Britain voted to leave the EU. This is terrible news for the UK, but it is also bad news for the Eurozone. Brexit opens the door to all sorts of shocks, and dangerous political snowball effects. Now is the time to shore up the Eurozone’s resiliency. The situation is not yet dire, but prompt action is needed. This VoxEU column – which is signed by a wide range of leading economists – identifies what needs to be done soon, and what should also be done but can probably wait if markets are patient.
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The ‘Economists for Brexit’ recommend that the UK leaves the EU. Rather than striving for new trade deals, they recommend unilaterally abolishing all trade protection, and predict a subsequent boom of 4%. This rosy forecast stands in sharp contrast with all other economic analysis. This column explains how the modelling on which the group bases its recommendation, from Professor Patrick Minford, fails to grasp basic facts about the nature of international trade and product standards. A more realistic assessment shows that ‘unilateral trade liberalisation’ does very little to offset the steep decline in UK living standards that would follow Brexit.
The threat to the financial system posed by cyber risk is often claimed to be systemic. This column argues against this, pointing out that almost all cyber risk is microprudential. For a cyber attack to lead to a systemic crisis, it would need to be timed impeccably to coincide with other non-cyber events that undermine confidence in the financial system and the authorities. The only actors with enough resources to affect such an event are large sovereign states, and they could likely create the required uncertainty through simpler, financial means.
North American economics departments produce a substantial amount of economics PhDs, and these PhDs are responsible for a disproportionately large share of research published in top academic journals. This column provides an overview of 35 years of peer-reviewed publications by North American economics PhDs. Since 1980, the size of author teams grown and female representation steadily improved. The shares of the major research fields show relatively little variation, though international economics, development economics, and finance are exceptions to this.
The situations we find ourselves in determine our behaviour far more than we realise. To show the relevance of this idea to fellow economists, this column presents a natural field experiment that was conducted in an Economics department. The experiment looks at the department members’ honesty in keeping tally of their soda can consumption in the pantry. The honesty rate is shown to depend greatly on the presence of a pen hanging down from the door of the refrigerator, indicating that situational factors are more significant determinants of behaviour than previously realised.
Americans have long debated when the country became the world’s economic leader, when it became so unequal, and how inequality and growth might be linked. Yet those debates have lacked the quantitative evidence needed to choose between competing views. This column introduces evidence on American incomes per capita and inequality for two centuries before World War I. American history suggests that inequality is not driven by some fundamental law of capitalist development, but rather by episodic shifts in five basic forces: demography, education policy, trade competition, financial regulation policy, and labour-saving technological change.
Since Italy’s monetary unification some 155 years ago, income per capita in the South (the Mezzogiorno) has fallen from virtually the same level as in the Centre-North to little more than 55% of the Centre-North’s level. This column asks why East Germany hasn’t suffered the same fate since German monetary unification 25 years ago. East Germany is not like the Mezzogiorno because of labour market flexibility, different evolutions of the tradeable sector, and the weight of history.
At first sight, it is difficult to explain why the macroeconomic debate and macroeconomic policy in Germany differ considerably from other countries, despite the same academic textbooks and models being used as elsewhere. This column explains how a specific paradigm of macroeconomics, developed by Walter Eucken and diametrically opposed to Keynesian economics, is behind the German formal theoretical apparatus. The success of German macroeconomic policy can be attributed to the openness of the German economy, which allows it to benefit from macroeconomic policies pursued in other major countries.
The development accounting literature tries to account for cross-country output per worker differences by taking stock of inputs per worker. The data employed are often measured without great precision, however, making comparisons difficult. This column presents a new, internationally comparable dataset of average hours worked per adult across the world income distribution. Adults in poor countries are found to work a lot more and with lower productivity than those in rich countries. The findings suggest that those from poorer countries are not only ‘consumption poor’, but also ‘leisure poor’.
Brexit creates new opportunities and new risks for the British and EU financial markets. Both could benefit, but a more likely outcome is a fall in the quality of financial regulations, more inefficiency, more protectionism, and more systemic risk.
The issue of whether the US and Eurozone economies are on a convergent or a divergent path remains an open question, and was the topic of a recent conference hosted by the New York Fed. This column summarises the principal themes and findings of the conference discussion. Much will depend on the policy actions that will be taken in the coming years, as well as the modalities and timing of the completion of the Economic and Monetary Union.
For decades, the UK government has been very careful in ensuring a low-risk status for its public and private debt. This column warns that if the UK opts to leave the EU, uncertainty over the implications of Brexit would put this low-risk status in jeopardy. A depreciation of the pound could well generate an export boom, but this would not compensate for the damage to internal demand and to the UK’s ability to access external financing of its deficits.
Economists differ on whether the geographic expansion of a bank’s activities reduces risk. A key challenge when attempting to answer this question is identification – does diversification cause lower risk, or are safer banks just also more diversified? This column uses a new identification strategy to demonstrate that geographic diversification materially reduces bank holding company risk.
The Eurozone faces a lost decade or worse under current fiscal policy and restrictions on monetary policy. The ECB now faces a fundamental contradiction in its mandate between the Lisbon Treaty’s Article 127 (price stability, plus the ECB target of under but close to 2% inflation) and Article 123 (no overt monetary finance of governments). This article discusses three options – two ways in which the fiscal rules could be improved; and the temporary abeyance of Article 123, making it ‘state-dependent’. It also explains why recent arguments against the effectiveness of ‘helicopter money’ are mistaken.
In a recent speech, Jeff Immelt, CEO of General Electric, announced that in response to rising protectionism, his company was undertaking a profound shift in its corporate strategy to ensure that more production takes place closer to customers. This column highlights the trend towards localisation and, if this continues unchecked, the risks posed to the world economy.
The substitution of human labour by artificial intelligence and robots is a keenly debated topic. Some claim that a substantial share of jobs is at risk, while others argue that computers and robots will lead to product innovations and hence to unimaginable new occupations. This column uses a survey of Japanese firms to examine the impact of AI-related technologies on business and employment. Overall, firms expect a positive impact on business but a negative impact on employment. Firms with a highly skilled workforce, however, have a more optimistic view than firms with lower skilled employees.
The outcome of the UK’s referendum on EU membership could have a significant effect on sterling. This column estimates the potential size of this effect by looking at the relationship between daily changes in the sterling exchange rate and bookmakers’ odds of Brexit. Movements of between 5% and 15% seem plausible.
Firms with greater market power can behave monopolistically, and recent research suggests that declining market competitiveness is driving income inequality. While competition authorities already measure the overall impact of their interventions by using customer savings, these measurements do not account for indirect effects of intervention. This column introduces a DSGE model to model competition policy interventions as a negative mark-up shock. Competition policy has a significant and positive impact on growth and jobs, and impacts richer and poorer households differently. Interventions have important redistributive effects that benefit the poorest in society.
Early life conditions can have long-lasting effects on individual development and labour market success. Using a sequence of reforms that raised the minimum school-leaving age in Europe, this column investigates how access to books at home influences educational and labour market outcomes. The returns to an additional year of education for individuals brought up in households with few books are much lower than for the luckier ones who had more than a shelf of books at home.
Obesity, particularly in children, is a major health concern in many developed economies, where it presents a costly risk to health services. Any policy response must take into account the inter-generational transmission of overweightness and obesity to children. This column uses evidence from the Health Survey of England to assess the extent to which nature and nurture factors play a role in the overweightness of children. It finds that any effective policy action must tackle parental overweightness to lower rates of overweightness in children.
Free trade is under fire in nations across the world. This column surveys evidence on the importance of trade barriers. There is substantial variation in applied trade policy across countries, industries, and their trading partners, both cross-sectionally and over time. The variation found in these newly available and increasingly detailed databases offer researchers the opportunity to analyse and better understand firm-level trade, aggregate trade, and the shock to the world economy precipitated by China’s phenomenal export growth.
There are strong links between the nature of education in a country and its political institutions, and an individual’s education can impact their lifetime labour market choices. This column examines how being educated under a socialist regime impacts individuals in a free labour market. Using data on students from East and West Germany in the 1970s, it finds that a socialist regime education led to a larger spread in labour market outcomes – more of these individuals were not employed, but conditional on being employed, had higher wages and a higher probability of achieving a professional status in the East.
Cluster development programmes (CDPs) aim to support industrial clusters of agglomerated firms to achieve higher productivity and sustainable development. Such programmes have been prominent in Latin America over the past decade, but there have been few impact evaluations. This column presents the findings from an evaluation of Latin American CDPs. Various case studies show positive medium-term effects of the programmes on employment, exports, and wages. CDPs are also found to have positive spillover effects on untreated firms, and to improve the network connectivity and technology-transfer ties between firms.
Deindustrialisation is a major policy concern in high-income countries not only because of resulting unemployment, but also because of the long-run implications for growth. This column uses evidence from Denmark to analyse whether it is being measured in the right way. A substantial fraction of the decline in manufacturing actually reflects the changing nature of production. Service sector firms that still perform many of the value-adding activities of traditional manufacturing firms should not be overlooked by policymakers.
The ‘great inventions’ view of productivity growth ascribes the excellent growth from 1920 to 1970 in the US to a handful of advances, and suggests that today poor productivity performance is driven by a lack of breakthrough discoveries. This column argues instead that the development of an effective governmental infrastructure in the 19th century accounted for a major part of US technological progress and prominence in this period. Infrastructure design thus appears to have the power to reinvigorate technological progress.
Although not a nudge, the ‘soda tax’ in the UK can nonetheless be justified in part on behavioural grounds. This column analyses the potential effectiveness of the soda tax in reducing consumption. As a behavioural instrument, the tax does not go far enough, and is in fact regressive. A comprehensive junk food tax should be introduced instead, accompanied by nudges, ‘healthy’ subsidies, and regulation of ‘super-sizing’ practices.
We are fortunate to have a consensus of views on the negative impact of leaving the EU. This column explains how a rational agent should ‘consume’ this advice. Theory tends to say that we should be wary of the motivation of those who forecast at the extreme, but that we should still put weight on the central case.
At the the Paris Climate Conference in December 2015, it was agreed that annual global temperature increase must be kept below 2 degrees, and a target of a 1.5 degree annual increase was set. Most environmental policies currently focus on emissions reductions and adaptation. This column discusses a new set of technologies collectively known as climate engineering, and explores their potential effectiveness and role in climate change economics. A lot of uncertainty surrounds the costs and effects of climate engineering tools, but it is clear that they would change the optimal levels of emissions reduction currently discussed in literature.
There is a high degree of correlation between the business cycles of different countries. This is particularly the case in the Eurozone, but also among industrialised countries outside of the Eurozone. Using a two-country behavioural macroeconomic model, this column shows that the main channel for the synchronisation of business cycles is the propagation of ‘animal spirits’ – waves of optimism and pessimism that become correlated internationally.
Following the financial crisis, the EU banking system is still plagued by widespread fragilities. This column considers the tools and legal provisions available to EU policymakers to address moral hazard and incentives encouraging excessive risk-taking by bankers. It argues that the new discipline of state aid and the restructuring of banks provide a solid framework towards these ends. However, the application of new rules should not lose sight of the aggregate policy needs of the banking system.
Income inequality is less severe in Germany than in the US. Part of this is due to CEO pay in the US growing faster than in Germany. This column offers some novel explanations for these observations. From the mid-1990s, Germany began offshoring managerial tasks to Eastern Europe, reducing demand for German managers. In addition Germany offshored skill-intensive jobs to Eastern Europe, reducing the skill premium.
When it comes to measuring GDP, researchers tend to use the latest vintage of the Penn World Tables. However, competing series like the World Development Indicators (WDI) and changing methodologies between vintages mean this is not necessarily the best approach. This column assesses the relative performance of different GDP estimators using night-time lights as an unbiased predictor of the growth rates of unobserved true income. Newer versions of the Penn Tables are not necessarily improvements on their direct predecessors. Newer versions of the WDI index, especially the 2011 vintage, appear generally better at measuring cross-country income differences.
In the ‘currency wars’ discussion, it is almost taken for granted that exchange rate depreciations will result in non-trivial export gains. Using evidence from countries in Europe and Asia, this column argues instead that factors unrelated to prices/exchange rates often play a predominant role in shaping trade developments. Moreover, these factors affect export outcomes in a very diversified manner across countries, in part because of the interplay of global value chains.
Japan’s prime minister recently announced that a planned 2% VAT increase would be postponed from 2017 to 2019. This column explores how Japanese household consumption adjusted to a VAT increase that was announced in 2013 and implemented in 2014. Household consumption fell by around 4% upon announcement and 1% upon implementation, suggesting that most of the negative impact of a VAT rate increase occurs at the time of the announcement.
Investor demand for bonds is very high. This column argues that this is surprising because under almost any likely inflation scenario, including central banks merely hitting their target inflation rates, bondholders suffer large losses. The beneficiaries are sovereign and corporate borrowers; the losers are pension funds, insurance companies and some foreign exchange reserve funds. Meanwhile, the systemic risk from a bond crisis is increasing.
To mitigate the risks of international trade for firms, banks offer trade finance products – specifically, letters of credit and documentary collections. This column exploits new data from the SWIFT Institute to establish key facts on the use of these instruments in world trade. Letters of credit (documentary collections) cover 12.5% (1.7%) of world trade, or $2.3 trillion ($310 billion).
Free trade often comes hand in hand with economic growth. The opportunity for gain is relatively small, according to quantitative models that rely on standard static mechanisms. This column introduces a model to study the diffusion of ideas across countries as a means of increasing productivity, and a quantitative assessment of the role of trade in the transmission of knowledge. How much the transmission of knowledge will impact productivity depends on the openness of the trading countries, current stock of knowledge, and a diffusion parameter.
Despite being credited with many of the defining inventions of the early modern era, China failed to develop in line with Western Europe at the start of the 19th century. This column suggests that one reason for this was that China’s economy was more fragmented than that of Europe. Using Chinese monthly grain prices from 1740-1820 and grain price panels from Western Europe, it shows that in terms of market integration, the Great Divergence was well under way decades before the start of the 19th century.
Much of the discussion about Brexit has focused on the UK and has ignored the another party – the European Union. This column examines how the UK leaving the EU would affect the distribution of power among the remaining member states. The larger members such as France and Germany would likely benefit directly from Brexit, at least in terms of power.
The first mixed-gender presidential election in US history is looking increasingly likely, and there is little to suggest that the tone of this campaign will be any less negative than in recent presidential elections. This column uses experiments based around two local elections in Italy to investigate whether men and women differ in their responses to positive and negative election campaigning. Among female voters, positive campaigning by an opponent increases his or her share of the votes and reduces the votes for the incumbent. Among male voters, however, it is negative campaigning by the opponent that swings votes away from the incumbent.
All monetary policies have external spillover effects. However, the domestic mandates of most central banks may not legally allow them to take spillovers into account, and may force them to undertake aggressive policies so long as they have some small positive domestic effect. This column looks at the rules of the game for responsible policy in such a context. It proposes a ‘traffic light’ system to identify policies that should be encouraged by the international community, policies that should be used temporarily and with care, and policies that should be avoided at all costs.
Theoretical corrections of price deviations in trade are not reflected in empirical evidence. This is surprising because institutional investors should be able be able to identify mispricing. This column explores how the organisation of the asset management industry may hamper trading against mispricing. Asset managers that are less subject to redemption risk exhibit a higher propensity to trade against mispricing. Organisational structures lowering the sensitivity of investor flows to performance strengthen asset managers’ incentives to trade against mispricing.
The persistence of economic fortune over the long run has been the subject of intense research. This column investigates the persistence of patterns of economic activity in the Americas at the sub-national level over the last half millennium. The location of today’s prosperous cities and regions within each country is closely correlated with the location of indigenous population centres before the arrival of Christopher Columbus in 1492. Policymakers seeking to make radical changes in the spatial distribution of economic activity should be mindful of the centuries-old, even pre-colonial, forces working against them.
The business of central banks used to be profitable – they issued cash and could invest the proceeds in the assets they liked. This column argues that the ECB has turned the old business model of central banks around. Today, it earns a stream of income on its liabilities, while the returns of an increasing part of its assets go to the national central banks. This cannot be a stable arrangement.
The two main elements of bank industry oversight are regulation and supervision. This column provides a framework for thinking about supervision in relation to regulation. Using US data on supervisory hours spent, it finds evidence of economies of scale for bank size. Additionally, less risky banks receive substantially lower amounts of supervisory hours. The findings highlight that supervisors face resource constraints and trade-offs.
Politicians may have the opportunity to interfere with the allocation of public services to help to achieve their electoral objectives. This column argues that politicians share rents with central players to build and sustain coalitions. Using detailed data from the Philippines, it examines social networks and the allocation of municipal services. Households with greater potential to broker political coalitions do indeed appear to receive more services from their municipal government.
A key task for economists is predicting how markets will respond to complex changes in environment. This column discusses recent empirical developments that allow for a deeper understanding of such market dynamics. Game theory has informed conditional pricing models that take account of products marketed and their production costs. Likewise, dynamic models of productive efficiency allow for analyses of the role of market structure in inducing competitive efficiencies.
When the Great Recession hit the world economy, fears of protectionism led to close monitoring of non-tariff barriers to trade. The increase in US import protection appeared rather modest for all those trade policy measures that do not need to be notified to the WTO. However, stricter enforcement of given product standards does not require any notification. This column argues that the US has increasingly relied on this less transparent and trade-reducing policy instrument during the recent economic crisis.
The US government’s ‘bailout of bankers’ in 2008-09 remains a highly controversial moment in economic policy. Many critics suggest that intervention to relieve household debt may have been more effective in stimulating economic recovery. This column suggests that without federal intervention to stabilise financial markets and recapitalise some non-bank lenders, the magnitude of the economic collapse might have been much worse. While household debt was incredibly important in reducing demand, the financial sector dislocations and the lack of credit also played a critical role.
As happens eight times a year, next week financial markets will again turn their attention to what, if any, change the Federal Reserve will make to its policy rate. This column discusses research on the anticipation of such decisions via the Fed funds futures markets, which indicates that markets ‘set up’ much farther in advance than has been previously documented. This finding emphasises the importance of clarity in central bank communications.