One common concern about membership of the EU is the notion that poorer members have more to gain than richer ones. This column focuses on the countries that joined the EU in 1973 (Denmark, UK and Ireland) and in 1995 (Austria, Finland and Sweden). The authors estimate that these rich countries benefited substantially from joining the EU. Furthermore, while the benefits from EU membership to poorer countries tend to be mostly in terms of per capita income, for richer countries the benefits tend to be mostly in terms of productivity.
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Illegal drugs are one of the planet’s most pressing problems. They shatter hundreds of millions of lives and wreak untold social, economic and political damage in both consuming and producing nations. In this column - originally published 22 May 2012 -- the ex-President of Mexico, Ernesto Zedillo, introduces an eBook he edited on the issue that points very strongly in the direction of a serious reconsideration of drug policy.
Diagnosing the EZ Crisis is a critical first step towards developing a consensus on how the monetary union should be fixed. This column contrasts views that place the blame mostly on markets with those that place the onus on governments. The fixes necessary for the survival of the euro are – correspondingly – more ‘market discipline’ or ‘political discipline’ exerted at the European level. Neither is very attractive, but it should be clear that ‘market discipline’ is not a mechanism run by atomistic players. Global wealth is highly concentrated, so market discipline means, de facto, a regime of plutocracy.
It costs a relatively large amount of money to buy a house in the UK – something readers from the UK will almost certainly agree with. But economists differ over why this is. This column argues that strict planning regulations are a prime culprit for sky-high prices and that without any real regulatory change, it is the young that will suffer.
Some analysts claim that secular stagnation is responsible for the disappointing post-crisis economic performance. This column provides a different explanation that points to an unsuspected villain: the misallocation of resources (in our case, labour) during the pre-crisis financial boom and the long shadow it has cast post-crisis. The findings draw on an empirical analysis covering more than 20 advanced economies over 40 years. They add strength to the view that the economy has been struggling with the legacy of a major financial boom and bust that has left long-lasting scars on the economic tissue. They also raise broader questions about the interpretation of hysteresis effects, the need to incorporate credit developments in the measurement of potential output and the design of policy more generally, and the role and effectiveness of monetary policy in the short and long term.
Oil prices have fallen sharply and remained persistently low, but the expected demand boost has not materialised. This column notes that when nominal interest rates are pinned at zero, lower inflation due to a drop in oil prices raises real interest rates, working against the traditional positive income effects. Dangers arise from the possibility of unanchored inflation expectations and dislocations – including corporate and sovereign defaults – that could spook already jittery financial markets. To combat such negative loops, demand support by the global community – along with a range of country-specific structural and financial-sector reforms – is urgent.
Lloyd Shapley, game theorist and co-recipient of the 2012 Nobel Memorial Prize in Economic Sciences, passed away in March. This column, by the economist with whom he shared the Nobel, outlines Shapley’s intellectual life and career, which was among the most fertile of the 20th century. Shapley made fundamental contributions to the analysis of both cooperative and non-cooperative games. Some of his foundational ideas have led to the study of matching markets and to the thriving branch of practical economics known as ‘market design’.
The dramatic episodes in the Eurozone in the past few years called for a number of policy reactions. Yet the response was usually limited to what was deemed indispensable to ensure survival. This column discusses how such half-solutions paved the way for future crises. The author also puts forward a few proposals regarding the Eurozone’s policies. Among them are a European Monetary Fund, an overhaul of surveillance, the completion of banking union, an insolvency procedure for sovereigns, and Eurobonds of some sort. And the sooner such issues are deeply discussed, the faster coherent solutions can be reached.
Helicopter money is frequently in the headlines but frequently misunderstood. This column reviews the VoxEU columns that have – since 2010 – provided research-based policy analysis of this ‘beyond unconventional’ policy.
Recent decades have seen a remarkable increase in the concentration of wealth in the hands of the wealthiest in the US. This column examines which factors may have driven this increase. The evidence points to higher wage inequality, often attributed to new developments in the technology of production, as the main driving force, followed by tax cuts for top earners and more generous public transfers as secondary factors.
In order to preserve financial integration and stability, the Eurozone needs to build elements of a common fiscal policy. This column, first posted 12 February 2016, discusses how this could be done. It proposes the creation of a European Fiscal Institute, modelled on principles similar to those used for the ECB. Such an establishment would require treaty and constitutional reforms in member states, which would not be politically feasible in the short term.
Big Data is changing the world, even economics. This column describes MIT’s Billion Prices Project and discusses key lessons for both inflation measurement and some fundamental research questions in macro and international economics. Online prices can be used to construct daily price indexes in multiple countries and to help avoid measurement biases.
A lot has been achieved in terms of institution building to turn the Eurozone into a sustainable currency union. The Eurozone Crisis, however, has shown that the Eurozone is still not a properly functioning currency union. This column, first posted 12 February 2016, points to three areas of further reform to achieve such a goal. These include the disentanglement of sovereigns and banks, completion of a banking union, and an institutional convergence for a fully integrated financial system.
Forecasts of business conditions affect investment decisions. This column provides evidence that this is the case in Japan, using firm-level data collected between 2004 and 2014 covering several significant economic events. It also shows that the impacts of business condition forecasts on investment are similar across manufacturing and non-manufacturing industries.
Studies attempting the quantify the economic effects for the UK of Brexit have come up with conflicting results – ranging from significant advantages to marked losses. Using a meta-analysis, this column shows this can be explained by different methods and assumptions, as well as varying coverage of effects. The forward-looking, model-based studies are unable to capture many positive effects of economic integration on welfare and growth. In comparison, backward-looking studies tend to find significantly larger trade effects of economic integration agreements. The meta-analysis suggests that in case of Brexit, GDP losses for the UK in the range of 10% or more cannot be ruled out in the long run.
Geographic proximity between innovating actors has been shown to facilitate knowledge transfers and spillovers. However, the degree to which these effects are driven by serendipitous encounters has yet to be examined. This column explores this issue for a sample of Norwegian firms. Of the relationships that help firms innovate, fewer than 10% are formed in purely casual circumstances. The results imply that knowledge isn’t so much ‘in the air’; transfers usually result from purposeful search.
The euro is unique in that it is a currency without a sovereign. Since the crisis, there have been major developments towards making the Eurozone more resilient, including the banking union and the European Stability Mechanism (ESM). This column, originally published 12 February 2016, explores whether further normalisation is required to make the Eurozone function properly. It argues that the Eurozone, unlike existing federations, lacks the ability to deliver counter-cyclical fiscal policies while complying with fiscal discipline. Macroeconomic coordination will thus require rules, a strong and independent European Fiscal Board, and the strengthening of the ESM.
The ECB recently announced a new monetary operation – targeted longer-term refinancing operations, or TLTRO II – that essentially subsidises bank loans to the real economy. This column argues that this ‘cash for loans’ scheme, which might cost up to €24 billion, is unlikely to affect the real economy greatly. This is because banks can easily window dress their loans to qualify. TLTRO II also tests the limits of the ECB’s mandate by stepping into the fiscal policy space.
The Trans-Pacific Partnership faces serious a political challenge in the US, with some viewing it as primarily benefitting the wealthy. This column argues that it will slightly favour middle- and low-income US households, while also generating substantial benefits for poorer developing countries. As with any trade agreement, the gains and losses will be asymmetrically distributed, but the gains should permit ample support for individuals adversely affected.
Since the Crisis, macroprudential policy has become a necessary complement to monetary policy. The ECB is striving to be a major contributor to the growing body of thought about the role and instruments of this new policy area. In this column, Vice-President Vítor Constâncio introduces the new bi-annual ECB Macroprudential Bulletin aimed at widening awareness about the Bank's macroprudential policy mandate, enhancing transparency, and informing about current ECB discussions and approaches in the field.
Financial deregulation in the US has been shown to be associated with rising income inequality over the past four decades. This column looks at the income effects of financial deregulation in the UK and Japan during the 1980s and 1990s. As in the US, deregulation substantially increased the shares of income going to the very top of the distribution. These findings highlight the importance of financial markets in the evolution of income inequality in society.
Women remain underrepresented in many aspects of political and civic life. This column explores the empirical significance of representation, exploiting a 1919 law that made women eligible to serve on English juries. Archival court data show that female representation boosted convictions in sex offenses cases. The magnitude of results highlights how dramatically underrepresentation can influence the functioning of civic institutions.
Since the breakup of Bretton Woods in the early 1970s, the housing market has been at the centre of the biggest banking crises across the world. This column considers the nexus between housing, banking, and the economy, and how these ties can be broken. It argues for two modest regulatory changes in banking and insurance. These would result in life insurers and pension funds providing mortgage finance, better insulating the economy and homeowners from the housing cycle.
Europe is in the midst of a major demographic crisis, with many countries facing ultra-low fertility rates. This column uses survey data from 19 European countries to show how low fertility can be traced to disagreement within couples about having babies. In low-fertility countries, it is usually the women who bear most of the burden of childbearing, and who veto having more babies. Fertility can be raised by policies that specifically lower cost to women of childcare, whereas general subsidies for childbearing are much less effective.
The slowdown of global trade growth since the Global Crisis has raised concerns across the world. This column puts recent changes into perspective by presenting evidence on the export/GDP ratio and a rough measure of the gains from trade back to 1830. It shows that the interwar period was marked by a reversal of globalisation that makes recent trends look like a small blip.
In terms of GDP and unemployment, the US’s recovery from the crisis was relatively rapid. This was in large part due to forceful fiscal policy conducted by the Obama Administration. This column surveys the lessons for other economies, which have seen less-convincing recoveries. Around the world, increased spending and tax cuts over the last eight years have had positive effects. Continuing recovery will require concerted action in these directions.
Pollution levels are orders of magnitude higher in lower-income countries than in the developed world. This means that studies of the health effects of pollution based on data from the latter will not necessarily be relevant to the former. This column reports on the effect of air pollution on infant mortality in Mexico City. Significant effects are found that are much larger than found in earlier work based on US data. These findings highlight the potential pitfalls of naively extrapolating findings from high-income to developing countries.
The recent refugee crisis in Europe has highlighted that increased immigration leads to political success for extreme right-wing parties. This column uses evidence from three elections in Italy to quantify the impact immigration has on the political success of non-extreme right-wing parties. In the Italian case, immigration leads to bigger gains for centre-right parties than extreme right parties.
Short-term contracts are viewed as a way of stimulating youth employment. This column presents evidence that this is the case in Spain, but that such contracts are also detrimental to job stability and lifetime earnings. The negative effects get stronger the longer workers are exposed to fixed-term contracts.
The effect of an individual’s place of residence on their life chances has long been discussed in public policy debates. This column uses British Household Panel Survey data to assess whether birthplace plays a role in determining future earnings. On average, an individual born in London in the 1970s will earn around 7% more than an individual of the same age and gender born in Manchester; who in turn will earn 5.5% more than an individual born in Cardiff. Parental sorting and the influence of birthplace in decisions about current location both play a role in explaining this effect.
Many claim that monetary policy has hit diminishing returns. They use that as an explanation for the slower economic growth and low inflation in the Eurozone. This column argues that the main problem is that the ECB acted late and with half-measures to the Global Crisis, which was seen as falling short of its promises. The real problem is thus not a lack of ammunition, but a lack of credibility.
The Eurozone faces zero inflation paired with low economic growth. With monetary policy hobbled by the zero lower bound, it is time to think more broadly. This column discusses the theoretical and empirical evidence on ‘unconventional fiscal policy’. Such policies aim to increase growth and inflation in a budget-neutral fashion, while keeping the tax burden on households constant.
A longstanding question in economics is whether labour-saving technology affects firms in the medium term by increasing output, by decreasing employment, or both. This column provides evidence on this issue using a novel dataset from the concrete industry during the Great Depression. Cheaper electricity caused a decrease in the labour share of income, an increase in productivity and electrical capital intensity, and a decrease in employment. Furthermore, these effects were stronger in counties where the Depression hit hardest, consistent with the idea of ‘the cleansing effect of recessions’.
Since the Global Crisis, a number of regulatory policies have been discussed, proposed and sometimes implemented to address shortcomings in the regulatory framework. This column presents the views of the speakers at a recent conference on whether we have reached an efficient outcome. For most of the speakers, the answer was a resounding “no”.
The trade literature has long focused on firms’ productivity as an explanation for export performance. But what about the demand side? This column looks at firms’ appeal in terms of quality and consumer taste. Using Belgian firm-level data, it suggests that tastes could account for 45% of the variation in export quantities across countries.
Areas experiencing poor economic performance are often targeted by governments with programmes aimed at improving employment. However, there are concerns that any increases in employment come at the cost of reduced employment elsewhere. This column examines the displacement effects of one such programme in the UK. While employment increased within the targeted areas, there were comparable decreases in employment just outside the areas’ boundaries. These findings suggest place-based policies should focus on traded activities that are less susceptible to local displacement effects.
Most countries with a generous pay-as-you-go social security system and ageing demographics will need to implement significant welfare reform, such as a major cut in benefits or a significant increase in distortionary taxation. Individuals’ uncertainty about when such a policy change will occur will cause precautionary saving and changes in factor prices, affecting aggregate welfare. This column uses evidence from Japan to show that delaying welfare reform will benefit the elderly, at a long-lasting cost to the young.
Job quality plays a significant role in individuals’ well-being as well as promoting labour force participation, productivity, and economic performance. But it can be an elusive concept if not grounded in hard data. This column presents a new OECD framework to measure and assess the quality of jobs based on three measurable dimensions – earnings quality, labour market security, and quality of the working environment. The data reveal a great deal of heterogeneity in job quality across OECD countries and also across socioeconomic groups. Furthermore, the relationship between the quantity and quality of jobs is more complex in the short term, especially in the aftermath of the Global Crisis.
The distributional effect of inherited wealth has been a long-standing question in economics. This column presents new evidence on the issue using population-wide register data from Sweden. The findings show that inheritances decrease wealth inequality but increase the absolute dispersion of wealth. The equalising effect of inheritances is diluted, however, by the fact that less wealthy heirs consume most of their inherited wealth, whereas wealthier heirs tend to save theirs.
Though there is a consensus that competition is welfare enhancing, it is less clear whether competition policy effectively stimulates competition. This column presents new findings on the deterrence effects of merger policy in the EU. The evidence shows that initial phase remedies uniquely involve deterrence in the European context, while other policy actions do not. Secondary phase remedies, however, do not lead to deterrence effects.
The refugee crisis that erupted in 2015 has raised concerns about potential violence and criminality of the migrants. This column investigates whether past exposure to conflict makes asylum seekers in Switzerland more violent. The findings show that cohorts exposed to civil conflicts/mass killings during childhood are, on average, 40% more prone to violent crimes than their co-nationals born after the conflict. Certain policies can mitigate this result. In particular, offering labour market access to asylum seekers eliminates all the effect.
In the early 2000s several European countries passed new laws that ended the ‘professor’s privilege’, under which university researchers had enjoyed full rights to their innovations. This column shows that the reform in Norway was followed by a 50% decrease in both startup and patenting activity by university researchers. Measures of startup and patenting quality also declined. The reform, which sought to spur university-based innovation, appears to have had the opposite effect.
Both the US and the Eurozone reacted to the Global Crisis by injecting liquidity and loosening monetary policy. This column argues that despite the similarities in the behaviour of bank credit, the behaviour of bank reserves has been quite different. In particular, while US bank reserves have been on an uninterrupted upward trend since Lehman’s collapse, EZ bank reserves have fluctuated markedly in both directions. At the source, this is due to differences in the liquidity injections procedures between the Eurozone and the Fed.
Since the Global Crisis, cross-border lending among banks and its role in the transmission of financial shocks have gained a lot of attention. This column describes evidence from direct and indirect lending exposures among a large number of banks. The findings show that a larger number of exposures to banks in countries experiencing a systemic banking crisis reduces profitability and the supply of new credit. Both direct and indirect connections have economically significant effects, supporting the notion that interconnected systems are prone to shock transmission.
Monetary policy has significantly heterogeneous effects on private consumption, which depend on the household's debt and balance sheet position. This column suggests that households with mortgage debt behave in a liquidity-constrained manner, while those without are far less sensitive to movements in interest rates. Though the direct channel of monetary transmission – i.e. the movement in interest cash flows – also affects the expenditure of mortgagors, most of the aggregate effect comes via the stimulus to the income of all housing tenure groups.
Throughout history, most states have functioned as kleptocracies and not as providers of public goods. This column analyses the diffusion of legal institutions that established Europe’s first large-scale experiments in mass public education. These institutions originated in Germany during the Protestant Reformation due to popular political mobilisation, but only in around half of Protestant cities. Cities that formalised these institutions grew faster over the next 200 years, both by attracting and by producing more highly skilled residents.
The turbulence experienced by the Eurozone in 2010-12 highlighted the shortcomings of the currency union. This column suggests that the crisis was exacerbated by a combination of a lack of market adjustment mechanisms, rapid financial integration, and underlying design issues. While substantial progress has been made to address some architectural issues, minimal elements of a fiscal union are still needed in our view to increase the union’s resilience to shocks and to prevent the re-emergence of broader economic and financial stress.
A key problem in exploring how foreign aid affects economic growth is the endogeneity of aid in growth models. This column tackles the problem by exploiting an income threshold which, though arbitrary, is a key criterion in allocating scarce foreign aid resources. The evidence shows that, among poor countries where it is a large source of funding, foreign aid increases short-run economic growth.
The refugee crisis has placed Europe’s Schengen Agreement under stress, with some calling for the reintroduction of identity checks and other border controls. This column presents new estimates of the potential costs of such controls. On average, the removal of controls at one border acts like the removal of a 0.7% tariff. The controls currently notified to the EU Commission could lower EU GDP by around €12.5 billion. The full demise of Schengen would be about three times as costly.
Across the world, 650 million people still lack access to clean water, despite great progress over last two decades. This column looks at the case of Bangladesh, where around 45 million people are at risk from drinking water that is contaminated with naturally occurring arsenic. Drinking this water can lead to symptoms of arsenicosis, which have a significant negative impact on mental health and thus on household productivity and wellbeing.