What explains the different effects of the crisis around the world? This column compares the 2007–09 crisis to earlier episodes of banking, currency, and sovereign debt distress and identifies domestic-credit booms and real currency appreciation as the most significant predictors of future crises, in both advanced and emerging economies. It argues these results could help policymakers determine the need for corrective action before crises hit.
Most Read: This Month
The new bailout deal for Greece was not easy. This column argues that it was also a failure. It will not be enough to recapitalise banks, it asks for structural reform that exceeds Greek capacities, and it raises the Greek debt-to-GDP ratio to unsustainable levels. In a few months or quarters, the programme will fail and the Grexit question will flare up again.
Is debt really that bad? This column looks at the towering debts, rapid tax hikes, and constant state of war that led to Britain’s Industrial Revolution, showing that the devil is in the detail when assessing sovereign debt. When we consider the dangers of debt in today’s world, we should keep an eye on its potential benefits as well.
High suicide rates are often cited as evidence of social failure. Despite this, some countries and regions that do very well in terms of happiness have among the highest suicide rates. This column explores this paradox using global data on suicide and self-reported life satisfaction. Although the paradox is confirmed for Eastern European and wealthy countries, inconsistent patterns emerge when other demographic factors are taken into account. This might reflect the empirical difficulty of explaining suicide, but might also be indicative of the unreliability of self-reports of happiness.
There is a high likelihood that Grexit will be back on the table. This column argues that Greece can strengthen its negotiating position if it is prepared for exit. Grexit remains a disastrous choice, but it has become the default option for Greece and its creditors. However, preparing for Grexit does not mean leaving the Eurozone. A credible threat point may deliver a better outcome. The purpose of the exercise should be to make Grexit a plausible solution, then not to do it.
In 1997, Milton Friedman warned that when politics clashes with economics, the outcome is not a pretty one. This column reviews some of criticisms and weaknesses of the European macroeconomic system, taking a historic look at the decades leading up to the creation of the euro. The clash Friedman warned about is manifest now in Greece. The economic logic for dealing with Greece is clear, but politics continue to defy economics.
Contrary to the intent of the designers of what was to be an irreversible currency union, Greece may well exit the Eurozone. This column argues that default does not inevitably trigger the introduction of a new currency (or the re-activation of an old one). However, if ‘de-euroisation’ is the end game, then a forcible (or compulsory) currency conversion is likely to be a central part of that process, along with more broad-based capital controls.
The Greek crisis is in a critical phase. This column, by the IMF’s Chief Economist, reflects on the various critiques of the handling to date of Greece’s problems.
The sustainability of Greek debt is central to the negotiations. To date the sustainability calculations have been based on the IMF’s standard models for calculating sustainability for countries with market access. This column argues that these are not appropriate for Greece – a middle-income country with highly concessionary financing. The ESM should develop a new, appropriate analytic tool to reflect Greece’s special situation.
Does material wealth make you happier? Recent literature and public discussion suggests that we believe widely that, in the long term, it doesn’t; especially if you are fairly wealthy and live in the West. But what if you’re poor and live in a developing country? This column presents new evidence that taking material improvements for granted is a common human behaviour that is present even among the extremely poor.
Success of the German-inspired solution for the latest Greek crisis is far from assured. If it fails, the Eurozone may be changed forever. This column argues that the failure would lead to an outcome that has been favoured for decades by Germany’s Finance Minister, Wolfgang Schäuble. Perhaps the package the Eurozone agreed is just a backdoor way of getting to the ‘variable geometry’ and monetary unification for the core that the Maastricht criteria had failed to achieve.
Greek exit from the Eurozone has uncertain and potentially dangerous implications for all involved. This column, signed by 25 LSE economists, urges the Greek government and its creditors to act more responsibly. The first priority is to get Greece on a path of sustainable growth by relaxing austerity in the near term and linking debt restructuring to essential structural improvements.
The growth of the asset management industry has raised concerns about its potential impacts on financial stability. This column assesses the systemic risk created by fund managers’ incentive problems and a first-mover advantage for end investors. Fund flows and fund ownership affect asset prices, and fund managers’ behaviour can amplify risks. This lends support to the expansion and strengthening of industry oversight, both at the individual fund and market levels.
In recent decades, there has been an accelerated increase in top income inequality, particularly in developed countries. This column argues that innovation partly accounts for the surge in top income inequality and fosters social mobility. In particular, the positive effect of innovation on social mobility is due to new innovators.
A booming financial sector means economic growth. Or does it? This column presents new evidence showing that when the financial sector grows more quickly, productivity tends to grow disproportionately slower in industries with either lower asset tangibility or in industries with higher research and development intensity. It turns out that financial booms are not, in general, growth-enhancing.
When the ECB buys a Eurozone member’s bonds, the government pays interest to the ECB but the ECB rebates it to the government. If Greece repays its ECB-held bonds, it loses this ‘free borrowing’. This column argues that repayment is like ‘reverse QE’. To maintain its QE targets, more bonds from other EZ members must be bought – thus shifting the free borrowing from Greece to other EZ members. To avoid this perverse outcome, the ECB could extend the maturity of the Greek bonds.
Greece’s reluctance to implement ‘the structural reforms required for debt sustainability’ is a recurrent theme in the debate on the EZ Crisis. This column qualifies this conventional wisdom by reassessing the relationship between Greece and the EU over the past four decades. Although Greece has implemented structural reforms that were substantial enough to bring about a turning point in its relationship with the EU, these reforms have been overly localised, badly sequenced and implemented by short-sighted political elites. The role that structural reforms can play in solving the current crisis should not be overestimated.
Wealth inequality is back in the spotlight, but its determinants and the saving behaviour generating it are less clear. This column discusses the mechanisms in dynamic quantitative macro models that give rise to wealth inequality. Different mechanisms give rise to similar observed wealth concentrations, but have very different policy implications. A combination of better empirical analysis and richer models is needed to guide policy.
The relationship between aggregate output and income inequality is central in macroeconomics. This column argues that greater income inequality raises the economic growth of poor countries and decreases the growth of high- and middle-income countries. Human capital accumulation is an important channel through which income inequality affects growth.
Theories of voluntary disclosure suggest that even when disclosure is voluntary, market forces can drive firms to completely reveal information about their quality. This column investigates these predictions in an experimental setting. Laboratory results suggest widespread failures of the theoretical predictions – senders do not fully disclose, and receivers are not fully sceptical about non-disclosure. This suggests a role for policymakers to help customers understand the sound of silence.
The financial crisis brought with it many challenges, both to prevailing disciplinary tenets, and for research and policy more generally. This column outlines the lessons that can be drawn from the financial crisis – issues like financial market failures, macro-prudential policy, structural changes of the financial system, and the European banking union. It argues for the inclusion of these topics in curricula for the next generation of finance students.
As numerous Greek MEPs opposed the Eurozone summit deal, implementation will require a broad coalition of political parties. This column argues that corruption in Greek politics will prevent the formation of such a coalition. The heavy debt service leads parties to invent extreme ways of responding to super-austerity and to strongly oppose direct reforms that challenge existing clientelism. The way out is to sign a new agreement that combines debt restructuring and radical transparency reforms, including naming-and-shaming practices, to block clientelism in the medium and long run.
Early childhood education has important effects on the academic readiness and ultimate life chances of children. This column examines how the introduction of the educational television show Sesame Street in the US affected primary school outcomes for disadvantaged children. Those from counties that had better access to the broadcast had superior educational outcomes through their early school years. These effects were particularly pronounced for black, non-Hispanic children, and those living in economically disadvantaged areas. The extremely low cost per child of such interventions make them ideal for addressing educational inequality in childhood.
The Greek Crisis is a crisis rather than a problem due to the vulnerability of Greek banks. While the banks have deep problems, this column argues that these would have been mitigated if a fully operational banking union were in place. A full banking union requires joint banking supervision, joint bank resolution, and joint deposit insurance. The EZ only has the first so far. Completing the banking union must be part of any long-term solution.
The field that a college student majors in can affect labour market outcomes. But we know little of how exposure affects a student’s choice of major. This column shows that exposure to economics increases the probability to major in economics by 2.6 percentage points. This finding is driven by choices of male students. Exposure to the field then does not explain why relatively few women major in economics.
There is increasing evidence that cities offer externalities that raise labour productivity. This column looks at the contribution of US cities to productivity growth at the turn of last century. The findings show that increased specialisation, promoted by improved transportation, was the key to productivity growth. Today’s policymakers should heed this lesson.
Economic historians tend to explain US geographical development gaps in terms of industrialisation. But by the end of the 20th century, the richest counties had become specialised in services, rather than in manufacturing. This column evaluates how the service economy triggered this evident contrast between the urban and rural US. Market size causes localisation of non-agricultural activity, with the effect being stronger for services, especially knowledge services. Local policymakers can thus foster growth by attracting high-skilled workers to a region, with the multiplier effect eventually increasing the local market.
Does monetary policy really face a zero lower bound or could policy rates be pushed materially below zero per cent? And would the benefits of reforms to achieve negative policy rates outweigh the costs? This column, which reports the views of the leading UK-based macroeconomists, suggests that there is no strong support for reforming the monetary system to allow policy rates to be set at negative levels.
Petroleum consumption in the US has, rather unbelievably, been decreasing of late. This column – from the Council of Economic Advisers, part of the President’s Executive Office – presents new evidence detailing this surprising decline, its causes, and its implications for the US economy and the efforts to slow climate change.
Obesity is fast becoming a prominent global health issue. This column presents new evidence tentatively suggesting that variables related to the costs of eating – particularly whether there is a big discount warehouse nearby – are leading drivers of the rise in obesity occurring since the early 1980s. These findings should help policymakers work with businesses to find the best solution to tackle obesity.
In Britain today, a majority of those in poverty live in working, rather than non-working, households. This challenges the long-held notion that paid work offers a route out of poverty. This column argues that structural changes in the labour market have brought about profound changes in the social security system. A failure to acknowledge these underlying changes means that dialogues about the political direction of the British economy can be problematic and potentially misleading.
Despite being a mainstay of macroeconomic theory for the past half century, the Phillips curve often receives the death knell from various commentators. These critiques often rely on results from data samples spanning relatively short periods. Using the case of Ireland, this column argues that short-term idiosyncrasies can explain the failure of the model in these contexts. Taking a longer historical view, the Phillips curve remains a useful macroeconomic model, at least in the Irish context.
The generosity of unemployment insurance is often cited as a reason for long spells of joblessness. But this view neglects other important, and potentially positive, economic aspects of such programmes. Using Austrian data, this column presents evidence that unemployment insurance has a positive effect on the quality of jobs that recipients find. This can in turn have a positive effect on future tax revenues, and has implications for the debate on optimal insurance generosity.
Every day, we are all exposed to all sorts of emotive and exhilarating media entertainment. But what, if any, are the measurable impacts? Are newspapers and periodicals, for instance, more important than soap operas? This column introduces a survey of the wide-ranging literature from the Handbook of Media Economics, presenting a number of surprising findings.
There has been a heated debate about the effectiveness of fiscal policy as a countercyclical tool but little evidence on how it can support growth. This column shows that fiscal policy can lift medium- and long-term growth in both advanced and developing economies. But all fiscal reforms are not equal in their growth dividend. Successful reforms are often part of a broader reform package and can balance the growth-equity trade-off.
Were living standards during early industrialisation as terrible as we imagine? Robert Fogel, the Nobel prize-winning economic historian, taught us a great deal about studying long-term living standards through looking into people’s height. This column argues that one of Fogel’s early claims turns out to have, at best, a weak foundation. The measured decline of mean height during industrialisation reflects in large part the nature of the data sources, not necessarily changes in the height of the underlying populations. The Industrial Revolution did not necessarily make people shorter.
Economists have long understood that policy chosen by politics is unlikely to be socially optimal. This is because politicians face the probability of losing power and may discount the future too much, or act to improve their re-election probability. This column explores these issues taking into account the fact that future government revenue is uncertain. Public income volatility acts to reduce the efficiency of public policy. This has important implications for developing countries that rely on income from volatile sources, such as natural resource extraction.
Monday’s deal was a political compromise consistent with the political constraints of Greece and its creditors. It is doubtful, however, that it will provide a long-term solution to Greece’s economic crisis. At a minimum, the momentum should be used to eliminate the option of Grexit once and for all. The bank-sovereign ties should be cut to turn Greek banks from a source of crises into a growth-supporting sector.
Bankers’ compensation has been indicted as a contributing factor to the Global Crisis. The EU and the US have responded in different ways – the former legislated bonus caps, while the latter implemented bonus deferrals. This column examines the effectiveness of these measures, using US data from just before the Crisis. Caps are found to be more effective in reducing the risk-taking by bank CEOs.
Intergenerational mobility – the ability of less-advantaged children to achieve economic success – is held in high regard across the political spectrum in the US and other industrialised countries. But not much is known about its history. This column presents a new method that allows intergenerational measurement further back in time, as well as across more places and demographic groups. One firm result shows a large increase in intergenerational mobility after 1940 in the US South and among African Americans.
The idea that Europe’s challenges could be addressed with further integration dates back to the beginning of the European project. This column argues that partial integration might not necessarily lead to more integration. In particular, such a strategy might not be successful in areas involving high heterogeneity costs that do not necessarily reduce with more integration. If further integration is to take place, European institutions may need to accept much more flexibility and have provisions not only for entry, but also for exit.
Exports of the ‘BRICS’ nations all fell in the last quarter or two. This column, which presents the latest Global Trade Alert report, argues that foreign trade distortions are harming BRICS exports. At the same time, BRICS governments are distorting trade with their own policies. As the BRICS leaders meet for their annual summit this week, they ought to rethink their trade strategy.
Some have argued that the stock market serves as a ‘spare tire’ during banking crises by providing an alternative corporate financing channel. This column examines the claim using data for 36 countries spanning 20 years. The findings support the three core predictions of the spare tire view, suggesting that countries can insulate parts of their economy from future banking crises by designing appropriate legal frameworks.
How does Latin American well-being compare to the advanced nations? This column presents a new historical index of human development that allows for analyses of trends in Latin American development since 1870. The results unearth a number of puzzles that pit rising income against flagging developments in well-being.
EU anti-cartel decisions have imposed billion of euros of fines in recent years, but private actions by cartel victims are also possible. This column discusses a 2014 EU Directive that facilitates private actions by cartel victims while attempting to reduce conflicts between private and public enforcement.
The events of recent years have made it all too clear that we need to better understand the links between the financial sector and the real economy. This column explores financial sector shocks and real economy shocks and presents new evidence suggesting that financial shocks are a significant source of macroeconomic fluctuations. Policymakers need to better take into account the role of the financial system when predicting the future and when readying remedies.
In the past few years, the world has witnessed large swings in world relative prices, from oil, to metals, to food prices. This column examines how important these terms-of-trade shocks are in explaining GDP fluctuations. Using structural vector autoregression analysis, it shows that terms-of-trade shocks account for no more than 10% of business-cycle fluctuations in the majority of poor and emerging countries.
Limited insurance for long-term care threatens the sustainability of publicly funded social assistance programmes such as Medicaid in the US. This column looks at the effectiveness of a programme that encourages middle-income people to save for possible long-term care expenses. The evidence so far indicates that although this programme has indeed increased insurance applications, it has not increased insurance uptake.
The ECB’s monetary policy has evolved rapidly over the past decade – from the adoption of the euro to the recent implementation of quantitative easing. This column discusses the effectiveness of the ECB’s policies. The single currency induced pro-cyclicality in the Eurozone periphery. The failure to adequately respond to the Lehman failure placed the burden to stabilise financial markets in the Eurozone onto the ECB, which as a consequence has become the lender of last resort in Eurozone sovereign debt markets. And finally, the persistent deflation and depression convinced the ECB to adopt an expansionary monetary stance.
The Global Crisis has brought the ins and outs of bank stability to the attention of increasing numbers of academics and policymakers. But what is the impact of bank regulation and competition on bank opacity? This column presents one of the first evaluations of the impact of bank regulatory reforms on the quality of information disclosed by banks, which in turn helps us assess bank stability.