October 2019

Costa-i-Font, Sáenz de Miera, 20 October 2019

Changes in working hours and the associated time and energy consumed during work can exert an important influence on people’s fitness. However, the effects of such changes on health behaviour and obesity are not well understood. This column examines the effects of a 2001 French national reform that reduced working hours on employee obesity and overweight. Although reduced working times could, in theory, be used for health-promoting activities, in practice it had different effects on white- and blue-collar workers. Policies to reduce working hours alone do not necessarily produce better fitness for everyone.

Geruso, Spears, Talesara, 19 October 2019

The candidate who won the popular vote in the US has not won the presidency four times in the past two centuries, most recently in 2016. This column uses state-level voting data in presidential races extending back to 1836 to examine just how likely these Electoral College inversions are. The findings suggest that in 45% of presidential races decided by less than one percent of the vote, the popular vote winner will lose. Over the last 30 years, the probability has been about 70% that if an inversion occurs, it would have been a Democratic popular vote majority but a Republican Electoral College win.

Boone, Buti, 18 October 2019

After years of solid growth, worldwide economic activity has slowed down sharply in 2019 while global trade has stalled. At October’s annual meeting of the IMF, policymakers have the difficult task of addressing the immediate policy challenges to support economic growth while also preparing our economies for the future. This column argues that while monetary policy is widely recognised as facing increasing constraints, fiscal policy and structural reforms need to play a stronger role. In particular, fiscal policy could become more supportive, notably in the euro area. Undertaking the right type of public investment now – in infrastructure, education or to mitigate climate change – would both stimulate our economies and contribute to making them stronger and more sustainable. 

Bordo, Levy, 18 October 2019

The history of tariffs and immigration and capital barriers provides clear lessons of the potentially sizeable economic costs of anti-globalisation policies. This column describes how the US-China tariff war and policy-related uncertainties are harming economic performance, and are also distorting the Federal Reserve’s monetary policy and undermining its credibility and independence. Tariffs and discretionary monetary policy are a toxic mix, and the authors encourage a de-escalation of burdensome barriers to trade and urge the Fed to adopt a systematic, rules-based approach to monetary policy.

Favilukis, Mabille, Van Nieuwerburgh, 18 October 2019

Housing affordability is a leading challenge for local policymakers around the world, yet a coherent framework for analysing the various policy options is lacking. This column builds such a framework and uses it to show that policies that make affordable housing more efficient, that expand rent control, and that increase vouchers have a redistributive effect. Upzoning policies creates smaller, but more uniformly distributed benefits.

Layton, Maestas, Prinz, Vabson, 17 October 2019

There is much debate, and nowhere more than in the US, about whether public services such as healthcare should be provided by private companies, which may offer greater efficiencies but which are more susceptible to moral hazard and adverse selection of consumers. This column uses evidence from a provision change in Texas to show that contracting healthcare provision out to private companies increased the level of care patients received, but increased overall costs for the government.

Hunt, Nunn, 17 October 2019

Over the last five decades, middle-wage jobs diminished in the US as wage inequality increased. This column investigates the relationship between these two phenomena, and finds no evidence that either computerisation or automation (often cited as a source of both trends) produced employment polarisation or increased wage inequality. By examining wages at the individual level (rather than occupation-average wages), the column suggests that the evolution of wages can be better explained by distinct causes—ranging from changing labour market institutions to globalisation—than by observable demographic factors. 

Shirai, Sugandi, 16 October 2019

Although cashless payments are becoming increasingly common, the demand for cash is rising in many advanced economies. One reason for this is cash hoarding. The column uses data on cash issuance to examine the scale of, and motives for, cash hoarding. The two most important drivers are monetary easing and the preference of older people for cash.

Jaravel, Sager, 16 October 2019

International trade creates both winners and losers. Using comprehensive price data, this column estimates the US price effects of the China shock from 2000 to 2007. It finds that US consumers benefited from large price declines in product categories in which imports from China increased, as increased trade with China eroded the market power of US producers. The positive impact of the China shock on the purchasing power of US consumers is large in comparison to its negative impact on US jobs.

Hasenzagl, Pellegrino, Reichlin, Ricco, 16 October 2019

What is happening to inflation and output in the euro area? The ECB has apparently lost the ability to raise inflation and price expectations have been sliding since the last recession. Much of the policy debate has focused on the flattening of the Phillips curve. Yet, as this column shows, estimations of the joint output-inflation process point to a decline of both output potential and trend inflation as the most relevant elements of the puzzle. 

Advani, Griffith, Smith, 16 October 2019

The Royal Economic Society has launched Discover Economics, an ambitious three-year campaign to attract more women, minority students and students from state schools to study the subject. Sarah Smith and Arun Advani, co-chairs of the campaign, plus Rachel Griffith, RES president, tell Tim Phillips about how they plan to make this happen.

Rehn, 15 October 2019

It has been recently suggested by a group of seasoned central bankers that there has been no danger of a deflationary spiral in the euro area. This column argues instead that the threat of a deflationary spiral was avoided by several reinforcements of the degree of monetary policy accommodation since 2015, and that a key lesson of monetary policy of the last ten years is that timely action is essential to avoid the sort of profoundly harmful equilibrium that might arise from prolonged low inflation and zero interest rates.

Advani, Griffith, Smith, 15 October 2019

The future of UK economics is looking predominantly male and disproportionately privately educated. This column introduces #DiscoverEconomics – a campaign to increase diversity in economics led by the Royal Economic Society and with the support of a wide range of institutions involved in economic research, communication and policymaking, including the Bank of England, the Government Economic Service, the Society of Professional Economists and many leading research institutions. The campaign aims to attract more women, ethnic minority students, and students from state schools and colleges to study the subject at university. 

Bloom, 14 October 2019

Population ageing, driven by declining fertility, increasing longevity, and the progression of large-sized cohorts to older ages, is the dominant global demographic trend of the 21st century. This column introduces a new Vox eBook that examines the myriad challenges and economic uncertainties posed by ageing populations. Overall, the contributions suggest that although the challenges are formidable, they are not insurmountable. There is good reason to reject the view that ‘demography is destiny’.

Bloom, 14 October 2019

We are living longer, and that affects every part of our economic future. David Bloom is the editor of a new VoxEU book on what he calls "the what, the so what, and the now what" of ageing. He tells Tim Phillips about some of the policy choices our societies will have to make in the near future.

De Grauwe, Ji, 14 October 2019

With an economic slowdown looming in the euro area, how should fiscal policies respond? This column uses a behavioural macroeconomic framework to investigate the trade-offs between stabilising output and public debt. It proposes that, when the interest rate is lower than the growth rate of the economy, fiscal policy can be used as a tool for output stabilisation while keeping public debt stable. It argues that many EU countries have the fiscal space to stimulate their economies, which could help in preventing a recession.

Pench, Ciobanu, Zogala, Manescu, 14 October 2019

Much of the debate on fiscal discipline and policy has focused on fiscal rules and their appropriate design. Using recent work by the European Commission on national fiscal frameworks in the EU member states, this column shows that other elements of the fiscal framework are just as important as national fiscal rules for fiscal discipline. Independent monitoring of compliance, more realistic macroeconomic and budgetary forecasts, comprehensive and timely fiscal statistics and medium-term fiscal planning are also key for fiscal discipline in the EU.

Costa-i-Font, Batinti, 13 October 2019

A sizeable middle class is essential to protect societies against socioeconomic and political instability. This column examines the effect of economic recessions on the size of the middle class using different income-based and self-perception definitions. It finds that anticipated recessions do not produce an overall middle-class squeeze, but unanticipated shocks such as the Great Recession do. It also finds that recessions increase the share of the population that regards itself as middle class.

Breza, Kaur, Krishnaswamy, 12 October 2019

Enforcing collective action through social norms and social sanctions can be particularly relevant in poor countries, where local social networks are often key in risk sharing and information diffusion. This column uses two experimental exercises to test whether social norms shape aggregate labour supply in informal markets for casual daily agricultural labour in India. It finds that social norms help sustain wage floors, with workers taking jobs at wage cuts in private but rejecting them in public due to fear of sanctions.

Abouk, Adams, Feng, Maclean, Pesko, 11 October 2019

Since 2006, e-cigarettes have become increasingly popular among young people in the US. But a series of recent vaping-related illnesses have heightened concerns among critics, who do not see them as a healthier alternative to traditional cigarettes. Against this backdrop of uncertainty, this column examines the effects of e-cigarette taxes on smoking outcomes in a particularly important group: pregnant women. Its primary findings are twofold: e-cigarette taxes increase traditional cigarette smoking among pregnant women, and do not appear to influence birth outcomes.

Blanas, Gancia, Lee, 10 October 2019

Since the early 1980s, technology has reduced the demand for low and medium-skill workers, the young, and women, especially in manufacturing industries. The column investigates which technologies have had the largest effect, and on which types of worker. It finds that robots and software raised the demand for high-skill workers, older workers, and men, especially in service industries. 

Colacito, Riddiough, Sarno, 10 October 2019

While it is common to read in the press about linkages between the economic performance of a country and the evolution of its currency, the scientific literature suggests that exchange rates are disconnected from the state of the economy, and that macro variables that characterise the business cycle cannot explain asset prices. This column shares evidence of a robust link between currency returns and the relative strength of the business cycle in the cross-section of countries. A strategy that buys currencies of strong economies and sells currencies of weak economies generates high returns both in the cross section and over time. 

Yang, Novokmet, Milanovic, 09 October 2019

The historically unprecedented economic and social transformation in China over the past four decades has seen urban areas becoming much richer, but also much more unequal. This column analyses changes in the Chinese urban elite. It finds that, compared to the 1980s, the elite today consists mainly of professionals, self-employed, and smaller and larger business people, they are much better educated, and they receive a much greater share of total urban income. This is reflected also in the composition of the Communist Party of China.

Makioka, 09 October 2019

Public export promotion agencies, which provide direct support to exporting firms, are used in many countries around the world. This column surveys the literature that examines the effects of export promotion policies using firm-level observational data. While empirical studies generally find a positive effect of such measures, many show differences in the pattern of effects depending on firm characteristics. The survey also suggests that bundled services combining multiple types of support – and the more direct measures, such as helping firms find distributors – are more effective.

Micossi, 08 October 2019

One important conclusion of Robert Shiller’s influential 2015 book, Irrational Exuberance, is that bubbles are random exogenous phenomena that cannot be foreseen and do not depend on macroeconomic policies. This column introduces a new CEPR Policy Insight which throws light on the root causes of speculative fevers in asset markets and related financial booms and busts. It shows empirical evidence indicating that Shiller may have overlooked the role that lax monetary policy played in triggering financial bubbles in the 2000s by offering investors a perverse promise of ever-increasing asset prices.

Garetto, Oldenski, Ramondo, 08 October 2019

Multinational enterprises play an important role in coordinating production around the globe. This column presents a dynamic quantitative model of multinational enterprise expansion that can be used to analyse the effects of policies that affect the cost of the operations of such firms. It uses this model to estaimte the impact of potential implementations of Brexit.

Eguren Martin, Ossandon Busch, Reinhardt, 08 October 2019

One of the markets banks use to fund lending in foreign currencies – namely, using FX swaps to fund FX lending synthetically – has seen large dislocations in its pricing since the Global Crisis. This column documents that such dislocations affect the supply of cross-border FX credit of UK-based banks. Access to foreign relatives matters as banks employ their internal capital markets to shield themselves from the effects, while banks outside the UK not affected by changes to synthetic funding costs are an important source of (partial) substitution.

Albanesi, 07 October 2019

The US economy has been hampered over the last four decades by three trends: the productivity slowdown, the Great Moderation, and jobless recoveries. Economists seeking to explain these phenomena have generally looked to the impact that technological change has on labour demand. This column proposes an alternative explanation: the rise and stabilisation of women’s participation in the workforce, one of the most notable developments in the post-war US. Excluding gender differences in aggregate models of the US economy obscures our understanding of business cycle behaviour and economic performance.

Dreher, Fuchs, Hodler, Parks, Raschky, Tierney, 07 October 2019

Chinese development projects have the potential to improve the lives of millions of people, but political capture of its development finance by politicians may undermine its effectiveness. This column examines local development outcomes across 47 African countries and the effects of financial support from China between 2001 and 2012. The results not only show that Chinese aid registers positive effects on economic development at the district-level and province-level, but also that political bias in the subnational distribution of Chinese aid does not substantially undermine local development outcomes.

Brock, De Haas, 07 October 2019

Discrimination in access to financial services can prevent women from exploiting their entrepreneurial potential. This column reports on a lab-in-the-field experiment to test for the presence of gender discrimination in small business lending in Turkey. It finds that while unconditional loan approval rates are the same for male and female applicants, there exists a more subtle form of discrimination, with loan officers 30% more likely to make loan approval conditional on the presence of a guarantor when an application appears to come from a female instead of a male entrepreneur. This discrimination is concentrated among young, inexperienced, and gender-biased officers.

Clements, Gupta, Khamidova, 06 October 2019

Worldwide military spending as a percentage of GDP in the years since the Global Crisis has been at nearly half its level during the Cold War. This column identifies three groups into which spending has been converging. It also shows that external threat levels are a factor in determining military spending, but only in developing economies. The results suggest a significant peace dividend from reducing internal conflicts, with a country that moves from the bottom 25% to the top 25% of developing countries on political stability and the absence of violence/terrorism likely to reduce military spending by about half a percentage point of GDP. 

Keiser, Shapiro, 05 October 2019

The Trump administration recently repealed the US Clean Water Rule, which sought to extend federal water quality protection to cover most rivers and streams. This column seeks to better understand the effectiveness of such laws that govern US surface and drinking water quality, the efficiency of these laws, and the state of economic research on water quality. It finds that regulations governing surface water quality are more likely to fail cost-benefit tests compared to drinking water and air pollution regulations, possibly due to an underestimation of the benefits of surface water pollution control.

de la Dehesa, 04 October 2019

Populism has gained momentum over the past decade, dramatically changing the political landscape. This column explains how deep recessions and immigration waves have contributed to this recent trend and discusses the likely trajectory of populism.

Altavilla, Brugnolini, Gürkaynak, Motto, Ragusa, 04 October 2019

The newly released Euro Area Monetary Policy Event-Study Database makes available high-resolution data on asset price responses to ECB monetary policy announcements. In this column, the authors – the creators of the dataset – show that market perceptions of ECB policy communication comprise four factors: policy target, timing, forward guidance, and quantitative easing. These factors elicit large and long-lasting market reactions and help explain asset price changes in response to policy maker speeches and other news as well.

Frost, Gambacorta, Huang, Shin, Zbinden, 04 October 2019

BigTech firms are entering finance, and their access to massive amounts of information may give them an edge in areas like credit assessment and beyond. This column assesses the economic forces behind the adoption of Big Tech services in finance. It shows that BigTech lenders thrive in countries with less competitive banks and less strict regulation, and that they have an information advantage from the use of big data and machine learning.

Sussman, 04 October 2019

Economists assume that London's financial and economic development didn't begin until the end of the 17th century. Nathan Sussman tells Tim Phillips about a new trove of contemporary records that stands the conventional wisdom on its head.

Jäger, Schoefer, Zweimüller, 04 October 2019

The Coasean theory of job separations argues they are mutually preferable and efficient. This column uses data following the abandonment of a policy in Austria that increased job separation for some ages and regions to empirically test whether the separations had been efficient. Post-abolition separation behaviour in all groups was similar, which would be contrary to the Coasean model.

Grosfeld, Sakalli, Zhuravskaya, 03 October 2019

It is commonly argued that political instability increases the likelihood of civil conflicts, while economic downturns can trigger civil conflict and aggravate ethnic violence. This column examines how political and economic factors interact to drive pogroms in an environment of widespread antisemitism, using data from the Russian Empire of the 19th and early 20th centuries. It finds that pogrom waves took place when and only when economic shocks coincided with political turmoil, and that occupational segregation between the Jews and the majority played an important role in triggering ethnic violence.  

Altavilla, Brugnolini, Gürkaynak, Motto, Ragusa, 03 October 2019

High frequency data are an essential input to study the effects of monetary policy communication. This column introduces a new database, the Euro Area Monetary Policy Event-Study Database, which makes available intraday asset price changes around ECB policy announcements for a wide range of assets. The high resolution of the intraday data allows for the measurement of asset price changes separately for the press release and press conference windows.

Benigno, Schilling, Uhlig, 03 October 2019

The governor of the Bank of England, Mark Carney, recently argued that more thought should be given to creating a global electronic currency. This column, part of the Vox debate on the future of digital money, looks at the challenges for the world economy of adopting a ‘world wide currency’, using a two-country world in which each country has its own national currency and national central bank, but where there is also a global currency in circulation. It suggests that Carney’s wish may be granted, but sooner than expected and in a different manner.  

Alogoskoufis, Langfield, 03 October 2019

At a leaders’ summit in June 2012, euro area governments recognised the imperative of breaking the doom loop resulting from sovereigns being exposed to bank risk and vice versa. But bank regulation still treats sovereign debt as risk-free and does not penalise concentrated portfolios. This column, part of the Vox debate on euro area reform, asks whether banks would reduce portfolio concentration in response to reforms, and whether they would reduce exposures to sovereign credit risk. Simulations show that the answer is never an unambiguous and simultaneous ‘yes’ to both questions under reforms envisaged by the Basel Committee on Banking Supervision.

Rodríguez-Pose, Storper, 02 October 2019

A dominant view in urban economics suggests that the solution to the housing crisis of major cities is to relax zoning and other planning regulations. This column challenges this position, arguing that there is no clear and uncontroversial evidence that housing regulation is a principal source of differences in home availability or prices across cities and that these issues are more linked to rising inequalities in the geography of employment, wages and skills. Blanket changes in zoning are unlikely to increase affordability for lower-income households in prosperous regions, but would increase gentrification without appreciably decreasing income inequality.

Halperin, Ho, Muir, List, 02 October 2019

Even economies built on market capitalism are built on relationships. And when trust within relationships fray, apologies can help to restore them. This column describes the first large-scale apology experiment done in the field. Using the Uber platform to better understand the costs of apologising, the study asked why and in what cases apologies helped restore relationships. It finds that apologies can indeed work but are sometimes costly.

Thorbecke, 02 October 2019

Japanese exports in electronic parts and components dramatically fell in value after the Global Crisis and have not recovered until today. This column investigates why Japan lost this comparative advantage. It argues that capital inflows seeking safe havens during the crisis led to a sharp appreciation of the yen and caused yen export prices to tumble relative to production costs. Plummeting profits then hindered Japanese firms from investing enough in capital and innovation to compete with rivals.

Costa, Dhingra, Machin, 01 October 2019

Some commentators argue that globalisation is systematically connected to the real-wage and productivity stagnation seen across the developed world. This column analyses the relationship between international trade and worker outcomes in the immediate aftermath of the Brexit referendum, when the value of the sterling fell massively against other nations’ currencies. It finds that the rise in import costs from the sterling depreciation hurt wages and training. This relative decline in real earnings of workers has reinforced pre-existing real-wage stagnation; UK workers have not fared well since the referendum price rise.

Schivardi, Schmitz, 01 October 2019

Productivity growth in southern Europe has been lower than in other developed countries. The column argues that this has in large part been caused by slow adoption of information technology, compounded by inefficient management. Without improvements in management practices, increased IT spending will not close the productivity gap.

Andrade, Galí, Le Bihan, Matheron, 01 October 2019

How to adjust to structurally lower real natural rates of interest is a challenging but inescapable issue for central bankers. Using simulation and US data, this column studies how changes in the steady-state natural interest rate affect the optimal inflation target. It finds that starting from pre-crisis values, a 1 percentage point decline in the natural rate should be accommodated by an increase in the optimal inflation target of about 0.9 to 1 percentage point. It also discusses alternatives to adjusting the target, such as non-conventional monetary policies. 


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