Capital is not back: A comment on Thomas Piketty’s ‘Capital in the 21st Century’
Odran Bonnet, Pierre-Henri Bono, Guillaume Camille Chapelle, Étienne Wasmer 30 June 2014
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.
The impressive success of Thomas Piketty’s book (Piketty 2014) shows that inequality is a great concern in most countries. His claim that “capital is back”, because the ratio of capital over income is returning to the levels of the end of the 19th century, is probably one of the most striking conclusions of his 700 pages. Acknowledging the considerable interest of this book and the effort it represents, we nevertheless think this conclusion is wrong, due to the particular way capital is measured in national accounts.
house prices, housing, Inequality, rents, housing bubble, capital, wealth inequality
Why are savings so high among the young in urban China?
Mark R. Rosenzweig, Junsen Zhang 21 May 2014
Household savings in China are high by international standards, and the young save as much or more than the middle-aged – a fact at odds with the standard life-cycle savings model. This column argues that neither old-age support by the middle-aged nor the one-child policy can satisfactorily explain this phenomenon. Rather, currently high housing costs and the prevalence of inter-generational shared housing are key reasons for the higher savings rates of the urban young in China.
A well-known phenomenon in contemporary China is the high personal savings rates of households compared with those in developed countries and many low-income countries. A less-studied aspect of this is the elevated savings rates of the young relative to the middle-aged, first shown by Chamon and Prasad (2010) based on urban household data covering the years 1986–2005 for ten provinces.
Frontiers of economic research Global economy
China, housing, family, savings, one-child policy
The housing-market impacts of shale-gas development
Lucija Muehlenbachs, Beia Spiller, Christopher Timmins 09 February 2014
Compared to coal and oil, shale gas offers the prospect of greater energy independence and lower emissions of carbon dioxide and other pollutants. However, fracking is controversial due to the local externalities it creates – particularly because of the potential for groundwater contamination. This column presents evidence on the size of these externalities from a recent study of house prices. The effect attributable to groundwater contamination risk varies from 10% to 22% of the value of the house, depending on its distance from the shale gas well.
Technological improvements in the extraction of natural gas from shale rock have transformed the industry.
house prices, housing, externalities, pollution, property prices, shale gas, fracking
Dark side of housing-price appreciation
Indraneel Chakraborty, Itay Goldstein, Andrew MacKinlay 25 November 2013
Higher asset prices increase the value of firms’ collateral, strengthen banks’ balance sheets, and increase households’ wealth. These considerations perhaps motivated the Federal Reserve’s intervention to support the housing market. However, higher housing prices may also lead banks to reallocate their portfolios from commercial and industrial loans to real-estate loans. This column presents the first evidence on this crowding-out effect. When housing prices increase, banks on average reduce commercial lending and increase interest rates, leading related firms to cut back on investment.
Policymakers around the world often worry about decreases in real-estate prices and other asset prices, and take measures to prevent them. For example, in the aftermath of the financial crisis, the Federal Reserve has engaged in large-scale asset purchases – especially of mortgage-backed assets – to support the housing market and, in turn, the overall economy.
Financial markets Monetary policy
housing, Federal Reserve, investment, asset prices, banks, lending, real estate
Speculative investors and transaction tax in the housing market
Yuming Fu, Wenlan Qian, Bernard Yeung 07 November 2013
Financial transaction taxes are designed to raise revenue and stabilise financial markets, but their effect on market volatility is controversial. This column presents evidence from the sudden reintroduction of stamp duty on new housing projects in Singapore. Overall trading volume declined while volatility increased. These effects were strongest for previously underpriced projects, consistent with the hypothesis that informed speculators were more strongly discouraged by the tax than noise traders. This suggests that financial transaction taxes may reduce the informativeness of asset prices.
The Global Financial Crisis revived the idea of using transaction taxes to discourage short-term speculative trades. Such trading is often blamed for causing excess volatility in financial markets. Tobin (1978) proposed the tax more than 40 years ago, to “throw some sand in the wheels of speculation”, specifically for currency trading. The idea has been extended to all forms of financial transactions.
housing, asset prices, financial transaction tax, stamp duty, Singapore
Exports and property prices: Are they connected?
Balázs Égert, Rafał Kierzenkowski 02 October 2013
Decreasing world market share in exports threatens France’s recovery. Traditional determinants of exports do not fully explain the downturn. This paper presents a novel explanation for France’s declining exports: the real-estate boom. Strong profitability in the construction industry, led by rising house prices, diverted capital and labour from export-intensive industries. These results suggest a strong warning against policies supporting property ownership as an end in itself.
A marked decline in France’s export-market shares
Europe's nations and regions International trade
France, housing, exports, real estate
Real-estate valuation, current-account and credit growth patterns, before and after the 2008-09 Crisis
Joshua Aizenman, Yothin Jinjarak 02 July 2013
The Global Crisis sparked a vibrant debate about what factors were to blame. This column addresses one of the core questions of this debate: are global imbalances or excessive credit growth key suspects? Presenting new research, it’s clear that the painful adjustment in the real-estate markets of the US, Spain and other affected countries in the aftermath of the Crisis, and the key importance of momentum effects, call for further research on policies that can mitigate possible bubble-dynamics.
The Global Crisis sparked a vibrant debate about what factors contributed to the Crisis. One question remains central to the debate:
housing, real estate, credit growth
Escaping liquidity traps: Lessons from the UK’s 1930s escape
Nicholas Crafts 12 May 2013
The UK escaped a liquidity trap in the 1930s and enjoyed a strong economic recovery. This column argues that what drove this recovery was ‘unconventional’ monetary policy implemented not by the Bank of England but by the Treasury. Thus, Neville Chamberlain was an early proponent of ‘Abenomics’. This raises the question: is inflation targeting by an independent central bank appropriate at a time of very low nominal-interest rates?
In mid-1932, the UK had experienced a recession of a similar magnitude to that of 2008-09, was engaged in fiscal consolidation that reduced the structural budget deficit by about 4% of GDP, had short-term interest rates that were close to zero, and was in a double-dip recession (Crafts and Fearon 2013). The years from 1933 through 1936 saw a very strong recovery with growth of over 4% in every year. The Chancellor of the Exchequer, Neville Chamberlain (in office from November 1931 to May 1937) was the architect of this recovery.
Europe's nations and regions
housing, Britain, UK, Eurozone crisis, house building
Distorted beliefs and the financial sector
Ing-Haw Cheng, Sahil Raina, Wei Xiong 11 April 2013
The subprime crisis narrative focuses on incentives: ‘they knew it was risky, but didn’t care’. This column argues in favour of a more nuanced explanation, that distorted beliefs also mattered. An analysis of personal home transactions by mid-level managers in the mortgage-securitisation business shows that they increased their personal housing exposure during the boom. ‘Groupthink’ and distorted beliefs in the financial sector is something to take seriously if we want to prevent future crises.
What led Wall Street to take excessive risks in the housing market before the 2008 financial crisis?
housing, Subprime, cognitive dissonance
On the causes and consequences of land use regulations
Frédéric Robert-Nicoud, Christian Hilber 18 March 2013
Zoning policies and land use regulations are widespread. This column presents recent research suggesting that regulations have in fact gone too far. Land use regulation is the outcome of competing property owner and land developer pressure groups, and it seems that local authorities respond well to lobbying, in addition to more traditional welfare and electoral considerations. The most over-restrictive regulation is in highly desirable places, New York and San Francisco being some of the worst offenders.
Land use regulations vary tremendously in shape and scope across space and have become more widespread and stringent over time. Although land use regulations have a long history dating back to at least the 17th century, they were initially pro-growth (McLaughin 2012). Even a century back, hardly any countries systematically regulated land use in a restrictive manner. The first comprehensive zoning law in the US, for example, dates back to 1916 in New York. In contrast, all modern states now regulate land use intensively, and in an overwhelmingly restrictive way.