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.
Most Read: This Month
China’s debt – in particular its corporate debt – is large by historical and international standards. This column argues that of greater concern is the sharp increase in recent years, and that the vulnerability is heightened by the concentration of this debt in old industries that suffer from overcapacity and weak competitiveness. The authorities appear to be only now taking steps to halt the rise in corporate debt, but as prior episodes of banking crises show, this is unlikely to be enough to avert either a prolonged period of slowing growth or a financial crisis in the medium term.
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.
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.
The debate over whether democracy causes economic prosperity and growth dates back millennia. Recent empirical results suggest that democratisation has a sizable positive effect on economic growth, but endogeneity and reverse causality may be driving these results. This column uses new data from surveys of democracy experts to solve the endogeneity puzzle. The positive association between democracy and economic growth is a reflection of economic turmoil causing the emergence of democratic rule, rather than democracy causing more economic growth.
The objective of financial stability policy is unclear. Is it the resilience of the financial system, avoiding the costs of systemic collapse, or managing the credit cycle, containing the costs of resource misallocation and over-indebtedness? This column argues that the answers have serious implications for what can decently be delegated to independent ‘macroprudential authorities’, but have barely been debated in those terms.
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.
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.
Working with the wrong accounting classifications can lead to wrong conclusions in any area of economics. But it is especially treacherous in international finance, due to the importance of key currencies and the operations of multinational firms, especially global banks. Much of the analysis in international finance is still conducted under the assumption that the GDP area, decision-making unit and the currency area coincide – the so-called ‘triple coincidence’. This column illustrates the common analytical missteps that can arise by reviewing three examples from the recent past, and argues that a proper analysis of capital flows necessitates paying greater attention to basic accounting building blocks.
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.
Covered interest parity is close to a physical law in international finance, yet it has been consistently violated since the Global Crisis. Violations since 2014, once banks had strengthened their balance sheets and regained easy access to funding, are especially puzzling. This column argues that the violation reflects a combination of foreign exchange hedging demand and tighter limits to arbitrage. Hedging demand has been boosted, in particular, by divergent monetary policies in an ultra-low interest rate environment, while tighter limits to arbitrage result from a stricter management of banks’ balance sheets.
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.
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.
Donald Trump has consistently made headlines with unusual and potentially dangerous economic policy proposals, including threatening to pull out of the WTO, renegotiating trade agreements, and imposing tariffs on imports from Mexico and China. This column explores the legal and economic dimensions of these proposals. Old and modern legal statutes could allow a US president to implement such policies, and the repercussions for the US economy could be severely negative.
Despite ample research on the effects of minimum wage increases on employment, there has been little consensus on the effects of such increases on workers’ broader welfare, and in particular on their health and that of their families. This column analyses comprehensive data from the US on the effects of minimum wage increases on the health of children born to low-income workers. It finds that the increases have a significant positive impact on birth weights. This has important policy implications, with infant health acting as a reliable indicator of future health.
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.
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 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.
During political campaigns, candidates often set their sights on CEO compensation as a target for potential regulation. This column considers the various arguments for regulating CEO pay and questions whether it is a legitimate target for political intervention. Some arguments for regulation are shown to be erroneous, and some previous interventions are shown to have failed. While regulation can address the symptoms, only independent boards and large shareholders can solve the underlying problems.
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.
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.
Against a background of persistently weak growth and low inflation expectations, a number of central banks have implemented negative interest rate policies over the past few years. This column argues that such policies could help provide additional monetary policy stimulus, as long as policy interest rates are only modestly negative and do not stay negative for too long to avoid adverse effects on the financial sector. While these policies do have a place in the policymaker’s toolkit, they need to be handled with care to secure their benefits while mitigating risks.
Banks are regularly under scrutiny for their professional and ethical behaviour. This column assesses the role of boards in monitoring and advising conduct, and offers new insights for how to structure bank boards to prevent misconduct. Conventional board measures such as board independence and financial expertise have no measurable impact on misconduct being committed or detected. Instead, governance metrics revolving around CEO connections warrant more attention from regulators, investors, and governance activists.
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.
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.
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.
Good architectural design is a public good, but economists and policymakers lack robust evidence on the impact of well designed architecture on location value when planning spaces. This column verifies the worth of preserving and designing good architectural spaces by analysing the changes in property prices across conservation and non-conservation areas in England. It finds that good design in buildings has a substantial positive impact on location value.
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.
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 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.
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.
A tasks approach to labour market analysis can contribute to a better understanding of structural change and employment trends. However, its narrow focus on a few specific types of task content and its neglect of the social aspects of production can limit the usefulness of this approach. This column presents a new framework for conceptualising and measuring tasks, and discusses an application to Europe.
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.
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.
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.
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 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.
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.
Tax policy to correct inequality assumes that nobody is entitled to advantages due to luck alone. But the public largely rejects complete equalisation of 'brute luck' inequality. This column argues that there is near universal public support for an alternative, benefit-based theory of taxation. Treating optimal tax policy as an empirical matter may help us to close the gap between theory and reality.
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.
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.
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.
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.
The UK may opt to leave the EU Emissions Trading System. This column argues that as the UK is a large importer of emission permits, this would make meeting its climate policy targets much harder and dearer, and would remove the legal standing of many permits circulating in the rest of the EU. Some non-EU countries do take part in the Emissions Trading System, and this appears to be the best option for the UK post-Brexit. If not, the UK Government will be forced into a major overhaul of its climate policy.
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.
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 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.
Product market reforms are seen as a way to boost output in advanced economies, but we know little about their short-term impact. This column presents data from 18 advanced economies that reveal large differences in the potential upside of reform depending on the sector in which a firm operates, its size, and its financial health.
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