Banks' payout decisions at the beginning of the financial crisis of 2007-2009 were particularly controversial as the crisis eroded the capital of many banks. Concerns were raised that banks may have engaged in wealth transfer to shareholders, or that they may have been reluctant to reduce dividends to avoid negative signalling. This column examines these arguments using a large dataset on US bank holding companies. Cross-sectional tests do not provide clear-cut evidence of active wealth transfer. Similarly, the evidence on signalling is mixed.
Peter Cziraki, Christian Laux, Gyöngyi Lóránth, 26 October 2016
Peter Bofinger, Philipp Scheuermeyer, 20 October 2016
The effect of income distribution on aggregate saving has important implications for aggregate demand and global current account imbalances. Drawing on evidence from a panel of high-income OECD countries, this column documents a hump-shaped relationship between inequality and aggregate saving rates. It also shows that the relationship between inequality and saving depends on financial market conditions.
Mevlude Akbulut-Yuksel, Adriana Kugler, 17 October 2016
Upward social mobility is widely sought but often elusive in highly mobile societies like the US. While previous work has focused on intergenerational transmission of income levels and social prosperity among natives and immigrants, this column studies the intergenerational transmission of health. There is substantial persistence in health status for both natives and immigrants. However, as immigrant families remain in the US for more generations, their children’s health tends to resemble more the health of native children and less the health of their mothers.
Larry Levin, Matthew S. Lewis, Frank Wolak, 13 October 2016
A consensus that the demand for gasoline is price inelastic means that policymakers have opted to disregard price instruments when addressing gasoline consumption and climate change. This column analyses daily citywide data on gasoline prices and consumption to show that demand for gasoline is in fact substantially more elastic than previously thought. This is a major argument in favour of the effectiveness of price-based mechanisms in reducing greenhouse gas emissions.
Martín Gonzalez-Eiras, Dirk Niepelt, 11 October 2016
The US fiscal system underwent a radical transformation in the 1930s. This column proposes a micro-founded general equilibrium model that blends politics and macroeconomics to explain the transformation. It rationalises tax centralisation and intergovernmental grants as the equilibrium response to the Sixteenth Amendment, which introduced federal taxation. The theory can also be used to forecast federal and regional taxes and government spending.
Gianni La Cava, 08 October 2016
The rising share of income accruing to housing is a key feature of the changing US income distribution. This column examines the determinants of this phenomenon. The rise occurred due to an increasing share of income accruing to owner-occupiers through imputed rent, it is concentrated in states that are constrained in terms of new housing supply, and it is closely associated with the long-run decline in real interest rates and inflation.
Kate Ho, Robin Lee, 16 September 2016
The US health insurance market is becoming less competitive due to mergers and withdrawal of services from certain states. This column examines how this affects consumers through insurance premiums and hospital reimbursement rates. Using employer-sponsored insurance data from California, it finds that the relationship between insurer competition and health care spending depends on institutional and market structure. If premiums can be constrained through effective regulation or negotiation, then reduced competition might lead to lower costs. Absent such constraints, consumers will likely be harmed.
Pasquale D'Apice, 13 September 2016
There has been renewed interest in economic analysis of the EU budget following the Global Crisis. This column presents new calculations of cross-border flows operated through the EU budget and compares them with those estimated for the US. For each euro paid by an average net (EU member state) contributor, approximately 75 cents return through the EU budget, and 25 cents cross a border. At the margin, the US federal budget is less redistributive in normal times, with around 90 cents per dollar returning to the contributing state, but net cross-border fiscal flows in the US increased steeply in the wake of the Global Crisis, financed by federal borrowing.
Rasmus Landersø, James Heckman, 12 September 2016
The Scandinavian model of social welfare is often contrasted favourably with the US model in terms of promoting social mobility across generations. This column investigates the accuracy of these claims, focusing on the case of Denmark. Denmark invests heavily in child development, but then undoes the beneficial effects by providing weak labour market incentives for its children to attend school compared to the US. This helps explain why the influence of family background on educational attainment is similar in the two countries.
Douglas Campbell, Lester Lusher, 08 September 2016
Growing inequality has been one of the most pressing political issues since the Great Recession. However, there is a relative lack of consensus on the significant drivers of this trend. This column investigates the contribution of globalisation, via international trade, to US inequality. Although trade is found to have had important effects on certain parts of the US labour market in the early 2000s, the growth in US inequality since 1980 can be traced back to Reagan-era tax cuts.
Philippe Aghion, Ufuk Akcigit, Julia Cagé, William Kerr, 29 August 2016
The relationship between taxation and economic growth is complex, and relies in large part on the efficiency with which taxes are used. This column examines the impact of corruption on this relationship. The boost to welfare from reducing corruption is substantially larger than the marginal gains from optimising the tax rate for an existing level of government efficiency.
Brian Nolan, Max Roser, Stefan Thewissen, 27 August 2016
With inequality rising and household incomes across developed countries stagnating, accurate monitoring of living standards cannot be achieved by relying on GDP per capita alone. This column analyses the path of divergence between household income and GDP per capita for 27 OECD countries. It finds several reasons why GDP per capita has outpaced median incomes, and recommends assigning median income a central place in official monitoring and assessment of living standards over time.
Marco Buti, José Leandro, Plamen Nikolov, 25 August 2016
The fragmentation of financial systems along national borders was one of the main handicaps of the Eurozone both prior to and in the initial phase of the crisis, hindering the shock absorption capacity of individual member states. The EU has taken important steps towards the deeper integration of Eurozone financial markets, but this remains incomplete. This column argues that a fully-fledged financial union can be an efficient economic shock absorber. Compared to the US, there is significant potential in terms of private cross-border risk sharing through the financial channel, more so than through fiscal (i.e. public) means.
Laurence Ball, 24 August 2016
Much of the damage from the Great Recession is attributed to the Federal Reserve’s failure to rescue Lehman Brothers when it hit troubled waters in September 2008. It has been argued that the Fed’s decision was based on legal constraints. This column questions that view, arguing that the Fed did have the legal authority to save Lehman, but it did not do so due to political considerations.
Suresh Naidu, Noam Yuchtman, 23 August 2016
Today’s labour market in the US has much in common with that of the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Then, as now, there were few government protections for workers, fears over cheap immigrant labour, rapid technological change, and increasing market concentration. This column explores the lessons that can be drawn from the earlier ‘Gilded Age’. The findings suggests that even as markets play a greater role in allocating labour, legal and political institutions will continue to shape bargaining power between firms and workers.
Priyank Gandhi, Hanno Lustig, Alberto Plazzi, 21 August 2016
Governments and regulators are commonly assumed to offer special protection to the stakeholders of large financial institutions during financial crises. This column measures the ex ante cost of implicit shareholder guarantees to financial institutions in crises, and suggests that such protection affects small and large financial institutions differently. The evidence suggests that in the event of a financial crisis, stock investors price in the implicit government guarantees extended to large financial institutions, but not to small ones.
Melissa Dell, Pablo Querubin, 16 August 2016
The nature of US military interventions has become relevant in the face of new growing threats, particularly from so-called Islamic State. While top-down strategies that rely on overwhelming firepower are sometimes favoured by politicians, longer-term strategies use a bottom-up approach, gaining citizens’ support through civic engagement. This column introduces evidence from US actions during the Vietnam War to show that bottom-up approaches are more successful in countering insurgencies than violent, top-down interventions.
Sari Pekkala Kerr, William Kerr, 10 August 2016
Increased hostility to immigration has been a key driver of the rise of right-wing populist movements across the world. At the same time, local governments – notably in the US – have designed work programmes to attract immigrant entrepreneurs to their areas. This column explores the types of businesses founded by immigrants and their growth patterns, and examines how these outcomes relate to immigrants’ age at arrival to the US. Immigrant entrepreneurs experience greater volatility – they fail more frequently, but those that persist experience greater employment growth than their native counterparts.
Silda Nikaj, Joshua J. Miller, John Tauras, 28 July 2016
Progress in adopting smoking bans across the US has been slow, despite a majority of Americans supporting a ban in public places. This column uses aggregate and establishment-level data from Texas to examine the economic effects of smoking bans on bars and restaurants. The results suggest that bars and restaurants are not adversely affected by the adoption of a ban.
Marco Becht, Andrea Polo, Stefano Rossi, 20 July 2016
Many corporate acquirers impose losses on their shareholders. Conflicted or overconfident CEOs and boards embark on acquisitions that are not in the best interest of the owners of the firm. The governance tool of shareholder voting can represent a potential solution. This column shows that in the UK, where bids for relatively large targets require mandatory shareholder approval, shareholders gain when the transaction is conditional on a vote and lose when it is not. The evidence suggests that the vote puts a constraint on the amount the CEO can offer for the target.