains, decentralise their systems of command to incentivise workers, and start compensating CEOs with skyrocketing earnings. This column uses new data on German and Austrian firms to show that managerial offshoring to eastern Europe has increased decentralised management by 6.8% in relatively open sectors, but it has lowered the relative wages of executives in Germany and Austria by 4.9%.
Economists these days tend to think that a minimum wage can be a useful policy tool for reducing poverty while leaving employment numbers intact, as long as the policy is well designed. This column looks at recent evidence from a new perspective and claims that much of the recent research suggesting that minimum wage hikes barely reduce the number of jobs in the short run should be taken with caution. The longer-run disemployment effects are potentially large.
Recent evidence suggests that transformational entrepreneurial firms – those that introduce major innovations and make substantial contributions to growth – have been in decline. This column uses US micro data to explore the behaviour of high-growth young firms between 1980 and 2010. A decline in young firm activity in the 1980s and 1990s was dominated by young firms in the retail trade sector. In the post-2000 period, in contrast, a sharp decline in high-growth young businesses in key innovative sectors like high tech suggests there has been a decline in transformational entrepreneurs in this sector.
Prior to the Global Crisis, modern macroeconomics largely ignored the details of the financial system, and favoured mathematical precision and elegance at the expense of realism. So argues Adair Turner in this Vox Talk. He also explains the key arguments in his book, ‘Between Debt and the Devil: Money, Credit and Fixing Global Finance’: that most credit is not needed for economic growth but rather drives real estate booms and busts; and that sometimes it’s better to print your way out of financial crises.
Macroprudential policy has become increasingly popular in the aftermath of the Global Crisis, but it remains controversial. This column argues that vigorous disagreement is both inevitable and healthy, reflecting differing fundamental views of how the financial system really works. By embracing the divergence of views instead of seeing it as problematic, macroprudential policymaking will be made easier and more effective.
The US is becoming ever more unequal. This column assesses the 2016 Economic Report of the President, highlighting that middle-class incomes are shaped by productivity growth, labour force participation, and the equality of outcomes. As the US economy moves beyond recovery from the Global Crisis, its policy stance should focus on promoting each of those factors to foster inclusive growth.
The European sovereign debt crisis has triggered speculation that part of the increase in banks’ holdings of domestic sovereign debt was driven by ‘moral suasion’ by governments. This column shows that domestic banks in fiscally stressed countries were considerably more likely than foreign banks to increase their holdings of sovereign bonds in those months when the government had to issue a large amount of new debt. This suggests that governments indeed ‘morally sway’ their banks to purchase domestically issued sovereign bonds when sovereign bond markets are stressed.
One of the more pernicious barriers to trade in today's world are so-called 'rules of origin' that should help customs officers determine a product's origin, but often serve to raise the cost of importing. In practice, such rules prevent final producers from choosing the most efficient input suppliers around the world. This column investigates the impact of rules of origin in the world's largest free trade agreement, NAFTA, on imports of intermediate goods from non-member countries. The findings show that preferential rules of origin in FTAs can violate GATT rules by substantially increasing the level of protection faced by non-members.
A contingent fiscal liability is a potential obligation for the government that depends on a possible future event. Understanding the origin, size, and triggers of these liabilities is increasingly important. This column presents new findings using a novel dataset of 200 episodes involving the materialisation of contingent liabilities. The fiscal costs of the liabilities are large, at 6% of GDP on average. Importantly, countries with stronger institutions and lower growth volatility tend to suffer less from contingent liability realisations.
Balance of payments statistics suggest that assets held abroad are greatly underestimated – particularly for mutual fund shares and bank deposits. This column looks into the role played by tax havens and estimates that unreported financial assets amount to between $6 and $7 trillion. On this figure, the related tax evasion is between $19 and $38 billion a year on capital income, and between $2 and $2.6 trillion on personal income. Recent policy initiatives such as automatic information exchanges constitute real progress, but some critical aspects might jeopardise their effectiveness.
The Eurozone crisis has shown that monetary union entails more than just sharing monetary policies. This column, first published on 12 February 2016, identifies four minimal conditions for solidifying the monetary union. In the case of fiscal policy, this means a decentralised solution. In the case of financial supervision and monetary policy, centralisation is unambiguously the appropriate response. In the case of a fourth condition, debt restructuring, either approach is possible, but the authors prefer a solution that involves centrally restructuring debts while allocating costs at national level.
Financial market integration could help the Eurozone’s functioning by facilitating the absorption of asymmetric shocks via private risk sharing. This column shows that Europe’s capital markets are poorly functioning and are underdeveloped. Governments' and financial institutions' bond issuance are an exception, but their activism is mostly a result of the financial difficulties of recent years. To fix this, a Capital Markets Union should be implemented.
Historical accounts often assert that notable individuals matter for the growth of particular cities. This column uses a new database of 1.2 million people from 2,000 cities since 800CE to show that some types of ‘notable’ individuals have made a difference. Specifically, the presence of many entrepreneurs and artists is associated with faster long-term growth, but the association does not hold for notable military, political or religious figures.
Decision makers are typically assumed to be fully rational and forward looking. There is very little empirical evidence, however, on whether decision makers take account of future states of the world in strategic interactions. This column presents research on playoff matches in professional basketball to investigate whether teams are forward looking. The findings show that teams react strategically to variation in the ability of their expected future opponent when competing in earlier stages of the tournament.
It is often suggested that intergenerational bequests such as inheritances create and perpetuate wealth inequality. This column uses Danish data to explore the effects of bequests on the wealth distribution. While bequests are found to increase the dispersion of absolute wealth inequality, relative inequality declines. These findings suggest that inheritance alone need not increase wealth inequality.
Given the increasing number of regional trade agreements, economists have been estimating their effects on a wide range of outcomes. This column looks at stock market reactions to the implementation of the Canada-US free trade agreement to evaluate its effects on firms’ profits. Firm profits seem to be hurt by lower tariffs, but increase with cheaper access to intermediates and – for large firms – better access to the US market. The author estimates that CUSFTA increased the yearly profits of Canadian manufacturing by 1.2%.
Not much is known about the value of simply advising job seekers on what types of jobs to search for. This column investigates whether the search behaviour and job prospects of the unemployed are affected by providing low-cost personalised labour market information on potential alternative occupations. The results of a randomised trial show that personalised suggestions not only lead to a ‘broader’ search strategy, but also increase the number of interviews, particularly for job seekers that search narrowly.
The upcoming vote on the UK’s membership of the EU has sparked a vibrant debate on topics ranging from sovereignty and sterling to migrants and the military. This column discusses evidence on the economics of Britain’s EU membership drawn from a recent conference where both sides of the debate were represented.
It is well known that financial integration has increased dramatically over the past few decades. This column asks whether this rise has led to greater or less business cycle synchronisation. The answer depends crucially on the source of the shock. In response to common shocks, financial integration tends to lower business cycle synchronisation. In response to a country-specific shock, however, business cycles are more synchronised between countries that are more ﬁnancially integrated.
Cross-border information flows are the fastest growing component of global trade. But countries have struggled to develop a system of trade rules to govern these flows. This column discusses how governments use trade agreements and policies to address cross-border internet issues and to limit digital protectionism. It also provides recommendations on how to build coherent regulation in the near future.
Correlations between media attention and capital flows to investment vehicles are well established. However, the question arises of whether this is due to new information conveyed or if it is just an artefact of the attention itself. This column employs fund rankings from the Wall Street Journal to investigate the issue. It shows that media attention does drive these investment decisions, even if no new information is conveyed. It further argues that financial intermediaries are aware of this effect and exploit it.
Economists continue to debate whether stock markets influence the real economy. This column takes a look at initial public offerings (IPOs) and finds that firms can increase the precision of the signals they get from the stock market by imitating each other. This effect has important implications for the structure of industries, innovation strategies, the diversity of product offerings for consumers, and the scope for diversification for investors.
The excessive exposure of banks to sovereign debt continues to threaten the stability of the Eurozone. Based on a recent proposal by the German Council of Economic Experts, this column suggests steps towards severing the sovereign-bank nexus. The loss-absorption capacity of banks could be increased through risk-adjusted large exposure limits and risk-adequate capital requirements.
In June, UK voters will decide whether to remain part of the EU. This column explores the UK’s options if a majority votes in favour of Brexit. One possibility is for the UK, like Norway, to join the European Economic Area and thereby retain access to the European Single Market. An alternative would be to negotiate bilateral treaties with the EU, as Switzerland has done. All options, however, involve a trade-off between political sovereignty and economic benefits.
There seems to be a robust consensus that the relationship between the countries in the EU that use the euro as their currency (‘euro-ins’) and those that do not (‘euro-outs’) is the most important of the four areas in the ‘new settlement’ between the UK and the EU. This column presents new econometric estimates showing that, after the introduction of the euro, the UK and Eurozone business cycles became significantly more synchronised. It is likely this upsurge in synchronisation increased the costs of a potential UK exit from the EU.
Britain will hold a referendum on whether to stay or leave the EU. Current polls point a very close vote. This column argues that Brexit could have serious economic and political consequences for the rest of the EU. The economic and financial frictions could be limited if both parties try to strike an amicable separation agreement. But political considerations, including the desire of the rest of the EU to prevent Brexit emulation, might result in a far more damaging outcome, not just for the UK.
Sovereign risk and its treatment by European banks is a frequently debated topic. In particular, regulators are focusing on zero risk weighting and large exposure limits. This column argues that redesigning the macroprudential framework for sovereign risk management will be a key theme in the years to come. Depending on the exact outcome, the structure of the EZ bond market might look very different from its current shape. This could have far-reaching consequences for both the ECB’s monetary policy strategy and investors alike.
The Swiss franc was created in 1850, but the Swiss National Bank wasn’t founded until 1907. The interim was a period of free banking, marked by two successive phases: one of free, unregulated note issue; and then one of strictly limited banking freedom. This column studies the Swiss banking market over this time. The number of banks is found to play an important role in determining the long-run money demand, and in the monetary adjustment process. Further, problems with harmonisation and common regulation created the incentives for monopolisation and centralisation.
During the last recession the US experienced some of the highest unemployment rates in its history, prompting the government to dramatically extend the duration of unemployment benefits. Economists have since debated whether this action helped or hindered the recovery of the labour market. This column finds evidence of a ‘silver lining’ effect – extended unemployment benefits led people to submit fewer job applications, but this reduction increased the chances of each application being successful. Hence the overall impact of extending benefits on aggregate unemployment was rather small.