It seems that there will be no agreement between Greece and its Eurozone partners. Short of cash, the Greek government will have no choice but to suspend payment of its maturing debts. This column looks at what happens next. In brief, it will be very much up to the ECB to decide.
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Economic scholarship has changed dramatically in the past half-century, becoming far more empirical and much less abstract and theoretical. The winds of change have blown most strongly in applied microeconomics, but econometrics has been left far behind. This column argues that econometrics teaching needs an overhaul and that this change has to start with better textbooks.
Complex forces are shaping macroeconomic evolutions around the world. In this column, IMF’s Chief Economist Olivier Blanchard describes some of these forces and provides an overview of the state of the world economy. Putting the forces together, the baseline forecasts are that advanced countries will do better this year than last, and emerging countries will slow down. Overall, the global growth will be roughly the same as last year, with the macroeconomic risks having slightly decreased.
The recent remarkably low interest rates have puzzled economists. The standard explanation rests on the extraordinary manoeuvres of the world’s largest central banks. This column argues, however, that it is due to economic developments, specifically globalisation and the collapse in labour power in the west.
Our level of income is unarguably dependent on where we live in the world. But evidencing this is tricky. This column presents a model that explains global income variability using one variable only – where you live. The results suggest that we might want to reassess how we think about both economic migration and global inequality of opportunity.
The notion of secular stagnation – a state of negligible or zero economic growth – is back in the headlines. Questions naturally arise about its intellectual antecedents. This column discusses how the concept rose and fell with the economic fortunes of advanced industrialised nations. Political trends and trends in economic theory played a part in its trajectory, with the notion closely connected to the idea that the level of government debt should be allowed to rise.
The financial system – especially banks – is generally blamed for the Great Recession. This notion has been used to justify the adoption by central banks of several new monetary policy functions, such as financial stability and macro-prudential policies. This column argues that the financial crisis was just one component of the Great Recession and that central banks are largely responsible, given their failure to prevent banks’ liquidity difficulties from overflowing into the economy. It suggests that central banks should pay attention to stabilising monetary policy and scale back the new policies of direct regulation.
Commodity prices are very persistent. A boom is always followed by a bust, and after a slump, a boom comes along. This column reviews some basic aspects of commodity theory and their role in the last boom. Finally, it presents arguments stating that lower commodity prices are here to stay for a while. We may have to wait many years for the next boom to come along.
Making transfers to bank accounts instead of paying cash could potentially enhance savings. This column tests this hypothesis using a randomised trial from India. The evidence suggests that being paid on the account increases the balance by around 110% within three months of weekly payments. The individuals who were paid in cash do not save more in other assets, such as cash at home, but increase consumption.
Taxing high earners is an issue of growing importance in many nations. One concern is that raising rates will lead high earners to move elsewhere. This column suggests that top-tier inventors are significantly affected by top tax rates when deciding where to live. The loss of these highly skilled agents could entail significant economic costs in terms of lost tax revenues and less overall innovation.
China’s export-led growth has coincided with the country becoming one of the largest net global creditors. This column looks ahead to the next chapter of Chinese ‘outwards mercantilism’ – FDI investment in natural resources, commodities and mining bundled with access to finance and the export of Chinese capital products and labour services.
The story of the run-up to the Global Crisis is, unfortunately, not an entirely new one. This column argues that regulators would do well to read up on the ‘Panic of 1907’. What quelled rumours and panicky behaviour back then still applies – maintaining market liquidity through measures that encourage transparency.
QE in the Eurozone is unusual in that the risks of sovereign debt defaults are shared between the ECB and the national central banks. This column argues that if such risk sharing were applied to the Outright Monetary Transactions programme, it could potentially create insolvency problems for countries with large public debts, especially in a low-growth scenario.
The impact of fiscal policy on exchange rates is of key interest to policymakers. This column argues that unexpected government spending instantly affects exchange rates. The finding, based on daily data reporting of the US Defence Department, may suggest that unexpected government spending has broader macroeconomic effects as well. The results, however, do not hold is low-frequency data are used instead.
Social science studies usually explain democratisation of countries with the increase in incomes. In contrast, this column argues that culture is a neglected but important determinant of democracy. The findings show that countries with individualist culture democratise earlier than collectivist cultures that may remain stuck for a long time with relatively efficient autocracies.
The economic and environmental impacts of the US fracking boom are hotly debated. This column argues that there’s been a large positive impact on the US economy, estimating that the benefits to producers and consumers totalled $48 billion in 2013, or around one-third of 1% of US GDP. The climate change impacts have been large, but they do not outweigh the private gains. However, a lack of data on the impacts to water, air, and seismic activity hamper policymakers effectively targeting the areas of greatest concern and hamper them drawing up effective regulation.
World leaders are preparing for the third International Conference on Financing for Development in Addis. More money may help, but may also make things worse due to aid dependence, Dutch disease, and/or unsustainable debt. This column argues that the political discussion needs to be accompanied by more, and better data and research on how financing can support sustainable development.
A key regulatory response to the Global Crisis has involved higher risk-weighted capital requirements. This column documents systematic under-reporting of risk by banks that gets worse when the system is under stress. Thus banks’ self-reported levels of risk are least informative in states of the world when accurate risk measurement matters the most.
A solid empirical result is that voters reward governments for recent economic prosperity. This column presents new evidence that the electoral fate of governing parties is also associated with the electorate’s wider ‘subjective well-being’. Policymakers who want to win should focus on more a broad range of factors that matter to the quality of people’s lives.
Water management is a major challenge today. To guide efficient water allocation, it is essential to understand the drivers of water use. This column sheds light on this issue using US data from the 1950s until today. The findings show that US water withdrawal has stabilised, and has even decreased in the past decades. Technological improvements have been crucial towards that end. However, the shifting demand from agriculture and manufacturing to less-water intensive sectors has been just as important.
Economists typically assume people behave in a rational and self-interested way, making standard models limited in their explanatory power. This column argues that psychological and sociological factors – though usually ignored in economic models – affect decision-making. The findings, drawn from the World Development Report, further suggest that better behavioural understanding could subsequently aid development efforts.
Emerging markets are not the hot investment prospect they used to be. This column estimates that weaker private investment in these nations is a slowdown after a period of boom rather than an outright slump. Prospects for a recovery of business investment, however, are not promising. Commodity prices are expected to remain weak and external financial conditions are set to become tighter.
Europe’s institutional architecture is evolving in response to the EZ Crisis and years of economic malaise. This column, by Portugal’s Secretary of State for Europe, argues a flexible institutional framework that allows for stronger economic policy coordination, convergence and solidarity.
Recent decades have witnessed a dramatic shift in the nature of world trade brought about by the unbundling of international production. One implication is that lobbying by a nation’s firms can be partly influenced by a desired to protect their production facilities abroad. This column presents evidence that US imports from countries and industries with greater offshoring activity by US multinationals face distinctly lower trade barriers.
The evidence about the effect of bribery on economic growth is mixed. Some find it harmful while others believe it helps via a ‘grease the wheels’ effect. This column argues that the ambiguity can be explained by divergent effects of the mean and dispersion of corruption. A high bribery-mean retards productivity growth of firms, but a high bribery-dispersion facilitates performance of weak firms.
When panic strikes, people tend to withdraw cash. While there were upticks in currency-to-deposit ratios in the autumn of 2008 and early 2009, they were modest and very short-lived compared to the Great Depression. This column argues that leading central banks learnt from the 1930s mistakes and acted decisively to check the panic. Key policies were the existence and upgrading of deposit insurance schemes, massive liquidity injections, and rapid cutting of interest rates. The most important were the guarantees that the biggest banks wouldn’t fail.
Indian children are more likely to be malnourished than their counterparts in Sub-Saharan Africa, despite higher standards of living. This column uses data on child height – an anthropometric measure of net nutrition – from Africa and India to explore how parental gender preferences affect the likelihood of children being malnourished. Indian firstborn sons are found to have a height advantage over African firstborn sons, and the height disadvantage appears first in second-born children, increasing for subsequent births. This suggests that a preference for a healthy male heir influences fertility decisions and how parents allocate resources between their children.
In order to achieve sustainable growth, Japan should make an efficient use of its labour force. However, female labour force participation and the share of women in leading positions in Japan remain low. This column investigates the impact of board diversity on firms’ innovative activity using Japanese firm-level data. The findings suggest that board diversity is associated with innovation only for firms that have already acquired diverse management skills.
Since the Global Crisis, international banks have reduced cross-border lending but continued to lend through their branches and affiliates overseas. This column argues that the observed shift was to a significant extent driven by regulatory changes. It should improve financial stability in host countries of foreign banks.
Many policy design issues depend crucially on the nature of the idiosyncratic risks to labour income. The earning dynamics literature has typically relied on an implicit or explicit assumption that earnings shocks are log-normally distributed. This column challenges conventional knowledge by bringing in new evidence from a very large administrative dataset on US workers. It presents evidence suggesting income shocks exhibit substantial deviations from log-normality, and that shock persistence depends on income levels as well as the size and sign of the shock.
The gender wage gap persists even in gender equal societies such as the Nordic countries. This column suggests that globalisation may play a role in that. The authors show that exporting firms have higher gender wage gaps although the effect is only present among college graduates. The heightened competition faced by exporters requires greater commitment and flexibility on the part of the workers, which leads to statistical gender discrimination.
The so-called ‘discursive dilemma’ in collective decision-making implies that the policy choice of a monetary policy committee depends on whether it votes directly on policy, or whether it votes on the underlying economic judgements – the ‘premises’ for the decision. This column argues that the monetary policy committees should vote on the premises. This gives better decisions, better explanations and better monetary policy communication.
The significance of informal sources of insurance against income risk has important consequences for the design of social insurance programs. A particular concern is that public programs simply crowd out informal institutions. This column uses US household data to investigate whether the extended family acts as such an informal institution. Although there is a large potential for the family to insure against income shocks, no such insurance occurs.
Many studies argue that asymmetric information plays a key role in lending markets. This column presents new evidence on asymmetric information and imperfect competition on the Italian lending market. An increase in adverse selection causes most of the prices in the sample to increase, most of the quantities to fall, and most of the defaults to rise. However, there is substantial heterogeneity in the response to a rise in adverse selection. Market power could be an explanation why some markets can absorb such shocks better than others.
Credit ratings agencies have enormous power over countries in dire straits. But whether prevailing global economic conditions affect their assessments is rarely asked. This column suggests that credit ratings agencies overreact in downgrading countries credit ratings during times of economic crisis and instability, and underreact when upgrading during calmer times. This is bad news for policymakers who think that strong economic performance will get them back the credit rating they once took for granted.
With global value chains that fragment production across the world, national statistics fail to capture the growing interconnectedness of economies. This column describes the international input-output tables that allow researchers to estimate the share of a country’s export value derived from imported inputs. However, while these tools offer promising uses, at the moment statistics on trade in value added should be treated with great caution.
On 15-16 April 2015, the IMF organised the third conference on ‘Rethinking Macro Policy’. In this column, IMF’s Chief Economist Olivier Blanchard presents his personal takeaways from the conference. Though progress in macro policy is undeniable, confusion is unavoidable given the complex issues that remain to be settled.
Innovation enhances economic growth but the mechanisms that underpin the spread of products remain largely unclear. Based on new micro-data from Russia, this column argues that access to credit helps firms to adopt products and production processes that are new to them. However, there is little evidence that bank credit stimulates in-house R&D. Thus, banks can facilitate the diffusion of technologies within developing countries but their role in pushing the technological frontier is limited.
To prevent it from defaulting on its debt, the Greek government might need to introduce a new domestic currency, in parallel to the euro. This column, the first in a two-part series, compares the current proposals for a parallel currency and discusses how such a policy instrument could promote economic recovery.
World trade in services is increasing rapidly but micro evidence remains scarce. This column employs firm data from Japan to argue that service-exporting firms are more productive than non-exporting firms and goods-exporting firms. Information asymmetry, transportation costs, differences in institutions, cultures, and languages increase the fixed costs of service trade. Therefore, highly productive firms are more likely to self-select into service trade.
Newspapers report good and bad news, but the reporting doesn’t always match reality. This column presents evidence from turn-of-the-century America that news reports of typhoid tracked mortality patterns, but the reporting was biased. Spikes in death rates led to bigger jumps in media coverage when death rates were low. This could be due to the idea that deviations from Kahneman and Tversky’s ‘reference points’ are more newsworthy, or due to the possibility that bad news is more valuable to readers when things seem to be going well.
The greening of the economy brings with it changes in the demand for certain skills in the labour market. Understanding these changes has important implications for policy aiming to support sustainable industry. This column uses US data to identify key green jobs and the skills of import for them. Environmental sustainability regulations are shown to affect the demand for green skills in the labour market. Labour market policies should target labour supply, for instance through education, to avoid potential skill gaps down the line.
Bequests have important economic and social consequences. Using a large sample drawn from the Health and Retirement Study, this column documents two results. First, about a third of US parents with wills plan to distribute their estates unequally among their children. This is especially common among families with stepchildren and children with whom the parent has little contact. Second, about 40% of parents die without wills.
Later this year, the UN will set the post-2015 Sustainable Development Goals. This column argues that lots targets will make it hard for policymakers to enact real change. Instead, the primary post-2015 goals should focus on young people achieving basic skills. Basic skills, in turn, will help address issues of poverty and limited healthcare as well as help foster the new technologies needed to improve sustainable growth.
Introducing a currency in parallel to the euro could help Greece repay its external debt and resume economic activity. This second column in a two-part series evaluates the different options and their effects on aggregate demand and fiscal sustainability. The authors propose a tax credit certificates programme, which they argue could generate new spending capacity and avoid the adoption of new austerity measures.