Much has been written on why the process of modern economic growth, or ‘the Great Enrichment’, started in western Europe in the 18th century. This column, which first appeared as a chapter in a recent Vox eBook, argues that political fragmentation, coupled with an intellectual and cultural unity, a more or less integrated market for ideas, allowed Europe to benefit from the increasing return associated with intellectual activity.
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The Trump administration’s announcement of its intention to impose a 20% tax on goods imported from Mexico and its calls for a 45% import tariff on goods from China have alarmed businesses and consumers alike. This column uses data on the foreign market entry decisions of Chinese firms to assess the impact that tariff scares and trade policy uncertainty have on trade flows. The evidence suggests that Trump's threats to raise tariffs can reduce US imports even if the administration doesn't follow through with the threatened tax increases.
The immense economic inequality we observe in the world today is the path-dependent outcome of a multitude of historical processes, one of the most important of which has been European colonialism. This column, taken from a recent Vox eBook, discusses how colonialism has shaped modern inequality in several fundamental, but heterogeneous, ways.
The IMF has just released its self-evaluation of its Greek lending, in which it admits to many mistakes. This column and argues that the report misses one important error – reliance on the Debt Sustainability Analysis – but notes that the IMF’s candour should be a model for the other participants in the lending, namely, the European Commission and the ECB.
For some time, it was possible to win over trade sceptics by providing explicit numbers reflecting the losses from protectionism. Now it seems that the larger public has become indifferent to evidence-based debates. This column argues for increased use of micro-evidence and firm-level data in policy debates to make the case for trade. By linking trade to personal well-being, an increased focus on micro-economic evidence can generate stronger narratives and greater credibility among voters.
Inequality can be both good and bad for growth. Unequal societies may be holding back one segment of the population while helping another. This column exploits US data to argue that inequality affects negatively the future income growth of the poor and positively that of the rich. This relationship is largely driven by inequality of opportunity, which limits the growth prospects at the bottom of the income distribution.
Electronic money – digital payment instruments that store value – can be seen simply as a technological innovation for holding and accessing regular money. This column argues that how it is used and regulated will determine whether e-money instead serves as a replacement for existing money, and discusses the regulatory implications.
A growing literature aims to understand the remarkable slowdown in global trade growth in recent years. This column discusses a chapter in the IMF’s October 2016 World Economic Outlook on the drivers of the trade slowdown, and compares the findings to those of other recent studies. It argues that a variety of factors have contributed to weak trade growth, with widespread anaemic economic activity and the change in its composition being among the key drivers.
There are numerous possible approaches to building a model of a given data set. In economics, imposing a `theory model’ on the data by simply estimating its parameters is common. This column makes the case for a combined theory-driven and data-driven approach under which it is almost costless in statistical terms to check the relevance of large numbers of other candidate variables when the theory is complete, yet there is a good chance of discovering a better empirical model when the theory is incomplete or incorrect.
The revival of nationalism in western Europe, which began in the 1990s, has been associated with increasing support for radical right parties. This column uses trade and election data to show that the radical right gets its biggest electoral boost in regions most exposed to Chinese exports. Within these regions communities vote homogenously, whether individuals work in affected industries or not.
Peers and role models play a key role in the choices young people make. This column discusses research suggesting that students who are part of a social circle have more self-control than those who are alone, and the larger this social circle, the greater the self-control. However, having peers who are too similar can be detrimental to self-control.
A global literature has developed that illuminates the reciprocal and dynamic relationship between humans and their environment in other regions across the world This column, which first appeared as a chapter in a recent Vox eBook, surveys on two topics in the literature: the impact of geographic endowments and the impact of environmental shocks on historical and long-run development.
The distribution of talent and human capital is highly skewed across the world. As high-income countries engage in a global race for talent, the resulting migration of high-skilled workers across countries tilts the deck even further. This column draws upon newly available data to outline the patterns and implications of global talent mobility. Key results include recent dramatic increases in high-skilled migration flows, particularly in certain occupations, in certain countries, among those with higher skill levels, and from a wider range of origins.
We are living in a world in which banks are large relative to the economies they serve. This column uses comprehensive data on Japanese banks from 1990 to 2010 to examine how the fates of individual banks matter for aggregate performance. Much of the fluctuation in Japanese aggregate investment appears to be driven by the idiosyncratic successes and failures of a limited number of institutions, and there is good reason to believe that the situation is similar in many developed countries.
A pressing issue facing policymakers around the globe today is how to generate long-term economic growth through technological innovation. Using a new dataset that matches 19th and 20th century patent records with census data, this column attempts to shed some light on the ‘golden age’ of US innovation. Population density and financial development are found to be important determinants of state innovativeness, while education appears to be the critical input at the individual level. These findings have important implications for innovation policy today.
For models of international trade to accurately represent the real-world costs, transport costs cannot be ignored. This column argues that, additionally, we cannot assume that transport costs are symmetrical, because of a backhaul capacity problem that constrains international shipping. Domestic tariffs, which benefit the domestic import sector and harm the foreign export sector in standard models of international trade, can also harm the domestic export sector and benefit the foreign import sector.
Countries have followed widely divergent paths of economic development since European colonisation, with some going on to be among the richest countries in the world today, and others having experienced little economic development over the last few centuries. This column, taken from a recent Vox eBook, uses a new database on the European share of the population during colonisation to examine the historical determinants of colonial European settlement and its relationship with current economic development.
Over the past decades, economists working on growth have ‘rediscovered’ the importance of history, leading to the emergence of a vibrant, far-reaching inter-disciplinary stream of work. This column introduces the second eBook in a new three-part series which examines key themes in this emergent literature and discusses the impact they have on our understanding of the long-run influence of historical events on current economics. This volume focuses on attempts by economists to shed light on the effects of European colonisers on development and culture across Africa and Asia.
The decline of manufacturing jobs in the US has been the focus of much attention recently, with rising trade with China cited as one explanation. This column describes how the German economy has experienced a similar secular decline in manufacturing and rising service employment, but that growing trade with China and Eastern Europe did not speed up this trend. In fact, rising exports to the new markets have stabilised industry jobs.
In a recent speech, Janet Yellen, Chair of the Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System, compared the Fed’s strategy to simple reference rules, including the Taylor rule. This column argues that the comparisons enhance the Fed’s transparency and can help it to stand up to political pressure. However, Chair Yellen also suggests an important role for estimates of medium-run equilibrium real rates. Such estimates are extremely uncertain and sensitive to technical assumptions, and thus should not be used as key determinants of policy stance.
A majority of UK-based macroeconomists welcome the government’s new industrial strategy, but doubt that the government can deliver. This column, which presents the results of the latest Centre for Macroeconomics and CEPR survey, shows a large majority of economist think that the UK needs a new regional strategy to tackle inequality across different parts of the country.
From the US withdrawal from the TPP to the Brexit negotiations, the tide of trade policy is turning towards protectionism. This column outlines how this could create a vicious cycle of lower productivity and closed economies, and what Japan, as the world’s third largest economy, can do to prevent it. A combination of trade and investment liberalisation and inclusive policies will enable all citizens to enjoy the fruits of growth under globalisation.
Financial markets and the banking sectors in several European countries are still struggling to recover from the Global crisis, with many instances of unresolved problems involving bad loans and fragility of banks. This column introduces a new CEPR eBook, drawing on research presented at the first conference of the European Central Banking Network, which examines the relationship between credit booms and busts and the potential misallocation of resources. Improving the functioning of credit markets and their ability to improve the allocation of resources is crucial to lift Europe out of the phase of low growth that has followed the Global Crisis.
There is growing concern that dominant companies use patents strategically to keep competitors from entering their market. This column uses the landmark 1956 Consent Decree against Bell Labs to explore whether antitrust enforcement is an effective remedy to the problem. Results show that patents can indeed be used as an entry barrier for start-up firms, and that the compulsory licensing of patents can foster market entry and innovation. However, compulsory licensing is found to be ineffective in markets where dominant firms have other means of market foreclosure.
Exchange rates are important contributors to business cycle fluctuations in open economies. Forecasting exchange rates is not an easy task, however, perhaps due to the instability of their relationship with economic drivers. This column introduces a model that also allows for changing volatility when forecasting exchange rates. Modelling time variation in the cross-rate relationships, and in the volatilities of the shocks hitting the economic system, significantly improves forecasts.
Economists point to three factors to explain how population is distributed: geographical characteristics, agglomeration, and history. This column, taken from a new Vox eBook, examines how economic and technological development have changed the ways in which two first-nature characteristics – suitability for growing food and suitability for engaging in trade – impact population distribution.
It has been observed that since the start of the Global Crisis, central banks in most advanced economies have become more powerful and political, but they have not become more accountable. This column discusses why central bank independence matters, and looks at whether it has changed since the crisis.
There is a cross-country relationship between economic performance and both economic and political diversification. This column presents global evidence that between 1962 and 2012, both types of diversification were closely related to economic performance. This period included the spread of democracy, the global liberalisation of trade, and the termination of the Cold War. The recent retreat of democracy, the popular reaction to trade liberalisation in key countries, and a new cold war appear likely to reduce economic efficiency and growth.
Tobin taxes on financial markets, such as the EU Financial Transactions Tax, are regularly under consideration. This column argues that a rationale for a Tobin tax exists even in competitive and informationally efficient markets when traders have private information and they condition on prices. In this situation traders overreact to private information, and a transactions tax may offset this externality.
Since the Industrial Revolution, modern prosperity has spread from its European birthplace to many corners of the world. Yet the diffusion of technologies, institutions and behaviours associated with this process of economic modernisation has been unequal both over space and time. This column, taken from a recent Vox eBook, argues that the divergent historical paths followed by distinct populations led to barriers between them. Although these barriers are deeply rooted, their effect is not permanent and immutable.
Understanding the real effects of financial shocks is essential for the design of effective growth-restoring policies. This column uses data on job contracts matched with the universe of firms and their banks from a region of Italy to analyse the employment effects of financial shocks. Financially constrained firms – especially the least productive ones – significantly reduced employment, mostly of less-educated and lower-skilled workers with temporary contracts. While these results suggest possible distributional effects across workers, they could also reflect a productivity-enhancing reallocation function of financial shocks.
Electricity prices can vary dramatically within a single day. However, most analyses of energy efficiency programmes ignore this variation, focusing on total energy savings without regard to when those savings occur. This column uses hourly smart-meter data to demonstrates a surprisingly large variation in economic value across energy efficiency investments. Air conditioner investments, for example, deliver savings when the value of electricity is high, increasing their value by about 50%.
An unprecedented process of deregulation took place in the banking sector in the three decades prior to the Global Crisis. This column argues that during periods of intense bank competition, financial innovation can compound the adverse effects of competition on stability. Coupled with strong competition, the significant use of one such innovation – securitisation – in the run-up to the crisis was related to high levels of bank risk.
The trade patterns of agricultural products, which are traded inter-regionally on a daily basis, are quite volatile, with trade often not taking place at all. Using daily data on the carrot trade in Japan, this column shows how supply and demand shocks and trade costs can cause frequent changes in supply patterns. Policies to reduce fixed trade costs, such as improving inventory management or traffic control, are needed even in a country with sufficient transport infrastructure such as Japan.
The decline of manufacturing employment in industrialised countries has hit some cities hard. This column looks at perhaps the best-known case – Detroit – where residents have deserted the neighbourhoods closest to the central business district in favour of the suburbs, despite the longer commute. Redeveloping these areas requires coordination between multiple developers, residents, and the city governments that facilitate permits and public services. The authors propose the introduction of ‘development guarantees’ to ease the coordination problems.
Most football leagues suspend players who have accumulated a certain number of yellow cards. This column describes the effect of this rule on the number of fouls committed by players in the English Premier League. Players who are approaching the suspension limit commit 33% fewer fouls than at the start of the season, and even in the first game of the season, the deterrent effect of the suspension rule reduces the number of fouls by 15%.
There is a notable lack of consensus about how central bank transparency affects uncertainty in the economy, as well as how transparency should be measured. This column reviews some recent contributions that highlight how transparency does not have consistent and unambiguous effects on economic uncertainty. Despite this ambiguity, transparency seems to be more often favourable than unfavourable.
We still know little about how firms alter their global sourcing patterns when facing uncertainty and shocks. This column uses Japanese firm-level data compiled after the Great East Japan earthquake of 2011 to show that firms in affected areas reacted immediately by offshoring more, but that this affect was significant only in the manufacturing sector. Policies to facilitate offshoring would support such emergency responses in future.
Despite the importance of insurance, discussions about the macroeconomic role and the risks of insurance markets have been surprisingly limited. This column explores some of the key theoretical and conceptual questions still unanswered in this field, and suggests that a two-fold approach combining a focus on individual firms and an activity-based approach across the sector is needed to tackle systemic risk within the insurance industry.
The substantial literature examining risk-sharing practices in rural villages in developing countries has typically taken the social institutions in these communities as given. Using data from India, this column challenges this assumption by showing how the costs and benefits of risk-sharing arrangements can shape these social institutions. The results suggest that the size and nature of these risk-sharing groups may evolve over time as their environment changes. Public policy to reduce consumption fluctuations can be counterproductive in the standard model because of a strong crowding-out effect.
European banks have not recovered from the Global Crisis, in part due to heavy provisions for non-performing loans. This column argues that a comprehensive approach to the issue in Europe could address market inefficiencies and reduce bad loans to bearable levels. The establishment of a European scheme to securitise non-performing loans should form one of the next steps towards recovery.
With its current competences lacking the ability to address distribution effects, the EU is seen as an agent of globalisation rather than a response to it. At the same time, it is charged with undermining national autonomy, identity, and control. This column sets out five guiding principles for policy articulation at the EU level for a new positive EU narrative.
The positive relationship between democratic development and economic outcomes is well established. Using three decades of international data, this column identifies a new channel for this effect – the cost of credit to corporations. It also analyses loan pricing in Turkey to reveal a substantial rise in the average cost of lending after the attempted coup d’etat in July 2016. Together, these results highlight how efficiency in loan pricing results in a comparative advantage for firms in democratic countries over those in less democratic or authoritarian countries.
Banking crises tend to happen in ‘waves’ across countries. In examining why this occurs, this column shows how foreign financial developments in general, and global credit growth in particular, are powerful predictors of domestic banking crises. The channels seem to be financial rather than related to trade, and include transmission of market sentiment, cross-border portfolio flows, and direct crisis contagion.
The Global Crisis and its aftermath led to greater use of stress tests and to the establishment of macroprudential policy as a new policy area. In this column, ECB Vice-President Vítor Constâncio introduces new suite of analytical tools that support the design and calibration of macroprudential policy. The tools go well beyond the requirements of the traditional solvency stress tests applied to banks, and include a broader set of institutions than just banks, an analysis of the financial cycle, as well as an assessment of systemic risk levels associated with the economic and financial shocks considered in adverse scenarios.
A main source of alternative financing during credit crunches is trade credit. This column argues that small and medium-sized enterprises in Europe suffered a liquidity squeeze during the Great Recession due to the increase of their net lending to large firms. This squeeze was induced by their weak bargaining power in trade credit relationships, and had significant adverse effects on their levels of investment and employment.
According to conventional wisdom, capital flows are fickle. Focusing on emerging markets, this column argues that despite recent structural and regulatory changes, much of this wisdom still holds today. Foreign direct investment inflows are more stable than non-FDI inflows. Within non-FDI inflows, portfolio debt and bank-intermediated flows are most volatile. Meanwhile, FDI and bank-related outflows from emerging markets have grown and become increasingly volatile. This finding underscores the need for greater attention from analysts and policymakers to the capital outflow side.
Capital flows play a key role in the transmission of real and financial shocks across countries, but empirical work on flows by sector is scarce. This column uses a newly constructed dataset of capital inflows for 85 countries, broken down by borrowing sector, to show that private debt flows are negatively correlated with global risk appetite, while borrowing by sovereigns is positively correlated with risk appetite. This and other results discussed show the importance of splitting capital inflows into their borrowing sectors when designing policy to manage macrofinancial risk.