This column updates the original Vox columns by Barry Eichengreen and Kevin O’Rourke comparing today’s global crisis to the Great Depression. The three previous columns have shattered all Vox readership records with over 450,000 views. This latest edition covers up to February 2010 showing that, while there is cause for optimism, there is no room for complacency.
Official statistics for US high school graduation rates mask a growing educational divide. This column presents research showing that a record number of Americans are going to university – while an increasing number are dropping out of high school. This poses major social challenges for the United States.
Originally posted 17 November 2007, this Vox column is more relevant than ever arguing that adopting the euro is effectively irreversible. Leaving would require lengthy preparations, which, given the anticipated devaluation, would trigger the mother of all financial crises. National households and firms would shift deposits to other Eurozone banks producing a system-wide bank run. Investors, trying to escape, would create a bond-market crisis. Here is what the train wreck would look like.
Eurozone policy seems driven by market sentiment. This column argues that fear and panic led to excessive, and possibly self-defeating, austerity in the south while failing to induce offsetting stimulus in the north. The resulting deflation bias produced the double-dip recession and perhaps more dire consequences. As it becomes obvious that austerity produces unnecessary suffering, millions may seek liberation from ‘euro shackles’.
Debt is the crux of advanced economies’ current policy debates. Some argue for fiscal expansion to avoid recession and deflation. Others claim that you can’t solve a debt-created problem with more debt. This column explains the core logic of a new model by Eggertsson and Krugman in which debt shocks and policy reactions can be examined. Relying on heterogeneous agents, the model naturally produces the paradox of thrift but also finds new supply-side paradoxes, those of toil and flexibility. The model suggests that most economists have been misthinking the issues and that actual policy in the US and EU is misguided.
A recent ECB household-wealth survey was interpreted by the media as evidence that poor Germans shouldn’t have to pay for southern Europe. This column takes a look at the numbers. Whilst it’s true that median German households are poor compared to their southern European counterparts, Germany itself is wealthy. Importantly, this wealth is very unequally distributed, but the issue of unequal distribution doesn’t feature much in the press. The debate in Germany creates an inaccurate perception among less wealthy Germans that transfers are unfair.
It is still not clear among economic historians why the Industrial Revolution actually took place in 18th century Britain. This column explains that it is the British Empire’s success in international trade that created Britain’s high wage, cheap energy economy, and it was the spring board for the Industrial Revolution.
The house and equity price busts on top of a credit crunch make this an unprecedented crisis for the modern US economy; its real economy effects are thus difficult to assess. This column provides insights based on evidence from 122 recessions in 21 advanced nations since 1960. Findings suggest recessions in such circumstances are much costlier and slightly longer. But the outcome can be affected by policy, and it’s high time that policymakers act swiftly and decisively.
It’s no longer safe to assert that trade’s impact on the income distribution in wealthy countries is fairly minor. There’s a good case that it is big, and getting bigger. I’m not endorsing protectionism, but free-traders need better answers to the anxieties of globalisation’s losers.
Slavery, according to historical accounts, played an important role in Africa’s underdevelopment. It fostered ethnic fractionalisation and undermined effective states. The largest numbers of slaves were taken from areas that were the most underdeveloped politically at the end of the 19th century and are the most ethnically fragmented today. Recent research suggests that without the slave trades, 72% of Africa’s income gap with the rest of the world would not exist today.
A revised and updated version of the 13 August column on the basic how's and why's of what the Fed has been doing to calm financial markets.
We may just have started to feel the pain. Asset price drops – including housing – are common markers in all the big banking crises over the past 30 years. GDP declines after such crises were both large (-2% on average) and protracted (2 years to return to trend); in the 5 biggest crises, the numbers were -5% and 3 years. This column, based on the author’s testimony to the Congress, picks through the causes and consequences. It argues that when it comes to ‘cures,’ it would be far better to get the job done right than get the job done quickly.
Most of Africa spent two generations under colonial rule. This column argues that, contrary to some recent commentaries highlighting the benefits of colonialism, it is this intense experience that has significantly retarded economic development across the continent. Relative to any plausible counterfactual, Africa is poorer today than it would have been had colonialism not occurred.
A recent Vox column argues that the Bundesbank is selling off assets to lend to peripheral central banks, that this process is about to end, and the result will be a catastrophe. This column argues that such claims are based on a misrepresentation of the Bundesbank’s accounts and a misunderstanding of ECB monetary policy. The Eurozone may be in crisis but for entirely different reasons.
One of the world’s leading international economists explains how the euro could surpass the dollar as the premier international currency and examines the geopolitical implications of such a shift.
Without rapid and coordinated action by G7/8 leaders, this financial crisis could turn into a jobs crisis, a pension crisis and much more. This column introduces a collection of essays by leading economists on what the G7/8 leaders should do this weekend. The dozen essays present a remarkable consensus on a few points: we need immediate, coordinated global action that includes recapitalisation of the banks.
World poverty is falling. This column presents new estimates of the world’s income distribution and suggests that world poverty is disappearing faster than previously thought. From 1970 to 2006, poverty fell by 86% in South Asia, 73% in Latin America, 39% in the Middle East, and 20% in Africa. Barring a catastrophe, there will never be more than a billion people in poverty in the future history of the world.
The European economy is in its deepest recession since the 1930s. This column says that swift policy response avoided a financial meltdown, but turning the ongoing recovery into sustained growth requires action on five challenges: boosting potential output, enhancing labour market flexibility, preparing fiscal consolidation, facilitating intra-EU adjustment, and unwinding global imbalances. Europe also needs an improved crisis-management framework, lest this happen again.
Iceland’s banking system is ruined. GDP is down 65% in euro terms. Many companies face bankruptcy; others think of moving abroad. A third of the population is considering emigration. The British and Dutch governments demand compensation, amounting to over 100% of Icelandic GDP, for their citizens who held high-interest deposits in local branches of Icelandic banks. Europe’s leaders urgently need to take step to prevent similar things from happening to small nations with big banking sectors.
What is the connection between China’s one-child policy and its savings glut? This column provides a pioneering explanation. China’s surplus of men has produced a highly competitive marriage market, driving up China’s savings rate and, therefore, global imbalances.
Do children do better if they start school later? Contrary to the great concerns of many parents, this column says that the age at which kids start school matters little.
Here are the basic how's and why's of what the Fed has been doing to calm financial markets.
Greedy bankers are getting most of the blame for the current financial crisis. This column explains bankers did behave badly for mainly three reasons. They committed cognitive errors involving biases towards their own prior beliefs; too many male bankers high on testosterone took too much risk, and a flawed compensation structure rewarded perceived short-term competency rather than long-run results.
Despite the revolutionary technological advance of the printing press in the 15th century, there is precious little economic evidence of its benefits. Using data on 200 European cities between 1450 and 1600, this column finds that economic growth was higher by as much as 60 percentage points in cities that adopted the technology.
What do we know about the spread of protectionism during the Great Depression and what are the implications for today’s crisis? This column says the lesson is that countries should coordinate their fiscal and monetary measures. If some do and some don’t, the trade policy consequences could once again be most unfortunate.
In the first half of 2008, Buiter and Sibert were invited to study Iceland’s financial problems. They identified the “vulnerable quartet” of (1) a small country with (2) a large banking sector, (3) its own currency and (4) limited fiscal capacity – a quartet that meant Iceland’s banking model was not viable. How right they were. This column summarises the report, which is now available as CEPR Policy Insight No. 26 with an October 2008 update.
There is one important source of information on the effectiveness of monetary and fiscal stimulus in an environment of near-zero interest rates, dysfunctional banking systems and heightened risk aversion that has not been fully exploited: the 1930s. This column gathers data on growth, budgets and central bank policy rates for 27 countries covering the period 1925-39 and shows that where fiscal policy was tried, it was effective.
As the dollar has started to slide, the question is: how far, how fast? This column, which is based on Paul Krugman’s recent Economic Policy article suggests the answers are: pretty far and pretty fast.
Attitudes to sex have changed dramatically over the last hundred years. This column presents a model where socialisation – the passing on of norms and ideologies by parents and institutions such as the church or state – is determined by the technological environment in which people live. Contraception has reduced the chance of unwanted pregnancies from premarital sex, and this in turn has changed social attitudes.
This column, first posted 19 April 2008, argues that sovereign debt crises have historically followed financial crises. Although data covering only the last thirty years might have given few hints about Greece's current problems, the Reinhart-Rogoff database spanning eight centuries reveals that today's event are very much in line with historical experience.
This is a once-in-a-lifetime crisis. Trust among financial institutions is disappearing; fear may spread. Last week’s US experience showed that saving one bank at a time won’t work. A systemic response is needed and in Europe this means an EU-led initiative to recapitalise the banking sector. Unless European leaders immediately unite to address this crisis before it spirals out of control, they may find themselves fighting over how best to salvage the aftermath.
A key source of the today’s economic weakness is uncertainty that led firms to postpone investment and hiring decisions. This column, by the authors whose model forecast the recession as far back as June 2008, report that the key measures of uncertainty have dropped so rapidly that they believe growth will resume by mid-2009. This means any additional economic stimulus has to be enacted quickly. Delaying to the summer may mean the economic medicine is administered just as the patient is leave the hospital.
Hot countries tend to be poorer, but debate continues over whether the temperature-income relationship is simply a happenstance association. This column uses within-country estimates to show that higher temperatures have large, negative effects on economic growth – but only in poor countries. The findings are big news for future global inequality.
The radical moves in the US have direct implications for European banks and indirect implications for European governments. This column discusses the likely channels and notes that several European banks are both too big to fail and may be too big to be saved by their national governments alone.
Female tennis players play more conservatively and commit more unforced errors when playing critical points. Does this explain the upper-echelons wage gap?
Editor's Note: Originally posted 2 June 2008.
There has been a persistent spread between the rate at which banks lend each other money and government-backed securities yields in recent months. This column describes hypotheses explaining the spread – including the possibility that banks aren’t lending in order to bankrupt acquisition targets.
Will the financial crisis reverse the trend of declining global poverty? This column estimates that the crisis will add 64 million people to the population living under $2 a day. It predicts that the global poverty rate will fall from 42% to 39% in 2009, while the pre-crisis trajectory would have brought the poverty rate down to 38%.
The top 1% of US earners now command a far higher share of the country's income than they did 40 years ago. This column looks at 18 OECD countries and disputes the claim that low taxes on the rich raise productivity and economic growth. It says the optimal top tax rate could be over 80% and no one but the mega rich would lose out.
Global growth is slowing – especially in advanced-technology economies. This column argues that regardless of cyclical trends, long-term economic growth may grind to a halt. Two and a half centuries of rising per-capita incomes could well turn out to be a unique episode in human history.
Discrimination against women significantly hampers the economic development of many poor countries. This column introduces two new OECD Development Centre efforts to assess and reduce gender discrimination, including a new portal www.wikigender.org.
How much stimulus does spending provide? This column says that fiscal multipliers are much weaker in countries that have high debt, lower income, flexible exchange rates, and greater international openness. Policymakers should consider these characteristics when evaluating the benefits of any fiscal stimulus package.
Little is known about North Korea’s economy as official statistics are scant. But North Korea cannot be ignored, especially when it comes to the size of its army. This column suggests that the true number is hidden between the lines of the census. It provides an estimate based on missing population, that is, the difference between the whole population and the number of registered citizens.
Child labour remains a pervasive problem across the globe. This column discusses the nature of child labourers’ jobs, earnings, motivations, and well-being during the British Industrial Revolution. Their historical experience offers lessons for today’s policymakers.
Should the income tax system include a tax credit for short taxpayers and a tax surcharge for tall ones? This column explains how the standard utilitarian framework for tax policy analysis says that individual attributes correlated with wages, such as height, should determine tax liabilities. Taller individuals should pay higher taxes. If this is objectionable, then something is wrong with the standard framework.
High quality empirical evidence from the shows that mass media influences voters but it is not clear that the media imparts a bias. It could be that improving access to any media informs voters and prompts them to turn against an embattled incumbent.
With the advanced economies at a critical juncture, some economists are urging more fiscal stimulus while others argue that raising debt levels will stunt growth. This column presents the Reinhart-Rogoff findings on the relationship between debt and growth based on data from 44 countries over 200 years with a focus on the debt-growth link during high-debt episodes.
Policy makers must learn from history, but they should know which historical episodes to look to. Central bankers seem to have been focusing on the 1930s, but here one of the world’s leading macroeconomists suggests that the 1970s provides more appropriate lessons.
US educational attainment growth has substantially slowed since the 1970s. This column explains how the educational slowdown caused much of the recent rise in economic inequality and concludes that the futures of inequality and the US depend on increasing the supply of highly educated workers.
This column says that low US inflation over the last 15 years is partly attributable to cheap Chinese imports. It argues that if the US trade deficit is reduced – via either Chinese inflation or a nominal appreciation of the renminbi – this disinflationary effect will be reduced. It says that the resulting inflationary impulse could be severe.
The standard story for high commodity prices is rapid growth by China, India and company. But world growth is slowing, while commodity prices still hit new highs. This column suggests that the key may be low real interest rates.