Roger Backhouse, Mauro Boianovsky, Tuesday, May 19, 2015

The notion of secular stagnation – a state of negligible or zero economic growth – is back in the headlines. Questions naturally arise about its intellectual antecedents. This column discusses how the concept rose and fell with the economic fortunes of advanced industrialised nations. Political trends and trends in economic theory played a part in its trajectory, with the notion closely connected to the idea that the level of government debt should be allowed to rise.

Peter Debaere, Amanda Kurzendoerfer, Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Water management is a major challenge today. To guide efficient water allocation, it is essential to understand the drivers of water use. This column sheds light on this issue using US data from the 1950s until today. The findings show that US water withdrawal has stabilised, and has even decreased in the past decades. Technological improvements have been crucial towards that end. However, the shifting demand from agriculture and manufacturing to less-water intensive sectors has been just as important.

Fatih Guvenen, Fatih Karahan, Serdar Ozkan, Jae Song, Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Many policy design issues depend crucially on the nature of the idiosyncratic risks to labour income. The earning dynamics literature has typically relied on an implicit or explicit assumption that earnings shocks are log-normally distributed. This column challenges conventional knowledge by bringing in new evidence from a very large administrative dataset on US workers. It presents evidence suggesting income shocks exhibit substantial deviations from log-normality, and that shock persistence depends on income levels as well as the size and sign of the shock.

Dora L. Costa, Matthew E. Kahn, Monday, April 27, 2015

Newspapers report good and bad news, but the reporting doesn’t always match reality. This column presents evidence from turn-of-the-century America that news reports of typhoid tracked mortality patterns, but the reporting was biased. Spikes in death rates led to bigger jumps in media coverage when death rates were low. This could be due to the idea that deviations from Kahneman and Tversky’s ‘reference points’ are more newsworthy, or due to the possibility that bad news is more valuable to readers when things seem to be going well.

Francesco Bianchi, Wednesday, April 22, 2015

During the Great Recession, the possibility that the US might enter a second Great Depression was a real concern. This column argues that until early 2009, financial markets behaved in a manner consistent with the early years of the Great Depression. The large stock-market fall saw growth stocks outperforming value stocks. This pattern ended March 2009, arguably in light of robust policy interventions. These dynamics suggest that poor performance of growth stocks during regular times may be compensated by superior performance in crises.

Peter E. Robertson, Monday, March 30, 2015

The Soviets matched the US only by spending up to 20% of GDP on the military during the Cold War. This column argues that, in stark contrast to this example, China has the potential to match the US in certain military spheres with similar burden on its economy. Using exchange rates comparisons significantly understates the Chinese military spending. A much more realistic assessment is obtained using PPP terms. If both countries spent the same fraction of their GDP on the military, the relative size of China’s military machine would be more than 90% of the US one.

Rena M. Conti, Ernst Berndt, David H. Howard, Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Total US prescription drug spending rose 13% in 2014, the biggest increase in a decade. Driving this trend is spending on branded specialty drugs, which rose an unprecedented 31%. This column discusses recent research into the relationship between inflation-adjusted launch prices and survival benefits and approval year for 58 anticancer drugs approved in the US between 1995 and 2013. The authors find that launch prices are going up by $8,500 per year, approximately 12% year over year.

Jeffrey R. Brown, Chichun Fang, Francisco Gomes, Monday, March 23, 2015

College-educated workers are less likely to experience unemployment, but their lifetime earnings are also much more uncertain. This column estimates the risk-adjusted value of college education to be between $225,000 and almost $600,000, corresponding to risk-adjusted increases in total present-value lifetime wealth of 35% to 48%. Increased earnings volatility actually decreased the risk-adjusted value of college between 1968–1980 and 1991–2011 by almost $50,000, even though expected lifetime income increased by about $150,000. Nevertheless, even the most conservative estimates of the value of college education are still positive.

Trevon D. Logan, John M. Parman, Monday, March 9, 2015

Racial disparities in socioeconomic conditions remain a major policy issue throughout the world. This column applies a new neighbour-based measure of residential segregation to US census data from 1880 and 1940. The authors find that existing measures understate the extent of segregation, and that segregation increased in rural as well as urban areas. The dramatic decline in opposite-race neighbours during the 20th century may help to explain the persistence of racial inequality in the US.

Alejandro Justiniano, Giorgio Primiceri, Andrea Tambalotti, Friday, February 27, 2015

There is no consensus among economists on the forces that drove the historical rise of US house prices and household debt that preceded the Global Crisis. In this column, the authors argue that the fundamental factor behind that boom was an increase in the supply of mortgage credit. This rise was brought about by the diffusion of securitisation and shadow banking, and by a surge in foreign capital inflows. The finding is based on a straightforward interpretation of four key macroeconomic developments between 2000 and 2006, provided by a simple general equilibrium model of housing and credit. 

Jason Furman, Friday, February 20, 2015

The US economy has strengthened considerably in recent years, presenting an opportunity to address the 40-year stagnation in incomes for the middle class. This column provides historical and international context for the key factors affecting middle-class incomes: productivity growth, labour force participation, and income inequality. It also outlines President Obama’s approach to economic policies – what he terms “middle-class economics” – which is designed to improve all three.

Carlo Carraro, Saturday, February 7, 2015

China and the US have recently agreed to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions. This column asks what quantifiable impact the new targets will have, whether they are any better than previous approaches, and if so, whether they are enough to avoid dangerous climate change. While insufficient for keeping temperature increase below the 2°C limit, the US and China’s bilateral commitments are a step in the right direction, and form the basis for a stronger international agreement in Paris later this year.

Bas Bakker, Joshua Felman, Friday, February 6, 2015

Much research about the Great Recession in the US has focused on the boom-bust in housing wealth and spending of the middle class. This column argues that a large role was actually played by the rich. The savings rate of the rich went through a similar cycle as that of the middle class with rising wealth first stimulating their consumption and falling wealth restraining it. Most importantly, the wealth of the rich has become so large and volatile that wealth effects on their consumption could impact the whole economy. 

Johannes Stroebel, Joseph Vavra, Monday, January 26, 2015

Rising prices have long been a concern of monetary policymakers due to wealth effects on spending. This column presents evidence that local demand effects from  house price increases result in significant local price inflation. Households living in locations with rapidly increasing real estate prices will also face rapidly increasing costs of goods purchased in local stores.

Valerie Ramey, Sarah Zubairy, Friday, January 23, 2015

There is no consensus among economists about the size of the multiplier of government purchases. It is not clear either how multipliers vary with the state of the economy. This column presents new evidence on this issue using large historical data set from the US. The findings suggest that there is no evidence that fiscal multipliers differ by the amount of unemployment or the degree of monetary accommodation. 

Jeffrey Clemens, Michael Wither, Wednesday, January 14, 2015

The merit of a minimum wage is a classic issue of contention in economics and is of particular interest during a contraction. This column uses worker-level microdata to investigate the effect of a federal policy change in the US that affected some states more than others. The authors evaluate not only the proximate effects on employment, but also follow workers for up to three years afterward to track career trajectory following a minimum wage hike.

Lutz Kilian, Wednesday, January 14, 2015

The recent expansion of US shale oil production has captured the imagination of policymakers and industry analysts. It has fuelled visions of the US becoming independent of oil imports, of cheap US gasoline, of a rebirth of US manufacturing, and of net oil exports improving the US current account. This column asks how plausible these visions are, and examines the evidence to date.

John Mondragon, Sunday, January 11, 2015

The Great Recession was marked by disruptions to the supply of credit to firms and households. But little is known about how much supply shocks to household credit actually contributed to employment losses. This column uses data on US counties to examine the causal relationship running from the supply of household credit to employment during the recession. The author concludes that contractions in household credit supply caused substantial employment losses. 

Maarten van ’t Riet, Arjan Lejour, Monday, January 5, 2015

The recent actions of the US Treasury to rein in corporate tax inversions leave their rationale largely intact. This column discusses new evidence suggesting that the potential tax benefits of inversions are still huge. The recent Treasury measures raised legal obstacles, but the heart of the problem remains unaddressed. At some point a new technique is likely to be found to circumvent the new measures – just as happened with earlier measures. This is a worldwide problem.

Philippe Andrade, Richard Crump, Stefano Eusepi, Emanuel Moench, Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Expectations are critical for macroeconomics and financial markets. But the expectation-formation process is not well understood. This column discusses some empirical characteristics of forecast disagreement from professional forecasters in the US, and discusses the ‘information frictions’ that underlie the heterogeneity of expectations.