The ECB is under fire from all sides for its inability to stimulate Europe's economies. This column puts the case for an informal European ‘praesidium’ within the Eurogroup to coordinate wider stimulus and reform measures. This will inevitably lead to the appointment of a European finance minister – the Eurozone's equivalent of Alexander Hamilton, the first Treasury Secretary in the history of the US.
Mortgage delinquencies and foreclosures have serious implications, not just for the households affected, but for the financial stability of the economy. The solvency of the mortgage lenders is affected, and their ability to extend credit. This column identifies three key drivers of delinquency and foreclosure rates in the UK – the debt service ratio, the proportion of homes in negative equity, and the unemployment rate – and compares the rates with those in the US. It also discusses the data constraints that have hindered previous analyses.
In July, G20 trade ministers adopted nine 'Guiding Principles for Global Investment Policymaking'. This column introduces the latest GTA report, which shows how well the G20’s track record stacks up against these new growth-promoting goals.
When Mario Draghi famously declared that the ECB was “ready to do whatever it takes to preserve the euro”, he also specified “within our mandate”. This column examines the institutional limitations to central bankers’ actions. It argues that institutional constraints are essential in determining the sustainability of monetary policies, and hence central banks’ ability to pursue their targets. The weakness of the Bank of England in the heyday of the gold standard is a case in point.
Previous research found that income and wealth inequality had little impact on the aggregate dynamics of consumption, investment and output. This reinforced the idea that we can study downturns in the economy using representative agents. This column argues that household inequality affects both the depth of a recession and the welfare losses of those affected by it. Therefore we should explicitly measure and model household heterogeneity when we consider the impact of business cycle fluctuations and the welfare consequences of economic crises.
Spain implemented a host of structural reforms following the Global Crisis. But questions remain about whether the current economic condition is due to the reforms or to ‘automatic’ adjustment in public and private sectors. This column sheds light on these questions by examining changes in a set of economic indicators following the introduction of the reforms. Five stylised facts are presented that suggest limitations of the reforms. Much of the current climate appears to reflect inherent limitations of the Spanish economy.
The relationship between taxation and economic growth is complex, and relies in large part on the efficiency with which taxes are used. This column examines the impact of corruption on this relationship. The boost to welfare from reducing corruption is substantially larger than the marginal gains from optimising the tax rate for an existing level of government efficiency.
One of the biggest challenges in fighting poverty is to know where it is. This column describes a new way to measure poverty by using satellites to count people who live in darkness at night. This shows that the economic benefits of oil booms don’t trickle down to the very poor.
With inequality rising and household incomes across developed countries stagnating, accurate monitoring of living standards cannot be achieved by relying on GDP per capita alone. This column analyses the path of divergence between household income and GDP per capita for 27 OECD countries. It finds several reasons why GDP per capita has outpaced median incomes, and recommends assigning median income a central place in official monitoring and assessment of living standards over time.
Energy-efficient technologies are an increasingly relevant policy priority, given growing consensus on the need to tackle climate change. This column examines the productivity benefits of adopting one such technology – LED lighting – for manufacturing firms in India. It finds that improved productivity resulting from LED lighting’s lower heat emissions makes adopting such technology far less costly than previous anticipated, particularly for labour-intensive firms in hot climates.
The vote for Brexit was seen by some as a vote of ignorance, laced with xenophobia. This column argues that it was not an irrational vote of the ignorant, but a highly rational vote by the same losers from trade as elsewhere across the world. To compensate them, efforts should be made to upskill displaced workers and build them affordable homes to rent in places where the new jobs are. Ignoring this rise of trade nationalism would be far more dangerous than leaving the EU.
The ‘excess co-movement puzzle’ in financial markets refers to the correlation of asset returns beyond what could be expected based on the common movements in fundamentals. Using international data, this column links excess co-movement in firm-level stock returns to the correlated beliefs of sophisticated investors. Co-movement is largely explained by investors’ reliance on common information – in other words, their lack of firm-specific information. This gives rise, in part, to the higher degree of aggregate market-wide volatility.
Advertisers are deserting newspapers. Using the impact of television advertising on print media in 1968, this column argues that a reduction in advertising revenues will reduce the quality of newspapers. Ultimately, this may result in a less well-informed public.
The fragmentation of financial systems along national borders was one of the main handicaps of the Eurozone both prior to and in the initial phase of the crisis, hindering the shock absorption capacity of individual member states. The EU has taken important steps towards the deeper integration of Eurozone financial markets, but this remains incomplete. This column argues that a fully-fledged financial union can be an efficient economic shock absorber. Compared to the US, there is significant potential in terms of private cross-border risk sharing through the financial channel, more so than through fiscal (i.e. public) means.
Much of the damage from the Great Recession is attributed to the Federal Reserve’s failure to rescue Lehman Brothers when it hit troubled waters in September 2008. It has been argued that the Fed’s decision was based on legal constraints. This column questions that view, arguing that the Fed did have the legal authority to save Lehman, but it did not do so due to political considerations.
Guessing answers can undermine the effectiveness of multiple choice exams. Negative marking, in which incorrect answers are penalised, can limit guessing, but may bias the test against risk-averse test takers. Using Turkish university admission exam data, this column explores whether negative marking biases exams, particularly against women, who tend to be more risk averse. Differences in risk aversion appear to have a limited impact, especially for good students.
In theory, firms in developing countries benefit from viable, well-used, stable, and efficient local financial markets as a source of investment for local firms. Financial markets in the home countries of multinationals can also act as a source of FDI to the developing world when local financial markets are weak. This column discusses recent empirical data that support both arguments, and argues that advocates of tighter regulation for financial markets should consider the wider impact on developing country economies.
Today’s labour market in the US has much in common with that of the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Then, as now, there were few government protections for workers, fears over cheap immigrant labour, rapid technological change, and increasing market concentration. This column explores the lessons that can be drawn from the earlier ‘Gilded Age’. The findings suggests that even as markets play a greater role in allocating labour, legal and political institutions will continue to shape bargaining power between firms and workers.
In international trade theory, countries are often treated as homogenous regions, with no account taken of their internal geography. This column uses evidence from China’s Treaty Port Era to show how domestic trade frictions shape welfare gains from trade. Gains from new technologies that lower trade costs are shared, but the gains are not evenly distributed. Lower trade costs can also mean lower welfare for productivity leaders, who may be replaced by low-cost suppliers from less productive regions as the costs of transport decline.
It has been suggested that the vote for Brexit marks the first step of disintegration in Europe. This column argues that if the European integration process is pursued wisely, it still carries the promise of enduring peace and growing prosperity. But EU policymakers must devise a process of integration that strengthens Europe’s competitiveness to such an extent that the advantages of EU membership are clear to member states’ citizens.
One-dimensional indicators such as GNI per capita are known to be flawed measures of wellbeing. The Human Development Index (HDI) introduced dimensions of health and education alongside income. This column argues that an HDI adjusted for inequality and hours worked gives deeper insight into a country's economic standing. Using this composite measure, the US falls from first to seventh among G8 countries.
Governments and regulators are commonly assumed to offer special protection to the stakeholders of large financial institutions during financial crises. This column measures the ex ante cost of implicit shareholder guarantees to financial institutions in crises, and suggests that such protection affects small and large financial institutions differently. The evidence suggests that in the event of a financial crisis, stock investors price in the implicit government guarantees extended to large financial institutions, but not to small ones.
Government employee absenteeism is often a serious problem in developing countries. One potential reason is government positions being appointed as a kind of patronage to reward political loyalty. This column presents the results of an intervention designed to address government doctor absenteeism in Punjab, Pakistan. The programme provided government inspectors with a smartphone app to streamline information flows, and improved inspection rates. The results support the political patronage hypothesis and provide encouraging support for data-driven policymaking.
Experiments have revealed that humans often suffer from overconfidence in the accuracy of their information, or ‘miscalibration’. This column uses data from surveys of CFOs to assess their ability to make financial predictions. The results suggest not only that CFOs are miscalibrated, but also that firms with miscalibrated executives appear to be more aggressive in their corporate policies. In other words, the overconfidence of the executive shows up in the company’s policies.
Some economists are approaching a consensus that the Eurozone’s financial architecture is now resilient enough to withstand another shock similar to that of 2010-11. This column argues that such a view may be overly optimistic. Economic and financial instability persists in member states and the banking sector, and institutions to tackle a shock remain incomplete. While the Eurozone remains vulnerable to a bad shock, the blanket application of burden sharing without consideration of current economic and financial conditions is unwise.
International financial spillovers from emerging markets have increased significantly over the last 20 years. This column argues that growing financial integration of emerging economies is more important than their rising share in global trade in driving this trend, that firms with lower liquidity and higher borrowing are more subject to spillovers, and that mutual funds are amplifying spillover effects. Policymakers in developed economies should pay increased attention to future spillovers from emerging markets, particularly from China.
Helicopter money is not just another version of unconventional monetary policy. Using simple central bank and government balance sheets, this column explains how helicopter money today is different from what Milton Friedman imagined back in 1969 – it is expansionary fiscal policy financed by central bank money.
The dramatic and largely unexpected collapse in oil prices has sparked intense debate over the causes and consequences. This column argues that a broader energy perspective is now needed to comprehend oil’s long-term outlook, and provides answers to several questions about the oil market in the global economy.
It has been widely demonstrated that parental divorce is associated with negative outcomes for affected children. However, the degree of causality in this relationship is not as clear. This column tackles this problem by using the level of gender integration in fathers’ workplaces as an instrument for divorce. The results suggest a causal link between divorce and worse economic outcomes that persists into early adulthood.
After decades of oil price rises, new extraction techniques for shale and conventional deposits mean that recent dramatic price falls will be here to stay. This column argues that, even with oil at $50 a barrel, global producers will invest to catch up with US-led technological innovation and so add 40 million barrels a day to production by 2035. This will revolutionise domestic energy policymaking, environmental commitments and global geopolitics.
The nature of US military interventions has become relevant in the face of new growing threats, particularly from so-called Islamic State. While top-down strategies that rely on overwhelming firepower are sometimes favoured by politicians, longer-term strategies use a bottom-up approach, gaining citizens’ support through civic engagement. This column introduces evidence from US actions during the Vietnam War to show that bottom-up approaches are more successful in countering insurgencies than violent, top-down interventions.
Wage inequality was partly behind the vote for Brexit. This column shows how areas with relatively low median wages were substantially more likely to vote ‘Leave’, and discusses the likely implications of Brexit for wage inequality in the future. Increased likelihood of a recession, a negative shock to trade, reduced migration flows, and the possible loss of passporting rights for the City will all alter the structure of wages in ways that will need to be carefully monitored and studied in due course.
The UK’s Brexit referendum is providing us with the first significant test of the new regulatory system. This column asks whether banks have sufficient capital and liquidity to withstand the ‘shock’. Unless the global financial system as a whole is well capitalised, it remains only as strong as its weakest link. And while the UK authorities have done a reasonable job of strengthening their banks and financial system, a number of large European banks are seriously undercapitalised.
Recent research into how monetary policy frameworks incorporate risks to financial stability has shown that policy affects both financial conditions and financial vulnerabilities that amplify negative shocks. This column argues that looser monetary policy improves financial conditions, but can in some situations worsen vulnerabilities through incentives for financial sector risk-taking and non-financial sector borrowing. Policymakers face an intertemporal trade-off between financial conditions and vulnerabilities which may impact a cost-benefit analysis of monetary policy.
Fiscal multipliers tend to be larger when the fiscal position of governments is stronger. This column argues that the link between fiscal multipliers and fiscal positions is independent of the business cycle. Although multipliers are generally larger in recessions, they are smaller during times of high debt, even during recessions, relative to what they would be if government debt were lower.
Citizens of the UK voted to leave the EU, but voters in Scotland and Northern Ireland expressed a strong wish to remain. Taking a trade perspective, this chapter argues that resolving border issues will be central to finding a Brexit outcome that preserves the UK in its present form. Continued membership of the EEA – with Scotland either a part of the same country or a fellow, independent member – would be the best outcome for the UK.
The recession has left a legacy of non-performing loans on Italian banks’ balance sheets. Policymakers in Italy understand well the importance of correcting their banks’ problems to foster a healthy economic recovery. This column argues that reforming the judicial and extra judicial processes for recovering collateral offers the potential of improving banks’ balance sheets and enhancing financial stability, not only by increasing loan collections directly, but also by improving borrowers’ incentive to service their existing debt.
As the Irish economy is deeply integrated with the UK’s economy, Brexit poses especially severe challenges for Ireland. This column considers a future in which the legal basis for the UK’s economic relations with the EU, and hence with Ireland, is thrown into doubt. A UK withdrawal from the Single Market would raise questions relating to trade ‘re-diversion’, foreign direct investment, the Irish peace agreement, and assured access to British natural gas supplies.
The categorisation of countries into relevant international benchmark indices affects the allocation of capital across borders. The reallocation of countries from one index to another affects not only capital flows into and out of that country, but also the countries it shares indices with. This column explains the channels through which international equity and bond market indices affect asset allocations, capital flows, and asset prices across countries. An understanding of these channels is important in preventing a widening share of capital flows being impacted by benchmark effects.
How can the Irish economy respond to being torn between two neighbours by Brexit? Bob Denham (Econ Films) interviews Patrick Honohan (Trinity College Dublin) on what economic connections do and don’t need to be unpicked, from labour markets to managing the border.
The outcome of the UK’s referendum on EU membership has prompted much soul-searching in the economics profession, which was nearly unanimous in anticipating negative economic consequences from a vote for Brexit. This column presents the July 2016 Centre for Macroeconomics survey of experts, which asked for views on the role played by economic arguments in the referendum outcome, and whether institutional change is needed in the way that the findings of academic economic research – and the views of the profession as a whole – are communicated. While opinions are divided, many of the respondents who do not advocate institutional change still see considerable problems in the relationship of the academic macroeconomic community with policymakers and the public at large.
Household income surveys underestimate income inequality because they fail to capture top incomes. A popular solution is to combine the household survey with data from income tax records, though for countries like Egypt these records are not available, leading to an underestimate of inequality. This column argues that data on house prices can instead be used to estimate the top tail of the income distribution. Using this method the Gini index for urban Egypt increases from a survey-based figure of 0.36, which suggests that it is one of the world’s most equal countries, to 0.47.
Immigration was a major factor – perhaps the major factor – in the Brexit vote. This column asks what the result of the referendum means for the UK’s immigration policy. It looks likely that the UK’s negotiating position may coalesce around an ‘EEA minus’ arrangement. While free movement would not continue as now, this would not imply moving to a system that gives effectively equal treatment to EU and non-EU nationals; there would still be a considerable degree of preference for the former. The negotiations would likely be legally, economically, and politically complex, but this does not mean that it is not worth trying.
The UK’s membership of the EU has been a key factor behind the City of London’s emergence as a leading global financial centre. This column looks at the implications of Brexit for the City. While it is unlikely that many banks or other financial institutions will simply up and leave in the coming months, their expansion and hiring decisions may lean toward the remaining EU member states for some of their operations. And unless the politicians conducting the Brexit negotiations do their utmost to limit the damage, the loss of passporting rights is likely to have a significant negative impact on the UK financial sector.
Increased hostility to immigration has been a key driver of the rise of right-wing populist movements across the world. At the same time, local governments – notably in the US – have designed work programmes to attract immigrant entrepreneurs to their areas. This column explores the types of businesses founded by immigrants and their growth patterns, and examines how these outcomes relate to immigrants’ age at arrival to the US. Immigrant entrepreneurs experience greater volatility – they fail more frequently, but those that persist experience greater employment growth than their native counterparts.
Financial market infrastructures (FMIs) are the backbone of the financial system. Although steps have been taken to make it less likely, if an FMI were to fail it could have catastrophic consequences for financial markets and the economy at large. This column introduces four recommendations from the CEPS Resolution Taskforce for policymakers in case of such an event, based on coordination, timeliness, and remedying the impediments to FMI resolvability.
For over four decades, the EU has managed most international trade policy on behalf of the UK. After Brexit, the UK government will have to reconstitute trade links with EU, with third nations while disentangling the UK from the commitments that the EU made on its behalf in the WTO. This chapter suggests some strategies for the UK government to follow in reconstituting its trade policy. The watch words should be simplicity and cooperation. Maintaining the goodwill of trading partners will be a very high diplomatic priority.
The Brexit vote has created particular uncertainty for London, the EU’s largest financial centre. This column looks at the issues facing the UK’s banking sector in the wake of the referendum: the right to conduct cross-border activity in the EU in future, the impact on flexible recruitment in London, the possibility of diverging UK and EU regulation, and the effect on bank profitability more widely across Europe.
Would losing passporting really be a crisis for the City? Or could the finance sector find a way around newly-imposed restrictions? Bob Denham (Econ Films) asks Patricia Jackson (Atom, Ernst & Young) about the attractiveness of London, the likelihood of a mass exodus and the future of British finance.
Joining the EU raised the level of UK real GDP significantly. This column suggests that leaving the EU will very probably have a negative effect on UK GDP, but history does not tell us how strong this effect will be. However, history does suggest that the notion that there will be a faster rate of long-run trend growth facilitated by Brexit is not persuasive. The obstacles to better supply-side policy are, as ever, to be found in Westminster not in Brussels.
The UK must now formulate and execute an independent trade policy for the first time in over 40 years. This column summarises the catalogue of failure that has been the governance of the world trading system in the 21st century, and proposes Ten Commandments to guide UK trade ministers in the forthcoming negotiations.
In theory, a poor country with a low saving rate but good growth prospects can build up its capital stock by running a large and sustained current account deficit. This column asks whether this is feasible and productive in practice. A substantial number of countries in recent decades have been able to run large current account deficits for as long as ten years, but such episodes typically do not end happily. Foreign finance does not appear to be the cure for countries with low domestic savings.
Open competition is regarded as a crucial ‘preventative tool’ that limits government discretion and abuse of power when awarding procurement contracts. However, various studies have identified numerous drawbacks to using open auctions when contracting is imperfect. This column discusses the effects of increased buyer discretion on public procurement in Italy. Increased discretion raises the number of repeated wins by contractors, suggesting long-term relationships between buyers and sellers. Furthermore, productive buyer-seller relationships appear to outnumber corrupt ones.
Policymakers use a well established traditional accounting method to analyse past paths and predict future paths of debt ratios. But the traditional accounting exercises underemphasise the role of economic growth. This column proposes a simple, extended accounting framework to recognise the importance of growth more fully and explicitly. It quantifies the role of economic growth in debt-to-GDP measurement for Ireland and Italy, who were similarly placed in 2012 but whose paths diverged significantly in subsequent years.
After the Brexit vote, it is obvious to many that globalisation in general, and European integration in particular, can leave people behind – and that ignoring this for long enough can have severe political consequences. This column argues that this fact has long been obvious. As the historical record demonstrates plainly and repeatedly, too much market and too little state invites a backlash. Markets and states are political complements, not substitutes
Several models exist for the UK's relationship with the EU following Brexit. This column argues that from an economic perspective, joining the European Economic Area and retaining access to the Single Market is the best available option. However, given the importance the new UK government – and at least part of the UK public – attaches to imposing controls on immigration from the EU, this option may not be politically viable. The question the UK must address as it debates the aftermath of Brexit is whether the costs of the alternative are a price worth paying.
Food consumption has increased worldwide, concurrent with rising obesity rates. This column draws on five decades of data from 209 countries to identify trends in overall caloric intake as well as the types of foods that provide the calories. The data reveal differences between socioeconomic groups and regions that are likely to have important implications for population health. Preliminary analysis of the economic correlates suggests that GDP per capita, labour force participation and healthcare measures explain much of the rise in caloric intake.
The Greek crisis is one of the worst in history, even in the context of recorded ‘trifecta’ crises – the combination of a sudden stop with output collapse, a sovereign debt crisis, and a lending boom/bust. This column quantifies the role of each of these factors to better understand the crisis and formulate appropriate policy responses. While fiscal consolidation was important in driving the drop in output, it accounted for only for half of that drop. Much of the remainder can be explained by the higher funding costs of the government and private sectors due to the sudden stop.
Lacklustre growth seems to be the new normal almost everywhere in the world except for one area – CEO pay. This column uses data on UK publicly listed firms to examine whether weak governance leads to pay rises for CEOs that are not justified by performance. CEO pay asymmetry – pay responding more to increases in firm performance than to decreases – appears to occur mainly in firms with a low share of institutional owners able to exert external control. CEOs at such firms are also more likely to be paid for ‘luck’, with pay rises rewarding random positive shocks unrelated to performance.
The UK's "Leave" vote could be seen as a vote against globalisation and its uneven impact on different parts of the country, rather than a vote specifically against the EU. The proportions voting for Leave were higher in the Midlands and North of England, where deindustrialisation struck hardest and where average incomes have stagnated. London, the UK's only truly global city, saw growth and a high share of Remain voters. This column argues that the new Conservative administration, swept in by the Brexit vote, should reinforce the very recent policy emphasis on economic growth outside global London and its hinterland.
How much was Brexit a result of the UK’s industrialised regions losing out from globalisation? Bob Denham (Econ Films) talks to Diane Coyle (University of Manchester) to discuss the decimation of communities in the late 80s and early 90s, as well as the failure of policy-makers to fix this ever since.
On 23 June 2016, 52% of British voters decided the UK should leave the European Union, in a decision that went against the advice of most economists. This column assesses the quality of that advice, and argues that while gaps in knowledge may have hindered forecasts, Brexit can essentially be put down to three things: an unnecessary manifesto pledge by David Cameron, a lack of engagement by the City in the Remain campaign, and the pro-Brexit stance of some of the UK's major newspapers.
Student debt has been rapidly rising in the US over the last 20 years. This column explores how this rise is affecting borrowers and the economy today. With the college earnings premium near historical levels, student loans facilitate excellent investments on average, and most borrowers are paying down their debt with little risk to the overall economy. However, borrowers who attend low quality schools or fail to complete a degree face real challenges with repayment.
The positive relationship between wages and firm performance is well established in the literature, but much less is known about the relationship in the university context. This column addresses this gap by matching professors' wages with departmental performance measures from the UK’s Research Excellence Framework. Across the full range of academic disciplines, departments that pay their professors more do appear to perform better. This is driven primarily by the relationship between salary and publications output, with no evidence of a positive relationship between salary and research impact.
There are three trade policy challenges facing the UK outside the EU: it must negotiate a new relationship with the EU, disentangle itself from WTO Agreements it entered into as an EU member, and restore preferential trade with the many dozens of trade partners that are now covered by EU trade agreements. As difficult trade-offs are inevitable in all of these, politicians should decide how the preferences of UK citizens might best map onto these alternative arrangements. This column argues that the optimal solution is to combine future trade arrangements with domestic policies that compensate UK citizens who face the costs of trade agreements.
To some, the Brexit referendum was a failure by economists to persuade UK voters that leaving the EU would entail major economic costs. This column argues for a more nuanced view by making two points. First, it questions whether there really is a consensus about the costs. While all the mainstream estimates were negative, they ranged from rather small to nearly 10% - a range that hardly sounds like a consensus. Moreover, the key mechanism - Brexit's impact on productivity growth - is not something economists really understand. Second, a rational voter could accept the cost as a tolerable price for having greater independence from EU decisions. Economics does not tell us that a voter who makes such a choice is ignorant, irrational, or economically illiterate.
Is labour productivity the most important factor in the UK’s economy post-Brexit? And did economists really have a mostly unanimous voice during the EU referendum? Bob Denham (Econ Films) talks to David Miles (Imperial College London, former MPC) about the rationality of voting to leave and whether freedom of movement really is politically fundamental to the Single Market.
The Global Crisis has renewed debate about the relationship between short-term interest rates and bank risk taking. Theory offers ambiguous and conflicting predictions. This column explores the relationship using confidential bank-level data from the US. Bank risk taking is found to be negatively associated with short-term interest rates, and this is more pronounced for highly capitalised banks. These findings can help inform the design of monetary policy.
The German Council of Economic Advisors recently proposed a mechanism for the orderly restructuring of sovereign debt in the Eurozone. This column argues that the proposal suffers from some inherent weaknesses. The proposal builds on logical errors and embeds well-established ideas in a setup that suffers from serious limitations. It also neglects alternative strategies that favour targeting large debts as soon as possible.
The 23 June 2016 Brexit vote saw British voters reject membership in the European Union. This column introduces a new VoxEU eBook containing 19 essays written by leading economists on a wide array of topics and from a broad range of perspectives.