Weak, post-Crisis growth has been blamed on secular stagnation. This column argues that the ‘financial crisis/debt supercycle’ view provides a more accurate and useful framework for understanding what has transpired and what is likely to come next. The difference matters. Unlike secular stagnation, a debt supercycle is not forever. After deleveraging and borrowing headwinds subside, expected growth trends might prove higher than simple extrapolations of recent performance might suggest.
Most Read: This Month
This year’s IMF conference, “Rethinking Macroeconomic Policy III”, gathered many of the world’s greatest economists to reflect on the state of post-Global Crisis macroeconomics. This column, which presents remarks by the IMF’s Chief Economist Olivier Blanchard, argues that much detailed work has been done. The trenches are being dug, but we still do not have a good sense of their final destination.
Concerns about deflation – falling prices of goods and services – are rooted in the view that it is very costly. This column tests the historical link between output growth and deflation in a sample covering 140 years for up to 38 economies. The evidence suggests that this link is weak and derives largely from the Great Depression. The authors find a stronger link between output growth and asset price deflations, particularly during postwar property price deflations. There is no evidence that high debt has so far raised the cost of goods and services price deflations, in so-called debt deflations. The most damaging interaction appears to be between property price deflations and private debt.
The disappointing recovery after the crisis has sparked renewed interest in the medium-run outlook of advanced economies. Lower population growth and its impact on labour supply gained widespread prominence. This column takes a more general view identifying the impact of the evolution of demographic structure, or the entire age profile, on the macroeconomy. Age profile changes have significant implications for savings, investment and growth but also affect innovation activities. The population aging predicted for the next decades is found to be a significant factor in reducing output growth and real interest rates across OECD countries.
The disappointing post-Crisis performance of the US economy and even more disappointing performance of continental Europe and Japan have revived interest in the possibility of secular stagnation. This column argues that a consensus is forming that inadequate demand will no longer be a factor in whatever US stagnation occurs in coming years. In Japan and Europe, on the other hand, the case for boosting demand is strong and inadequate demand is almost surely a main cause of the stagnation.
The wisdom of structural reform during a crisis is a subject of heated debate. This column compares Greece’s experience to that of Mexico during the debt crisis of the 1980s. Mexico did not receive a haircut until seven years into the crisis – after structural reform was already underway. In Mexico that reform was the outcome of an internal conversation – not a diktat from the outside – and it happened during the height of the crisis.
The inflow of low-skilled migrants may encourage natives to upgrade their skills, taking advantage of immigrant-native complementarity. This column uses exogenous dispersion of refugees in Denmark to investigate this issue. The findings confirm that for low-skilled native workers, the presence of refugee-country immigrants spurred mobility and increased specialisation into complex jobs.
Japan and Korea need to encourage female labour market participation to counter acute labour shortages. This column argues that following Nordic countries’ experiences, it would be possible to achieve both high female labour force participation rate and fertility rate. However, this is only possible if supported by appropriate public and private sector policies.
The Eurozone’s problems of poor growth and the threat of financial instability are rooted in its very foundation. The authors of the inaugural Monitoring the Eurozone report, launched today, consider three means by which the Eurozone can protect itself from structural failure. Their recommendations, which do not require Treaty changes, are crucial in offsetting the major risks a repetition of the recent Crisis would present.
The classic exchange-rate trilemma analysis argues that capital mobility, monetary autonomy and fixed exchange rates are incompatible. This column shows how policy trilemma analysis can be extended to other domains, specifically financial stability, political economy, and international relations. It argues that analysing these trade-offs can help to identify policy options that balance macroeconomic objectives and political realities in the face of globalisation.
An important research question is whether the current measures of systemic risk are useful for policymakers. This column presents new evidence on this topic. The relevance of a measure depends on how informative it is regarding how financial distress translates into real macroeconomic outcomes. The findings indicate that few systemic risk measures predict macroeconomic shocks. Interestingly, the relationship between systematic risk and future macroeconomic shocks is not symmetric.
A renewed interest in capital controls following the Great Recession requires a serious empirical reconsideration of their effectiveness as policy instruments. This column introduces a new dataset that features unprecedented levels of disaggregation between asset categories, and distinguishes transactions between residents and non-residents. The ensuing debate should take note.
The reduction in the gender gap in labour market outcomes has stalled. Recent research suggests that gender identity might be one of the culprits. This column provides new evidence on the issue using US census data. The results indicate that the prescription that women should earn less than men plays a role in marriage rates, the labour market supply of women, and marital satisfaction. The interaction of economic progress and changing gender norms could therefore explain the lower marriage and fertility rates among educated women.
The Global Crisis and subsequent sovereign debt crisis in the Eurozone severely distressed wholesale funding markets. This column argues that in the Eurozone, interbank funding conditions tightened particularly for cross-border borrowing. Moreover, during the worst moments of the crisis, the same borrower bank could pay different prices (up to 100 basis points) for identical loans during the same day. Non-standard monetary policy measures help mitigate these liquidity disruptions, with stronger effects in countries under distress.
The Soviets matched the US only by spending up to 20% of GDP on the military during the Cold War. This column argues that, in stark contrast to this example, China has the potential to match the US in certain military spheres with similar burden on its economy. Using exchange rates comparisons significantly understates the Chinese military spending. A much more realistic assessment is obtained using PPP terms. If both countries spent the same fraction of their GDP on the military, the relative size of China’s military machine would be more than 90% of the US one.
Sovereign bonds are the latest and biggest quantitative easing (QE) policy conducted by the Eurozone. This column argues that instead of sovereign bonds, the Eurozone should focus on assets that are the closest to job-creating, growth-enhancing, and innovation-promoting activities. In particular, instruments issued by agencies and European institutions should be given a prominent role. But they should also be selected to promote the financing of long-term growth and jobs, not of unsustainable government expenditure.
The interest in the implications of sovereign debt home bias on debt sustainability has been growing. This column presents new evidence on this issue using a sample of advanced and emerging markets. Home bias generally reduces the cost of borrowing for both advanced and emerging markets when debt levels are moderate to high. A worsening of market sentiments diminishes the favourable impact of home bias on the cost of borrowing, particularly for emerging markets. In addition, higher home bias is associated with higher debt levels, and with less responsive fiscal policy.
Apparently a number of assumptions have been made in Brussels and Washington DC about how the rest of the world will react to the successful conclusion of a Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP). Many of the contributions to a new ebook identify alternatives for third countries that do not involve throwing themselves at the mercy of US and European trade negotiators. TTIP may not trigger the chain reaction that its advocates seek.
A large literature in macroeconomics shows how credit market shocks can propagate through deterioration in the value of collateral. This column decomposes debt into secured and unsecured components and investigates their effects separately. While secured debt is acyclical, unsecured debt is confirmed to predict GDP movements in accordance with the standard financial accelerator mechanism.
Whereas some argue there is no need to revise the US constitution, others believe that its inherent flaws are in the core of the US’ decreasing power. This column reviews four alleged flaws of the US constitution. There is a striking similarity in method and substance between current proposals for constitutional reform in the US and the post-crash constitutional reform process in Iceland presently held captive by parliament..
Manufacturers discriminating among retailers is an important issue in competition policy. Specifically, the EU allows quantity discounts but forbids discriminatory discounts – a policy that does not jive with standard economic analysis which suggests that banning price discrimination improves allocative efficiency and typically also raises overall welfare. This column argues that the research – and the recommendations that flow from it – are based on excessively restrictive assumptions. When there are nonlinear wholesale contracts, e.g. quantity discounts, the presence of private information can reverse the standard analysis in a way that supports the EU’s policy.
Recent initiatives like the Volcker rule seek to restrict securities trading by banks. Using German data, this column shows that during the Global Crisis security-trading activities by banks in the secondary market crowded out lending to non-financial firms, but also acted as risk absorbers in the securities market. Policymakers should carefully weigh the costs and benefits of securities trading regulations. Financial crises will occur again, so we need to be thoughtful about what may happen in the future if banks are restricted from trading in financial securities.
Business investment in advanced economies contracted sharply during the global crisis and has recovered little since. This column argues that the main factor holding back investment is overall economomic weakness. In some countries other contributing factors include financial constraints and policy uncertainty. Fixing the investment dearth will require fixing the general weakness in economic activity.
Despite a significant progress over the past decades, European integration still needs improvement in some areas. This column presents a long-term narrative of European integration by using a recently published European index of regional institutional integration. The index maps developments in European integration from 1958 to early 2015 on the basis of a new monthly dataset. The evidence shows that successful integration could be achieved with reforms that are inclusive, widely explained, understood, and accepted.
Regulators and financial institutions increasingly depend on statistical risk forecasting. This column argues that most risk modelling approaches are highly inaccurate and confidence intervals should be provided along with point estimates. Two major approaches, value-at-risk and expected shortfall are compared, and while the former is found to be superior in practice, it is also easier to be manipulated by forecasters.
An implication of the ‘precautionary saving’ hypothesis is that in countries faced with more macroeconomic volatility and risk, private saving should be higher. In the observable data, however, there is a negative correlation, particularly in developing countries. This column offers a plausible explanation for the disconnect between the precautionary theory and the empirical evidence, based on a model with a richer account for the various modes of ‘precautionary’ behaviour by private agents, in cases where institutions are weaker and labour informality is prevalent.
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.
An oft expressed view is that the Eurozone is a straitjacket on periphery members and income convergence has slowed, halted or reversed. This column argues that EZ convergence never stopped. What changed was the type of convergence. Today’s convergence is neither nominal nor real, it is structural. Structural convergence presents a basis for renewed real convergence. However, for this to happen, the right institutions and policies need to be in place at both European and national levels.
Abstentions in European Council voting are generally treated as silent consent, but in some cases a quorum of abstentions can block an otherwise unanimous decision. This column explores the relative merits of regimes with such constructive abstention rules. It shows that such rules combine the information aggregation aspects of majority rule while still allowing for veto power.
International trade has significant effects on domestic labour demand. It opens up new markets for export, but also creates opportunities for off-shoring. This column presents the results of a study on trade, wages and collective bargaining using data on French manufacturing firms. Both exporting and offshoring are found to have positive effects on wages, with collective bargaining agreements, particularly those at the firm-level, seeing greater wage gains for all types of worker.
The Basel III countercyclical capital buffer framework obliges nations to set appropriate capital buffer rates for their bank’s credit exposure at home and in third countries. This column proposes criteria for selecting these third countries. The idea is to focus only on the third-country exposures that, firstly, could jeopardise stability of the domestic banking sector and, secondly, can be actually addressed by means of the policy. Variables and thresholds to operationalise this idea are proposed.
During the Great Recession, the possibility that the US might enter a second Great Depression was a real concern. This column argues that until early 2009, financial markets behaved in a manner consistent with the early years of the Great Depression. The large stock-market fall saw growth stocks outperforming value stocks. This pattern ended March 2009, arguably in light of robust policy interventions. These dynamics suggest that poor performance of growth stocks during regular times may be compensated by superior performance in crises.
Classifying the preferences of members of policy committees has been a topic of intense debate and research. This column presents spatial analysis of the preferences of the Federal Open Market Committee (FOMC) members using transcripts from meetings. The results indicate that a political appointment channel was not active or effective, and there is little effect of career experiences. The overall lack of systemic preference among FOMC members is a reassuring with regard to the institutional design of the FOMC.
During financial crises, fire sales (or forced asset sales) could further aggravate the financial fragility. However, evidence on why agents do not take actions to avoid collateral liquidation is scant. This column uses data on foreclosures and house prices from the US housing crisis to present new evidence on the issue. The authors argue that lenders with a large share of outstanding mortgages internalise the negative spillovers of liquidation. Thus, they might be more likely to renegotiate and avoid price-default spirals.
Credits extended bilaterally between firms, so called trade credits, are particularly expensive yet many firms use it, especially for international transactions. This column argues that such cash-in-advance financing serves as a credible signal of quality. Data from a unique survey of German firms show that it fosters export participation in particular for firms that tend to have the greatest difficulties in entering foreign markets.
Despite the convergence between men and women in many labour market indicators, women are still vastly underrepresented at the boardroom level. Using Italian data, this column presents new evidence on the impact of having a female CEO on the distribution of wages for male and female workers within firms. Female CEOs are shown to reduce the gender wage gap at the top of the wage distribution but widen it at the bottom. The authors also show that firms with female CEOs perform better, the higher the fraction of women in the firm’s workforce.
In the aftermath of the Global Crisis, many countries increased their central banks’ involvement in financial supervision. This column uses a novel dataset to argue that financial crises episodes significantly increase the probability of reforms in the financial structure. More interestingly, the authors find evidence of a ‘bandwagon effect’ by showing that politicians are more likely to undertake reforms when their peers do so.
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.
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.
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.
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.