The views and theories on the impossible trinity are conflicting. This column discusses some of the theories and their potential drawbacks. It points out that the impossible trinity has policy relevance for advances economies because their currencies are often close substitutes, and exchange rates follow expectations. For emerging economies, however, the policies implied by the impossible trinity could not be sustained due to the instability of their financial markets.
The idea that there is a common tipping point in the relationship between public debt and economic growth is still widespread. However, this is likely due to a misinterpretation of the existing evidence. Once we allow for the relationship between debt and growth to be country-specific, there is limited evidence supporting the presence of a within-countries debt threshold.
Today’s austerity, many argue, is stupid. This column argues that today’s EZ austerity may arise from stupidity before the crisis – specifically lacklustre structural reform. Excess debt arose in nations maintaining unsustainable living standards and welfare systems in the face of poor growth. The Crisis forced radical adjustments such as austerity in a recession. It’s not austerity which caused low growth, but low pre-Crisis growth which ultimately caused austerity. The way out of austerity is fundamental pro-growth reforms that create room for more gradual fiscal adjustment.
In the debate over Scottish independence, the question of how the UK’s assets and sovereign debt would be divided has received insufficient attention. This column argues that the size of Scotland’s debt obligations would be crucial to its optimal choice of currency. Under plausible assumptions, fiscal tightening would be required to return Scottish debt to sustainable levels, and a self-fulfilling rise in borrowing costs might tempt Scotland to leave the sterling currency union. A debt-for-oil swap might be mutually beneficial for a newly independent Scotland and the continuing UK.
Stabilisation policy should focus on the frequencies consumers care most about. This column presents evidence from stock-market returns suggesting that consumers are willing to pay the most to avoid – and are therefore most concerned about – fluctuations that last tens or hundreds of years. Modern macroeconomic theory tends to view the role of monetary policy as smoothing out inflation and unemployment over the business cycle. The authors’ findings suggest that resources would be better spent on policies that smooth out longer-run fluctuations.
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Adelman, 28 October 2013
Reichlin, Giugliano, 7 November 2013