The rise of economic inequality is one of today’s most hotly debated issues. But a disconnect between the different data sets used to measure and understand inequality makes it hard to address important economic and policy questions. In this column, the authors highlight the findings from their attempt to create inequality statistics for the US that overcome the limitations of existing data by creating distributional national accounts.
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Kenneth Arrow, co-recipient of the 1972 Nobel Memorial Prize in Economic Sciences, passed away in February. This column outlines the ideas of one of the transcendent minds in the history of economics. The author, holder of a chair named in Arrow’s honour, notes that while his contributions were central in creating much of what constitutes modern quantitative social science, he was always profoundly aware of the limitations of the edifice, constantly seeking to challenge and broaden economic theory.
As robots and other computer-assisted technologies take over tasks previously performed by labour, there is increasing concern about the future of jobs and wages. This column discusses evidence that industrial robots reduced employment and wages between 1990 and 2007. Estimates suggest that an extra robot per 1,000 workers reduces the employment to population ratio by 0.18-0.34 percentage points and wages by 0.25-0.5%. This effect is distinct from the impacts of imports, the decline of routine jobs, offshoring, other types of IT capital, or the total capital stock.
Austerity policies implemented during the Great Recession have been blamed for the slow recovery in several European countries. Using data from 29 advanced economies, this column shows that austerity policies negatively affect economic performance by reducing GDP, inflation, consumption, and investment. It also warns that efforts to reduce debt through austerity in the depths of the economic recession were counterproductive.
The idea of comparative advantage is an essential part of every economists’ intellectual toolkit. On the 200th anniversary of the publication of “On the Principles of Political Economy and Taxation”, this column salutes David Ricardo’s achievement of setting out the theory for comparative advantage for the first time.
Higher capital ratios are unlikely to prevent a financial crisis. This is empirically true both for the entire history of advanced economies from 1870 to 2013 and for the post-WW2 period, and holds both within and between countries. The authors of this column reach this conclusion using newly collected data on the liability side of banks’ balance sheets in 17 countries. However, higher capital buffers have social benefits in terms of macro-stability: recoveries from financial crisis recessions are much quicker with higher bank capital.
Corporate saving has increased relative to GDP and corporate investment across the world over the past three decades, reflecting how the global decline in the labour has led to increased corporate profits. This column characterises these trends using national income accounts and firm-level data, and relates them to firm characteristics and the accumulation of financial assets. In response to declines in the components of the cost of capital, a model with capital market imperfections generates an increase in corporate saving similar to that found in the data.
Many commentators have portrayed Britain’s referendum decision to leave the EU as being motivated by a popular rejection of globalisation. This column argues that in seeking to understand the economic basis of the Brexit vote, we should concentrate not on globalisation but on the long-term impact of de-industrialisation, which has left a legacy of a much more polarised service sector labour market, with large numbers of people condemned to poorly paid and insecure jobs.
The link between tax progressivity and the income distribution is the subject of intense debate. This column presents new evidence from tax reforms during the 1980s and 1990s to examine how reduced progressivity affects top income shares. Reduced progressivity boosted top incomes, particularly for those in the top 0.1% of earners. Income tax changes are therefore a plausible candidate for explaining the recent surge in income inequality.
Regardless of what one may think of the decision, the British people have voted to leave the EU – a result that throws up historic challenges as well as historic opportunities. This column introduces CEPR's latest Policy Insight, which suggests that Brexit should be viewed as an important opportunity for fresh thinking.
Finding exogenous variables to establish control mechanisms is difficult outside of randomised control trials. This column shows that under certain circumstances, it is possible to separate out the causal effect of an unknown variable on the observed and unobserved variables. When applied to trade exposure and voter sentiment for populist parties, the model is largely accurate and gives the surprising finding that 170% of the total effect of trade exposure on populist voting is explained by labour markets, meaning that trade exposure’s other effects on voting – those that do not run through labour markets – are politically moderating.
There has been a surge of anti-immigrant sentiment in the US and many European countries. This column uses survey results to show that accurate information about numbers of immigrants changes opinions on whether there are too many immigrants, but not on policy towards them. More detailed information on the characteristics of immigrants, however, can increase support for pro-immigrant policies, particularly among those who start off with the most negative views on immigration.
The Great Divergence in living standards between the West and the Rest is being eroded as developing economies rapidly industrialise. This column explores the origins of modern industrial growth in regions that fell behind the West during the Great Divergence. Modern manufacturing growth in the global periphery dates back to the interwar period, and in some regions much earlier. It depended on a complex interaction between factor endowments, the global context, economic policies, and luck.
With Brexit and the election of Donald Trump, tariffs and exchange rates are back at the centre stage of policy debates. This column revisits the assumptions economists make when estimating how tariffs and exchange rates affect exporters’ performance. It argues that the elasticity of firm-level exports to firm-level export prices is an important factor that should be taken into account. Using French firm-level data, it finds that exporters react even more strongly to firm-level electricity cost shocks than to tariff or exchange rate shocks.
There have been calls for restrictions on junk food advertising to tackle rising rates of obesity around the world. This column examines the likely effect of a ban on potato crisp advertising. Results suggest that the total quantity of crisps sold would fall by around 15% in the presence of a ban, or by 10% if firms respond with price cuts. The welfare benefits from this would depend on whether current advertising is persuasive, informative or complementary.
There is growing concern about the long-term health effects of atmospheric pollution. Conditions were much worse a century ago in Western countries, when coal-fired industrialisation reached its zenith, than they are now in countries where pollution presents the greatest challenges today. This column highlights the effect of polluted air on adult heights using a sample of British army soldiers in WWI. Pollution accounts for a difference of almost an inch between the average adult heights in least and most polluted localities.
Transport infrastructure investment is a cornerstone of growth-promoting strategies around the world. However, investment in new infrastructure is not always conducive to stronger economic performance. This column argues that the lack of positive economic returns may be due to institutional failures mitigating the growth effects of public capital expenditures. In contexts marked by weak and inefficient governments and widespread corruption, different types of road investments yield low or no economic returns.
There is a lively debate about the role of inequality as a trigger of ethnic conflicts. This column reports groundbreaking research into the effect of the amount of regional rainfall on crops, which is used to measure inequality between ethnic groups. Inequality caused by the weather's effect on crops has a large and significant impact on the prevalence of ethnic conflict. This effect is strongest when a lack of rainfall penalises ethnic groups with no access to power.
The debate over how the real income gaps between countries have evolved over the centuries has heated up since the 1990s. This column argues for a reshuffling of the global ranks between Columbus and WWI. Findings include that (i) the real income gap between northwest Europe and the major Asian countries was greater since the 1500s than previously estimated; (ii) contrary to all previous estimates, Mughal India around 1600 was already far behind both Japan and Northwest Europe; and (iii) average incomes in North America were already higher than in Britain or France in the late 17th century, long before Maddison’s suggested catching-up date for the US versus Britain of around 1900.
Technological advances caused a boom in the production of ‘tight’ oil in the US, starting in 2008, which has changed how the US is affected by movements in global fuel prices. This column identifies how the US tight oil boom contributed to the decline of global oil prices in 2014-16, and how it has changed the way oil price shocks are transmitted – not just in the US but in the global economy, explaining how European gasoline prices have been less responsive than the US price of gasoline to shocks.
This column introduces a new series – CEPR Flashbacks – which highlights past CEPR reports that are relevant to today’s challenges. In many cases, the analysis is highly pertinent to today’s policy questions, while in others the reports provide useful context on how leading thinkers approached similar problems in the past. The first CEPR Flashback highlights a 1995 report, “Flexible Integration”, which suggested a solution to the problem that EU leaders are tackling in their current reflection on the Future of Europe.
The members of the Eurozone are diverse in terms of their institutional quality. This column outlines the redistributive effects created by the rigid structure of a monetary union next to its direct effects on monetary credibility, and highlights the general equilibrium benefits that core countries draw from it and the cost paid by the productive sector in ‘weaker’ countries. Europe faces a clear challenge, but the success of the transition to the banking union suggests that collective efforts towards institutional evolution can succeed.
Beginning in 1944, the Bretton Woods system played a major role in shaping the global economy in the post-war period. This column describes how although it was successful in bringing about exemplary and stable economic performance in the 1950s and 1960s, familiar confidence and liquidity problems, as well as inflationary pressure and central bankers’ responses to it, ensured that Bretton Woods was short-lived. Nonetheless, legacies of the system, like the dollar standard, remain with us and will likely be with us for some time to come.
Policymakers face challenges when trying to identify the right targets for antipoverty programmes. This column assesses whether the data typically available to policymakers in sub-Saharan Africa are up to the task. Commonly used proxy means tests are found to perform worse than simpler methods in identifying poor households. Moreover, analyses of nutritional status reveal substantial inequality within households, suggesting that household-based measures are not very effective in identifying disadvantaged individuals.
Many claim that immigrants negatively affect the labour market prospects of native workers in advanced countries. This column studies a large change in immigration restrictions in the US – the 1965 exclusion of almost half a million Mexican seasonal farm workers (braceros) from the US labour market. The bracero exclusion did not increase the employment or wages of native workers, and technology adoption was one of the adjustment channels.
Central banks are now moving towards exiting from quantitative easing and other unconventional monetary policies. This column highlights a 2013 CEPR/ICMB report that examined the policy challenges surrounding this difficult and unprecedented task. It explores ways policymakers could handle exit and its long-run implications. This is part of the CEPR Flashbacks series that highlights the relevance of past CEPR reports to today’s challenges.
Our CEPR Flashbacks highlight past CEPR reports relevant to today’s challenges. This column highlights a report first published in 2013, which examined how the exit from unconventional monetary policies could be handled by policymakers, what the post-exit world will look like, and the long-run implications for central banks.
Macroprudential policies increasingly lie at the heart of how central banks jointly manage of price and financial stability. However, consensus over best practice has yet to emerge. This column presents an improved indicator to measure individual economies’ macroprudential policy capacity. Improvements include incorporating the shadow banking sector, and distinguishing the types of institutions that wield authority. Results suggest that improvements continue to be made with respect to the development of an international financial system with improved resilience to shocks.
Online echo chambers – in which people engage only with others that share, and media that reflect, their opinions and biases – have become an area of concern in the wake of last year’s startling political upsets. This column investigates how users navigate and explore an online content space. Highly social users and younger users are most likely to get caught in echo chambers, while opinion leaders are less likely to get caught. Reducing the visibility of content popularity information, such as ‘like’ and ‘view’ counts, may help mitigate echo chamber effects.
Latin America and the Caribbean needs higher growth without increasing debt. This column, based on the new 2017 IDB macroeconomic report, argues that completing intra-regional trade integration is a low-hanging fruit. Trade deals abound, the region has advanced, but regional trade is low – current agreements are too complex and inconsistent. A bottom-up, concrete, politically viable action plan is outlined. Deeper integration would boost growth in any scenario, but the pay-off is even larger if the world becomes more protectionist.
Are quantitative measures of subjective wellbeing reliable enough to provide insights into empirical macroeconomic analysis, and should they influence the objectives of macroeconomic policy? The latest Centre for Macroeconomics and CEPR expert survey finds a reasonable amount of openness to wellbeing measures among European macroeconomists. On balance, though, there remains a strong sense that while these measures merit further research, we are a long way off reaching a point where they are widely accepted and sufficiently reliable for macroeconomic analysis and policymaking.
The vast majority of online content is financed through ad revenue. This column looks at how the growing use of ad blockers is affecting incentives for online content creation. Using data on site traffic and the proportion of users with ad blockers engaged, it argues that ad blocking intially increases traffic, but as ad revenues decline and sites are less inclined to invest in content, the pattern reverses and visitor numbers decline.
Population ageing is one of the most commonly cited drivers of rising healthcare spending. However, other non-demographic cost pressures, such as increasing relative health spending and technological advancement, also contribute substantially over the longer term. This column argues that taking these additional factors into account, the UK’s net public debt due to healthcare is projected to be up to twice as large in 2066. These findings stress the importance of balancing the budget as early as possible to keep public finances on a sustainable path.
Prior to the Great Recession, many European regions witnessed the emergence of economies which were impervious to changes in the business cycle (or ‘sheltered’ economies). We know little about how such regions coped with the Global Crisis. This column argues that regions with more sheltered economies performed worse in terms of employment change after the crisis compared to those with more open economies. Regional policy should focus on making lagging regions more open, dynamic, and competitive.
Severe recessions have been frequent among OECD countries over the past four decades. This column explores the implications of various broad types of policy to minimise the risk and frequency of such episodes for the trade-off for the growth-fragility nexus. Product and labour market policies improve growth but are essentially neutral with regards to economic risks, while better quality institutions increase both growth and economic stability. Macroprudential and financial market policies, on the other hand, entail a trade-off between growth and risk.
The first Basel Accord initiated what has become a three decade-long process of regulatory convergence of the international banking system. This column argues that by trying to regulate minimal capital standards, the Basel process itself contributed to an ever-increasing shortfall in aggregate bank capital. Consequently, European banks have become increasingly exposed to systemic risk, suggesting that expansive monetary policy could adversely affect the resiliency of banks.
Israel has received almost one million immigrants from the former Soviet Union, close to 19% of its established population. The extraordinary exodus of Soviet Jews to Israel in the 1990s is relevant to the current debate about globalisation. This column argues that the wave of immigration was distinctive for its large high-skilled cohort and its quick integration into the domestic labour market. Soviet-Jew immigration raised productivity, underpinned technological prowess, and had a large impact on income inequality and redistribution in Israel’s welfare state.
Lacking some supra-national, overseeing authority, sovereigns in default typically renegotiate with their creditors. In these negotiations, the owed principal typically receives a ‘haircut’. This column explores whether overburdened sovereign debtors can strategically leverage delay as they bargain with their creditors. Under asymmetric information, a delay in the form of offers that the debtor knows won’t be accepted can work out in the debtor’s favour. The findings suggest that strategic delay can be used to show where restructuring is necessary.
The extent to which Islam is responsible for the problems encountered in countries in which it dominates has been the subject of much attention. This column explores the effect of religions with differing organisational structures on progressive institutional reforms, state corruption, and political stability. Decentralised religions such as Islam are more conducive to institutional stagnation and political instability than centralised religions such as Catholicism or Eastern Christianity, with negative consequences for long-term development.
Depending on the outcome of negotiations, Brexit potentially changes the rules that govern the use of industrial policy. The UK government has in mind risky policy reforms that appear to be incompatible with EU rules on state aid. This column argues that this is an unheralded downside of a hard Brexit.
EU development strategies are aimed at producing growth with “a strong emphasis on job creation and poverty reduction”. But it is unclear whether the economic conditions in EU regions are ideal for the generation of employment and labour market inclusion. This column argues that the quality of public institutions and the endowment of human capital – two key factors behind EU growth strategies – are essential for the reduction of labour market exclusion and the promotion of inclusive employment across Europe.
The exact causes of (and lessons from) the Great Compression – the decline in US income inequality in the mid-20th century – remain unclear. This column uses census data and changes in law to examine the effect of education across the complete distribution of income. Policies that increased attendance for young children in the late 19th and early 20th centuries appear to have had long-term implications for earnings and inequality, with returns to schooling highest among those at the lower end of the income distribution.
Foreign banks can be important for trade. They can increase the availability of external finance for exporting firms and help overcome information asymmetries. This column shows that firms in emerging markets tend to export more when foreign banks are present, especially when the parent bank is headquartered in the importing country. In advanced countries, where financial markets are more developed and information is more readily available, the presence of foreign banks does not play such a role. Financial globalisation through the local presence of foreign banks can thus positively affect real integration.
Many scientists agree that the probability of a rare environmental disaster increases as the stock of greenhouse gases accumulate in the atmosphere. This column asks how much consumption current generations should be willing to sacrifice to reduce the risk of such a future catastrophe. If there were a way of immediately eliminating the risk of all future catastrophes, society should be willing to sacrifice 16% of its consumption in perpetuity to achieve this. A sacrifice of 5.8% of annual consumption could bring about a 30% reduction in emissions, in line with the reductions contemplated in agreements such as the Kyoto Protocol.
The Global Crisis highlighted how linkages between banks and shadow banking entities can lead to the amplification of shocks across borders and sectors, prompting policymakers to seek to improve the monitoring framework for assessing the interconnectedness of the shadow banking system. This column documents the cross-sector and cross-border exposures of EU banks to globally domiciled shadow banking entities. Among the findings are that 60% of these exposures are to shadow banking entities domiciled outside the EU and hence outside its supervisory powers, and that approximately 65% of the exposures are to non-money market fund investment funds, finance companies, and securitisation entities.
Spatial inequality is understood as a function of geography or administrative planning, but its relation to ethnic segregation is less well understood. This column analyses this relationship using regional data for 71 countries with different levels of economic development. The degree of spatial concentration of ethnic groups is a robust and highly significant predictor of within-country income disparities. More ethnically segregated countries experience higher levels of spatial inequality and are thus more prone to conflict.
Modern Italy has more inter-ethnic marriages – a consequence of recent immigration. This column uses recent census data to show that inter-ethnic marriages in Italy have a significantly higher risk of separation, which persists even when accounting for spousal traits and self-selection. The difference is smaller for recent marriages, reflecting a more secular society.
The inflation rate in India rose from 3.7% to 12.1% between 2001 and 2010, raising concerns that it will rise again. This column separately analyses India's core and headline inflation rates and argues that the average level of core inflation has been consistently less than that of headline inflation. Short-term volatility in prices, especially for food, has driven India’s headline inflation. Estimating a Phillips curve suggests a core inflation–output trade-off in India similar to that of advanced economies during the 1970s and 1980s.
A link has been established between domestic violence and poor labour market outcomes. This column uses US data to explore the relationship between health and both domestic violence and drug use. HIV+ women who benefitted from the introduction of a medical innovation that delayed the onset of immune system decline experienced less domestic violence and reduced their drug use. Ignoring the link between medical innovation, health, and outcomes such as these is likely to lead to underinvestment in research.
In this column, Jean-Pierre Danthine, a co-author of "Making Sense of Subsidiarity: How Much Centralization for Europe?", revisits the report nearly 25 years on from its publication. He examines the main themes of the report and shows how such areas as centralisation/decentralisation, subsidiarity, and macroeconomic stabilisation have played out over the years since the report was published. He concludes that the report was both prescient and, at the same time, represents a view from the past of the 'road not taken'.
US monetary policy has been the target of substantial criticism over the years. This column outlines one key area where the Federal Reserve has done remarkably well – managing price stability. Its ability to control inflation is a key reason that, for the sake of the US and global economies, the Fed’s independence should be preserved.