Thomas Piketty’s "Capital in the Twenty-First Century" quantified the evolution of wealth inequality and concentration over time and across a number of countries. This column examines existing macroeconomic models of wealth inequality through the lenses of the facts and ideas in Piketty’s book. It further examines the importance of the mechanism that Piketty champions – post-tax rate of return on capital. Gaps in existing knowledge and directions for future research are identified.
Mariacristina De Nardi, Giulio Fella, Fang Yang, 22 December 2015
Daniel Waldenström, 20 December 2015
Recent work on the importance of wealth and capital shows that it has fluctuated grossly over time in Europe. This column examines whether this pattern carries over to smaller, late-industrialising countries by looking at new historical evidence from Sweden. After being low in the pre-industrial era, Swedish wealth levels came into line with the rest of Europe in the 20th century. However, government wealth grew much faster and became more important in Sweden, largely due its public pension system. These findings highlight the role of economic and political institutions in the long-run evolution of national wealth.
Avinash Persaud, 20 November 2015
As the recent Financial Stability Board decision on loss-absorbing capital shows, repairing the financial system is still a work in progress. This column reviews the author’s new book on the matter, Reinventing Financial Regulation: A Blueprint for Overcoming Systemic Risks. It argues that financial institutions should be required to put up capital against the mismatch between each type of risk they hold and their natural capacity to hold that type of risk.
Robert Z. Lawrence, 15 October 2015
The US debate over income inequality in the 1980s and 1990s focused on the growing disparity between the earnings of the skilled, the unskilled and the super-rich. After the global crash, the decline in labour’s share of national income has been added to these concerns. This column presents an alternative explanation for this decline, arguing that limited substitution possibilities between capital and labour combined with the acceleration in the pace of labour-augmenting technical change raises the effective labour-capital ratio. The policy implications of this alternative explanation are profoundly different from those currently circulating.
Nicola Borri, Pietro Reichlin, 08 September 2015
Some argue that the increasing wealth-to-income ratios observed in many advanced economies are determined by housing and capital gains. This column considers the growing wealth-to-income ratio in an economy where capital and labour are used in two sectors: construction and manufacturing. If productivity in manufacturing grows faster than in construction – a ‘housing cost disease’ – it has adverse effects on social welfare. Concretely, the higher the appreciation of the value of housing, the lower the welfare benefit of a rising labour efficiency in manufacturing.
Jon Danielsson, Eva Micheler, Katja Neugebauer, Andreas Uthemann, Jean-Pierre Zigrand, 23 February 2015
The proposed EU capital markets union aims to revitalise Europe’s economy by creating efficient funding channels between providers of loanable funds and firms best placed to use them. This column argues that a successful union would deliver investment, innovation, and growth, but it depends on overcoming difficult regulatory challenges. A successful union would also change the nature of systemic risk in Europe.
Loukas Karabarbounis, Brent Neiman, 25 November 2014
The share of compensation to labour in gross value added has declined in recent decades for most countries and industries around the world. Recent work has also used the share of compensation to labour in net value added as a proxy for inequality. This column discusses that gross and net labour shares have declined together for most countries since 1975 – an outcome consistent with the worldwide decline in the relative price of investment goods.
Christian Thimann, 17 October 2014
Having completed the regulatory framework for systemically important banks, the Financial Stability Board is turning to insurance companies. The emerging framework for insurers closely resembles that for banks, culminating in the design and calibration of capital surcharges. This column argues that the contrasting business models and balance sheet structures of insurers and banks – and the different roles of capital, leverage, and risk absorption in the two sectors – mean that the banking model of capital cannot be applied to insurance. Tools other than capital surcharges may be more appropriate to address possible concerns of systemic risk.
Jesper Roine, Henry Ohlsson, Daniel Waldenström, 08 August 2014
The extent to which lifetime incomes are determined by inherited wealth is a politically sensitive issue, but long-run evidence on this question is limited. This column presents evidence on Swedish inheritance flows since the early 19th century. Despite a long history of aristocracy, accumulated capital was small relative to income in pre-industrial Sweden. In more recent times, Sweden stands out as a country where the return of capital has not automatically translated into a return of inherited wealth.
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.
Barry Eichengreen, Andrew K Rose, 05 June 2014
Since the global financial crisis of 2008–2009, opposition to the use of capital controls has weakened, and some economists have advocated their use as a macroprudential policy instrument. This column shows that capital controls have rarely been used in this way in the past. Rather than moving with short-term macroeconomic variables, capital controls have tended to vary with financial, political, and institutional development. This may be because governments have other macroeconomic policy instruments at their disposal, or because suddenly imposing capital controls would send a bad signal.
Alex Edmans, William Mann, 15 February 2014
All firms need capital. Much research addresses the choice between issuing various types of securities – for example, between issuing debt and equity. However, another method of financing has received relatively little attention – selling non-core assets, such as property, divisions, or financial investments. This article explains the conditions under which an asset sale is the preferred means of raising capital, and highlights how a manager should go about deciding between selling assets and issuing securities.
Viral Acharya, Robert Engle, Matthew Richardson, 14 March 2012
The effective regulation of banks requires identification of systemically important financial institutions. This column discusses a method to estimate the capital that a financial firm would need to raise if we have another financial crisis. This measure of capital shortfall is based on publicly available information but is conceptually similar to the stress tests conducted by US and European regulators.
Raihan Zamil, 07 May 2011
How much capital should banks hold to cover their risk? This column argues that the preoccupation with capital rules misses a more fundamental concern. No amount of feasible regulatory capital can be an appropriate substitute for robust asset selection and valuation standards of banks.