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.
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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.
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.
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.
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.
The CEPR Press eBook on secular stagnation has been viewed over 80,000 times since it was published on 15 August 2014. The PDF remains freely downloadable, but as the European debate on secular stagnation is moving into policy circles, we decided to also make it a Kindle book. This is available from Amazon; all proceeds will help defray VoxEU expenses.
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.
Obesity and teenage sex have become social and public health issues in developed countries. This column looks at the effects of being overweight on attitudes to sex among teenage girls in the US. While obesity is associated with less vaginal intercourse, overweight teenage girls are at least 15% more likely to have had anal sex, with a high chance of sexually transmitted disease.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Here are the basic how's and why's of what the Fed has been doing to calm financial markets.
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.
Female tennis players play more conservatively and commit more unforced errors when playing critical points. Does this explain the upper-echelons wage gap?
Societies characterised by a high transmission of socioeconomic status across generations are not only more likely to be perceived as ‘unfair’, they may also be less efficient as they waste the skills of those coming from disadvantaged backgrounds. Existing evidence suggests that the related earnings advantages disappear after several generations. This column challenges this view by comparing tax records for family dynasties (identified by surname) in Florence, Italy in 1427 and 2011. The top earners among the current taxpayers were found to have already been at the top of the socioeconomic ladder six centuries ago. This persistence is identified despite the huge political, demographic, and economic upheavals that occurred between the two dates.
The swift policy response to the recent financial crisis helped the world economy avoid a replay of the Great Depression of 1929-32. But can we avoid a replay of 1937-38? With the world economy weakening once again, this column addresses the question with a renewed urgency and comes up with an oft-overlooked explanation – the Treasury Department's decision to sterilise all gold inflows starting in December 1936.
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%.
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.
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.
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.
The 'Scramble for Africa' – the artificial drawing of African political boundaries among European powers in the end of the 19th century – led to the partitioning of several ethnicities across newly created African states. This columns shows that partitioned ethnic groups have suffered significantly longer and more devastating civil wars. It also uncovers substantial spillovers as ethnic conflict spreads from the historical homeland of groups partitioned to nearby areas where non-split ethnicities reside.
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.
More than one billion adults across the globe are overweight, and at least 300 million are clinically obese. This column argues that the obesity epidemic in the US has been creeping up throughout the twentieth century, much earlier than the official account acknowledges. Current US standards thereby mislead many overweight and obese youth into believing that their weight is normal when it is not.
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.
For the Arab Spring it was Twitter; for the summer riots in London it was BlackBerry Messenger. This column explores how the latest technology is helping to accelerate ‘information cascades’, where people make decisions based on what they see other people doing – and getting away with.
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.
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.