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.
Roger Backhouse, Mauro Boianovsky, 19 May 2015
Ana-Maria Fuertes, Elena Kalotychou, Orkun Saka, 26 March 2015
Recent debt crises have brought the fragility of the Eurozone into focus. It has been argued that members are vulnerable to sudden changes in market sentiment. This column examines how debt markets reacted to an ECB announcement that it would serve as a lender of last resort, finding that recent debt crises have strong self-fulfilling dynamics.
David Amiel, Paul-Adrien Hyppolite, 15 March 2015
As the Eurozone crisis lingers on, euro exit is now being debated in ‘core’ as well as ‘periphery’ countries. This column examines the potential costs of euro exit, using France as an example. The authors estimate that 30% of private marketable debt would be redenominated, but since only 36% of revenues would be redenominated, the aggregate currency mismatch is relatively modest. However, the immediate financial cost of exiting the euro would nevertheless be substantial if public authorities were to bail out systemic and highly exposed companies.
Lars Feld, Christoph Schmidt, Isabel Schnabel, Benjamin Weigert, Volker Wieland, 20 February 2015
Claims that ‘austerity has failed’ are popular, especially in the Anglo-Saxon world. This column argues that this narrative is factually wrong and ignores the reasons underlying the Greek crisis. The worst move for Greece would be to return to its old ways. Greece needs to realise that things could actually become much worse than they are now, particularly if membership in the Eurozone cannot be assured. Instead of looking back, Greece needs to continue building a functioning state and a functioning market economy.
Julio Escolano, Laura Jaramillo, Carlos Mulas-Granados, Gilbert Terrier, 27 February 2015
Fiscal consolidation is back at the top of the policy agenda. This column provides historical context by examining 91 episodes of fiscal consolidation in advanced and developing economies between 1945 and 2012. By focusing on cases in which the adjustment was necessary and desired in order to stabilise the debt-to-GDP ratio, the authors find larger average fiscal adjustments than previous studies. Most consolidation episodes resulted in stabilisation of the debt-to-GDP ratio, but at a new, higher level.
Irina Balteanu, Aitor Erce, 12 November 2014
The feedback loop between banking crises and sovereign debt crises has been at the heart of recent problems in the Eurozone. This column presents stylised facts on the mechanisms through which banking and sovereign crises combine and become ‘twin’ crises. The results point to systematic differences not only between ‘single’ and ‘twin’ crises, but also between different types of ‘twin’ episodes. The timing of ‘twin’ crises – which crisis comes first – is important for understanding their drivers, transmission channels, and economic consequences.
Charles Goodhart, Philipp Erfurth, 03 November 2014
There has been a long-term downward trend in labour’s share of national income, depressing both demand and inflation, and thus prompting ever more expansionary monetary policies. This column argues that, while understandable in a short-term business cycle context, this has exacerbated longer-term trends, increasing inequality and financial distortions. Perhaps the most fundamental problem has been over-reliance on debt finance. The authors propose policies to raise the share of equity finance in housing markets; such reforms could be extended to other sectors of the economy.
Fergal McCann, Tara McIndoe-Calder, 23 September 2014
The role of credit-fuelled property booms in the Global Crisis has received much high-profile attention in recent years. Using data on Irish small and medium enterprises, this column highlights an additional channel through which such booms can impact post-crisis growth. Firms having difficulty repaying their property-related debts divert resources away from hiring and investment. Property booms thereby induce misallocation of resources in both the boom and the bust.
Juan Jimeno , Frank Smets, Jonathan Yiangou, 15 August 2014
In the Eurozone, rising dependency ratios, tougher financial regulation, debt overhang, and poor productivity growth are exerting downward pressure on equilibrium real interest rates. A key question is whether these trends are truly ‘secular’, or whether policy can improve matters. This chapter argues that there is significant scope to increase the efficiency of financial intermediation in the Eurozone, and that the potential for structural reforms remains much greater than in other advanced economies. Reforms that could help avoid secular stagnation in the long run would also boost demand today.
Claudio Borio, Piti Disyatat, 25 June 2014
Real interest rates have fallen to historic lows, and some economists are concerned that an era of secular stagnation has begun. This column highlights the role of policy frameworks and financial factors – particularly debt – in linking low real interest rates and sluggish economic growth. Policies that do not lean against booms but ease aggressively and persistently in busts induce a downward bias in interest rates over time and an upward bias in debt levels – something akin to a debt trap. Low real interest rates may thus be self-reinforcing and not always ‘natural’.
Markus Eberhardt, 11 May 2014
The debt-growth link is essential to today's marcoeconomic policy choices. This Vox Talk discusses new evidence based on data on total public debt for 105 economies between 1972 and 2009 and two centuries of data for the UK, US, Sweden and Japan. There is no convincing proof that austerity works and that it is dangerous for policy makers to pretend otherwise.
Stijn Claessens, 18 April 2014
Stijn Claessens talks to Viv Davies about the recent IMF book titled 'Global Crises: Causes, Consequences and Policy Responses', co-edited with M Ayhan Kose, Luc Laeven, and Fabian Valencia. The book provides a comprehensive overview of current research into financial crises and the policy lessons learned. They discuss crisis prevention and management, and the crisis in the Eurozone. The interview was recorded in April 2014.
Emanuele Baldacci, Sanjeev Gupta, Carlos Mulas-Granados, 31 March 2014
The recent debate on the link between austerity and growth has focused on the short run. This column discusses recent research into the link between fiscal consolidation and medium-term growth under different financial conditions. If credit is not available to consumers and investors, private demand is less able to compensate for cutbacks in public demand, so large spending cuts can have a negative effect on growth. Difficult financial conditions probably explain why fiscal adjustments that worked in the 1990s have not produced similar beneficial effects on growth in recent years.
Marco Buti, Maria Demertzis, João Nogueira Martins, 30 March 2014
Although progress has been made on resolving the Eurozone crisis – vulnerable countries have reduced their current-account deficits and implemented some reforms – more still needs to be done. This column argues for a ‘consistent trinity’ of policies: structural reforms within countries, more symmetric macroeconomic adjustment across countries, and a banking union for the Eurozone.
Paolo Manasse, 31 January 2014
Sales of state-owned assets have been proposed as a way for highly-indebted countries to ease the pain of fiscal consolidation. This column argues that, despite the potential merits of privatisation in terms of long-run efficiency, in practice it is unlikely to improve short-run fiscal solvency. Since governments rarely alienate control rights, the efficiency gains from privatisations are often small. Moreover, financial markets may not fully reflect these gains – particularly during a financial crisis. The implication is that the Troika policy of linking financial assistance to privatisations is inappropriate and self-defeating.
Olivier Coibion, Yuriy Gorodnichenko, Marianna Kudlyak, John Mondragon, 29 January 2014
One popular explanation for the increase in US household debt in the years before the subprime mortgage crisis is that households with stagnating incomes borrowed more to ‘keep up with the Joneses’. This column presents recent research that questions this explanation. Low-income households in high-inequality regions in fact borrowed relatively little compared to similar households in low-inequality regions. A theoretical model in which greater local income inequality facilitates the screening of loan applicants makes predictions that are consistent with the data.
Hans Gersbach, 04 January 2014
Democratic governments tend to accumulate excessive debt. This column proposes a new rule – the ‘Catenarian Fiscal Discipline’ – which allows a fiscally disciplined incumbent to limit the debt-making of the next officeholder. This way, fiscal discipline today can lead to fiscal discipline in the future. Such a rule would require that we broaden our notion of representative democracy by recognising the fact that a current government already has various implicit ways of limiting what its elected successors can do.
Markus Eberhardt, Andrea Presbitero, 17 November 2013
The idea that there is a common tipping point in the relationship between public debt and economic growth is still widespread. However, this is likely due to a misinterpretation of the existing evidence. Once we allow for the relationship between debt and growth to be country-specific, there is limited evidence supporting the presence of a within-countries debt threshold.
Angus Armstrong, Monique Ebell, 26 October 2013
In the debate over Scottish independence, the question of how the UK’s assets and sovereign debt would be divided has received insufficient attention. This column argues that the size of Scotland’s debt obligations would be crucial to its optimal choice of currency. Under plausible assumptions, fiscal tightening would be required to return Scottish debt to sustainable levels, and a self-fulfilling rise in borrowing costs might tempt Scotland to leave the sterling currency union. A debt-for-oil swap might be mutually beneficial for a newly independent Scotland and the continuing UK.
Òscar Jordà, Moritz Schularick, Alan Taylor, 18 October 2013
In the aftermath of the global financial crisis, few would dispute the risks of excessive borrowing. But which debts should one worry about – public or private? This column presents new research on the interplay of public and private debts since 1870 in 17 advanced economies. History demonstrates that excessive private-sector borrowing plays a greater role than fiscal profligacy in generating financial instability. However, when the credit boom collapses, the government’s capacity to alleviate the downturn is limited by the prevailing level of public debt.