The Little Ice Age is generally seen as a major event in European history. Analysing a variety of recent weather reconstructions, this column finds that European weather appears constant from the Middle Ages until 1900, and that events like the freezing of the Thames and the disappearance of English vineyards have simpler explanations than changing climate. It appears instead that the European Little Ice Age is a statistical artefact, where the standard climatological practice of smoothing what turn out to be white noise data prior to analysis gives the spurious appearance of irregular oscillation – a Slutsky Effect.
Most Read: This Month
In recent decades, new forms of dictatorship based on manipulating information rather than on mass violence, have emerged. This column explores the trade-offs and techniques of the modern dictator. Such dictators can survive using little violence in the face of moderate economic underperformance. Economic downturns often prompt an increase in censorship and propaganda. Though new information-based dictatorships are better adapted to a modernised society, modernisation and access to information, as well as economic contractions could undermine them.
Recent debt crises have brought the fragility of the Eurozone into focus. It has been argued that members are vulnerable to sudden changes in market sentiment. This column examines how debt markets reacted to an ECB announcement that it would serve as a lender of last resort, finding that recent debt crises have strong self-fulfilling dynamics.
Understanding large economic downturns is one of macroeconomics’ central goals. This column argues that imbalances in input-output linkages can interact with firm-level shocks to produce output fluctuations that are much larger than the underlying shocks. The result can be large cycles arising from small, firm-level shocks. It is thus important to study the determinants of large economic downturns separately. Macroeconomic tail risks may vary significantly even across economies that exhibit otherwise identical behaviour for moderate deviations.
Concerns about deflation – falling prices of goods and services – are rooted in the view that it is very costly. This column tests the historical link between output growth and deflation in a sample covering 140 years for up to 38 economies. The evidence suggests that this link is weak and derives largely from the Great Depression. The authors find a stronger link between output growth and asset price deflations, particularly during postwar property price deflations. There is no evidence that high debt has so far raised the cost of goods and services price deflations, in so-called debt deflations. The most damaging interaction appears to be between property price deflations and private debt.
The disappointing recovery after the crisis has sparked renewed interest in the medium-run outlook of advanced economies. Lower population growth and its impact on labour supply gained widespread prominence. This column takes a more general view identifying the impact of the evolution of demographic structure, or the entire age profile, on the macroeconomy. Age profile changes have significant implications for savings, investment and growth but also affect innovation activities. The population aging predicted for the next decades is found to be a significant factor in reducing output growth and real interest rates across OECD countries.
Japan and Korea need to encourage female labour market participation to counter acute labour shortages. This column argues that following Nordic countries’ experiences, it would be possible to achieve both high female labour force participation rate and fertility rate. However, this is only possible if supported by appropriate public and private sector policies.
Although most of the tax compliance literature focuses on tax evasion, a significant portion of the tax gap includes tax delinquencies. This column discusses new research about the enforcement of tax debts, including evidence from a field experiment in the US with nearly 35,000 tax delinquents who collectively owe half a billion dollars in taxes. In addition to financial penalties, this research studies the effectiveness of a common ‘shaming’ penalty in which the names, addresses, and other identifying information of individuals and businesses with delinquent taxes are published online.
Total US prescription drug spending rose 13% in 2014, the biggest increase in a decade. Driving this trend is spending on branded specialty drugs, which rose an unprecedented 31%. This column discusses recent research into the relationship between inflation-adjusted launch prices and survival benefits and approval year for 58 anticancer drugs approved in the US between 1995 and 2013. The authors find that launch prices are going up by $8,500 per year, approximately 12% year over year.
The wisdom of structural reform during a crisis is a subject of heated debate. This column compares Greece’s experience to that of Mexico during the debt crisis of the 1980s. Mexico did not receive a haircut until seven years into the crisis – after structural reform was already underway. In Mexico that reform was the outcome of an internal conversation – not a diktat from the outside – and it happened during the height of the crisis.
The classic exchange-rate trilemma analysis argues that capital mobility, monetary autonomy and fixed exchange rates are incompatible. This column shows how policy trilemma analysis can be extended to other domains, specifically financial stability, political economy, and international relations. It argues that analysing these trade-offs can help to identify policy options that balance macroeconomic objectives and political realities in the face of globalisation.
College-educated workers are less likely to experience unemployment, but their lifetime earnings are also much more uncertain. This column estimates the risk-adjusted value of college education to be between $225,000 and almost $600,000, corresponding to risk-adjusted increases in total present-value lifetime wealth of 35% to 48%. Increased earnings volatility actually decreased the risk-adjusted value of college between 1968–1980 and 1991–2011 by almost $50,000, even though expected lifetime income increased by about $150,000. Nevertheless, even the most conservative estimates of the value of college education are still positive.
Different characteristics of a politician could affect policy. Whereas existing studies analyse gender and education, this column discusses the effect of a politician’s age on governance and re-election. Younger mayors are more likely to strategically increase expenditures and attract more transfers from the higher levels of government right before the election. These fiscal cycles are positively correlated with re-election and, hence, potentially explain why younger mayors are more likely to be re-elected.
An important research question is whether the current measures of systemic risk are useful for policymakers. This column presents new evidence on this topic. The relevance of a measure depends on how informative it is regarding how financial distress translates into real macroeconomic outcomes. The findings indicate that few systemic risk measures predict macroeconomic shocks. Interestingly, the relationship between systematic risk and future macroeconomic shocks is not symmetric.
A renewed interest in capital controls following the Great Recession requires a serious empirical reconsideration of their effectiveness as policy instruments. This column introduces a new dataset that features unprecedented levels of disaggregation between asset categories, and distinguishes transactions between residents and non-residents. The ensuing debate should take note.
The Soviets matched the US only by spending up to 20% of GDP on the military during the Cold War. This column argues that, in stark contrast to this example, China has the potential to match the US in certain military spheres with similar burden on its economy. Using exchange rates comparisons significantly understates the Chinese military spending. A much more realistic assessment is obtained using PPP terms. If both countries spent the same fraction of their GDP on the military, the relative size of China’s military machine would be more than 90% of the US one.
The Global Crisis and subsequent sovereign debt crisis in the Eurozone severely distressed wholesale funding markets. This column argues that in the Eurozone, interbank funding conditions tightened particularly for cross-border borrowing. Moreover, during the worst moments of the crisis, the same borrower bank could pay different prices (up to 100 basis points) for identical loans during the same day. Non-standard monetary policy measures help mitigate these liquidity disruptions, with stronger effects in countries under distress.
R&D-intensive firms such as biopharmaceutical companies operate in a competitive and risky environment. This column presents new evidence on how competition affects the investment decision of R&D-intensive firms. An increase in competition will make the firm increase the R&D investment, and as a response the firm will carry more cash and reduce its debt. Also, more competition will increase the idiosyncratic risk of R&D-intensive firms.
The reduction in the gender gap in labour market outcomes has stalled. Recent research suggests that gender identity might be one of the culprits. This column provides new evidence on the issue using US census data. The results indicate that the prescription that women should earn less than men plays a role in marriage rates, the labour market supply of women, and marital satisfaction. The interaction of economic progress and changing gender norms could therefore explain the lower marriage and fertility rates among educated women.
The interest in the implications of sovereign debt home bias on debt sustainability has been growing. This column presents new evidence on this issue using a sample of advanced and emerging markets. Home bias generally reduces the cost of borrowing for both advanced and emerging markets when debt levels are moderate to high. A worsening of market sentiments diminishes the favourable impact of home bias on the cost of borrowing, particularly for emerging markets. In addition, higher home bias is associated with higher debt levels, and with less responsive fiscal policy.
Sovereign bonds are the latest and biggest quantitative easing (QE) policy conducted by the Eurozone. This column argues that instead of sovereign bonds, the Eurozone should focus on assets that are the closest to job-creating, growth-enhancing, and innovation-promoting activities. In particular, instruments issued by agencies and European institutions should be given a prominent role. But they should also be selected to promote the financing of long-term growth and jobs, not of unsustainable government expenditure.
A large literature in macroeconomics shows how credit market shocks can propagate through deterioration in the value of collateral. This column decomposes debt into secured and unsecured components and investigates their effects separately. While secured debt is acyclical, unsecured debt is confirmed to predict GDP movements in accordance with the standard financial accelerator mechanism.
The Eurozone’s problems of poor growth and the threat of financial instability are rooted in its very foundation. The authors of the inaugural Monitoring the Eurozone report, launched today, consider three means by which the Eurozone can protect itself from structural failure. Their recommendations, which do not require Treaty changes, are crucial in offsetting the major risks a repetition of the recent Crisis would present.
Manufacturers discriminating among retailers is an important issue in competition policy. Specifically, the EU allows quantity discounts but forbids discriminatory discounts – a policy that does not jive with standard economic analysis which suggests that banning price discrimination improves allocative efficiency and typically also raises overall welfare. This column argues that the research – and the recommendations that flow from it – are based on excessively restrictive assumptions. When there are nonlinear wholesale contracts, e.g. quantity discounts, the presence of private information can reverse the standard analysis in a way that supports the EU’s policy.
Apparently a number of assumptions have been made in Brussels and Washington DC about how the rest of the world will react to the successful conclusion of a Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP). Many of the contributions to a new ebook identify alternatives for third countries that do not involve throwing themselves at the mercy of US and European trade negotiators. TTIP may not trigger the chain reaction that its advocates seek.
An implication of the ‘precautionary saving’ hypothesis is that in countries faced with more macroeconomic volatility and risk, private saving should be higher. In the observable data, however, there is a negative correlation, particularly in developing countries. This column offers a plausible explanation for the disconnect between the precautionary theory and the empirical evidence, based on a model with a richer account for the various modes of ‘precautionary’ behaviour by private agents, in cases where institutions are weaker and labour informality is prevalent.
Recent initiatives like the Volcker rule seek to restrict securities trading by banks. Using German data, this column shows that during the Global Crisis security-trading activities by banks in the secondary market crowded out lending to non-financial firms, but also acted as risk absorbers in the securities market. Policymakers should carefully weigh the costs and benefits of securities trading regulations. Financial crises will occur again, so we need to be thoughtful about what may happen in the future if banks are restricted from trading in financial securities.
Abstentions in European Council voting are generally treated as silent consent, but in some cases a quorum of abstentions can block an otherwise unanimous decision. This column explores the relative merits of regimes with such constructive abstention rules. It shows that such rules combine the information aggregation aspects of majority rule while still allowing for veto power.
Despite a significant progress over the past decades, European integration still needs improvement in some areas. This column presents a long-term narrative of European integration by using a recently published European index of regional institutional integration. The index maps developments in European integration from 1958 to early 2015 on the basis of a new monthly dataset. The evidence shows that successful integration could be achieved with reforms that are inclusive, widely explained, understood, and accepted.
Whereas some argue there is no need to revise the US constitution, others believe that its inherent flaws are in the core of the US’ decreasing power. This column reviews four alleged flaws of the US constitution. There is a striking similarity in method and substance between current proposals for constitutional reform in the US and the post-crash constitutional reform process in Iceland presently held captive by parliament..
International trade has significant effects on domestic labour demand. It opens up new markets for export, but also creates opportunities for off-shoring. This column presents the results of a study on trade, wages and collective bargaining using data on French manufacturing firms. Both exporting and offshoring are found to have positive effects on wages, with collective bargaining agreements, particularly those at the firm-level, seeing greater wage gains for all types of worker.
An oft expressed view is that the Eurozone is a straitjacket on periphery members and income convergence has slowed, halted or reversed. This column argues that EZ convergence never stopped. What changed was the type of convergence. Today’s convergence is neither nominal nor real, it is structural. Structural convergence presents a basis for renewed real convergence. However, for this to happen, the right institutions and policies need to be in place at both European and national levels.
Business investment in advanced economies contracted sharply during the global crisis and has recovered little since. This column argues that the main factor holding back investment is overall economomic weakness. In some countries other contributing factors include financial constraints and policy uncertainty. Fixing the investment dearth will require fixing the general weakness in economic activity.
The inflow of low-skilled migrants may encourage natives to upgrade their skills, taking advantage of immigrant-native complementarity. This column uses exogenous dispersion of refugees in Denmark to investigate this issue. The findings confirm that for low-skilled native workers, the presence of refugee-country immigrants spurred mobility and increased specialisation into complex jobs.