June 2017

Gros, 30 June 2017, 10413 reads

Trade liberalisation has been a significant driver of globalisation over the past half century, but global trade has slowed in recent years. This column argues that globalisation can also be driven by higher commodity prices, as commodities constitute a large fraction of global trade. This is reflected in trade volumes and commodity prices, which increased until around 2014 but have fallen since. Commodity price-driven globalisation implies lower living standards in advanced countries, as the higher commodity prices diminish the purchasing power of workers. 

Baldwin, 30 June 2017, 6655 reads

Vox is ten years old this month. Since the launch, over 6,000 of the world’s top economists have published on the site, including 17 Nobel Prize winners. Readership has grown to the point where we get between 400,000 and 500,000 page views per month from over 150,000 readers. This column recaps the thinking behind the creation of the site, and describes how Vox’s ‘voice’ grew in importance during the Subprime Crisis, the Global Crisis and the Eurozone Crisis.

Monnery, 30 June 2017, 4378 reads

Post-war Hong Kong delivered one of the most dramatic improvements in living standards in history, a transformation regarded by Milton Friedman as an experiment in the potential impact of economic freedom on economic growth. This column assesses the contribution of one key official – finance minister Sir John Cowperthwaite – whose laissez-faire approach of ‘positive non-interventionism’, much admired by Friedman, underpinned that success. It also explores, 20 years on from the handover to China, whether a second stage of the Hong Kong economic experiment might be in progress, perhaps leading to faltering freedom and faltering growth.

Bulow, Geanakoplos, 30 June 2017, 5701 reads

After another six months of discussions, Greek debt negotiations succeeded in once again kicking the can down the road. This column analyses how sophisticated and experienced negotiators like the IMF, the Eurozone leadership, and by now even the Greeks, could have let negotiations drag out for so many years, and goes on to propose a plan which might be just radical enough to meet the needs of all parties.

Javorcik, Lo Turco, Maggioni, 29 June 2017, 5839 reads

Recent research suggests that foreign direct investment makes it more likely that host countries upgrade production. Using the example of Turkey, this column shows that while the presence of foreign affiliates does not seem to affect the propensity of firms to innovate, it is positively correlated with the complexity level of products newly introduced by local supplier firms. Foreign direct investment inflows appear to act as a catalyst to develop sophisticated manufacturing, and should be promoted as part of a domestic industrial policy.

Abuka, Alinda, Minoiu, Peydró, Presbitero, 29 June 2017, 5575 reads

Existing studies suggest that the effects of monetary policy in developing countries on credit and the real economy are weak. This column challenges this view using rich loan-level credit register data from Uganda. It shows that monetary policy tightening significantly reduces credit supply – especially for banks with greater leverage and sovereign debt exposure – and identifies spillovers on inflation and economic activity. The effects are larger in more financially developed areas, highlighting the importance of financial development for policy effectiveness.

Ikeuchi, Motohashi, Tamura, Tsukada, 28 June 2017, 5283 reads

There is growing interest in measuring the scientific aspects of industrial innovation and performance to understand the economic impact of publicly funded R&D. This column presents new indicators for science-industry linkages in Japan based on a novel dataset combining academic research paper data, patent data, and economic census data. It finds that the academic sector is getting more involved in patenting activities, and that scientific knowledge generated in the sector is being utilised not only in science-based industries, but also in many others.

Amiti, Dai, Feenstra, Romalis, 28 June 2017, 12032 reads

China has become the world’s largest exporter, with a rapid rise in its world trade share just after it joined the WTO in 2001. This column finds that China’s WTO entry reduced the US manufacturing price index by 7.6% between 2000 and 2006, with most of this effect arising from China reducing its own import tariffs. US consumers gained because they paid less for manufactured goods and because they had access to more varieties of goods.

Le Barbanchon, Rathelot, Roulet, 27 June 2017, 5529 reads

The generosity of unemployment insurance can influence the time and energy job seekers dedicate to searching for a job, as well as the jobs they are willing to accept. Yet we know little about how unemployment insurance affects the reservation wages of the unemployed. Using new French data, this column shows that increasing unemployment generosity does not affect the reservation wages or the ‘pickiness’ of job seekers.

Levine, Lin, Wang, 26 June 2017, 4226 reads

While the causes and consequences of mergers have received a lot of scholarly attention, geographic factors have thus far been neglected. Using US data, this column argues that greater geographic overlap of the subsidiaries and branches of two bank holding companies increases the likelihood of the two merging, and also boosts the cumulative abnormal returns of the acquirer, target, and merged companies. It also discusses how network overlap can affect synergies and value creation.

Auboin, Borino, 26 June 2017, 9559 reads

In recent years there has been debate over whether the global trade slowdown and related fall in trade-to-income elasticity was structural or cyclical. This column estimates the standard import equation for 38 advanced and developing economies using an import intensity-adjusted measure of aggregate demand. This measure allows the authors to predict 90% of changes in global imports. The slowdown in global value chains explains more than half of the remaining share of the global trade slowdown, while protectionism does not appear to be statistically significant.

Kanbur, 25 June 2017, 6508 reads

Political economy discourses in areas such as the nature of market failure, the case for government intervention on grounds of efficiency and equity, and the interplay between economic and political forces have run for generations. This column provides an overview of the life of Nobel Prize-winning economist W Arthur Lewis, who was a critic of laissez-faire economic policies, but who also acted as a check on extreme statist interventions, arguing against heavy state subsidy to industry on purely economic grounds.

Nunn, Sanchez de la Sierra, 25 June 2017, 10418 reads

Beliefs about origins, life after death, and rituals that activate supernatural processes to help people navigate life, despite being almost certainly incorrect, are common in developing countries. This column examines the role of ‘magical’ beliefs in warfare in the context of the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Belief in a spell that offers protection from bullets helped villagers liberate their village, and others in the area, from militias, providing an example of how the ‘right’ amount of ‘wrong’ beliefs can achieve a socially efficient outcome.

Balleer, Hristov, Menno, 24 June 2017, 4951 reads

Research into the aggregate effects of financial frictions in the economy generally assume that they do not affect whether (and which) firms adjust prices, something this column argues that should be taken into account. In particular, financial frictions change the composition of firms that reset prices and cause the degree of nominal price rigidity to vary over the business cycle, which has important consequences for how inflation and output respond to aggregate shocks.

Gradstein, Klemp, 23 June 2017, 5025 reads

A large literature has argued that natural resources have a negative effect on economic development. The Brazilian data used in this column fail to confirm these findings. Economic activity, as measured using night-time light data, increases more during periods of rising oil prices in localities with better access to oil.  Oil revenue windfalls accruing to oil-rich locations and spillovers to adjacent locations drive this effect. 

Biancotti, Cristadoro, Di Giuliomaria, Fazio, Partipilo, 23 June 2017, 8906 reads

Cybersecurity is becoming a vital concern for the functioning of a modern economy. This column argues that the threat of cyber attacks should be tackled economy-wide, with economic policies aimed at overcoming the externalities and information asymmetries that lead to suboptimal protection choices on the part of private agents. There is an urgent need for an improved understanding of microeconomic mechanisms in the cybersecurity market, and for reliable data upon which policy design can be based.

Bricongne, Turrini, 22 June 2017, 4888 reads

Since 2011, EU macroeconomic surveillance has aimed at preventing or correcting the type of imbalances that were responsible for the Global Crisis. Surveillance under the Macroeconomic Imbalance Procedure implies regular reports and policy recommendations monitored by the Commission, and the possible activation of economic sanctions. This column shows that, despite the procedure not having been used to its full extent so far and the sanctions stage not having been reached yet, the surveillance and recommendations have had an impact on policies in the first years of implementation. 

Hamilton, 22 June 2017, 15916 reads

In economic research, the Hodrick-Prescott filter is a widely used tool for removing cyclical components from time-series data. This column argues that, despite its popularity, the HP filter has serious drawbacks that should severely restrict its application. It involves several levels of differencing, so that for random walk series, subsequently observed patterns are likely to be artefacts of having applied the filter, rather than due to the underlying data-generating process. The column goes on to suggest an alternative to the HP filter that avoids these pitfalls. 

Gandal, Hamrick, Moore, Oberman, 22 June 2017, 46135 reads

The cryptocurrency Bitcoin has attracted widespread interest, in large part due to wild swings in its valuation. This column considers an earlier rise in the Bitcoin price to investigate what is driving the currency’s price spikes. The 2013 rise was caused by fraudulent trades taking place at the largest Bitcoin currency exchange at the time. This finding has implications for policymakers as they weigh what, if anything, to do about regulating cryptocurrencies in light of the record high Bitcoin valuation that many fear is a bubble.

Editors, 22 June 2017, 9678 reads

VoxEU is pleased to announce the launch of its new sister site – VoxDev.org. VoxDEV will focus on development issues, posting research-based analysis and commentary by leading economists. The Editor-in-Chief is Tavneet Suri, Professor of Economics at MIT.

Mattern, Mischke, 21 June 2017, 7047 reads

Germany’s large trade surplus is once again at the centre of controversy. This column argues that instead of being on the defensive about its competitive exports, Germany should look to reduce its current account surplus by making itself more competitive in the long term through smart investment in digital and other infrastructure.

Alesina, Stantcheva, Teso, 21 June 2017, 11319 reads

Americans are generally thought to view the economic system as fair and see wealth as a reward for ability and effort, while Europeans tend to believe that the economic system is unfair, and that wealth is the result of circumstances. This column tests this using new evidence on beliefs about intergenerational mobility in four European countries and the US, and confirms that Europeans do indeed tend to be overly pessimistic about moving up the social ladder compared to reality, while Americans are overly optimistic. These perceptions have important implications for how redistribution and equal opportunity policies will be received.

Hatton, 20 June 2017, 5769 reads

While immigration preferences have been studied extensively, less attention has been paid to the public’s assessment of the importance of immigration as a policy issue. Using survey data from 17 European countries, this column shows that the drivers of immigration preference and salience are very different. Both immigration preference and salience should be taken into account when assessing the effect of immigration attitudes on policy. 

Amiti, Farhi, Gopinath, Itskhoki, 19 June 2017, 5688 reads

One component of the Republicans’ cash-flow tax proposal for corporate reform in the US is the inclusion of a border adjustment tax. This column, taken from a recent VoxEU.org eBook, assesess this politically controversial and often misconstrued tax adjustment that makes export sales deductible from the corporate tax base, while expenditure on imported goods would not be deductible. 

Cagé, Hervé, Viaud, 19 June 2017, 8316 reads

The rise of news consumption through social media and the ‘fake news’ phenomenon has raised doubt over the value of original news production. This column uses a comprehensive dataset of French news content produced in 2013 to assess the commercial returns to original news production. It finds that media outlets with a larger fraction of original content do tend to receive greater audiences.

Takeda, Keida, 18 June 2017, 5707 reads

Communication strategies have become a policy instrument used by central banks to control expectations. This column uses a natural language processing method to explore the Bank of Japan’s communication strategy from July 2012 to November 2016, a period during which both Masaaki Shirakawa and Haruhiko Kuroda held office. The analysis suggests that since 2016, when the Bank introduced a negative interest rate policy, Kuroda's communication strategy has changed implicitly.

Jaworski, 17 June 2017, 4380 reads

Mobilisation for WWII is typically credited as having spurred the industrialisation of the American South, where industrial development had previously been stymied. Using newly collected data, this column revisits this hypothesis. Unlike earlier studies, the results do not support a decisive role for wartime capital deepening on the South’s post-war industrial development. While the results don’t rule out some positive effects of WWII investment, they suggest it may have had limited usefulness in post-war, non-military production.

Genakos, Valletti, Verboven, 16 June 2017, 4181 reads

Europe is experiencing a wave of mergers in the telecommunications industry. This column argues that an increase in market concentration in the mobile industry generates an important potential trade-off: while consolidation increases prices, investment per operator also goes up. Competition and regulatory authorities should be open to the potential trade-off between market power effects and efficiency gains from agreements between firms.

Meissner, Tang, 16 June 2017, 8028 reads

Economists have long been interested in the dynamics of comparative advantage, but have only recently begun to use detailed product-level data in their analysis. This column examines the Japanese experience after the liberalisation of the 1850s. It suggests that trade costs, destination market demand conditions, and product specific factors played key roles in Japanese exports growth. Roughly 30% of growth in exports between 1880 and 1910 came from shipping new goods to new countries, selling new goods to extant trade partners, and introducing existing products to new countries.

Fujii, Managi, 16 June 2017, 10439 reads

Patent applications are a good indicator of the nature of technological progress. This column compares trends in applications for artificial intelligence patents in Japan and the US. One finding is that the Japanese market appears to be less attractive for artificial intelligence technology application, perhaps due to its stricter regulations on the collection and use of data.

Ghani, O'Connell, 15 June 2017, 7806 reads

There are concerns that the premature deindustrialisation experienced by low-income countries in Africa and South Asia will negatively affect their growth. This column argues that this is not the case, since services, rather than manufacturing, are driving growth in the developing world. While demographics and urbanisation can help growth in low-income countries, the low quality of physical infrastructure is a major challenge.

Papaioannou, Frankema, 15 June 2017, 4274 reads

Tropical Asia has historically hosted larger and denser agricultural civilisations than tropical Africa. Using colonial-era rainfall and population data, this column explores the role of climatological conditions in the development of dense rural populations in the two regions. Rainfall shocks were both more frequent and severe in Africa than in Asia, lending support to the argument that ecological barriers to agricultural intensification were more challenging in tropical Africa than elsewhere.

Mayda, Peri, 14 June 2017, 5634 reads

President Trump has signed several Executive Orders that point in the direction of a much more restrictive immigration policy. This column, taken from a recent VoxEU eBook, assesses the likely economic impact of such a change in policy. It argues that what is really needed is improved efficiency, flexibility, and allowing more freedom to individuals and markets, including the labour market – not the imposition of more restrictions and constraints.

Guvenen, Mataloni, Rassier, Ruhl, 14 June 2017, 6214 reads

US multinational enterprises may legally shift profits from high tax countries (like the US) to low tax countries (like Bermuda). This column uses unpublished survey data to show how this causes part of the US economic activity generated by these multinational enterprises to be attributed to their overseas affiliates, leading to an understatement of measured US GDP and, in turn, productivity. Profit-shifting activity has increased significantly since the mid-1990s, resulting in an understatement of the growth rate of US productivity.

Alfaro, Asis, Chari, Panizza, 13 June 2017, 5627 reads

Leverage levels in emerging market firms rose dramatically in the aftermath of Global Crisis. This column examines whether concerns of a repeat of the Asian financial crisis, which was largely attributed to corporate financial roots, are justified. While firm financial fragility is more widespread, it is less severe than in the period preceding the Asian Financial Crisis. However, certain large firms with high levels of foreign currency leverage are a potential key source of vulnerability in the transmission of adverse shocks such as exchange rate depreciations. 

Kanbur, 13 June 2017, 6782 reads

With the World Bank now far from the only game in town in providing development finance, this column argues that it should focus on issues which are truly global in scope, but questions the suitability of the World Bank’s signature instrument, the sovereign loan. The international community does rely on the Word Bank for one global public good – global consensus building – but the current situation of veto power in the hands of a US government which does not acknowledge global public good issues, as evidenced by its withdrawal from the Paris accord, is potentially lethal for perceived and actual independence in consensus building.

Cosar, Demir, 13 June 2017, 21305 reads

Container shipping is considered to be one of the drivers of globalisation. This column uses micro-level data to show evidence that confirms the role of 'the box' in the global economy: it implies significant cost savings and explains a significant amount of the global trade increase since its inception. The results also suggest that most of its trade-increasing effect has already been realised.

Asamoah, Hanedar, Shang, 12 June 2017, 4513 reads

Despite a growing consensus in favour of reform of costly and environmentally damaging energy price subsidies, many countries remain resistant. This column takes stock of recent developments using an updated energy price database. Environmental concerns seem to be playing a larger role in driving reform, but most reforming countries are found to have been facing large fiscal imbalances. These countries may need additional, deeper measures for the reforms to last.

Gros, 12 June 2017, 4937 reads

Exiting from unconventional monetary policies is now a key issue for central banks, and especially for the US Federal Reserve. This column argues that the Fed already began this exit some time ago, and that the relevant part of its balance sheet has already shrunk by about one quarter of GDP. Pursuing the current policy of reinvesting would lead to a full exit within ten years.

Buchmueller, Levy, 11 June 2017, 5266 reads

The Affordable Care Act (ACA), enacted in 2010, was intended to address long- standing problems with the American system of health care and health insurance. This column, taken from a new VoxEU eBook, reviews the main provisions of the ACA related to insurance coverage and healthcare costs, including what is known so far about their impact. It also discusses the recent Republican attempt to ‘repeal and replace’ the law.

Guner, Kaygusuz, Ventura, 10 June 2017, 4734 reads

Childcare subsidy provision in the US remains substantially lower than in many other developed economies. This column compares the potential effects of expanding three existing subsidy programmes in the US. It also argues, however, that amassing majority support for the expansion of any of the programmes would be difficult given the relatively few number of households the transfers benefit. 

Galiani, Gálvez, 10 June 2017, 7872 reads

Researchers are evaluated using citation counts, often with a cut-off date. But this column shows that the lifecycle of citations differs between disciplines, with some subjects having earlier peaks or steeper declines in annual citations than others. These differences should be taken into account when evaluating researchers or institutions.

Berman, Couttenier, Rohner, Thoenig, 09 June 2017, 5260 reads

Countries that are rich in natural resources do not always prosper economically. This column uses data on conflict and mineral extraction in Africa to argue that recent rises in mineral prices explain up to a quarter of local conflicts between 1997 and 2010. Mining-induced violence is associated with foreign ownership, although corporate social responsibility policies were associated with less violence. This is relevant to the US debate on whether to scrap the legal requirement to disclose whether products contain conflict minerals. 

Keller, Olney, 09 June 2017, 15454 reads

Growing income inequality has been a hallmark of developed economies over the past few decades. Despite a large empirical literature exploring the determinants of this trend, to date few studies have explored the role of globalisation. Using US data on executive compensation, this column argues that while firm size, technology, and poor governance have all contributed to the growth in top incomes, globalisation is just as important in explaining the trend.

Ivaldi, 08 June 2017, 8896 reads

The COEURE project has evaluated the strengths and weaknesses of European research in economics. This column presents a manifesto for ensuring that economics in Europe continues to thrive in testing times. The authors argue that European economists must prioritise communication with policymakers and the public, and increase both the quantity and quality of their published work. They also suggest twelve of the most urgent fields of study on which European research funding should be focused.

Ericsson, 08 June 2017, 5219 reads

Decisions by the Fed's Federal Open Market Committee are based in part on the Greenbook forecasts. These forecasts are produced by the Federal Reserve Board’s staff and are presented to the FOMC prior to their policy meetings, but are not made public for another five years. This column shows that the minutes of those FOMC meetings can help infer the Fed staff's Greenbook forecasts of the US real GDP growth rate, years before the Greenbook's public release. The FOMC minutes are thus highly informative about a key input to monetary policymaking.

Freund, 07 June 2017, 6733 reads

In assessing the underlying causes of the US’ significant trade deficits, the Trump administration’s focus appears to be on alleged unfair trade practices of foreign countries. This column argues that international trade policy has a negligible effect on trade balances. The aggregate US trade deficit results from macroeconomic pressures, while bilateral deficits are due to structural factors, supply chains, and how trade is measured. 

Ali Abbas, Hardy, Kim, Pienkowski, 06 June 2017, 4136 reads

The theoretical benefits of state-contingent debt instruments for sovereigns – such as GDP-linked and extendible bonds – have been advocated by academics for several decades, but only recently have the practical constraints and considerations been explored in detail. This column summarises this more recent work, highlighting key findings on instrument design and on broader market development prospects. 

Anthony, Balta, Best, Nadeem, Togo, 06 June 2017, 4262 reads

The case for state-contingent debt instruments, linking contractual debt to a pre-defined variable, has been theorised but not developed. This column gives a historical perspective of the issuance of these instruments to alleviate liquidity and/or solvency pressures on the sovereign in ‘normal times’ and during restructurings. It also discusses the valuable lessons that inflation-linked bonds provide for development of the state-contingent debt instrument market.

Best, Dielmann, Greene, Nor, 06 June 2017, 4605 reads

State-contingent debt instruments could provide sovereigns with additional policy space in bad states of the world. This column presents an Excel-based tool that allows debt managers and investors to explore the impact of different designs of such instruments on public debt and gross financing needs under user-specified macroeconomic scenarios (both baseline and shocks). Illustrative results show the potential benefits of different bond designs on both debt and gross financing needs.

Orphanides, 06 June 2017, 7116 reads

Results of actions taken by central banks across advanced economies in response to the Global Crisis have been uneven in allaying fears regarding debt sustainability. This column compares the cases of Italy and Japan to that of Germany to examine whether monetary policy actions since the crisis have become a more important driver of debt dynamics than fiscal policy actions. In contrast to Japan, where in the past few years decisive monetary policy actions have allayed fiscal concerns, in Italy monetary policy decisions appear to have contributed to debt sustainability concerns.  

Bown, 05 June 2017, 12494 reads

The Presidency of Donald J. Trump has unleashed a barrage of potential changes to US economic policymaking and the economy. This column introduces a new VoxEU eBook which examines many of the major economic policy issues and challenges arising under the new US administration. The eBook includes 18 chapters by leading economists across a range of areas in domestic and international economic policy. Many chapters are sharply critical of the Trump administration’s new approach.

Bown, 05 June 2017, 4733 reads

Chad Bown talks to Bob Denham about his new eBook "Economics and policy in the Age of Trump". The eBook includes 18 chapters by leading economists across a range of areas in domestic and international economic policy. Many chapters are sharply critical of the Trump administration’s new approach.

Gerlach, 05 June 2017, 6236 reads

In many economies, inflation may have remained stubbornly low during the recovery because their Phillips curves have become flatter. This column uses an analysis of Swiss data since 1916 that support this argument. The most recent structural break in the Swiss Phillips curve occurred in 1994, when it became much flatter. Previous structural breaks suggest that this has been a change from an above-average to a below-average slope, not a collapse from the long-term normal level.

Mechtenberg, Muehlheusser, Roider, 04 June 2017, 7206 reads

Whistle-blowing by employees is important for uncovering corporate fraud. This column studies the effectiveness of recent laws and policy recommendations that aim to enhance willingness to report incidents and to increase deterrence by improving the protection of whistle-blowers. Easily attainable protection leads to more truthful reports, but also to more fraudulent claims, which makes prosecutors less likely to investigate and hampers deterrence. More stringent requirements for protection dampen these unintended side effects.

Olivetti, Petrongolo, 03 June 2017, 7338 reads

Family-oriented policies – such as parental leave, childcare support, and flexible work arrangements – are in place in all high-income countries, as well as several developing countries. This column assesses the labour market impacts of these policies, based on a review of the literature and data on 30 OECD countries over 45 years. While there is no clear consensus, a general theme is that policies that make it easier to be a working mother, such as subsidised childcare, seem to have better labour market outcomes than extending parental leave.

Alesina, Tabellini, Trebbi, 02 June 2017, 8989 reads

Doubts remain over whether Europe has the right fundamentals to foster greater political integration. This column compares the attitudes of European citizens in a number of social and political areas, and finds that differences are no greater between countries than within countries. The real obstacle is not divergence of ideas and interests but nationalism, and the need to strengthen a common European identity, partly at the expense of national identities, is the most complex obstacle on the path of political integration.

Hulten, Nakamura, 02 June 2017, 11640 reads

Conventional growth theory characterises innovation as ‘resource-saving’, in the sense that it allows the same output to be produced with fewer resources. This column introduces a sources-of-welfare growth model that also includes a measure of ‘output-saving’ innovation, which arises from the expanded scope and efficiency in consumer choice recently brought about by the Internet economy and smartphones. The findings highlight how various new kinds of intangible capital complicate the measurement of GDP.

Freund, 01 June 2017, 15856 reads

Many analysts have argued that Trump’s promises to bring back US manufacturing paved the way for his election victory. This column compares electoral data from 2016 with previous elections and argues that education and race were far bigger factors than a county’s share of manufacturing jobs in determining the change in its voting from the 2012 election. In addition, relatively low voting rates among Democratic voters were a bigger contributor to the results than high voting rates among Republicans. Trump did not win the white working class, Clinton lost it.

Wallenius, Groneck, 01 June 2017, 5568 reads

At the individual level, social security is a strong source of redistribution from rich to the poor in the US, due to the concavity of the pension formula. But this column argues that spousal and survivor benefits, which are important sources of retirement income for women, introduce regressive redistributive elements to social security and also provide incentives for even highly educated women to stay at home if they are married to a high earner. A means-tested minimum benefit would simultaneously increase overall labour supply and reduce inequality, compared to the current system.