Cara Pacitti, Richard Hughes, Jack Leslie, Charlie McCurdy, James Smith, Daniel Tomlinson, 12 May 2020

With experts warning that social distancing measures could remain in place for much of this year in the UK, the fiscal pressures faced by the government could well be much more severe than recent official forecasts suggest. Drawing on three scenarios for the economic impact of social distancing lasting for 3, 6 or 12 months, this column looks at the impact on the UK public finances. It suggests that borrowing will rise to historic highs in all three scenarios. This poses liquidity challenges for the government in the near term, and leaves the government more vulnerable to changes in interest rates or inflation in the medium term given far higher debt stocks.

Jack Leslie, Richard Hughes, Charlie McCurdy, Cara Pacitti, James Smith, Daniel Tomlinson, 11 May 2020

The scale of the economic impact of coronavirus is only starting to become clear, but effective government policy responses depend on realistic estimates of the depth and length of the recession. Drawing on theory, experience from past viral outbreaks, and real-time data, this column presents three scenarios for the UK economy over the next five years. Economic outcomes could easily be worse than many current forecasts. Crucially, the duration and strictness of social distancing restrictions will define the total loss in output during the crisis and influence the likely pace of recovery post-crisis.

Dimitris K. Chronopoulos, Marcel Lukas, John O.S. Wilson, 06 May 2020

Since the first COVID-19 cases were reported in January 2020, the UK government has introduced successive public health measures, culminating in late March 2020 with enforced closures of non-essential businesses and social distancing. These measures are significantly affecting UK household incomes and expenditures. This column exploits a large anonymised transaction-level dataset covering Great Britain to examine real-time consumer spending responses to the COVID-19 pandemic and related public policy measures. While there are differences by age, gender, and income level, overall consumer spending declined as the government lockdown becames imminent and has continued to decline since.

Juanita Gonzalez-Uribe, Su Wang, Simeon Djankov, 30 April 2020

Loan guarantees to small businesses are emerging as a main policy response during the COVID-19 crisis. Using evidence from the UK’s Enterprise Finance Guarantee scheme from 2009, this column argues that such policies enable some financially constrained firms to retain workers that otherwise would have been laid off, and whose retention was fundamental in rebuilding the businesses post-crisis. However, less-educated workers in jobs with low training costs are more likely to be laid off, implying that the guarantee policy is regressive. 

Henry Overman, 22 April 2020

The economic crisis caused by COVID-19 will play out unequally across areas. Unfortunately, the unusual nature of this crisis makes its local impacts hard to predict. This complicates attempts to formulate appropriate area-based policy responses. This column focuses on the UK and argues that, in the short run, we will need to target immediate support through existing mechanisms to reach people who are most vulnerable to the impacts of the current crisis. Doing this will also help the most vulnerable communities where these people live.

Kilian Rieder, 20 April 2020

Since mid-March 2020, countries have seen consumers panic buying large quantities of groceries in reaction to the COVID-19 pandemic. Why does panic buying arise and how may one mitigate its negative consequences? This column examines the Bank of England’s response to financial crises during the 19th century and suggests that a key action is to counter those incentives that turn panic buying into a rational strategy.

Fabio Braggion, Rik Frehen, Emiel Jerphanion, 19 April 2020

How does cheap credit feed into investors’ behaviour? Cheap credit could boost stock prices, even without trading, by lowering the cost of capital. However, it might also enable naïve investors to ride a bubble and lose money. To see what effect prevails, this column collects every stock transaction for three major British companies during the 1720 South Sea Bubble. It finds that loan holders are more likely to buy following high returns, subscribe to overvalued share issues and incur large trading losses.

Giulia Giupponi, Camille Landais, 01 April 2020

Short-time work is a subsidy for temporary reductions in the number of hours worked in firms affected by temporary shocks. Evidence suggests that it can have large positive effects on employment and can be more effective than unemployment insurance or universal transfers. This column discusses how the COVID-19 crisis – with its mandated reduction in hours of work and massive liquidity crunch for firms – is a textbook case for the use of short-time work. Taking into account available evidence and the current situation, it proposes guidelines to effectively implement short-term work.

Thiemo Fetzer, Srinjoy Sen, Pedro Souza, 27 February 2020

Homelessness and precarious living conditions are on the rise across much of the Western world. This column examines the impact of a shock to the affordability of rent in the private sector in the UK, in the form of a cut in housing subsidies for low-income households, on homelessness and insecure living conditions as well as on democratic participation. The findings suggest that the cut was, to a large extent, a false economy. The net fiscal savings for the central government were markedly offset by significantly higher local government spending to meet statutory obligations for prevention of homelessness. The cut also led to widespread distress among benefit claimants, some of whom went into rent arrears and were forcefully displaced from their homes.

Ben Broadbent, Federico Di Pace, Thomas Drechsel, Richard Harrison, Silvana Tenreyro, 26 February 2020

The UK economy has experienced significant macroeconomic adjustments following the 2016 referendum on its withdrawal from the EU. This column documents these macroeconomic adjustments systematically and demonstrates that the effects of the referendum result on the UK economy can be conceptualised as news about a future slowdown in tradable productivity growth.

Kai Gehring, Stephan A. Schneider, 18 February 2020

Secessionist parties draw upon rhetoric on cultural identity and political autonomy to garner votes. However, the parties’ electoral success is also influenced by the availability of regional resources. This column examines two secessionist parties in the UK – the Scottish National Party and the Welsh Plaid Cymru – and the divergence in their performance following the discovery of oil within Scotland’s hypothetical maritime borders. It finds that a 10% increase in relative regional wealth is associated with an increase of 3 percentage points in the vote share of secessionist parties. Relative regional resource wealth is more important than absolute wealth, and changes in regional resource wealth only play a role when there is baseline support for secession.

Kym Anderson, 16 February 2020

Global alcoholic beverage markets have changed dramatically in recent years due to globalisation, income growth in emerging economies, changes in individual preferences, policy initiatives to curb socially harmful drinking, and, in particular, the dual trade policy shocks of Brexit and the US’s unilaterally imposed discriminatory tariffs. This column provides an overview of the major trends and projects the possible effects of Brexit and the US tariffs on the global alcohol market. It concludes that both shocks would reduce world trade in wine. Even countries not targeted by US tariffs can be worse off if those tariffs sufficiently reduce global consumption. 

Jennifer Castle, David Hendry, Andrew Martinez, 21 January 2020

Real wages and productivity in the UK have stagnated since 2007, whereas employment has risen considerably. Many commentators lament the consequent failure of `living standards’ to rise at historical rates. But real GDP per capita has grown by more than 20% since 2000 despite the Great Recession, so aggregate living standards have in fact risen. This column resolves the apparent paradox.

Neil Cummins, 08 December 2019

Sharp declines in the concentration of declared wealth occurred across Europe and the US during the 20th century. But the rich may have been hiding much of their wealth. This column introduces a new method to measure this hidden wealth, in any form. It finds that between 1920 and 1992, English elites concealed 20-32% of their wealth. Accounting for hidden wealth eliminates one-third of the observed decline of top 10% wealth share over the past century.

Mark Harrison, 14 November 2019

Economic warfare was widely used in WWII. When one country blockaded another’s supply of essential goods or bombed the industries producing them, why did the adversary’s economy fail to collapse? This column, part of the Vox debate on the economics of WWII, reviews Mançur Olson’s insights, which arose from the elementary economic concept of substitution. He concluded that there are no essential goods; there are only essential uses, which can generally be supplied in many ways.

Eric Golson, 11 November 2019

Neutrality has long been viewed as impartiality in war. This column, part of the Vox debate on World War II, asserts that neutral states in the war were realist in approaching their defence to ensure their survival. Neutrals such as Portugal, Spain, Sweden, and Switzerland maintained independence by offering economic concessions to the belligerents to make up for their relative military weakness. Economic concessions took the form of merchandise trade, services, labour, and capital flows. Depending on their position and the changing fortunes of war, neutral countries could also extract concessions from the belligerents, if their situation permitted.

Anil Kashyap, Benjamin King, 28 October 2019

There are still remarkable gaps in the data available on the overall structure of the financial systems of major economies. This column presents rough estimates for the UK and the US that suggest some surprising structural differences between the two systems and which point to areas where better measurement is needed. The authors note that there is a strong case for policymakers to think about the system as an interconnected whole, rather than as a set of distinct sectors to be regulated in isolation.

Rui Costa, Swati Dhingra, Stephen 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.

Nicholas Bloom, Philip Bunn, Scarlet Chen, Paul Mizen, Pawel Smietanka, 25 September 2019

The Decision Maker Panel, a monthly survey of CFOs from around 3,000 UK businesses, provides data on the uncertainty created by the Brexit process and the effect that is having on British businesses. This column summarises the latest results up until end August 2019, which reveal a broad-based rise in the proportion of respondents reporting that Brexit was one of their top three sources of uncertainty in recent months to close to the highest level since the EU referendum.  That uncertainty is also expected to be more persistent than previously thought.

Guo Xu, Hans-Joachim Voth, 16 September 2019

People in power may use their discretion to hire and promote family members and others in their network. While some empirical evidence shows that such patronage is bad, its theoretical effects are ambiguous – discretion over appointments can be used for good or bad. This column examines the battle performance of British Royal Navy officers during the Age of Sail and finds that patronage ‘worked’. On average, officers with connections to the top of the naval hierarchy did better on every possible measure of performance than those without a family connection. Where top administrators have internalised meritocratic values and competition punishes underperformance, patronage may enhance overall performance by selecting better individuals.

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