There has been a stark contrast between the experiences of Spain and the UK since the Global Crisis. This column argues that although the ECB’s Outright Monetary Transactions policy has been instrumental in reducing Spanish government bond yields, it has not made the Spanish fiscal position sustainable. Although the UK has implemented less austerity than Spain since the start of the crisis, a large currency depreciation has helped to reduce its debt-to-GDP ratio
Many firms are replacing traditional working hours with more flexible arrangements, reflecting new thinking on employee motivation. This column presents evidence from Germany that trust-based working time is associated with increased innovation. However, trust-based working hours also contribute to the blurring of workers’ professional and private lives, and may lead to excessive overtime. Careful design of trust-based working arrangements is required to reap the innovations gains while avoiding the health pitfalls.
Piketty’s book “Capital in the 21st century” has gained popularity with its finding of a growing gap between wage earners and capital owners. This column presents a test to the two main laws in Piketty’s book. The attractiveness of these two laws is in their simplicity, but so is their limitation. Piketty neglects investment replacement and depreciation.
Real interest rates have fallen to historic lows, and some economists are concerned that an era of secular stagnation has begun. This column highlights the role of policy frameworks and financial factors – particularly debt – in linking low real interest rates and sluggish economic growth. Policies that do not lean against booms but ease aggressively and persistently in busts induce a downward bias in interest rates over time and an upward bias in debt levels – something akin to a debt trap. Low real interest rates may thus be self-reinforcing and not always ‘natural’.
Thomas Piketty’s claim that the ratio of capital to national income is approaching 19th-century levels has fuelled the debate over inequality. This column argues that Piketty’s claim rests on the recent increase in the price of housing. Other forms of capital are, relative to income, at much lower levels than they were a century ago. Moreover, it is rents – not house prices – that should matter for the dynamics of wealth inequality, and rents have been stable as a proportion of national income in many countries.
After a promising first decade, the Eurozone faced a severe crisis. This column looks at the Eurozone’s short history through the lens of an evolutionary approach to forming new institutions. German dominance has allowed the euro to achieve a number of design objectives, and this may continue if Germany does not shirk its responsibilities. Germany’s resilience and dominant size within the EU may explain its ‘muddling through’ approach to the Eurozone crisis. Greater mobility of labour and lower mobility of under-regulated capital may be the costly ‘second best’ adjustment until the arrival of more mature Eurozone institutions.
Whereas textbook macroeconomic theory suggests that output should return to potential after a recession, there is mounting evidence that deep recessions have highly persistent effects on output. This column reports estimates of the long-term damage caused by the Great Recession. In most countries in the sample, the loss of potential output – 8.4% on average – has been almost as large as the loss of actual output. In the countries hit hardest by the recession, the growth rate of potential output is much lower today than it was before 2008.
The financial crisis and the Great Recession have led to calls for more economic history in economic education. This column argues for a much broader use of history in economics courses, as a device for teaching both the logic and the empirical relevance of economics. A proposed curriculum would include the rise of agriculture, urbanisation, war, the rule of law, and demography.
Sweden has pursued a tighter monetary policy than is necessary to achieve the inflation target in order to reduce risks associated with household indebtedness. The net benefit to ‘leaning against the wind’ has been hotly debated; this column argues strongly against it. By reducing inflation, the Riksbank has in fact increased household debt, and contractionary pressure has worsened the employment situation. The author estimates that the benefits to leaning are worth only 0.4% of the costs.
Mental illness is the main sickness of the working age population with economic costs around 8% of GDP. This column, based on the authors’ recent book, discusses the effectiveness of a large programme of psychological therapy, launched in England in 2008. The savings due to welfare benefits, extra taxes, and physical healthcare outweigh the costs of the programme. In this case, psychological therapy costs nothing.
As the Eurozone cautiously implements stabilising reforms, Germany is forced to go further with concessions than it would prefer. This column suggests that it would be beneficial for discontented members to consider the formation of a second monetary union. The second euro can be constructed better than the first, bringing the discontented members exchange-rate adjustments relative to Germany, and avoiding competitive devaluations.
The Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) is taking a long time to conclude. This column argues that the TPP agenda, unlike the Doha round, is more ambitious and controversial. Many see it as skewed in favour of one country – the US. There are fears that even the US may lose interest in the Partnership without the fast-track authority given by the current Congress. The only useful way forward is for countries to take matters in their own hands.
The 2012 Greek debt restructuring was the largest one in the history of sovereign defaults. This column discusses the lessons from this historically unprecedented episode. Delaying the restructuring implied that externally held debt remained higher than it would have been otherwise. Supportive crisis management is necessary for smooth restructuring to take place in a currency union.
Although studies of contemporary economies find robust associations between human capital and growth, past research has found no link between worker skills and the onset of industrialisation. This column resolves the puzzle by focusing on the upper tail of the skill distribution, which is strongly associated with industrial development in 18th-century France.
Addicts may not respond to price incentives as we would expect. This problem, combined with the fear of disproportionally taxing the poor, makes it difficult to address the consumption externalities caused by addictive substances. This column reviews recent literature showing the efficacy of minimum pricing on alcohol, and the curious result that alcohol consumption now seems to be increasing in household income.
There is a widespread view among macroeconomists that fluctuations in collateral are an important driver of credit booms and busts. This column distinguishes between ‘fundamental’ collateral – backed by expectations of future profits – and ‘bubbly’ collateral – backed by expectations of future credit. Markets are generically unable to provide the optimal amount of bubbly collateral, which creates a natural role for stabilisation policies. A lender of last resort with the ability to tax and subsidise credit can design a ‘leaning against the wind’ policy that replicates the ‘optimal’ bubble allocation.
Like banks, indebted governments can be vulnerable to self-fulfilling financial crises. This column applies this insight to the Eurozone sovereign debt crisis, and explains why the ECB’s Outright Monetary Transactions policy reduced sovereign bond spreads in the Eurozone.
The debate on the future of the European Union is in full swing. In this column, Bruno Macaes – the Portuguese Minister for Europe – stresses the importance of policy coordination in achieving better integration. One way to do so is via a fiscal union, but this creates unity at the expense of diversity. A second way involves formal contracts and partnerships. But to make this approach less rigid, the political dialogue does not need to be formalised in actual contracts.
The Global Crisis triggered a series of medium-term policy changes. This column reviews the effectiveness of some of these monetary, fiscal policies, and internal devaluation policies. Policymakers anchored their strategic thinking in paradigms that became inapplicable to the new problems. An alternative set of macroeconomic policies is suggested.
How should UK policy-makers respond to potential dangers to the economy from the housing market? As this column reports, a majority of respondents to the fourth monthly survey of the Centre for Macroeconomics (CFM) think that house price dynamics do pose a risk to the UK’s recovery; and that macroprudential tools rather than traditional interest rate policy should be deployed to deal with this risk.
The fall in productivity in the UK following the Great Recession was particularly bad, whereas the hit to jobs was less severe. This column discusses recent research exploring this puzzle. Although the mystery has not been fully solved, an important part of the explanation lies in the flexibility of wages combined with very low investment.
The 1907 panic affected the world, demonstrating the fragility of the international financial system. This column discusses the steps the US and Germany took in fortifying their financial systems following 1907. There is a link between the financial crisis and the escalation of diplomatic relations that led to war in 1914. And this link has implications for today as the world is recovering from the 2008 crisis.
Self-reported measures of happiness are growing in popularity as alternatives to GDP. This column presents a novel statistical critique of the validity of comparing such measures across groups. Since monotonic transformations of individuals’ happiness levels can reverse average happiness rankings between countries, no meaningful comparison can be made without assumptions on the distribution of happiness.
Do the extant workhorse models used in policy analysis support macroprudential and macrofinancial policies? This column argues that this is not the case and describes a new macroprudential model that stresses the special role played by banks. The model also accounts for two, often neglected, key principles of the financial systems. Some of the findings of the model could carry over to other, more general settings that satisfy these two principles.
Small and medium-size enterprises (SMEs) often report difficulties in obtaining external finance. Based on new research, this column argues that these difficulties are not due to greater financial risks associated with SMEs. Instead, they are the result of imperfections in the market for external finance that negatively affect smaller and younger enterprises. The same research has shown that these types of firms are also the most reliant on external finance to support their investment and growth.
The rise of trade in intermediate inputs is well documented, but its role in shaping domestic economies is not yet completely understood. This column presents evidence from French firms on the effects of importing intermediate inputs. Firms importing more varieties of intermediate inputs increased their productivity and exported more varieties. Foreign inputs from the most advanced economies have the strongest effect on firm productivity, but imported inputs from all countries help raise the number of export varieties.
There is growing concern – but little systematic evidence – about the relationship between sovereign default and banking crises. This column documents the link between public default, bank bondholdings, and bank loans. Banks hold many public bonds in normal times (on average 9% of their assets), particularly in less financially developed countries. During sovereign defaults, banks increase their exposure to public bonds – especially large banks, and when expected bond returns are high. At the bank level, bondholdings correlate negatively with subsequent lending during sovereign defaults.
Trade liberalisations are often accompanied by labour market reforms, making it difficult to isolate their effects. This column discusses the effects of trade liberalisation, globalisation, and labour-market reforms on the Colombian labour market. Reduced trade frictions increased cross-firm wage inequality and shifted the firm-size distribution rightward, with offsetting effects on overall wage inequality. Average income increased, but the gains were concentrated among employees of large, productive firms with access to export markets. Greater trade openness also increased job turnover.
Structural reforms are presumed to deteriorate a government’s chance for re-election. This column, which is an update from earlier work, provides evidence of just the opposite – the odds of re-election are larger for reformist than for non-reformist governments. This holds if the financial system is not overly regulated and an adequate social safety net is present.
Temporary trade barriers have become more than an important bellwether for contemporary protectionism; with persistent tariff levels, they are now a primary obstacle to free trade. The World Bank’s newly updated Temporary Trade Barriers Database suggests that the Great Recession-era increases in import protection may be levelling off. Now policymakers begin to face the daunting task of dismantling all of those temporary barriers they imposed during the early phase of the crisis.
The US court ruling forcing Argentina to pay its hold-out creditors has big implications. This column argues that some of them are particularly worrying. The court ruling undermines the possibility of negotiated re-structuring of unsustainable debt burdens in future crises. In the future, it will not be not enough for the debtor and 92% of creditors to reach an agreement, if holdouts and a New York judge can block it. This will make both debtors and creditors worse-off.
The European debt crisis has triggered debates over the TARGET2 imbalances. This column discusses gold flows across Federal Reserve districts and points to the similarity of such operations to liquidity flows from Eurozone’s ‘core’ to its ‘periphery’. Though the institutional setting in Europe differs, important lessons can be drawn from the US example. Cooperation between regional Reserve Banks was essential for the cohesion of the US monetary union. Such cooperative spirit will be important for the smooth operation of the Eurozone.
The international transmission of liquidity shocks is one of the key questions of banking globalisation. This column discusses a project of central bank researchers from around the world who have been exploring the role of global banks in the transmission of liquidity shocks. Using micro data from individual banks and applying common methodology are of individual interest. But more importantly, it allows us to detect common features of international bank and liquidity shock transmission.
The glass ceiling is typically examined in terms of the distribution of earnings. This column discusses the glass ceiling in the gender distribution of total incomes, including self-employment and capital income. Evidence from Canada and the UK shows we are still far from equality. Though the proportion of women in the top 1% has been rising, the progress is slower, almost non-existent, at the very top of the distribution.
In China, both unemployment and a labour shortage have emerged as problems in recent years. This column explains their co-existence by a decrease in the matching efficiency in the labour market. One way to improve the matching efficiency, though difficult to implement in the short-run, is through the creation of more employment agencies. Companies can benefit if they invest more in recruiting activities.
The European Monetary Union is unprecedented, but the Eurozone Crisis is not. This column draws upon the experiences of previous banking crises, and compares the Eurozone Crisis countries. Like Japan before the 1992 crisis, Spain and Ireland had property bubbles fuelled by domestic credit. The Greek crisis is very distinct from crises in other Eurozone countries, so a one-size-fits-all policy would be inappropriate. The duration and severity of past crises suggest the road ahead will continue to be very rough.
Artificial trans fat is omnipresent in the global food chain, but the medical consensus is that it increases the risk of developing cardiovascular diseases such as heart disease and stroke. Between 2007 and 2011, New York City and six other county health departments implemented bans on trans fat in restaurants. This column presents the first evaluation of the effect of these bans on cardiovascular disease mortality rates.
It is commonly argued that the persistence of large welfare states in Scandinavian countries is due to the trustworthiness of their citizens. This column shows that the relationship between trust and the size of the welfare state is twin peaked. Untrustworthy individuals support generous welfare states because they expect to benefit without bearing the costs, whereas civic-minded individuals only support generous welfare states when surrounded by people they trust.
Differences in labour market and firm statistics between the US and Europe are easy to dismiss as cultural. This column applies an equilibrium model of worker screening and effort to cross-country data, showing that a large chunk of observed differences can be explained by the strategic interaction between firm and worker strategies. Evidence suggests that the US is in a high-screening, high-effort equilibrium, while southern Europe is in the complementary equilibrium. Perhaps culture is more economic than we might assume.
Publicly traded companies are the engine behind China’s growth, which raises the question of how CEO compensation works under an interventionist state. This column presents an analysis of executive compensation in China and a comparison to the West. Chinese listed firms have incentive structures similar to those of the US; in this case, effective compensation policies seem to transcend political boundaries.
Import price statistics may not be a reliable indicator of welfare gains. They must adequately reflect the fact that consumers value variety, and that consumer tastes and product quality change over time. This column evaluates existing findings, and introduces new results for the four largest EU economies – including evidence of higher consumer welfare gains than suggested by official import prices for the period from 1995 to 2012.
The proliferation of trade ‘clubs’ indicates that governments are keen on engaging in trade liberalisation. This column argues that the creation of new trade clubs under the umbrella of the WTO is inevitable. Such issue-specific (plurilateral) agreements keep the cord with the WTO tight, while allowing countries to cooperate on issues outside of WTO’s grounds.
The key challenge for lenders of last resort is to ameliorate financial crises without encouraging excessive risk-taking. This column discusses the lessons from the Banque de France’s successful handling of the crisis of 1889. Recognising its systemic importance, the Banque provided an emergency loan to the insolvent Comptoir d’Escompte. Banks that shared responsibility for the crisis were forced to guarantee the losses, which were ultimately recouped by large fines – notably on the Comptoir’s board of directors. This appears to have reduced moral hazard – there were no financial crises in France for 25 years.
The Global Crisis has raised the interest of banks in using quantitative controls, such as credit controls. This column discusses a relatively recent historical episode of credit controls in France. During this episode the role of interest rates was almost eliminated. Quantitative controls effectively decreased output and prices in the short-run. The difficulty for the Central Bank stemmed from the fact that it had to change its instruments constantly. This historical episode demonstrates that macroprudential tools can have substantial effects on monetary policy.
Various stimulus programmes have been implemented in a response to the decline in consumption of durables since the Recession. This column argues that standard analysis of such programmes could be overstating their effectiveness. Aggregate durable spending is much less responsive to stimulus during recessions. Microeconomic frictions lead households to adjust their durable holdings less frequently.
Brazil has grown rapidly and reduced poverty over the past decade, but it has grown more slowly than other emerging economies and its income per capita remains relatively low by global standards. This column points out that sectors of the Brazilian economy that have been opened up to international competition have outperformed those that remain heavily protected. Deeper integration into global markets and value chains could provide competitive pressures that would improve Brazil’s productivity and living standards.
When the international comparison project published its latest estimates of purchasing power parity exchange rates in April there was some consternation. Poor countries became richer overnight, world GDP increased, and global income inequality was revised downwards. Alas, no one stopped being poor. This column digs into the numbers to see if we’ve been consistently underestimating the relative size of poorer economies and overestimating global poverty and inequality.
An early draft of the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) sparked an intensive public debate over possible advantages and disadvantages. This column reviews some arguments in favour of the Partnership and against it. While there is some debate over how large the economic benefit could be in the face of already relatively low trade barriers, critics claim that the deal will lower standards of consumer protection, provision of public services, and environmental protection in the EU.
The internet promotes educational, technological, and scientific progress, but governments sometimes choose to control the flow of information for national security reasons, or to protect privacy or intellectual property. This column highlights the use of trade rules to regulate the flow of information, and describes how the EU, the US, and their negotiating partners have been unable to find common ground on these issues. Trade agreements have yet to set information free, and may in fact be making it less free.
The Global Crisis brought a halt to three decades of R&D internationalisation, in which foreign firms’ share of total R&D expenditure had increased in almost all countries where data is available. However, this column argues that the crisis did not lead to a new global distribution of overseas R&D expenditure, despite the erosion of the EU’s share. The persistence of R&D expenditure is attributed to the costs of relocating R&D and to the autonomy of foreign subsidiaries.