Most Read: This Month
Since the double-digit inflation of the 1970s, central banks have sought to reduce inflation and keep it low. This column argues that recent history teaches us that inflation has fallen too low. Raising inflation targets to 4% would have little cost, and it would make it easier for central banks to end future recessions.
With persistently weak economic conditions becoming the norm in Europe, economists are considering increasingly unconventional policy options. One tool that has yet to be taken out of storage is ‘helicopter money’, i.e. the overt monetary financing of government deficits. This column recounts a policy debate on helicopter money that was held at LBS in April 2013 among three of the world’s leading monetary economists.
A pernicious aspect of the Eurozone crisis is the ‘doom loop’ linking European banks and governments. This column argues that poor European policy choices in the wake of the 2008 Global Crisis worsened the problem. Rather than being forcefully recapitalised as in the US and UK, many Eurozone banks were left undercapitalised and free to gamble for redemption. In what may be the greatest carry trade ever, they borrowed cheap, first in short-term debt markets and then from the ECB, to invest in high-yield but risky sovereign debt. Substantial bank recapitalisations against sovereign-bond losses is the way forward.
Does anybody have a clear vision of the desirable financial system of the future? This column has one. It gives simple answers to 12 simple questions panellists at a recent IMF conference failed to answer.
The Global Crisis has shaken the consensus on how to run macroeconomic policy. Three years ago, the authors discussed this issue on VoxEU.org. This column takes a more granular look at new efforts to rethink macroeconomic policy. It takes stock of early results and provides a more detailed agenda for the key issues that should keep policymakers and academic macroeconomists busy in the next few years.
Icelandic voters recently ejected its post-Crisis government – a government that successfully avoided economic collapse when the odds were stacked against it. The new government comprises the same parties that were originally responsible for the Crisis. What’s going on? This column argues that this switch is, in fact, logical given the outgoing government’s mishandling of the economy and their deference towards foreign creditors.
Cross-country inequality is persistent. This column draws on economic history to explain the mechanisms by which dramatic cross-country differences in income emerge. We can reduce inequality through policies that facilitate the penetration of new technologies in poor and middle-income countries. Such policies can go a long way towards reducing existing cross-country income disparities.
Spain and Britain have similar debt problems. So why does Spain face far higher sovereign-interest rates? Is this because Eurozone membership makes national economies vulnerable to self-fulfilling debt crises? This column argues that EZ membership does not fully explain this discrepancy. A central bank can provide an effective backstop to national debt both in monetary unions and in countries with their own currency. EZ members are more vulnerable to debt crises to the extent that the ECB cannot count on the joint support of national fiscal authorities.
Central banks on both sides of the Atlantic are pondering ways of unwinding their bloated balance sheets and easing out of extraordinary post-crisis monetary policy interventions. This column discusses the recent Geneva Conference on the World Economy that focused on ‘exit strategies’. Where exactly do central banks exit? And how? This column also introduces a new Vox feature, ‘Vox Views’, which are short video interviews with world-renown economists. The first two of these feature Alan Blinder and Don Kohn.
The ECB’s recent survey on household finances and consumption threw up some unexpected results – counter-intuitively, the average German household has less wealth than the average Mediterranean household. In line with a recent VoxEU.org contribution from De Grauwe and Ji, this article analyses the principal differences in wealth and income between the main Eurozone countries.
Contrary to received wisdom, entrepreneurial clusters in the US – like Silicon Valley – are seen as success stories. But what is the rationale behind these clusters? Do they actually work? This column reviews the evidence and discusses localised policies currently being pursued in the US. In general, our understanding of what works remains limited and economists should more thoroughly pursue researching the effects of entrepreneurial clusters.
The monetary-fiscal policy connection is under scrutiny by the German Constitutional Court in the context of the ECB’s OMT bond-buying programme. This column argues that most analyses are deeply flawed by the misapplication of private-company default principles to the central bank. ECB bond-buying transforms public bonds into monetary base, and sovereign-default risk into inflation risk. The real question is: What is the non-inflationary limit to money-base expansion? This depends upon the economic situation and is much higher in the current liquidity-trap setting.
Europe has been postponing the recapitalisation of its banking sector. This column argues that it has been doing so for far too long. Without such a recapitalisation, the danger is that economic stagnation will continue for a long period, thereby putting Europe on a course towards Japanese-style inertia and the proliferation of zombie banks.
Global banking regulation is undergoing a massive reform, known as Basel III. This column argues that the proposed reforms will fail to correct flaws in the old system. The new rules are even more complicated, opaque and open to manipulation. What is needed is a radical shift to prudential rule based on a straight capital ratio.
Trade theory is ten years into the ‘new new trade theory’ revolution. This column reviews the new thinking and how it shifted thinking from why nations trade to why firms trade. This opened the door to documenting the impact of firm-level changes on industry productivity and national welfare.
The global financial crisis has shattered the confidence of many established principles of monetary policy and financial supervision. This column argues that the two should not remain separate, and maps out the major challenges faced by their complementary implementation.
Young children’s cognitive and non-cognitive development significantly affects outcomes for them later on in life. This column asks what effect reading to young children has. Evidence suggests that children should be regularly read to, especially by their parents. Although reading has little effect on non-cognitive skills, the benefits to cognitive development are huge.
‘Global liquidity’ focuses on the role of cross-border banking in the international transmission of financial conditions. This column argues that when global banks apply more lenient conditions on national banks by supplying wholesale funding, national banks transmit the more lenient conditions to their borrowers through greater availability of local credit. Researchers and policymakers would do well to recognise the role of global liquidity as a key concept in international finance.
What do macroeconomic shocks do to public and private saving? This column argues that it is only truly dramatic shocks that have a long-lasting effect on saving behaviour. Past crises tend to increase savings among households, but they also lead to decreased public-sector saving. However, the evidence suggests that this decrease in public saving is about a third of the magnitude than the corresponding increase in household saving.
In response to the civil lawsuit filed by the US Department of Justice in February 2013, Standard & Poor's affirms that its ratings were "objective, independent and uninfluenced by conflicts of interest". This column presents empirical evidence opposing this claim. The data suggests a systematic rating bias in favour of the agencies' largest issuer clients.
This week, the European Commission will almost certainly impose substantial interim tariffs on solar panels that it believes Chinese firms are dumping in the EU. This column explores the recent history of this case, including public clashes not only between the Commission and China but also between EU member states and Brussels. What’s actually new in this case isn’t so obvious.
During the decades of globalisation, flows of foreign direct investment have surged in parallel with extensive policy momentum. This column examines whether the net aggregate gain from FDI is positive using a large panel of firms from 30 European countries. It turns out that even very large increases in FDI are not important for country-level productivity growth.
Unemployment is once again the bane of the US and Europe. This column highlights an intriguing association between home ownership and high unemployment using US state-level data. Given the heavy subsidisation of and rise in home ownership, this association merits more attention from economists.
Abenomics is all the rage. Japan’s GDP grew at an annual rate of 3.5% in the first quarter, the stock market went up by almost 30% since December, and despite some uncertainties, sentiments, consumption, and exports are all picking up. However inflation is at -0.9% and survey-based inflation expectation has remained flat. Is inflation going to happen at all? This column argues the answer crucially hinges upon the implementation of structural reforms, especially in the labour market.
The WTO risks losing its centricity in the world trading system due to its focus on 20th century trade issues and lack of progress in the Doha Round. This column introduces a new eBook that looks at how Asia meanwhile built a deep network of supply chains and is experimenting with new forms of regional trade governance. Asia’s experience of open trade-led development offers lessons for other regions. Better coherence is also vital between Asia’s regional trade rules and global trade governance.
Commentators increasingly talk about the steady rise of protectionism. This column presents evidence from the newest Global Trade Alert report to suggest that they’re right: the past twelve months have seen a quiet, artful, wide-ranging assault on free trade. Little of this has showed up in traditional monitoring. Protectionism in Q4 2012 and Q1 2013 far exceeds anything seen since the onset of the global financial crisis.
An ongoing German Constitutional Court case threatens to make the Eurozone Crisis much worse. This column argues that a Eurozone breakup could well be self-fulfilling given the absence of large-scale fiscal backstopping. The ECB’s Outright Monetary Transactions (OMT) programme has so far blocked speculation that could lead to such a breakup. A German court ruling against the OMT would destroy the programme’s credibility. The court would be wise to dismiss the case, if it does not want to risk becoming a threat to Eurozone stability and to taxpayers in Germany and beyond.
France has a raft of labour-market regulations that kick in for firms with 50 workers or more. This column uses this threshold to identify the economic effects of size-contingent regulations. Such policies seem to subsidise small firms at the expense of larger firms. But since small firms are on average less productive than large firms, the French economy loses out.
The World Bank’s ‘Doing Business’ data collection project is under threat from large nations who score poorly, especially China. This column argues that although there are problems with country rankings, the underlying data is very valuable for empirical researchers. The Doing Business project should continue quantifying different dimensions of the business environment, but reduce its focus on country rankings.
The doom-loop between banks and the national governments played a dominant role in the Eurozone crisis for Ireland and Cyprus. A Eurozone banking union is usually viewed as the solution. This column argues that the doom-loop cannot be undone as long as banks hold oversized amounts of their government’s debt. A simple solution would be to apply the general rule that banks are prohibited from holding more than a quarter of their capital in government bonds of any single sovereign.
What has been the impact of high-speed internet on political participation? This column reports new evidence from Italy and the formation of Beppe Grillo’s Five Star Movement. Largely through social media, broadband internet has enabled a fledgling political movement to reach a large number of people, overcoming the costly barriers to entry usually associated with new political parties. And it is this reach that has encouraged some disillusioned voters back to the ballot box.
Uncertainty is intrinsic in climate-change economics. This column argues that it’s here to stay. There will be no accurate predictive tool for predicting economic growth, the emergence of clean-energy technology, or economic vulnerability in light of climate change in the near future. But this is not an excuse not to think about climate economics. Research and policy would do well to be more explicit about what we don’t know. We should avoid subjective guesses, and focus more on credible forecasts from empirically sound, if uncertain, models.
Russian involvement in Cyprus was widely recognised during the acute phase of the most recent EZ crisis. This column argues that some of this is driven by corruption-linked money laundering. Using official Russian statistics, the authors estimate a standard model of FDI location to identify usual patterns related to nations with lax anti-money laundering measures such as Cyprus and the British Virgin Islands. Funds from such nations were biased towards locating investments in the most corrupt Russian regions compared to a group of genuine foreign investors.
Do higher government wages reduce corruption? This column argues that they do, but only in relatively poor countries. When a country’s poor, higher government wages reduce bureaucrats’ incentive to extract illegal incomes. However, as income per capita rises, higher government wages gradually lose their effectiveness in combating corruption.
How will the new members of ASEAN catch up? This column argues that the gap in income is closing between the two groups within ASEAN: the newly industrialising economies and the older members. However, a marked cost of this convergence has been increasing income inequality within individual countries. To remedy this, and to increase overall convergence, a number of conditions must be simultaneously met: investment in social infrastructure, especially education and health; improving the investment climate; and land reform that directly redresses asset inequality.
The ‘manufacturing matters’ movement has gained prominence on the policy agenda even as the nature of manufacturing continues to morph. This column discusses new research showing that opening service sectors to competition and foreign direct investment can be a powerful conduit for productivity gains in manufacturing. The gains depend on both the types of reforms and the specific services sectors in which these are implemented.
How can we accurately model the African HIV/AIDS epidemic? This column presents new research that uses computational general equilibrium models to map the spread of HIV/AIDS. Emphasising the importance of understanding behavioural adjustments and equilibrium effects, this new way of modelling the epidemic may well prove a useful tool for further research.
The slave trade continues to shape modern Africa. This column analyzes environmental shocks to the supply side of the trans-Atlantic slave trade and their long-term effects. During warm periods, African ports exported fewer slaves because lower agricultural productivity raised slavers' costs. These temperature fluctuations had long-run impacts, and ports that experienced a warmer period during the decades when the slave trade was most active appear more developed today.
Making international trade easier and less bureaucratic – trade facilitation in WTO jargon – is one of the few areas where WTO talks are still making progress. This column discusses recent research that looks at the distribution of gains from trade facilitation among exporters of different sizes. Firm-level data from many developing countries show that firms of all sizes export more in response to improved trade facilitation.
Exporting is essential for economic development. But can firms move from local sales to export sales? How do firms prepare for exporting? This column presents new research showing that worker mobility is an important mechanism by which exporter knowledge spreads through the economy.
Bank competition policy seeks to balance efficiency with incentives to take risk. This calls for an intermediate degree of competition. This column argues that although the traditional policy tools are rules on entry/exit and the consolidation of banks, the Crisis showed that a focus on market structure alone is misplaced. There are other, newer ways in which competition policy can support financial stability: dealing with too-big-to fail and other structural issues in banking, as well as facilitating crisis management.
Free trade agreements are often signed in conjunction with other bilateral economic agreements such as investment agreements, double taxation treaties, or even currency agreements. This column argues that this trend reflects the greater complexity of 21st century economic integration – especially the intertwining of FDI and trade in goods and services. Economists should analyse the effects of all such agreement conjointly. Failing to do so may result in attributing trade booms to the wrong policies.
Can foreign aid help countries emerge from civil war? This paper presents new research that suggests that injecting lots of money into conflict zones may in fact encourage corruption and violence. The aid community should focus on what it can do well: working closely with communities to target small-scale, modest improvements that can be implemented in conflict zones. If accompanied by a gradual improvement in the quality of governance, current aid recipients can aspire to a long-run improvement in both security and prosperity.
The EU encourages regional cohesion through transfers for structural changes and development. This column presents new research suggesting that some poorer countries don't benefit as well as we might expect. This is likely to be because of worse technological and institutional absorptive capacity. Structural transfers need reform, and policymakers would do well to focus on recipients’ absorptive capacity.
If cartels are a clear and ever-present violation of market economics, what can authorities do to combat them? This column presents new research that helps economists understand cartels better. The better the information we have about the formation of cartels, the better governments around the world will catch them out.
From sovereign turmoil to private-sector woes: Italian sovereign spreads and their pass-through to bank lending conditions
What has driven Italian sovereign spreads movements? This column presents new research looking into increased volatility in sovereign debt since the summer of 2011. Shocks in investor risk appetite, news related to the Eurozone debt crisis, and consistently bad news in Italy, have been important drivers of Italian sovereign spreads. These findings mean that we need to reduce country-specific vulnerabilities as well as sorting out the Eurozone.
Will harsh sanctions against Iran change its politics? This column models the effects of sanctions to include both economic and political factors. The impact of an oil boycott is considerable, and economic costs act as powerful incentives to move toward democracy. However, initial positive effects turn negative after around seven years because efforts to adjust to sanctions undermine their economic and political impact. Sanctions only work in the short to medium term.
Is financial globalisation in retreat? This column suggests it might be. There’s been a recent and significant retreat in European financial integration and a retrenchment of global banking (although capital inflows into emerging markets and FDI are only just below their recent peaks). What are we to make of this shift? A more compartmentalised global financial system could certainly reduce the likelihood of a financial crisis spreading from one country to the next. But there is now a danger that the pendulum could swing too far, Policymakers should therefore do more to remove limitations on FDI and investor purchases of foreign equities and bonds, balancing the trade-off between the need for stability and the need to provide financing for economic growth.
It’s currently very trendy in Italy to blame Angela Merkel, Mario Monti, and austerity measures for the current recession. This column argues that while the severity of the downturn is clearly a cyclical phenomenon, the inability of the country to grow out of it is the legacy of more than a decade of a lack of reforms in credit, product and labour markets. This lack of reform has suffocated innovation and productivity growth, resulting in wage dynamics that are completely decoupled from labour productivity and demand conditions.
- The case for 4% inflationBall
- Helicopter money as a policy optionReichlin, Turner, Woodford
- The banking crisis as a giant carry trade gone wrongAcharya, Steffen
- Everything the IMF wanted to know about financial regulation and wasn’t afraid to askBair
- Rethinking macroeconomic policy: Getting granularBlanchard, Dell'Ariccia, Mauro
- A tale of two depressions: What do the new data tell us? February 2010 updateEichengreen, O’Rourke
- Educated in America: College graduates and high school dropoutsHeckman, LaFontaine
- Eurozone breakup would trigger the mother of all financial crisesEichengreen
- Panic-driven austerity in the Eurozone and its implicationsDe Grauwe, Ji
- Debt, deleveraging, and the liquidity trap: A new modelKrugman
Baldwin, Kawai, Wignaraja, 11 June 2013