Since time immemorial, parents have struggled with the question of how best to raise their children. This column argues that the choice of parenting style is driven by incentives. Parents weigh the expected costs and benefits of implementing a certain parenting style. The popularity of the authoritarian style is declining because the economic returns to the independence of children have risen. The rising inequality implies higher returns to education. This calls for pushier parenting styles, such as the authoritative one. A decline in inequality is likely to prompt a more relaxed parenting.
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This column by the 2014 Nobelist Jean Tirole was originally posted on 16 July 2007. It gives his views on reforms that are as necessary today as they were in 2007. Meeting the expectations of its citizens will require the French state to become more effective. A four-pronged approach is required: restructuring, competition, evaluation and accountability.
Before the 2008 crisis, the mainstream worldview among US macroeconomists was that economic fluctuations were regular and essentially self-correcting. In this column, IMF chief economist Olivier Blanchard explains how this benign view of fluctuations took hold in the profession, and what lessons have been learned since the crisis. He argues that macroeconomic policy should aim to keep the economy away from ‘dark corners’, where it can malfunction badly.
Governments are now measuring happiness, or subjective wellbeing, and some have begun trying to maximise it. This column discusses recent research showing that happiness is not the same thing as utility. The choices people make suggest that they have desires and objectives other than happiness. It is therefore possible to make people worse off while increasing their reported subjective wellbeing.
The Global Crisis prompted Lord Adair Turner to ask if the growth of the financial sector has been socially useful, catalysing an ongoing debate. This column turns to economic history to investigate whether the financial sector is too big. New long-run, disaggregated data on banks’ balance sheets show that mortgage lending by banks has been the driving force behind the financialisation of advanced economies. Real estate lending booms are chiefly responsible for financial crises and weak recoveries.
The notion that Europe and other advanced economies are suffering secular stagnation is gaining traction. This column by Larry Summers – first published in the Vox eBook “Secular Stagnation: Facts, Causes and Cures” – explains the idea. It argues that a decline in the full-employment real interest rate coupled with low inflation could indefinitely prevent the attainment of full employment.
Yale University has generated annual returns of 13.9% over the last 20 years on its endowment – well in excess of the 9.2% average return on US university endowments. Keynes’ writings were a considerable influence on the investment philosophy of David Swensen, Yale’s CIO. This column traces how Keynes’ experiences managing his Cambridge college endowment influenced his ideas, and sheds light on how some of the lessons he learnt are still relevant to endowments and foundations today.
Wealth inequality in the US has followed a U-shaped evolution over the last century – there was a substantial democratisation of wealth from the Great Depression to the late 1970s, followed by a sharp rise in wealth inequality. This column discusses new evidence on the concentration of wealth in the US. Growing wealth disparity is fuelled by increases in both income and saving rate inequalities between the haves and the have nots.
To work towards resolving Europe’s ongoing debt crisis this column looks to the past. From the recent emerging market debt crisis (1980s-2000s) and the interwar episode of the 1920s-1930s we learn that debt write-downs and defaults are able to be postponed but not prevented. Punishment for default is temporary, sometimes followed by a renewed surge in borrowing that leads to another crisis.
As routine tasks are increasingly automated, middle-wage jobs are becoming rarer. This column documents the changes in labour-market dynamics behind this polarisation, and investigates which workers are affected by it. Flows into middle-wage routine jobs are declining (rather than flows out increasing). Interestingly, routine cognitive workers – who tend to be educated women – are benefiting from this hollowing-out by moving up the occupational ladder.
Many unconventional policies adopted by central banks in response to the Crisis failed to boost the economy. This column discusses the effects of a temporary money-financed fiscal stimulus. When a more realistic model is allowed, such a stimulus can have a strong effect on output and employment, and a mild effect on inflation.
There has been renewed interest in sovereign debt since the Global Crisis, but relatively little attention has been paid to its composition. Sovereign debt can differ in terms of the currency it is denominated in, its maturity, its marketability, and who holds it – and these characteristics matter for debt sustainability. This column presents evidence from a new dataset on the composition of sovereign debt over the past century in 13 advanced economies.
There are several conflicting channels through which monetary policy could affect the distribution of wealth, income, and consumption. This column argues that contractionary monetary policy raised inequality in the US, while expansionary monetary policy lowered it. This evidence stresses the need for monetary policy models that take into account heterogeneity across households. Current monetary policy models may significantly understate the welfare costs of zero-bound episodes.
How do macroeconomic changes affect people’s wellbeing? This column presents evidence that the life satisfaction of individuals is between two and eight times more sensitive to negative economic growth than it is to positive economic growth. Engineering economic ‘booms’ that risk even short ‘busts’ is unlikely to improve social wellbeing in the long run.
An individual’s level of patience is an important determinant in the trade-off between current and future consumption. This column explores the relationship between individuals’ patience for monetary payoffs and their health behaviours, energy use, and financial outcomes. The authors decompose patience into short-run impulsiveness versus long-run impatience, and also explore the role of alternative measures of patience, such as self-reported willpower.
Minimum wage laws are often shown to have little impact on employment as the labour price rise can be offset by lower turnover, lower markups, and heightened efficiency, or ‘cleansing’ effects. This column shows that in a fast-growing economy like China, there is a ‘cleansing’ effect of labour market standards. Minimum wage growth allows more productive firms to replace the least productive ones and forces incumbent firms to become more competitive. Both mechanisms boost the aggregate efficiency of the economy.
Having completed the regulatory framework for systemically important banks, the Financial Stability Board is turning to insurance companies. The emerging framework for insurers closely resembles that for banks, culminating in the design and calibration of capital surcharges. This column argues that the contrasting business models and balance sheet structures of insurers and banks – and the different roles of capital, leverage, and risk absorption in the two sectors – mean that the banking model of capital cannot be applied to insurance. Tools other than capital surcharges may be more appropriate to address possible concerns of systemic risk.
Researchers have devoted little attention to the effects of emigration from OECD countries, and the absence of detailed emigration data is the main culprit. Using a new and improved migration database, this column analyses the effect of migration on the wages of less educated native workers. The results suggest that, as far as labour market outcomes of less educated workers are concerned, governments should worry less about new arrivals and more about the potential consequences of their high emigration rates.
Regret can shape preferences and thus is an important part of the decision-making process. This column presents new findings on the theoretical and behavioural implications of regret. Anticipated regret can act like a surrogate for risk aversion and could deter investment. However, once people have invested, they become attached to their investment. This commitment is higher with better past performance.
Norway’s sovereign wealth fund is the largest in the world. As such, it has prompted discussions about its design. This column argues that one flaw in the fund is that it doesn’t consider oil reserves beneath the ground. Changing the equity/bond mix and the spending rule could lead to significant welfare improvements.
Following the financial crisis, European banks have taken steps to revise unsustainable business models by deleveraging. By this metric they have made substantial progress – but this column argues that improper management of the deleveraging process may threaten the recovery. The authors find that equity increases played a much larger role than asset decreases, and recommend increasing the disposal of bad assets.
Recent calls for closing fiscal deficits have been combined with proposals to shift the tax burden and increase marginal tax rates on higher earners. This column argues that revenue-maximising tax rates for high earners in the US would be substantially higher than current rates. However, increasing tax rates for high earners would not raise much additional revenue.
As part of the move to a banking union, the largest banks in the Eurozone will soon be supervised by the ECB. This column argues that supervision and the lender of last resort function should be seen as a joint product. After the introduction of the euro, the national central banks continued to act as lenders of last resort because bank supervision remained at the national level. Now that supervision is moving to the ECB, so should the lender of last resort function for the larger, cross-border, banks.
Sustained rapid growth in many African economies has generated a debate on the sources and likely persistence of a so-called 'African growth miracle'. This column looks at the factors underlying growth in an especially vibrant part of the continent – the East African Community. It suggests that rapid growth has been for real and reasonably well diversified.
Many central banks embrace forward guidance by announcing expected interest rate paths. But how likely it is that actual rates will be close to expected ones? This column argues that quantifying such uncertainty poses great difficulties. Precise probability statements in a world of uncertainty (not just risk) can be misleading. It might be better to rely on qualitative guidance such as: “Interest rate rises will probably be gradual and likely to be to a level below the old normal”.
Despite the growth of online and card payments, the ratio of currency to GDP in the UK has been rising. This column argues that rapid growth in the grey economy has been a key cause. The authors estimate that the grey economy in the UK could have expanded by around 3% of UK GDP since the beginning of the Global Crisis.
World War I profoundly altered the structure of the US economy and its role in the world economy. However, this column argues that the US learnt the wrong lessons from the war, partly because a halo of victory surrounded wartime policies and personalities. The methods used for dealing with shortages during the war were simply inappropriate for dealing with the Great Depression, and American isolationism in the 1930s had devastating consequences for world peace.
Recent findings suggest that a small proportion of EU firms accounts for a disproportionate share of aggregate exports. This column argues, however, that a large number of EU exporting firms are small and medium enterprises (SMEs) and they have a non-negligible part in EU exports. Identifying the trade barriers SMEs face should, therefore, be among the EU trade priorities.
Heightened economic uncertainty has attracted much recent attention. Policymakers repeatedly emphasise uncertainty as a key factor driving the last two recessions – in particular the depth and length of the Great Recession. This column proposes asymmetric hiring rules as a mechanism that generates endogenous and joint movements in macro and micro volatility of employment growth.
After the Crisis, unconventional monetary policy measures were adopted. A major question is whether they have succeeded in boosting aggregate demand. This column exploits adjustable rate mortgages that originated before the Crisis and featured an automatic reset of the interest rate. Low interest rates have stimulated consumption of durable goods, but the expansionary effect is partially dampened by households’ desire to deleverage voluntarily.
Given a large body of evidence that television influences cultural attitudes, the fear that foreign content erodes local culture may be justified. Such reasoning is often cited in support of the cultural exception that the audiovisual industry routinely receives. This column introduces an economic model of cultural transmission and viewer choice to argue that a competitive TV industry is the best way to ensure cultural survival.
Recent research highlights that important factors for firm size are costs, quality, markups, and product scope. This column explores the sources that make these factors differ across firms. Quality, including in the form of variation in product scope, is the chief determinant of firm sales. Marginal cost variations do not matter much for firm size.
Climate change has been the main driver of mass extinctions over the last 500 million years. This column argues that current evidence provides a stark warning. Human activity is producing greenhouse gases, and as a consequence global temperatures and ocean heat content are rising. Such trends raise the risk of tipping points. Economic analysis offers a number of ideas, but a key problem is that distributions of climate variables can shift, invalidating stationarity-based analyses, and making action to avoid possible future shifts especially urgent.
The design of the pension system is a hot policy issue in China, given its fast-ageing population. This column discusses how different pension systems could allow different generations to share the benefits of high growth. The authors argue that a reform of the current system is necessary to achieve financial sustainability. However, delaying its implementation is advisable on the grounds of its effect on income inequality.
There is a perception amongst pharmaceutical experts that some Indian manufacturers and/or their distributors segment the global medicine market into portions that are served by different quality medicines. This column finds that drug quality is poorer among Indian-labelled drugs purchased inside African countries than among those purchased inside India or middle-income countries. Substandard drugs – non-registered in Africa and containing insufficient amounts of the active ingredient – are the biggest driver of this quality difference.
The IMF went to extraordinary lengths to come to the assistance of Ukraine, financing above-quota limits and breaking its rule to withhold lending during acute conflict. The fighting continues and the government has yet to make concrete its commitments to the programme. Now that the 2014 economic projections are coming to resemble the ‘adverse scenario’, the IMF faces the task not only of remedying the situation in Ukraine, but of salvaging its own credibility.
Have Western economies entered a period of secular stagnation? Among respondents to the latest monthly survey of the Centre for Macroeconomics (CFM), reported in this column, three out of four think not – though, on balance, they feel that policy ought to be more expansionary anyway. Several panel members question whether secular stagnation is a useful and well-defined concept, yet despite this ambivalence, the number of CFM experts who think that policies should be more concerned about low real interest rates is substantially higher than the number that do not.
The substitution from child quantity to quality has been credited for mankind’s escape from the Malthusian trap and the advent of sustained economic growth. This column argues that biocultural preferences for quality faced positive selection pressure in the pre-growth era, presenting evidence from the founding population of Quebec. Individuals with moderate levels of fecundity had fewer children than those with high fecundity, but produced more descendants in the long run because their children enjoyed higher reproductive success.
Regulation of the global insurance industry, an emerging challenge in international finance, has two central objectives: strengthening the oversight of insurance companies designated ‘systemically important’; and designing a global capital standard for internationally active insurers. This column argues that it is a Herculean task because the business model of insurance is less globalised than other areas in finance; because global regulators have less experience of insurance than banking where global standards have been pursued for a quarter of a century; and because, as yet, there is limited research-based understanding of the insurance business and its interactions with the financial system and the real economy. But in the aftermath of the global financial crisis and the AIG disaster, regulators are under strong pressure to make progress.
The reason for the divergent macroeconomic policies on the two sides of the Atlantic after the Crisis remains a hotly debated subject. The topic was also discussed at the recent “Macroeconomic Policy Mix in the Transatlantic Economy” workshop. This column summarises the main discussions at the workshop. Other covered topics included secular stagnation, the output effects of fiscal consolidation, cross-border banking (as a source and propagator of shocks), and the asset-market effects of unconventional monetary policies.
Global current-account imbalances narrowed substantially over the past eight years. As a result, the systemic risks associated with these imbalances have decreased. This column argues that despite this narrowing, the net creditor and debtor positions diverged further. Some large debtor economies remain exposed to changes in market confidence. Containing remaining imbalances requires a rebalance in global demand.
Governments benefit from inflation since the real value of public debt falls but inflation is a tax on money holders. Bond holders are aware of this fact and act accordingly. This column explores empirically the role of bond markets in keeping inflation low. The existence of long, nominal, local-currency bonds lowers inflation by three to four percentage points. The results hold for inflation-targeting countries, and other monetary regimes do not have the same effects.
The ECB conducted a comprehensive assessment of banks and identified capital shortfalls for 25 banks, totalling €25 billion. In this column, the authors provide a number of benchmark stress tests to estimate capital shortfalls. The analyses suggest possible capital shortfalls between €80 billion and more than €700 billion depending on the model. They find a negative correlation between their benchmark estimates and the regulatory capital shortfall, and a positive one between the benchmarks and the regulatory estimates of losses. This suggests that regulatory stress test outcomes are potentially affected by the discretion of national regulators.
Following the Global Crisis the focus has been on how to make banks safer. Capital and liquidity requirements have been tightened, but attention now needs to shift to corporate governance and risk culture. This column argues that in opaque organisations, formal risk-appetite frameworks can provide a pre-commitment mechanism that tightens risk governance, but a focus on the wider risk culture is also important.
No progress has been made on the agriculture talks of the Doha Round since 2008. This column argues that the reason for the impasse is the approach to negotiations – in which all members are expected to participate. The author proposes a critical-mass approach to negotiations as an alternative, in which a subset of member countries can conclude a deal among themselves. The projected welfare gains from such an approach are substantial. The only obstacle is that its implementation could be politically unfeasible.
The Boston mechanism for school assignment is well studied and widely used. This column shows two crucial failings of the variation that gives priority based on neighbourhood, using an exogenous policy change in Barcelona. Since assignment to any school not picked first is unlikely, most parents make the ‘safe’ pick and rank the local school first. Moreover, the ability to deviate from the ‘safe’ ranking is greater for richer families, for whom private education is a viable outside option.
Numerous countries have implemented seat reservations for women in politics over the past decades. Starting in the early 1990s, India’s flagship decentralisation reform instituted one-third seat reservations for women in local governance bodies. This column suggests that this political empowerment increased women’s economic empowerment through at least one channel, i.e. small-scale entrepreneurship. These findings suggest that political empowerment policies for women may additionally have beneficial economic effects in the longer run.
Critics of the ‘audit society’ and the so-called ‘new public management’ doctrines have gained momentum in recent years. At the centre of the critique is the so-called motivation crowding-out hypothesis. This column presents evidence from a field experiment involving Swedish non-profits. Far from crowding out intrinsic motivation, the threat of an audit improved all aspects of efficiency.
Many organisations are developing open platforms to create, store, and share knowledge. This column analyses editing data by Wikipedia users to show how content creation by individuals generates significant ‘spillover’ benefits, encouraging others to contribute to the collective process of knowledge production.
In February 2014, the German Federal Constitutional Court declared the Outright Monetary Transactions (OMT) programme to be inconsistent with EU law. However, this did not have a negative impact on the OMT and sovereign risk premia continued to decline. This column argues that the benign response of financial markets may be due to an expectation of a likely compromise between the European and German Courts.