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.
Most Read: This Month
The stagnating Eurozone economy requires policy action. This column argues that EZ leaders should agree a coordinated 5% tax cut, extension of budget deficit targets by 3 or 4 years, and issuance of long-term public debt to be purchased by the ECB without sterilisation.
Some argue that growth across Africa is fundamentally a result of rising commodity prices and that if these prices were to collapse, so too would Africa’s growth rates. This column documents substantial shifts in the occupational structure of most African economies between 2000 and 2010 and thus provides a good reason for cautious optimism about the continent’s economic progress.
The labour force participation rate in the US has fallen dramatically since 2007. This column traces this decline to three main factors: the ageing of the population, cyclical effects from the Great Recession, and an unexplained portion, which might be due to pre-existing trends unrelated to the first two. Of these three, the ageing of the population plays the largest role since it is responsible for half of the decline. Taken together, these factors suggest a roughly stable participation rate in the short-term, followed by a longer-term decline as the baby boomers continue to age. However, policy can play a
meaningful role in mitigating this trend.
Central banks, especially in developing countries, still seek transparent and credible communication. Yet signalling intentions through forward guidance or commitment sometimes creates undesirable constraints. This column argues that central bank pronouncements phrased in terms of nominal GDP are less likely to run afoul of the supply and trade shocks so common in developing countries, compared to pronouncements phrased in terms of inflation.
The Global Crisis has intensified debates over the merits of financial innovation and the optimal size of the financial sector. This column presents a model in which the growth of finance is driven by the development of a financial innovation. The model can help explain the securitised mortgage debacle that triggered the latest crisis, the tech bubble in the late 1990s, and junk bonds in the 1980s. A striking implication of the model is that regulation should be toughest when finance seems most robust and when innovations are waxing strongly.
Time preference has substantial economic consequences. To a growing literature that shows patience to be an important indicator of economic outcomes, this column presents new evidence from a large administrative dataset that tracks children into adulthood. Those who reported more patient preferences as children move on to better labour market and health outcomes, and are less likely to become criminals.
The IMF has recently revised its position on capital controls, acknowledging that they may help prevent financial crises. This column examines the effects of capital controls imposed during the Great Depression. Capital controls appear not to have been successfully used as tools for rescuing banking systems, stimulating domestic output, or for raising prices. Rather they appear to have been maintained as a means for restricting trade and repayment of foreign debts.
The potential for political influence is what most people think of when they talk about the power of the media. A new media power index, proposed in this column, aggregates power across all platforms and focuses not on markets but on voters. It measures not actual media influence but rather its potential. Using the index, the author finds that the four most powerful media companies in the US are television-based and the absolute value of the index is high. This indicates that most American voters receive their news from a small number of news sources, which creates the potential for large political influence.
Economic activity is highly unevenly distributed across space. Understanding what drives the agglomeration and dispersion is important for many economic and policy questions. This column describes a theoretical model of internal city structure incorporating agglomeration and dispersion and heterogeneity in local fundamentals. The authors use the division and reunification of Berlin as a natural experiment. Their findings show that both heterogeneity in locational fundamentals and agglomeration forces are important in shaping a city’s internal structure.
Japanese corporations hold a very high level of cash on their balance sheets compared to those in other advanced countries. Such excessive corporate savings are likely to be holding back growth by preventing a more efficient use of resources. This column presents recent research showing that improving corporate governance would help unlock Japan’s corporate savings, exit deflation, and revive growth. Comprehensive corporate governance reform should be a key component of Japan’s growth strategy.
Just like the East Asian Tigers, the Lions of Africa are now growing much faster than the developed economies. However, this column shows that the growth escalators in Africa are different than in East Asia. The East Asian Tigers benefitted from a rapidly expanding manufacturing sector. The African Lions are benefitting from increases in productivity in the service sector, while the agricultural sector remains unproductive.
It is well-known that World War I was expensive for Britain. The indirect economic costs were also huge. This column argues that the adverse implications of the Great War for post-war unemployment and trade – together with the legacy of a greatly increased national debt – significantly reduced the level of real GDP throughout the 1920s. A ballpark calculation suggests the loss of GDP during this period roughly doubled the total costs of the war to Britain.
Adverse health or nutrition shocks to pregnant women can have significant and often long-lasting effects on the outcomes of their children, but much less is known about the effects of psychological stresses. This column discusses recent research on the effect of stress induced by the death of a parent while pregnant on the short- and long-run outcomes of children in Norway. Maternal bereavement has small but statistically significant adverse effects on birth outcomes – especially for boys – but there is no evidence of any long-run adverse effects.
The conflict in Ukraine and the sanctions against Russia have already affected the Russian financial markets. This column discusses the repercussions for the rest of Europe of possible disruptions in the trade and financial flows with Russia. Eastern European countries could be seriously affected by a slowdown in the Russian economy due to their close links with Russia. Western countries – despite having looser links with it – could also experience significant effects.
The foreclosure crisis that followed the subprime crisis has had significant negative consequences for minority homeowners. This column reviews recent evidence in the racial and ethnic differences in high cost loans and in loan performance. Minority homeowners, especially black homebuyers, faced higher price of mortgage credit and had worse credit market outcomes during the crisis. This is largely due to the fact that minority borrowers are especially vulnerable to the economic downturn.
Among the various explanations behind global imbalances, the role of corporate saving has received relatively little attention. This column argues that corporate saving is quantitatively relevant, and proposes a theory that is consistent with the stylised facts and useful for understanding the current phase of global rebalancing. The theory implies that, while the economic contraction originating in developed countries has pushed interest rates towards the zero lower bound, the recent growth slowdown in emerging countries could push them out of it.
The landscape of portfolio investment in emerging markets has evolved considerably over the past 15 years. Financial markets have deepened and become more internationally integrated. The mix of global investors has also changed, with more money intermediated by mutual funds. This column explains that these changes have made capital flows and asset prices in these economies more sensitive to global financial shocks. However, broad-based financial deepening and improved institutions can enhance the resilience of emerging-market economies.
What happens to prices when a country joins a currency union, and do prices behave differently in a pegged exchange rate regime? This column sheds lights on these questions by using evidence from Latvia, whose currency was pegged to the euro before the country became a Eurozone member on 1 January 2014. The authors find that clothing retail prices in Latvia completely converged to those in other Eurozone countries.
In the wake of the crisis, forward guidance has become a prominent tool of monetary policy. This column argues that central banks should go a step further, communicating to the public the internal policy debate that goes into monetary policy formation – especially regarding uncertainty. Since policy is determined contingent on a range of possible outcomes, forward guidance would become more effective by explicitly communicating how policy would respond along this uncertain path.
The ‘lost decade’ is not a scenario for the EU, it’s the baseline forecast. In this column, Polish Finance Minister Mateusz Szczurek calls for an EU-wide public investment programme of 5.5% of GDP to overcome the constraints behind Europe’s ‘secular stagnation’. He calculates that €700 billion of capital expenditures could close the output gap in the short term while increasing long-term productivity growth. Funded by EU members and private leverage, it could operate as a special-purpose vehicle under the EIB.
Headquarters play important strategic roles in modern companies, but downsizing of headquarters is often advocated as a cost-cutting measure. This column presents evidence from Japanese firm-level data that headquarters size is positively associated with firms’ overall productivity. Moreover, the benefits of ICT are greater for companies with relatively large headquarters. Downsizing headquarters to cut costs may thus be harmful for long-term company performance.
Since the Global Crisis, critics have questioned why regulatory agencies failed to prevent it. This column argues that the US Federal Reserve was aware of potential problems brewing in the financial system, but was largely unconcerned by them. Both Greenspan and Bernanke subscribed to the view that identifying bubbles is very difficult, pre-emptive bursting may be harmful, and that central banks could limit the damage ex post. The scripted nature of FOMC meetings, the focus on the Greenbook, and a ‘silo’ mentality reduced the impact of dissenting views.
Since World War II, economic growth has been faster in the US under Democratic presidents than under Republican ones. This column documents that which party controls Congress does not matter for growth, that the Democratic growth advantage is concentrated in the first two years of a presidency, and that presidential party affiliation Granger-causes growth. Neither fiscal nor monetary policy can account for this gap. Instead, the factors that have explanatory promise are: shocks to oil prices, total factor productivity, European growth, and consumer expectations of future economic conditions.
With the crisis in Ukraine escalating further, the question on everyone’s mind is when and how peace can be restored. This column describes three different scenarios where Ukraine continues fighting with or without economic and military help from the West. The authors suggest that though Russia’s chances of winning are small, the policy response of the West could be essential in resolving the conflict quickly.
Since the Global Crisis, support has grown for the use of time-varying capital requirements as a macroprudential policy tool. This column examines the effect of bank-specific, time-varying capital requirements in the UK between 1990 and 2011. In response to increased capital requirements, banks gradually increase their capital ratios to restore their original buffers above the regulatory minimum, reducing lending temporarily as they do so. The largest effects are on commercial real estate lending, followed by lending to other corporates and then secured lending to households.
Last week, the ECB announced that it would begin purchasing securities backed by bank lending to households and firms. Whereas markets and the media have generally greeted this announcement with enthusiasm, this column identifies reasons for caution. Other central banks’ quantitative easing programmes have involved purchasing fixed amounts of securities according to a published schedule. In contrast, the ECB’s new policy is demand-driven, and will only be effective if it breaks the vicious circle of recession and negative credit growth.
Four years ago, the Volcker Rule was codified as part of the Dodd–Frank Act in an attempt to separate allegedly risky trading activities from commercial banking. This column presents new evidence finding that those banks most affected by the Volcker Rule have indeed reduced their trading books much more than others. However, there are no corresponding effects on risk-taking – if anything, affected banks take more risks and use their trading accounts less for hedging.
In the aftermath of the financial crisis, governments have been reducing their potential exposures to the banking system. This column argues that a fiscal backstop remains necessary for a banking system, contrary to what many policymakers claim. The main reason is that private arrangements may not be sufficient in a severe crisis. Without a credible backstop, depositors will run on a troubled banking system.
European migration exhibits a bias towards low-skilled workers, whereas the US attracts the majority of the world’s skilled migrants. At the same time, the welfare system in Europe is more generous than the one in the US. This column describes an analytical framework that can explain the existence of these differences. Whether a group (union) of member states competes or coordinates its policies has an impact on the skill composition of its migrants and the generosity of the welfare system.
Financial crises are often credit booms gone bust. This column argues that ‘political booms’, defined as an increase in government popularity, are also a good predictor of financial crises. The phenomenon of ‘political booms gone bust’ is, however, only observable in emerging markets. In these countries, politicians have more to gain from riding the popularity benefits of unsustainable booms.
One of the main models in industrial organisation assumes that firms grow in a response to many small shocks that satisfy the central limit theorem. This column shows that if the shocks do not follow the central limit theorem, then the firm growth follows a jump process. Such large jumps could be due to radical innovation and are vital for the long-term success of a firm.
European banking regulation assigns a risk weight of zero to sovereign debt issued by EU member countries, making it an attractive investment for European banks. This column defines a ‘sovereign subsidy’ as a new measure quantifying to what extent banks are undercapitalised due to the zero risk weights. Using recent sovereign debt exposure data, the authors describe the build-up of this subsidy for both domestic and cross-country exposures.
The Crisis affected public spending. Research and innovation is one area often highlighted as needing protection. This column does not find strong evidence that European countries sacrificed research and innovation more than other government expenditure. However, there is strong heterogeneity across countries. Innovation lagging and fiscally weak countries cut R&I spending while innovation-leading forged it ahead. Research of this divide and long-term growth is still limited.
‘Cash for Clunkers’ was billed as a stimulus programme that would boost sales to the ailing US auto industry in 2009. This column shows that the design of the programme actually caused it to reduce revenues to the industry it was designed to help. The authors estimate that the entire increase in sales during the programme would have happened anyway in the following eight months. Moreover, since more fuel-efficient cars tend to be less expensive, the fuel economy requirement of the programme incentivised households to buy cheaper cars.
The subprime lending crisis in the US triggered a broad financial panic that lead to the global recession. Domestically, it meant bankruptcy and disaster for many households. This column analyses racial discrimination in subprime lending. Careful estimation of a detailed dataset reveals across-lender effects to have substantially disadvantaged black and Hispanic borrowers.
During the Great Moderation, inflation targeting with some form of Taylor rule became the norm at central banks. This column argues that the Global Crisis called for a new approach, and that the divergence in macroeconomic performance since then between the US and the UK on the one hand, and the Eurozone on the other, is partly attributable to monetary policy differences. The ECB’s model of the economy worked well during the Great Moderation, but is ill suited to understanding the Great Recession.
As prospects in key advanced economies improve, financial conditions will tighten. The effect of outward spillovers from source countries to emerging markets will depend on whether financial conditions are driven by stronger growth (real shocks) or unexpected tightening in financial conditions (money shocks) – including those due to financial stability concerns or market uncertainty about the exit path. From a recipient’s perspective, spillovers will also differ across countries – reflecting interactions between domestic fundamentals and policies with the external shock.
Countries facing rising risk premiums on their debt have recognised the need for structural reform, but some politicians have argued that austerity is necessary in the short run because structural reform takes too long. This column argues that financial markets can bring forward the benefits of structural reform, and therefore that such reforms should be given greater weight in the package of crisis responses.
Central banks’ exchange rate interventions are typically attributed to precautionary, prudential, or mercantilist motives. This column documents the prevalence of an alternative motive – that of stabilising the exchange rate – in emerging markets, where, despite heavy intervention, the Global Crisis saw important deviations of the real exchange rate from its equilibrium value. Exchange rate intervention is shown to be effective, but more so at containing appreciations than depreciations.
The growth of global value chains provides opportunities for development, but countries must satisfy certain preconditions in order to participate in them. This column discusses the prospects for integration into global value chains by African, Caribbean, and Pacific countries. Given the challenges some of these countries face, integration into regional value chains may be a more appropriate goal.
There is a growing consensus that austerity is contributing to the Eurozone’s macroeconomic malaise, but also that spending cuts are needed in the long run to achieve fiscal sustainability. Some commentators have advocated a temporary tax cut financed by unsterilised ECB purchases of long-term public debt, accompanied by a commitment to future spending cuts. This column argues that such commitments are simply not credible – especially given the moral hazard problem created by central bank monetisation of debts.
Central banks have resorted to various unconventional monetary policy tools since the onset of the Global Crisis. This column focuses on the macroeconomic effects of the Federal Reserve’s large-scale purchases of mortgage-backed securities – in particular, through reducing the ‘mortgage spread’ between interest rates on mortgages and government bonds at a given maturity. Although large-scale asset purchases are found to have substantial macroeconomic effects, they may not necessarily be the best policy tool at the zero lower bound.
Over the past two decades East Asia has been highly successful in building up and joining global supply chains, and has been described as Factory Asia. This column argues that East Asia, apart from being the centre of global manufacturing, is now also emerging as one of the world's leading final markets for consumption goods.
The link between public- and private-sector compensation has important implications for the labour market and price competitiveness. This column reports that manufacturing and government wages co-move both in the long and short run, but that the long-run co-movement is much stronger where the government is an important employer. This co-movement tends to break down during fiscal consolidation periods, except in large-government countries. Moreover, manufacturing wages exhibit a stronger co-movement with productivity in countries where government wages are set via collective bargaining.
Understanding consumer behaviour is crucial for many economic questions. This column looks at the persistence of consumer habits towards alcohol among Russian males. Beer sales expanded rapidly after the collapse of the Soviet Union both in levels and relative to vodka sales, driven mainly by the beer consumption of cohorts born in the 1980s and 1990s. The authors estimate that this trend will reduce the male mortality rate in Russia by one quarter in the next 20 years.
Online markets have unusual characteristics that allow testing whether the law of one price holds. This column uses a unique dataset to demonstrate that the frictions in the price adjustments in online markets are indeed lower. The authors find that in online markets the price change is smaller, the duration of price spell – shorter, the pass-through is larger, and speed of price adjustment – faster. In the future, we can expect smaller price differentials, bringing the law of one price closer to reality.
Trade liberalisation has transformed the economies of many developing countries. This column presents evidence from China’s accession to the WTO. The authors find that high tariffs on imported inputs prevented Chinese firms from producing high-quality goods. When these tariffs were reduced, firms upgraded the quality of their products, entering more competitive foreign markets.
The loosening of the one-child policy will transform China’s demographic development in coming years, but it also runs the risk of lowering China’s high rate of personal savings. This column argues that high estimates of the magnitude of this response may be overstated. There are multiple channels at play, and predictions of a large response in savings do not account for general equilibrium effects.
In the aftermath of the global financial crisis new patterns of reserve hoarding have emerged. This column identifies structural changes in international reserve accumulation. Emerging markets with higher savings rates tend to use higher buffers of reserves, partially accounting for the higher levels of reserves in east Asia compared to Latin America. While there is no end in sight for reserve hoarding, some of the newly identified factors may mitigate eventual reserve accumulation.