The migration debate is often harsh and polarised, oscillating from calls for more open borders to promises to build new fences, and contrasting the views of those who emphasise the advantages and benefits from migration flows with those who consider migrants to impose an unnecessary strain on hosting societies. This column introduces a new eBook that offers a brief summary of what economists have learnt about migration in several crucial areas of policymaking, and identifies most of the important questions that still remain to be answered.
In the Brexit referendum on 23 June 2016, the British electorate voted to leave the EU. The vote is widely seen as a watershed moment in British history and European integration. This column asks why some areas vote to leave the EU, and others voted to remain.
Alphabetical order is in many ways a good arrangement, but if your name begins with a letter that is early in the alphabet, it gives you significant and unwarranted advantages. This column – whose authors both have surnames starting with R, one of whom was once recommended a “wonderful paper” on which he was a co-author – proposes a new mechanism for co-authorship. It involves a coin toss to order co-authors, and an institutionally ratified symbol to signal random order. Such a mechanism would be fairer and more efficient, and it would displace alphabetical order through voluntary participation alone.
Electoral participation has declined in advanced democracies in recent years. This column examines the impact of compulsory voting on government policy, assessing whether increasing voter turnout would translate into changes in public policies. Using evidence from Austria, it finds that compulsory voting does not significantly affect government spending, but that the case may be different for countries with historically low turnout.
A substantial body of literature finds significant effects of unemployment rates on crime rates. However, relatively little is known about the direct impact of individual unemployment on individual crime. This column examines the effect of job displacement on crime using 15 years of Danish administrative data. Being subject to a sudden and unexpected mass-layoff is found to increase the probability that an individual commits a crime. However, the findings stress the importance of policies targeting education and income inequality in mitigating crime.
Oliver Hart has been jointly awarded the 2016 Nobel Prize in Economic Sciences with Bengt Holmström "for their contributions to contract theory". This column discusses his contributions, focusing particularly on incomplete contracts.
Policy proposals to offset the effects of global warming would be strengthened if we knew more about the net economic benefits of climate action relative to business-as-usual. This column argues that estimates may understate the future costs of business as usual because of heterogeneous seasonal effects, and because more business sectors than previously assumed suffer a negative impact from increased summer temperatures. The cost of inaction may be equal to one-third of the growth rate of US GDP over the next 100 years.
The October 2016 expert survey of the Centre for Macroeconomics (CFM) and CEPR invited views from a panel of macroeconomists based across Europe on Germany’s trade surplus, its impact on the Eurozone economy, and the appropriate response of German fiscal policy. More than two-thirds of the respondents agree with the proposition that German current account surpluses are a threat to the Eurozone economy. A slightly smaller majority believe that the German government ought to increase public investment in response to the surpluses.
Recently a number of both small and large economies have experienced negative nominal interest rates. This column uses exchange rate data from 2010 to 2016 to demonstrate that negative interest rates seem to have little effect on observable exchange rate behaviour in these economies. While the long-run consequences for the financial sector of negative interest rates are unknown, the short-run effects on exchange rates in the sample are negligible.
Economic geography has typically focused on stylised settings. This column surveys a recent strand of literature that has developed quantitative models of the spatial distribution of economic activity. This ‘quantitative spatial economics’ literature has produced important methodological and theoretical insights that clarify earlier results in stylised settings. The emerging field stands to contribute substantially to economic and public ‘place-based policies’.
The IMF invests significant resources in developing models to estimate equilibrium exchange rates. This column assesses the predictive power of one vintage of IMF exchange rate models during 2006–2011. The models performed exceptionally well at predicting exchange rate movements over the medium run, which is particularly remarkable given that the period covered the unanticipated Global Crisis and the assessments were not shared publicly at the time.
Ben Bernanke famously quipped that monetary policy works in practice, but not in theory. This column bridges the gap between practice and theory in assessing how central banks can influence both of them by intervening in asset markets. To the extent that asset market volatility is driven by shifts in beliefs, the central bank should aim to eliminate that volatility by engaging in countercyclical unconventional monetary policy, which would end up reducing the risk premium.
Banks' payout decisions at the beginning of the financial crisis of 2007-2009 were particularly controversial as the crisis eroded the capital of many banks. Concerns were raised that banks may have engaged in wealth transfer to shareholders, or that they may have been reluctant to reduce dividends to avoid negative signalling. This column examines these arguments using a large dataset on US bank holding companies. Cross-sectional tests do not provide clear-cut evidence of active wealth transfer. Similarly, the evidence on signalling is mixed.
Offshoring and biases in technical change can have observationally equivalent effects on domestic labour demand, which precludes a quantification of their relative impacts. This column shows how biased technical change can be identified by studying global value chains that include all stages of production, both at home and abroad. It finds that technical change has been strongly biased against less-skilled workers, and in favour of high-skilled labour and capital.
The underrepresentation of women in top positions within firms is well documented. One potential contributing factor could be that men and women respond differently to the competitive pressure inherent in firm hierarchies. This column investigates this idea in the context of a two-stage maths competition for students in Spain. Despite male and female students achieving similar grades at school, male students perform better in both stages of the contest. Importantly, the gender gap increases in the second stage, when the competitive pressure is greater.
With Britain’s exit from the EU edging ever closer, so too are the negotiations. So far the focus has been on the future position of the UK. Now the time comes for the remaining 27 member states to understand the implications for them, and to establish a strategy for the EU. This column introduces a new eBook aimed at contributing to the extraordinary challenges that lie ahead.
The booms and busts of real estate prices echo those of the real business cycle. This column looks at the relationship between house price valuations and economic growth in an international context. Taking account of heterogeneity in housing policies across countries, large house price depreciations are found to be positively associated with economic growth. This positive relationship is more pronounced in countries with civil law legal systems.
The valuation of firms, projects, and transactions directly affects investment decisions and the allocation of resources in the economy. But practitioners often dismiss 'academic' valuation techniques. This column uses a survey of valuation professionals to argue that the real-world choice of valuation methods is often arbitrary, and influenced more by professional subgroup than educational background. In which case, we should ask whether finance education beyond bachelor's degrees is merely a sideshow.
While standard microeconomic theory suggests that firms have no power over setting wages when markets are perfectly competitive, this view obviously clashes with the perceptions of the casual observer. This column uses data from Sweden to investigate the extent to which differences in firms’ pay are related to differences in physical productivity. It finds that firms that benefit from positive productivity shocks increase the wages of incumbent workers, and in particular firms among which there is substantial labour mobility. The evolution of productivity among such firms appears to be a crucial determinant of workers’ wages.
Bengt Holmström has been jointly awarded the 2016 Nobel Prize in Economic Sciences with Oliver Hart “for their contributions to contract theory”. This column outlines his key contributions.
Conditional cash transfers are a form of programmatic redistribution that can yield electoral benefits for incumbent parties. This column assesses the electoral impact of conditional cash transfers targeting poor areas in Honduras. Voters responded to the net amount of cash transfers and their timing, but the conditional elements of the transfers were not commonly enforced and the distribution of payments did not always conform to schedule. Electoral incentives to improve implementation do not appear to be strong.
Multinational production has become one of the most important means by which firms serve foreign markets. This column examines the role of multinational firms in aggregate business cycle transmission. The results suggest that the combined impact of all foreign multinationals is small but significant, accounting for about 10% of the productivity shocks in a typical country and leading to a somewhat more synchronised international business cycle.
Europeans work fewer hours than Americans. This column uses new survey data to disentangle the demographic dimensions and the drivers of this gap. In Eastern and Southern Europe, the gap is driven by lower employment rates, while in Western Europe and Scandinavia it is driven by fewer hours worked per person per week. Europe’s more generous holiday allowance alone accounts for between a third and a half of the gap.
In the years preceding the Great Recession there was a dramatic rise in household debt in the US, and an increase in import competition triggered by the expansion of China and other low-wage countries. This column uses consumer credit data to argue that these phenomena are intimately linked. Household debt levels increased significantly in counties where US manufacturing jobs shifted overseas, and regional exposure to import competition explains 30% of the cross-regional variation in the growth in household debt.
A recent UN study claims that a large share of exports from developing countries goes unreported and that smuggling is a likely explanation. But many analysts argue that the discrepancies are statistical errors. This column suggests that although some malfeasance is at play as the trade gap is correlated with tariffs and corruption, this statistical relationship cannot identify countries or shipments that are corrupted. There's smoke, but no smoking gun.
The decline in real interest rates over the past several decades has been the subject of intense policy debate. This column argues that, with the current demographic profile of large older cohorts leading to a population that is disproportionately biased towards saving, we can expect real interest rates to remain low or negative for another 10 to 15 years. The only way for the Eurozone, in particular, to accommodate these excess savings may be to raise its sovereign debt levels.
Economists have argued that corruption in business can potentially grease the wheels of an economy. This column presents evidence from nine Central and Eastern European countries on the effects of bribes on the efficiency with which production factors are allocated across firms. The impact of corruption on capital and labour misallocation is larger the smaller the country, the lower its political stability and the weaker the quality of its regulation. This is evidence against the ‘grease the wheels’ hypothesis.
Effective forecasting of conflict risk could help prevent civil wars. But resource constraints mean that policymakers rarely act until conflict begins because they fear the number of false positive warnings. This column argues that the policy of reacting to violence instead of preventing it cannot be justified, given the accuracy of simple forecasting models such as news analysis.
Africa’s total fertility rate and its dependency ratio have been falling since the 1980s, and are projected to fall further. This column looks at the potential growth effects of the continent's changing demography. The African economy has the potential to grow between 0.5 and 2 percentage points faster over the next five decades than it would without the projected fertility reduction. However, this 'demographic dividend' is dependent on the policies that African governments enact.
The effect of income distribution on aggregate saving has important implications for aggregate demand and global current account imbalances. Drawing on evidence from a panel of high-income OECD countries, this column documents a hump-shaped relationship between inequality and aggregate saving rates. It also shows that the relationship between inequality and saving depends on financial market conditions.
The pro-trade effects of the euro are a clear-cut benefit of Eurozone membership, but scholarly estimates of the size of this effect vary widely. This column uses meta-analysis to argue that the variation stems from inappropriate exclusion of nations and years. When all countries and years available in the data are included, the estimate of the euro trade effect is economically and statistically large, at about 50%.
Explanations for the Eurozone Crisis rely on the notion of cross-country asymmetries. The core-periphery pattern to the EU was first established by Bayoumi and Eichengreen in 1993, prior to the Eurozone. This column replicates their approach to explore whether the euro has strengthened or weakened this pattern. A new ‘coreness index’ indicates that the core-periphery pattern has weakened, and that a new, smaller periphery has emerged.
The blockchain technology underlying Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies is attracting growing interest. This column argues that if transactions facilitated by this technology become pervasive, it will have implications for the conduct (and success) of central bank monetary policy. Central banks should embrace the technologies that underpin cryptocurrencies, or risk being cut out from intermediation and surveillance and also risk payment service providers moving to other currency areas with an institutional environment that is more appealing for buyers and sellers.
The ‘Oil Fund’, Norway’s sovereign wealth fund, is the world’s largest at more than $850 billion. The economic gains from the establishment of the fund have come from applying core insights to improve the risk-return trade-off for the nation’s total wealth. This column presents the recommendations of a government-appointed committee for the strategy of the fund going forward that build on the same core principles.
The current refugee crisis poses an enormous challenge not only to European countries, but to the fundaments and achievements of the EU as a whole. This column discusses how this latest crisis differs from the crisis in the early 1990s, and argues there is a drastic need for a new regulatory framework to replace dated coordination attempts. The framework should be based on two pillars: a coordinated policy that secures Europe’s outer borders and deals with asylum claims before refugees have (illegally) crossed into mainland Europe, and a more equitable allocation mechanism.
Upward social mobility is widely sought but often elusive in highly mobile societies like the US. While previous work has focused on intergenerational transmission of income levels and social prosperity among natives and immigrants, this column studies the intergenerational transmission of health. There is substantial persistence in health status for both natives and immigrants. However, as immigrant families remain in the US for more generations, their children’s health tends to resemble more the health of native children and less the health of their mothers.
Business book writers claim that management quality of some type matters when creating successful firms. But this conventional wisdom has largely defied serious empirical analysis. This column looks at statistical evidence on the productivity response of Chinese firms to minimum wage shocks, and finds that better-managed firms adapt better to adverse competitive shocks. This suggests that management quality matters for this type of adaptability
Central banks responded to the financial crisis by cutting policy rates to prevent deflation and curb the decline in economic activity, but these responses have been anything but temporary. This column explores whether the sticky price channel is still relevant in an environment of persistently low rates. Although the effectiveness of the sticky price channel is limited, monetary policy instead transmits through mortgage debt. The recent period of low rates and low inflation has redistributed income and consumption from savers to mortgage borrowers.
Certain ‘repugnant’ transactions, such as the sale of organs, are prohibited on moral grounds, despite substantial potential efficiency gains. This column uses a survey-based experiment to explore public perceptions of the morality–efficiency trade-off in the context of the US kidney procurement system. Respondents are found to accept higher levels of repugnance for higher levels of efficiency. These results suggest room for efficiency concerns alongside moral and ethical considerations.
The decline in long-term interest rates has nurtured the view of a persistent shift of the natural rate into negative territory. This column argues that existing estimates of the natural rate, based on the New Keynesian model, are likely to be biased downward. It makes a case for introducing long-term risky natural rates into the analysis of monetary policy, which could shed more light on the role of risk attitudes, the structure of financial institutions, and regulation in the determination of potential output and economic activity.
There is ample empirical evidence showing that poor mental health is increasing, but the impact of this on long-run productivity and its implications for the labour market are not well researched. This column outlines two ways in which labour market research can contribute to the study of the impact on mental health of working conditions. It also identifies several channels related to working conditions that affect mental health, and argues that deteriorating mental health adversely affects corporate performance in the long run.
Exceptionally weak global trade growth over recent years has presented a puzzle to academics and policymakers alike. This column presents a study by an expert network across European central banks which suggests that it may actually be the past strength of trade which was exceptional, rather than the subsequent slowdown. The recent deceleration of trade growth can thus be seen as a ‘great normalisation’. The important implication is that an upturn in aggregate demand will not necessarily lead to a significant recovery in global trade.
Conventional economic theory predicts that, outside of a financial crisis, quantitative easing should have no effect on real outcomes or inflation. This column proposes two theoretical channels through which quantitative easing might also work in a fiscal crisis. In this case, quantitative easing can be a valuable tool because it can control the path of inflation over time and reduce the distortions to the credit flow in the economy.
A consensus that the demand for gasoline is price inelastic means that policymakers have opted to disregard price instruments when addressing gasoline consumption and climate change. This column analyses daily citywide data on gasoline prices and consumption to show that demand for gasoline is in fact substantially more elastic than previously thought. This is a major argument in favour of the effectiveness of price-based mechanisms in reducing greenhouse gas emissions.
Systematic assessments of the research performance of academic institutions are increasingly common around the world. A key question for the design of such systems is whether and how bibliometrics should be incorporated. This column argues that bibliometrics can perform well at identifying quality in some fields, while providing cost-effective and transparent review. Peer review is found to be no guarantor of quality, though it may be essential in the evaluation of certain fields.
Fiscal policies in European Economic and Monetary Union states are being reinforced. This column argues that the cyclically adjusted budget balance will be an imprecise tool for measuring fiscal discipline, and structural deficit rules limits are too stringent. If the official methodology is used to trigger corrective fiscal contractions, it may increase macroeconomic instability.
Conventional wisdom on supply and demand suggests that demand shocks are cyclical or transitory, and that only technology shocks are responsible for trend changes. This column argues that cyclical events can have permanent effects on demand, and therefore GDP. It is time for policymakers to start considering the possibility of hysteresis seriously.
The pre-crisis consensus was, and remains, very strong – the business cycle would be managed by monetary policy, while fiscal policy would focus solely on debt sustainability. In a world of zero interest rates, however, fiscal policy has to contribute to supporting aggregate demand and protecting against deflationary risks. This column outlines three ways in which a well-designed expansionary fiscal policy stance can contribute to better economic outcomes.
The US fiscal system underwent a radical transformation in the 1930s. This column proposes a micro-founded general equilibrium model that blends politics and macroeconomics to explain the transformation. It rationalises tax centralisation and intergovernmental grants as the equilibrium response to the Sixteenth Amendment, which introduced federal taxation. The theory can also be used to forecast federal and regional taxes and government spending.
Understanding why the long-term unemployed have so much more trouble finding work is fundamental for characterising what happens during recessions. This column argues that rather than a change in the probability of any given unemployed individual finding a job, it was a change in the composition of people newly flowing into unemployment – which can arise for example from mismatch between idiosyncratic worker characteristics and available jobs – that was the key reason unemployment went so high and took so long to come down during the Great Recession.
The public mechanical clock, which first appeared in European cities in the late 13th century, was one of the most important innovations in history. This column looks at the impact on growth of the arrival of this general purpose technology. European cities that were quick to install mechanical clocks enjoyed greater growth than late adopters. However, it takes some time for the effects from fundamental innovations of this type to be realised because the technology must be accepted both culturally and socially and then applied to related economic activities.
With the US presidential debates, talk of trade protectionism is on the rise. This is worrisome for economists, who generally argue that protection hurts consumers by raising final good prices, particularly in a world with increasingly integrated global value chains. This column presents new evidence for ‘cascading protection’, showing that US protection of inputs has increased the probability of petitions for protection by their downstream users.
The international competitiveness of industries has received much scholarly attention, but this research has tended to focus on Europe and North America. This column examines the competitiveness of industries in six Asian countries. Global value chain income is increasing in China, India, and Indonesia. And unlike workers in EU countries, workers in the Asian countries have benefited from this increased competitiveness.
In 1953, the Western Allied powers approved the London Debt Agreement, a radical plan to eliminate half of Germany’s external debt and create generous repayment conditions for the remainder. Using new data from the historical monthly reports of the Deutsche Bundesbank, this column argues that the agreement spurred economic growth by creating fiscal space for public investment, lowering costs of borrowing, and stabilising inflation.
The rising share of income accruing to housing is a key feature of the changing US income distribution. This column examines the determinants of this phenomenon. The rise occurred due to an increasing share of income accruing to owner-occupiers through imputed rent, it is concentrated in states that are constrained in terms of new housing supply, and it is closely associated with the long-run decline in real interest rates and inflation.
Boosting Africa’s intra-regional and international trade requires a good understanding of the African trade finance landscape, including the identification of markets where the need is greatest. This column presents some of the major patterns of the market in Africa using primary survey data from commercial banks. Banks intermediate almost a third of trade activities across the continent, but still reject a significant value of trade finance applications mainly due to weak client creditworthiness and inadequate collateral.
The increasing polarisation of politics in the US in particular has spurred scholarly research on the potential links to increasing globalisation. This column focuses instead on Germany to investigate whether the rise of right-wing populism is associated with increased international trade. Regions most threatened by exposure to imports saw increases in support for far-right parties, while regions that benefited from export opportunities saw decreases. To counter this globalisation backlash, policy should aim to cushion the effects of trade exposure on the losers from globalisation.
Many policies have been put in place to constrain the expansion of banks across economic borders, in part to avoid them becoming too big and interconnected to fail. However, some argue that such expansion can reduce risk. This column evaluates the impact of geographic expansion on the cost of a bank’s interest-bearing liabilities. Geographic diversification materially lowers bank holding companies’ funding costs, suggesting there is a real cost of restricting banks from using geographic expansion to diversify their risks.
When the financial sector is constrained and monetary stimulus is needed the most, flattening the yield curve is not enough – quantitative easing affects the real economy through a direct-lending channel that depends crucially on the type of assets purchased. This column argues that the Fed’s decision to purchase mortgage-backed securities (rather than exclusively Treasuries) during its first phase of quantitative easing increased mortgage-refinancing activity by $600 billion and had significant effects on aggregate consumption. It also highlights an important complementarity between quantitative easing and countercyclical macroprudential policies such as loan-to-value ratio caps.
A major problem in many poor countries is lack of state capacity to control violence, enforce laws, tax and regulate economic activity, or provide public services. This column uses the example of Colombia to assess the effectiveness of top-down state-building strategies that prioritise military objectives ahead of all others. Such approaches may not only fail to develop other crucial aspects of state capacity, but may also lead to deteriorations in these incipient capacities.
The Global Crisis has led many to conclude that maturity and liquidity mismatch in the financial system prior to the Crisis were excessive and not properly addressed by the existing regulatory framework. This column looks at the justification for the new minimum standard aimed at reducing banks' maturity mismatch – the net stable funding ratio – and assesses its likely impact. While the rationale for limiting banks’ maturity mismatch is strong, the reduction in maturity transformation achieved with the new standard is likely to be too drastic, actually implying a net welfare loss.
Multinational firms may invest in tax havens to avoid taxation in non-haven countries, but other motives, such as business opportunities in these countries, may also drive such investment. This column uses data on German firms to investigate the motives for tax haven investment. Tax avoidance does appear to be a motive, particularly for manufacturing firms. Policies that raise the costs of reallocating profits maybe be effective in attenuating firms’ use of tax havens.
Some economists see currently faltering GDP growth as part of a longer-term trend for advanced economies, reflecting their belief that the bulk of technological innovation is now behind humankind. This column argues that neither history nor the present-day pace of scientific discovery supports the notion of diminishing returns to technological innovation. The challenge for growth economists is that analytic models are poorly suited to capturing and setting society’s expectations for these impending disruptions.
The global financial safety net is one of the key infrastructures of financial globalisation. However, its current constellation does not reflect a coherent design, but rather the interaction of different instruments used for different purposes and developed over time. This column presents the first database that brings together all of the relevant data for assessing the global financial safety net, including foreign exchange reserves, IMF instruments, regional financing arrangements, and central bank swap lines. An analysis shows that the availability of the net helps to cushion the effects of capital flow reversals.
During the Global Crisis, trade in goods collapsed dramatically. Surprisingly, however, trade in services continued its upward trend. This column discusses how goods and services exporters reacted to the crisis and suggests that services exports are less sensitive to income shocks in destination countries.
Big data stands to transform economic measurement in substantial ways. The volume and precision of data available allows economists to revisit the foundational assumptions underpinning common indexes. This column presents a new empirical methodology that leverages big data to translate nominal numbers into real output or welfare. ‘The unified approach’ nests major price indexes and addresses implicit biases in these measures. An examination with barcode data suggests that standard methods of measuring welfare overstate cost of living increases by ignoring new products and demand shifts.
In a world where production is increasingly fragmented across borders, a large number of firms import their raw material inputs from abroad. This column investigates how firms’ input and output choices are affected by import tariffs on inputs that domestic firms use in production. Based on firm-product level data for India, it finds that firms decrease their use of inputs subject to the tariff, relative to other inputs. Firms also decrease their sales of outputs made of these inputs, relative to other outputs.
The evolution of earnings over the business cycle has important implications for consumption and welfare. This column shows that the earnings of new hires in Ireland – and in particular, new hires with less valuable outside options – are substantially more flexible than those of incumbents during a recession. The results indicate that search and matching models that rely on the rigidity of wages of new hires to generate realistic volatility in job creation and unemployment may not be appropriate for strong business cycles.
Economists increasingly emphasise the role of financial literacy in explaining savings, investment, and retirement planning decisions. This column uses data from a nationwide survey in Japan to investigate the relationship between financial literacy and late-life anxiety. Financial literacy appears to reduce anxiety by making people both financially and psychologically prepared for old age.