The effects of of globalisation on income distributions in rich countries have been studied extensively. This column takes a different approach by looking at developments in global incomes from 1988 to 2008. Large real income gains have been made by people around the median of the global income distribution and by those in the global top 1%. However, there has been an absence of real income growth for people around the 80-85th percentiles of the global distribution, a group consisting of people in ‘old rich’ OECD countries who are in the lower halves of their countries’ income distributions.
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Gender gaps in earnings exist in high-skill industries despite male and female workers having similar educational backgrounds. This column uses evidence from the legal industry to assess how performance affects career outcomes across genders. Performance gaps, defined by hours billed and new revenue raised, explain a substantial share of the gender gaps in earnings, as women’s working hours are affected by having young children while those of men are not. An important implication is that gender-based inequality in earnings and career outcomes might not decrease in the near future as more high-skilled workers are explicitly compensated based on performance.
Many economists throughout history have been proven wrong in predicting that technological progress will cause irreversible damage to the labour market. This column shows that so far, the labour market has always adapted to the replacement of jobs with capital, using evidence of new types of skilled jobs between 1970 and 2007. As long as the rate of automation of jobs by machines and the creation of new complex tasks for workers are balanced, there will be no major labour market decline. The nature of new technology, and its impact on future innovation potential, has important implications for labour stability.
Inequalities in mortality rates are a good indicator of economic wellbeing, but most of the existing literature does little to distinguish between developments in infants and adults. This column uses extensive US data to analyse mortality trends across all age groups. It finds that the health of the next generation in the poorest areas of the US has improved significantly and the race gap has declined significantly. Underlying explanations include declines in the prevalence of smoking and improved nutrition, and a major cause is social policies that target the most disadvantaged.
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.
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.
Britain voted for Brexit, but many seek ways to avoid it. This draws comparison with the events of almost exactly a year ago when the Greek government ignored the outcome of the Greek bailout referendum. This column argues that the Greek government hoped the result would crash the EU’s stock markets and thus strengthen its bargaining power. When this failed to materialise, the government ignored the plebiscite and signed the bailout extension. In the Brexit case, the observed market drops do not qualify as a collapse and so the referendum’s outcome is likely to be implemented.
The secular stagnation hypothesis suggests that low interest rates may be the new normal in years to come. This column argues that this prospect should not only lead to a major rethinking of policy from the perspective of individual economies, but also a major rethinking about monetary and fiscal policy in the international context, the role of international capital flows, and the role of policy coordination across borders. In times of secular stagnation, events such as Brexit or the recent turbulence in Turkey have much larger spillover effects than under normal circumstances.
The surprise outcome of the UK’s EU membership referendum is in some ways analogous to the ‘Taper Tantrum’ (the correction in financial markets following Ben Bernanke’s May 2013 suggestion that the US central bank was contemplating reducing its rate of security purchases). This column looks at whether the Brexit Surprise has had analogous effects on emerging markets. Emerging economies felt a strong negative impact that was larger and more widespread than in the case of the Taper Tantrum. Where the Taper Tantrum was mainly a financial shock, the Brexit Surprise is evidently perceived as having real as well as financial consequences.
Despite facing many of the same challenges, Germany’s current macroeconomic policy is substantially different to those of other countries, in part due to the economy legacy of Walter Eucken. This column considers the economic policy of Hjalmar Schacht, whose ‘MEFO-bills’ monetary solution ended the years of economic struggle caused by the Treaty of Versailles’ reparations commitments. By tying the bills to output, Schacht was able to stimulate output, and eliminate unemployment. This historical implication has clear modern-day implications, with parallels to ‘helicopter money’ policy and Italy’s recent ‘fiscal money’ proposal.
Labour force participation among men ages 25-54 in the US has been falling for more than six decades. This column examines this longstanding decline, its potential causes, and its implications for public policy and the future of the US labour market.
Debate surrounding the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) is raging. Economists on different sides of the debate have used different arguments and tools to support their positions. This column surveys several recent studies and the strategies they employ in modelling the potential effects of TPP. It argues that structural models need to start from micro foundations, and need to incorporate trade and macro dynamics. The general results of these studies lend support to those who think that TPP will be beneficial.
Low inflation targets can cause economies to hit the zero lower bound during deflationary periods caused by even mild shocks. In such circumstances, central banks lose their ability to stimulate the economy. This column assesses the risk of this happening using a model that endogenises self-perpetuating optimism and pessimism in the economy. Given agents’ intrinsic chronic pessimism during times of recession, central banks should raise their inflation targets to 3 or 4% to preserve their ability to stimulate the economy when needed.
It is typically argued that the rising popularity of Islamist parties in parts of the Arab world reflects votes from the poor and disenfranchised. This column challenges this perspective, arguing that Islamist parties gain political support from the middle classes, due in large part to neoliberal economic policies. Using survey and electoral data from Tunisia, it shows that belonging to the middle class and living in a rich district together affect the decision to vote for the religious party more than actually being religious. These findings suggest that the same framework used to analyse political competition in the West can be fruitfully applied to the Muslim world.
Since the Global Crisis, sovereign debt levels have exploded in many OECD countries. This column presents a new measure of government debt – maximum sustainable debt. This measure takes account of the fact that a shortfall in growth naturally increases the probability of default, while allowing for the possibility of rollover. Applications to recent data suggest that without sufficient institutional constraints, governments will generally borrow up to a level close to the maximum that can be sustained.
Many advanced economies have experienced a productivity slowdown in recent years. Italy, however, has been experiencing such a slowdown since the mid-1990s. This column provides a detailed analysis of Italy’s patterns of misallocation over this period. Firms in the Northern regions, as well as large firms, have experienced the sharpest increase in resource misallocation. To tackle the resulting productivity slowdown, reforms need to address unemployment benefits and higher education, as well as encouraging investment in intangible assets.
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.
Recent shifts in political sentiment regarding EU membership have been caused in part by a growing hostility towards globalisation. This column uses Danish evidence to analyse whether globalisation causes a polarisation of jobs in developed countries, and in particular whether it causes a loss of middle-income jobs. Rising import competition can increase income inequality, but it also accounts for a substantial part of all high-wage employment gains. The task for policymakers is to make these gains felt by the majority of citizens.
The UK’s referendum on membership of the European Union is now history. But looking forward, it is useful to see how economists entered the debate. This column covers the highlights of VoxEU’s pre-Brexit efforts to disseminate research findings to a wider audience. It is, in a sense, a ‘playlist’ of pre-referendum columns and Vox Videos.
Even in export-oriented industries, only a handful of firms ship their goods abroad. These firms are systematically different from their purely domestic counterparts. This column sheds light on the domestic supply chain of exporters to uncover firms whose production is exported indirectly. Accounting for indirect exporters brings the empirics of international trade closer to the modern structure of production, characterised by many stages in possibly many locations. These findings suggest that the distributional effects of globalisation go beyond the exporters versus non-exporters dichotomy.
Economic sanctions serve as a foreign policy tool, but they can also hurt domestic firms doing business in the target country. This column looks at the effects of sanctions imposed by 37 countries on Russia over the conflict in Ukraine. The estimated loss of exports to Russia totalled $3.2 billion per month between December 2013 and June 2015. This loss was mostly incurred by European economies and in products not targeted by retaliations. French firm-level data points to a deterioration of trade finance services as the dominant mechanism.
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.
For the past 18 months, officials have worried about a global trade slowdown. This column summarises the latest Global Trade Alert report, which shows that, in fact, global trade is not growing slower – it is not growing at all. The plateau in global trade coincided with a spike in protectionism.
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.
Income inequality has risen throughout the advanced world. Various explanations have been suggested for this, but these tend to focus on who you are. This column shifts the focus to where you work. Data from the US reveal that over the period 1992-2007, two-thirds of the rise in earnings dispersion was due to increased variation across establishments. Moreover, almost 80% of the increase in earnings dispersion among workers who remained at the same establishment from year to year was due to a widening of wages across establishments rather than within establishments.
The rise in obesity has largely been attributed to an increase in calorie consumption. This column investigates this claim by examining the evolving consumption and lifestyles of English households between 1980 and 2013. While there has been an increase in calories from restaurants, fast food, soft drinks, and confectionery, there has been an overall decrease in total calories purchased. This decline in calories can be partially rationalised with weight gain by the decline in the strenuousness of work and daily life, and increasingly sedentary lifestyles.
How the trend towards individualism in societies affects economic welfare is debatable, but it is generally agreed that the role of technological progress in spurring individualism is substantial. Exploring the impact of technological progress in a model of individual utility, this column finds that the direct positive effects of technological progress, in the form of innovation and economic growth, may be offset by the indirect negative effects resulting from greater positional competition at the expense of caring activities.
In April 2016, Italian banks set up an equity fund intended to recapitalise troubled financial institutions in a ‘private bail-out intervention’ scenario, with a view to avoiding a bail-in under the European Bank and Recovery Resolution directive. This column analyses the main differences between a bail-in and a bail-out scenario. In particular, it compares contagion effects, and thus the total default probabilities of financial institutions in these two circumstances, in order to establish which banks would benefit more from a bail-out rather than a bail-in.
Local public technology centres (Kosetsushi) in Japan have demonstrated notable success in fostering the development of regional industries. This column reports the results of the first branch-level survey of Kosetsushi, focusing on three areas: manufacturing, foods, and design. Kosetsushi are found to help clients through diverse, tailored technical consultations and, increasingly, by acting as a network hub for the transfer of symbolic and analytical knowledge. These findings have particular relevance for regional governments attempting to foster innovation through similar institutions.
Finance plays a key role in growth by connecting savers and investors, but it can also be a source of crises. This column discusses whether there has been enough finance to enable productive investments. UK non-financial companies appear to have enough internal funds to cover all their investment taken as a whole, but the evidence suggests that small firms face shortfalls. The column also pleads for the development of new and better data sources to help measure the supply of finance that can be used to exploit productive investment opportunities.
Whatever happens as a result of the UK’s referendum on EU membership, those in British politics, and in the British Civil Service, now face an enormous task. This column suggests how their hard work might actually lead to an outcome in which the UK remains a member of the EU. It describes a four-part action plan for those who would like to see this possibility kept open.
Both the Fed and the ECB have managed to remain credible since the Global Crisis, but their credibility levels have evolved differently. This column argues that since inflation in the US and the Eurozone has been similar in the past eight years, the difference in the way that credibility has evolved is the result of the different macroeconomic policy mixes applied.
The Trans-Pacific Partnership has renewed interest in understanding the impact of trade agreements. This column employs a new approach – synthetic controls– to understand the impact of past trade agreements. The results show that trade agreements can generate substantial gains: on average, an increase of exports by 80 percentage points over ten years. The export gains are higher when emerging markets have trade agreements with advanced markets. Interestingly, all the countries in NAFTA have gained substantially due to the agreement.
Evidence shows that individuals often do not act in a completely selfish manner, but rather take into account the welfare of other parties when making decisions. But how decision-makers trade off costs and benefits when the costs are dispersed among many individuals is unclear. This column discusses new experimental evidence showing that a large fraction of individuals are ‘insensitive to group size’, attaching similar weights to small and large groups. These findings provide a new explanation for a number of empirical patterns, including political and medical decision-making, lobbying, tax evasion, and charity donations.
Scientific research is increasingly the product of collaborations between researchers. One driver of this trend over the last half century has been falling communication costs. This column uses data on faculty members of chemistry departments in the US to explore whether the reduction in air travel costs over the last three decades has had a similar effect on scientific collaboration. The introduction of a low-cost carrier route is associated with a 50% increase in collaborations between researchers.
The public debate over how to resolve the problem of Italian banks centres on whether there should be a government bailout, or whether banks’ bondholders should bear the burden. Absent from the discussion is what will happen to the banks’ stockholders, who should theoretically be wiped out before bondholders are asked to undergo a haircut. This column addresses the problem of who will manage the banks if stockholders quit. The Italian government should require banks to issue deep discount rights, which is a coercive way to raise equity and thus strengthen the banks’ balance sheet and their solvency.
Job polarisation has been documented in many large developed economies over the past two decades. This column shows how the growth of ICT has contributed to these trends. Using French firm-level data, it documents the declining share of middle-wage jobs, and identifies an increase in the share of technology-related jobs as an important contributing factor. Firms with more ‘techies’ are also found to grow faster than less techie-intensive firms.
The zero lower bound policy for nominal interest rates was implemented to stimulate sluggish economic growth and boost employment. This column explores whether this policy had unintended effects on the money market fund industry. Traditionally enjoying relatively low and safe returns, money market funds could respond to the low interest rate environment by either exiting the market or changing product offerings and accepting higher portfolio risk. The results show evidence of both, and point to an important but neglected channel for monetary policy transmission.
Brexit has raised the possibility of a recession on both sides of the Atlantic. Unable to use traditional remedies like monetary or fiscal policy stimulus, policymakers may consider automatic fiscal stabilisers. This column examines the impact of automatic stabilisers through social insurance on the business cycle, and how its impact can be used to mitigate recession. Unemployment insurance or food stamps would be better than progressive taxes at stimulating aggregate demand. The main economic channels policymakers must consider are those related to risk and precautionary savings.
The health effects of pollution in terms of hospitalisations, mortality and morbidity are well researched, but not so much is known about the less severe effects of pollution on workers’ health. This column uses evidence from China to analyse the impact of pollution on productivity, finding that high levels of pollution reduce the productivity even of indoor workers. Reducing pollution is not just welfare-improving for society, it is also of financial benefit to the economy.
Eurozone countries are facing a stalemate in the completion of the Banking Union, at the heart of which is the regulation of banks’ sovereign exposures. This column introduces the latest issue of European Economy, which examines the interactions between banks and sovereign risk, the build up of sovereign risk during the crisis, and the policy proposals on the table to severe the loop and, more broadly, to finally complete the Banking Union.
The service sector accounts for much of the output of many advanced economies, and maximising the sector’s output while also minimising regional disparities is an important policy challenge. This column analyses productivity in service sectors in Japan, focusing on economies of urban density. The higher the employment density of the cities in which service firms are located, the higher their productivity, but firms relocating to such cities negatively impacts regional disparity. Further, considerable differences in productivity improvements among sectors indicate there certain industries should be promoted in large cities, and others in smaller cities with lower employment density.
As US states amass control of business through public pension funds, important questions about potential agency conflicts are raised. This column uses a landmark ruling, which in effect created a new channel of corporate political activism, to investigate this agency conflict. Firms with high institutional ownership have seen lower returns following the ruling. The findings suggest that political connections are an important mechanism of political activism by corporations with state public pension fund ownership.
Attitudes toward immigration policy are driven by fears about cultural diversity, not just individual economic circumstances. This column looks back at the Age of Mass Migration (1850-1913), when 30 million migrants moved from Europe to the US, to examine whether such fears are justified. US Census data from 1920 reveals that recent immigrants gave their children more foreign names than long-standing immigrants, which suggests that cultural assimilation did take place over time. This assimilation had economic benefits for children, both in school and in the labour market.
Governments around the world continue to fund tourism promotion policies, even while current economic literature debates whether tourism in the long run benefits the economy as a whole. This column uses the empirical context of Mexico to analyse the economic implications of international and domestic tourism, and the underlying mechanisms. It finds that tourism provides long-run economic gains to households, both at the local level and in the aggregate.
Econophysics is an emerging field applying theories and methods from physics to economic problems and data. This column explores the collective motions of trade and the effects of trade liberalisation, using global data from the past two decades. Econophysics methods reveal how business cycles synchronise, and how economic risk propagates throughout the global economic network. The results also highlight inherent problems of structural controllability that are induced during economic crises.
To make the no-bailout clause credible and to enhance the effectiveness of crisis assistance, private creditors should contribute to crisis resolution in the Eurozone. This column proposes a mechanism to allow for orderly restructuring of sovereign debt as part of ESM programmes. If debt exceeds certain thresholds, the mechanism triggers an immediate maturity extension. In a second stage, a deeper debt restructuring could follow, depending on the solvency of a country. The mechanism could be easily implemented by amending ESM guidelines.
Growth in the number of publicly quoted companies is a key driver of economic development, so the apparent decline in the number of company listings, at least in developed markets, is naturally worrying for investors, exchanges, and regulators alike. This column provides a framework to address this decline, and proposes possible remedies that could be taken to encourage more listings. The listings ecosystem must establish a new equilibrium to address the evolving conflicts of interest between founders, early investors, underwriters, and future shareholders.
In the context of increased global trade and accompanying competition, firms are increasingly engaged in industrial clusters. This column uses firm-level transaction data to analyse the impact of firms’ relationships with financial institutions on their networking within clusters. Firms participating in government-supported cluster programmes increase their transaction networks significantly faster than those not in clusters. The column also finds that firms with expanding networks are mainly financed by regional banks, not national or global ones.
Ethnic favouritism is widely regarded as an African phenomenon, or at most a problem of poor and weakly institutionalised countries. This column uses data on night-time light intensity to challenge these preconceptions. Ethnic favouritism is found to be as prevalent outside of Africa as it is within, and not restricted to poor or autocratic nations either. Rather, re-election concerns appear to be an important driver of the practice.