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 world has not yet begun to deleverage its crisis-linked borrowing. Global debt-to-GDP is breaking new highs in ways that hinder recovery in mature economies and threaten new crisis in emerging nations – especially China. This column introduces the latest Geneva Report on the World Economy. It argues that the policy path to less volatile debt dynamics is a narrow one, and it is already clear that developed economies must expect prolonged low growth or another crisis along the way.
Individuals who work in the finance sector enjoy a significant wage advantage. This column considers three explanations: rent sharing, skill intensity, and task-biased technological change. The UK evidence suggests that rent sharing is the key. The rising premium could then be due to changes in regulation and the increasing complexity of financial products creating more asymmetric information.
With the recent Global Crisis, the interest in systemic risk and the interconnection between financial institutions has increased. This column investigates the case of European financial firms, where several factors can jeopardise a firm’s financial health. Using data since 2000 to evaluate the firms’ systemic risk, the authors find that for certain countries, the cost to rescue the riskiest domestic banks is too high. They might be considered too big to be saved.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Social norms shape interactions but can be in conflict with new laws, often making such laws ineffective. This column presents new research on the interplay of laws and norms. High law-breaking induces less private cooperation, increasing the law-breaking further. For a successful change in behaviour, gradual imposition of new laws is recommended. An important aspect is that these new laws should not be in a strong conflict with the existing norms.
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.
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.
Technological advances in equity markets entered the spotlight following the Flash Crash of May 2010. This column analyses the advantages and disadvantages of algorithmic and high-frequency trading. Ever-faster exchanges do not always improve liquidity. Following a speed upgrade in the Nordic equity markets, effective spreads posted by high-frequency traders increased by 32%.
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.
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.
The prevailing view of shadow banking is that it is all about regulatory arbitrage – evading capital requirements and exploiting ‘too big to fail’. This column focuses instead on the tradeoff between economic growth and financial stability. Shadow banking transforms risky, illiquid assets into securities that are – in good times, at least – treated like money. This alleviates the shortage of safe assets, thereby stimulating growth. However, this process builds up fragility, and can exacerbate the depth of the bust when the liquidity of shadow banking securities evaporates.
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.
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.
Manufacturing in the US has rebounded after the Great Recession, but employment levels have not recovered from their steep decline in the decade before the recession. This column examines to what extent the sector’s fall is a result of the rise of China. The authors estimate direct effects of import competition from China, as well as labour market and buyer-seller indirect effects that operate at the local level. China’s impact has been strong, and employment in US manufacturing is unlikely to recover.
In a recent column, the authors suggested coordinating monetary and fiscal expansions in the Eurozone through a money-financed temporary tax cut. The effectiveness of their proposal, however, has been questioned. In this column, the authors address some of the criticisms. They argue that the counter-cyclical fiscal policies adopted by the US and the UK, together with monetary easing, had a stabilising effect on output. Moral hazard due to the more lax monetary and fiscal policies is avoidable, increasing the credibility of the future spending cuts.
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 international financial system is not working fine and reforms of regional and global institutions are much needed. This column discusses some of the transformations that the IMF could implement in order to keep pace with the changes in the world economy. One problem for the credibility of the IMF is the G20 in its current design and organisation. Institutional reforms, however, should be combined with advances in economic policy in order to promote economic growth and financial stability.
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.
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.
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.
Many high-paying jobs in the US cannot be filled, raising concerns about an existing skills gap. However, this column does not find evidence in support of serious skills gap or shortages in the US labour force. Similarly to other developed economies, the prevailing situation in the US is due to skill mismatches. This could have implications for students and their tuition-paying families.
‘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.
Income inequality is high in the US, but the support of social welfare programmes is low. In Europe, income inequality is low and the welfare states are generous. This column argues that this paradox is largely due to perceived inequality. Many Europeans believe that there is high inequality in their countries, justifying the need for redistributive policies. Americans, however, are less concerned with income differences and with respective redistributive state intervention.
Advanced nations are shedding manufacturing jobs and gaining service jobs – a trend that has been in place for decades. Some of the shift, however, is a reclassification effect. Corporate outsourcing of tasks like marketing means workers doing the same task as before now show up as working for a firm in the service sector. Using US data from the past 60 years, this column shows that the evolution of the input-output structure – which is mostly due to professional and business services outsourcing – accounts for 36% of the increase in services and 25% of the fall in manufacturing.
Multinational companies’ ability to pay little corporate income tax has grabbed headlines recently. This column argues that the details of international tax rules matter for macroeconomic performance – especially in low-income countries. This emphasises the importance of the G20–OECD Action Plan on Base Erosion and Profit Shifting. However, dealing properly with tax spillovers will require a deeper global debate about the international tax architecture itself.
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.
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.
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.
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.
There is a consensus among economists that ‘deep roots’ – geography, natural endowments, and institutions – are important determinants of prosperity differences across countries. This column argues that deep roots matter, but they are neither the whole story nor an excuse for political inaction today. Current policies are important – especially the broad range of policies that shape the business environment and the sophistication of companies – and they are affected but not determined by the past.
Investment in high-speed rail accounts for billions in investment worldwide, but little research has been done on its effect on firm performance. This column introduces a model of firm supply networks, and presents evidence from the opening of an extension to the Shinkansen railway in Japan. The authors show that input-intensive industries benefit relatively more. In addition, their model provides a microfoundation for differential productivity across regions.
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.
Due to the adoption of inflation targeting and floating exchange rates, and the elimination of capital controls, exchange rate pass-through – the transmission of exchange rate movements to changes in the domestic price level – has become an increasingly important issue in developing and emerging market economies. This column discusses recent research on this topic, and highlights the frequent misspecifications that produce unreliable empirical estimates.
Real wages continue to fall in the UK and elsewhere, yet despite this striking feature of the labour market, some commentators anticipate resurgent pay growth in the near future. This column argues that the absence of any improvement in the UK’s productivity performance – together with evidence that nominal wage growth is flatlining and real wage growth is falling – make it highly unlikely that wage growth is about to explode upwards.
As the most acute phase of the Eurozone crisis is over, the current-account balances of France, Italy, and Spain have improved. This column warns against complacency about this improvement, pointing at some structural factors that impede growth and damage competitiveness. Resources should be relocated towards the tradeable sectors and to those firms most prepared to grow and compete. If not, these three countries are likely to aggravate the dysfunctional duality of their economies.
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.
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.
Forecasters often predict continued rapid economic growth into the medium and long term for countries that have recently experienced strong growth. Is this optimism warranted by past international growth experience? This column explores this question by looking at economic growth forecasts at longer-term horizons.
The impact of education on earnings over the life cycle is a critical factor for policy decisions ranging from education to taxation and pensions. This column exploits a unique Norwegian population panel data set to estimate an internal rate of return to additional schooling of about 10%. The standard Mincer-regression approach is also shown to substantially underestimate schooling’s rate of return.
This column introduces the first in a new series – VoxEU Course Companions. Designed to supplement Mankiw’s Macroeconomics textbook, this Course Companion brings together carefully selected Vox columns to provide relevant examples of economic theory in action and offer thought-provoking perspectives on arguments that come up time and again in exam-style questions.
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.
Victory in World War I relied on three types of energy: renewable energy for food and fodder, fossil energy, and high explosive. This column argues that the Allies had a clear advantage in manpower, coal, and agriculture, but not enough for a quick decision. Mobilisation in continental economies curtailed food production, occasionally to a critical level. Technical competition was a matter of capacity for innovation, not of particular breakthroughs. Coercive military service and rationing of scarce energy and food had egalitarian consequences that continued after the war.
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.
Executive pay is a controversial political issue with big implications for firm performance. Although public debate focuses on the level of compensation – or at best its sensitivity to firm performance – this column argues that the key issue is its temporal structure. A well designed payment structure can align CEO incentives with long-term shareholder value. The authors recommend lengthening the vesting period of equity and options.
There is an urgent need to understand why many households in the US do not hold a bank account. This column argues that supply-side factors – standard bank practices that ration certain households – play a role in this. The evidence comes from the staggered interstate branching deregulation after 1994 that provides an exogenous shock on bank competition. Further findings suggest that access to bank accounts improves access to credit without translating into higher ratios of debt to income.
Entry and trading in over-the-counter (OTC) derivatives markets have received considerable attention. However, many critical questions remain unaddressed. This column describes a formal study of banks’ incentives to enter and trade in OTC derivatives markets. In equilibrium, only large banks enter to become dealers, and middle-sized banks only enter as customers. Care should be given not to reduce rents so much when dealer participation costs are high.