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  • Nouriel Roubini on Economic Roots to 'New Nationalismm'

    At Project Syndicate , Nouriel Roubini raises some concerns over the rising nationalism in Europe. Rising economic populism is a logical result of slow recovery. Policy makers must pick up the pace of recovery among poor Europeans, and especially among young workers, he argues. This new nationalism takes different economic forms: trade barriers, asset protection, reaction against foreign direct investment, policies favoring domestic workers and firms, anti-immigration measures, state capitalism, and resource nationalism. In the political realm, populist, anti-globalization, anti-immigration, and in some cases outright racist and anti-Semitic parties are on the rise. These forces loath the alphabet soup of supra-national governance institutions – the EU, the UN, the WTO, and the IMF, among others – that globalization requires. Even the Internet, the epitome of globalization for the past two decades, is at risk of being balkanized as more authoritarian countries – including China, Iran, Turkey, and Russia – seek to restrict access to social media and crack down on free expression. The main causes of these trends are clear. Anemic economic recovery has provided an opening for populist parties, promoting protectionist policies, to blame foreign trade and foreign workers for the prolonged malaise. Add to this the rise in income and wealth inequality in most countries, and it is no wonder that the perception of a winner-take-all economy that benefits only elites and distorts the political system has become widespread. Nowadays, both advanced economies (like the United States, where unlimited financing of elected officials by financially powerful business interests is simply legalized corruption) and emerging markets (where oligarchs often dominate the economy and the political system) seem to be run for the few. For the many, by contrast, there has been only secular stagnation, with depressed employment and stagnating wages. The resulting economic insecurity for the working and middle classes is most acute in Europe and the eurozone, where in many countries populist parties – mainly on the far right – outperformed mainstream forces in last weekend’s European Parliament election. As in the 1930’s, when the Great Depression gave rise to authoritarian governments in Italy, Germany, and Spain, a similar trend now may be underway. Read The Great Backlash here .
  • Shiller's 'Inequality Insurance' Plan

    Robert Shiller welcomes the attention Thomas Piketty's Capital in the Twenty-First Century is bringing to rising economic inequality. But now it is time to start talking about some possible measures. He shares one possible approach at Project Syndicate : Inequality insurance would require governments to establish very long-term plans to make income-tax rates automatically higher for high-income people in the future if inequality worsens significantly, with no change in taxes otherwise. I called it inequality insurance because, like any insurance policy, it addresses risks beforehand. Just as one must buy fire insurance before, not after, one’s house burns down, we have to deal with the risk of inequality before it becomes much worse and creates a powerful new class of entitled rich people who use their power to consolidate their gains. In 2006, I co-authored a draft paper with Leonard Burman and Jeffrey Rohaly of the Urban Institute and Brookings Institution’s Tax Policy Center that analyzed variations on such a plan. In 2011, Ian Ayres and Aaron Edlin proposed a similar idea. Underlying such plans is the assumption that some substantial degree of inequality is economically healthy. The prospect of becoming rich clearly drives many people to work hard. But massive inequality is intolerable. Of course, there is no guarantee that an inequality-insurance plan will actually be carried out by governments. But they are more likely to follow such plans if they are already legislated and take effect gradually, according to a formula known in advance, rather than suddenly in some revolutionary departure from past practice. To be truly effective, increases in wealth taxes – which fall more on highly mobile retired or other affluent people – would have to include a global component; otherwise, the rich would simply emigrate to whichever country has the lowest tax rates. And the unpopularity of wealth taxes has impeded global cooperation. Finland had a wealth tax but dropped it. So did Austria, Denmark, Germany, Sweden, and Spain. Read Inequality Disaster Prevention here .
  • Frankel: China's Economy Improving, But Not Yet #1

    Jeffrey Frankel is concerned that some analysts are misreading a new report from the World Bank that, among other things, touts China's increasing economic power. Yes, Frankel notes, China is getting more powerful economically by the day. But it will still take some years before it is the top economy. And it is not appropriate to call it a rich country. From Project Syndicate : Looking at per capita income, even by the PPP measure, China is still a relatively poor country. Though it has come very far in a short time, its per capita income is now about the same as Albania’s – that is, in the middle of the distribution of 199 countries. But Albania’s economy, unlike China’s, is not often in the headlines. That is not only because China has such a dynamic economy, but also because it has the world’s largest population. Multiplying a middling per capita income by more than 1.3 billion “capita” yields a big number. The combination of a large population and a medium income gives it economic power, and also political power. Similarly, we consider the US the number-one incumbent power not just because it is rich. If per capita income were the criterion by which to judge, Monaco, Qatar, Luxembourg, Brunei, Liechtenstein, Kuwait, Norway, and Singapore would all rank ahead of the US. (For the purposes of this comparison, it does not matter much whether one uses market exchange rates or PPP rates.) If you are shopping for citizenship, you might want to consider one of those countries. But we do not consider Monaco, Brunei, and Liechtenstein to be among the world’s “leading economic powers,” because they are so small. What makes the US the world’s leading economic power is the combination of its large population and high per capita income. It is this combination that explains the widespread fascination with how China’s economic size or power compares to America’s, and especially with the question of whether the challenger has now displaced the long-reigning champion. But PPP exchange rates are not the best tool to use to answer that question. Read China is Still Number Two here .
  • Spain's Path to Recovery

    It was bad enough to be in economic turmoil, but Spain had the additional indignity to be included in a group of economies that we labeled either PIGS or PIIGS (depending on whether we included both Ireland and Italy). The PIIGS were EU nations that had amassed so much public debt that they were threatening to bring down the EU economy as a whole. So it is nice to read about signs of a turnaround. At Project Syndicate , Michael Spence writes that investors are beginning to find Spain attractive again. Spain was not in an enviable position. The rapid deterioration of fiscal position after the crisis made any substantial countercyclical response impossible, while regulatory constraints limited the economy’s structural flexibility. The path to recovery, though difficult and lengthy, has been relatively clear and specific. First, unit labor costs needed to decline toward productivity levels to restore competitiveness – a painful process without the exchange-rate mechanism. In fact, there has been substantial post-crisis re-convergence toward German levels. Second, both capital and labor needed to flow to the tradable sector, where demand constraints can be relaxed as relative productivity converges. Like many other southern European countries, however, labor-market and other rigidities dramatically reduced the speed and increased the costs of structural economic adjustment, resulting in lower levels of growth and employment, especially for young people and first-time job-seekers. But Spanish policymakers and business leaders appeared to grasp the nature of the pre-crisis economic imbalances – and the importance of the tradable sector as a recovery engine. Recognizing that the economy could not benefit from a partial restoration of competitiveness without structural shifts, the government passed a significant labor-market reform in the spring of 2013. It was controversial, because, like all such measures, it rescinded certain kinds of protections for workers. But the ultimate protection is growing employment. With a lag, the reform now appears to be bearing fruit. Read The Gain in Spain here .
  • Dani Rodrik on 'Premature Deindustrialization' in Developing Economies

    At Project Syndicate , Dani Rodrik tries to make sense of "an unexpectedly large gap in productivity between large firms and small firms," in Mexico and other developing economies. This isn't what is supposed to happen. At least it doesn't follow the industrialization model of the last century and a half. "When economies develop the productivity gap between the traditional and modern parts of the economy shrinks, and dualism gradually diminishes, Rodrik writes. Today, the picture is very different. Even in countries that are doing well, industrialization is running out of steam much faster than it did in previous episodes of catch-up growth – a phenomenon that I have called premature deindustrialization. Though young people are still flocking to the cities from the countryside, they end up not in factories but mostly in informal, low-productivity services. Indeed, structural change has become increasingly perverse: from manufacturing to services (prematurely), tradable to non-tradable activities, organized sectors to informality, modern to traditional firms, and medium-size and large firms to small firms. Quantitative studies show that such patterns of structural change are exerting a substantial drag on economic growth in Latin America, Africa, and in many Asian countries. There are two ways to close the gap between leading and lagging parts of the economy. One is to enable small and microenterprises to grow, enter the formal economy, and become more productive, all of which requires removing many barriers. The informal and traditional parts of the economy are typically not well served by government services and infrastructure, for example, and they are cut off from global markets, have little access to finance, and are filled by workers and managers with low skills and education. Even though many governments exert considerable effort to empower their small enterprises, successful cases are rare. Support for small enterprises often serves social-policy goals – sustaining the incomes of the economy’s poorest and most excluded workers – instead of stimulating output and productivity growth. The second strategy is to enlarge opportunities for modern, well-established firms so that they can expand and employ the workers that would otherwise end up in less productive parts of the economy. This may well be the more effective path. Read The Growing Divide Within Developing Economies here .
  • Nouriel Roubini's Top Six Risks for Global Markets

    At Project Syndicate , Nouriel Roubini writes that the major risks to global markets have shifted. The leading risks from the last two years, while not quite resolved, are not as predominant. But there is plenty to be concerned about. Namely: For starters, there is the risk of a hard landing in China. The rebalancing of growth away from fixed investment and toward private consumption is occurring too slowly, because every time annual GDP growth slows toward 7%, the authorities panic and double down on another round of credit-fueled capital investment. This then leads to more bad assets and non-performing loans, more excessive investment in real estate, infrastructure, and industrial capacity, and more public and private debt. By next year, there may be no road left down which to kick the can. There is also the risk of policy mistakes by the US Federal Reserve as it exits monetary easing. Last year, the Fed’s mere announcement that it would gradually wind down its monthly purchases of long-term financial assets triggered a “taper” tantrum in global financial markets and emerging markets. This year, tapering is priced in, but uncertainty about the timing and speed of the Fed’s efforts to normalize policy interest rates is creating volatility. Some investors and governments now worry that the Fed may raise rates too soon and too fast, causing economic and financial shockwaves. Third, the Fed may actually exit zero rates too late and too slowly (its current plan would normalize rates to 4% only by 2018), thus causing another asset-price boom – and an eventual bust. Indeed, unconventional monetary policies in the US and other advanced economies have already led to massive asset-price reflation, which in due course could cause bubbles in real estate, credit, and equity markets. Fourth, the crises in some fragile emerging markets may worsen. Emerging markets are facing headwinds (owing to a fall in commodity prices and the risks associated with China’s structural transformation and the Fed’s monetary-policy shift) at a time when their own macroeconomic policies are still too loose and the lack of structural reforms has undermined potential growth. Moreover many of these emerging markets face political and electoral risks. Fifth, there is a serious risk that the current conflict in Ukraine will lead to Cold War II – and possibly even a hot war if Russia invades the east of the country. The economic consequences of such an outcome – owing to its impact on energy supplies and investment flows, in addition to the destruction of lives and physical capital – would be immense. Finally, there is a similar risk that Asia’s terrestrial and maritime territorial disagreements (starting with the disputes between China and Japan) could escalate into outright military conflict. Such geopolitical risks – were they to materialize – would have a systemic economic and financial impact. Read The Changing Face of Global Risk here .
  • Shiller on Narratives and the Psychology of the Global Economy

    "We seem to be at the mercy of our narratives," writes Robert Shiller at Project Syndicate . On a speaking tour in Japan, Shiller was struck by how people there responded to the "positive change" in Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's economic reforms. A "comprehensive" and seemingly effective plan led to greater optimism, and then a narrowing of the gap between actual GDP and potential GDP. Shiller says our collective optimism was up in the early 2000s (to our detriment, as it turned out). We kept the real estate bubble going because we wanted to believe it could last forever. Then the financial crisis erupted, scaring the entire world. A story of opportunity and riches turned into one of corrupt mortgage lenders, overleveraged financial institutions, dimwitted experts, and captured regulators. The economy was careening like a rudderless ship, and the sharp operators who had duped us into getting on board – call them the 1% – were slipping away in the only lifeboats. By early 2009, the plunge in stock markets around the world reached its nadir, and fear of a deep depression, according to the University of Michigan Consumer Sentiment Survey, was at its highest level since the second oil crisis in the early 1980’s. Stories of the Great Depression of the 1930’s were recalled from our dimmest memories – or from our parents’ and grandparents’ memories – and retold. To understand why economic recovery (if not that of the stock market) has remained so weak since 2009, we need to identify which stories have been affecting popular psychology. One example is the rapid advance in smartphones and tablet computers. Apple’s iPhone was launched in 2007, and Google’s Android phones in 2008, just as the crisis was beginning, but most of their growth has been since then. Apple’s iPad was launched in 2010. Since then, these products have entered almost everyone’s consciousness; we see people using them everywhere – on the street and in hotel lobbies, restaurants, and airports. This ought to be a confidence-boosting story: amazing technologies are emerging, sales are booming, and entrepreneurship is alive and very well. But the confidence-boosting effect of the earlier real-estate boom was far more powerful, because it resonated directly with many more people. This time, in fact, the smartphone/tablet story is associated with a sense of foreboding, for the wealth that these devices generate seems to be concentrated among a tiny number of tech entrepreneurs who probably live in a faraway country. These stories awaken our fears of being overtaken by others on the economic ladder. And now that our phones talk to us (Apple launched Siri, the artificial voice that answers your spoken questions, on its iPhones in 2010), they fuel dread that they can replace us, just as earlier waves of automation rendered much human capital obsolete. Read The Global Economy's Tale Risks here .
  • Crimea Crisis: The Economic Costs to Russia

    War is costly on all levels. And Russia's involvement in Ukraine is going to be costly economically, not only for all Ukrainians, but for the Russian economy. How costly? Very costly, argues Sergei Guriev , a professor of economics and former Rector at the New Economic School in Moscow who is currently a visiting professor at Sciences Po . At Project Syndicate Guriev writes "The economic damage to Russia will be vast." First, there are the direct costs of military operations and of supporting the Crimean regime and its woefully inefficient economy (which has been heavily subsidized by Ukraine’s government for years.) Given the uncertainty surrounding Crimea’s future status, these costs are difficult to estimate, though they are most likely to total several billion dollars per year. A direct cost of this magnitude amounts to less than 0.5% of Russia’s GDP. While not trivial, Russia can afford it. Russia just spent $50 billion dollars on the Sochi Olympics and plans to spend even more for the 2018 World Cup. It was prepared to lend $15 billion to former Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych’s government and to provide $8 billion annually in gas subsidies. Then there are the costs related to the impact of sanctions on trade and investment. Though the scope of the sanctions remains uncertain, the effect could be enormous. Annual inward foreign direct investment is estimated to have reached $80 billion in 2013. A significant decline in FDI – which brings not only money but also modern technology and managerial skills – would hit Russia’s long-term economic growth hard. And denying Russian banks and firms access to the US (and possibly European) banking system – the harshest sanction applied to Iran – would have a devastating impact. In the short run, however, it is trade that matters much more than investment. Russia’s annual exports (mostly oil, gas, and other commodities) are worth almost $600 billion, while annual imports total almost $500 billion. Any non-trivial trade sanctions (including sanctions on Russian financial institutions) would be much more painful than the direct cost of subsidizing Crimea. Of course, sanctions would hurt Russia’s trading partners, too. But Russia’s dependence on trade with the West is certainly much larger than vice versa. Moreover, the most important source of potential damage to Russia’s economy lies elsewhere. Russian and foreign businesses have always been worried about the unpredictability of the country’s political leadership. Lack of confidence in Russian policymaking is the main reason for capital flight, low domestic asset prices, declining investment, and an economic slowdown that the Crimea crisis will almost certainly cause to accelerate. Read Putin's Imperial Road to Ruin here .
  • Rogoff on Potential Blocks to Sustained Economic Progress

    When you look at the collective rise in the quality of living for most people over the last century, it is easy to understand why Warren Buffett says he will continue to bet on economic prosperity. But, writing at Project Syndicate , Kenneth Rogoff warns that "past growth performance is no guarantee that a broadly similar trajectory can be maintained throughout this century." And he lays out four problems to consider: The first set of issues includes slow-burn problems involving externalities, the leading example being environmental degradation. When property rights are ill-defined, as in the case of air and water, government must step in to provide appropriate regulation. I do not envy future generations for having to address the possible ramifications of global warming and fresh-water depletion. A second set of problems concerns the need to ensure that the economic system is perceived as fundamentally fair, which is the key to its political sustainability. This perception can no longer be taken for granted, as the interaction of technology and globalization has exacerbated income and wealth inequality within countries, even as cross-country gaps have narrowed. Until now, our societies have proved remarkably adept at adjusting to disruptive technologies; but the pace of change in recent decades has caused tremendous strains, reflected in huge income disparities within countries, with near-record gaps between the wealthiest and the rest. Inequality can corrupt and paralyze a country’s political system – and economic growth along with it. The third problem is that of aging populations, an issue that would pose tough challenges even for the best-designed political system. How will resources be allocated to care for the elderly, especially in slow-growing economies where existing public pension schemes and old-age health plans are patently unsustainable? Soaring public debts surely exacerbate the problem, because future generations are being asked both to service our debt and to pay for our retirements. The final challenge concerns a wide array of issues that require regulation of rapidly evolving technologies by governments that do not necessarily have the competence or resources to do so effectively. We have already seen where poor regulation of rapidly evolving financial markets can lead. There are parallel shortcomings in many other markets. Read Malthus, Marx, and Modern Growth here .
  • Kemal Derviş Sees 'Vulnerability' in Emerging Market Private Sector Balance Sheets

    There has been a fair bit of pessimism about the fate of emerging market economies this year. At Project Syndicate , Kermal Derviş writes that, with the Federal Reserve expected to begin tapering off its quantitative easing programs, "the emergent market bears are ascendant once again." In gauging whether countries like Brazil, India, Indonesia, South Africa, and Turkey are in trouble, Davis urges us to pay a little less attention to public deficits and look more at private sector balance sheets. To be sure, the weakest-looking emerging countries have large current-account deficits and low net central-bank reserves after deducting short-term debt from gross reserves. But one could argue that if there is a capital-flow reversal, the exchange rate would depreciate, causing exports of goods and services to increase and imports to decline; the resulting current-account adjustment would quickly reduce the need for capital inflows. Given fiscal space and solid banks, a new equilibrium would quickly be established. Unfortunately, the real vulnerability of some countries is rooted in private-sector balance sheets, with high leverage accumulating in both the household sector and among non-financial firms. Moreover, in many cases, the corporate sector, having grown accustomed to taking advantage of cheap funds from abroad to finance domestic activities, has significant foreign-currency exposure. Where that is the case, steep currency depreciation would bring with it serious balance-sheet problems, which, if large enough, would undermine the banking sector, despite strong capital cushions. Banking-sector problems would, in turn, require state intervention, causing the public-debt burden to rise. In an extreme case, a “Spanish” scenario could unfold (though without the constraint of a fixed exchange rate, as in the eurozone). It is this danger that sets a practical and political limit to flexible exchange rates. Some depreciation can be managed by most of the deficit countries; but a vicious circle could be triggered if the domestic currency loses too much value too quickly. Private-sector balance-sheet problems would weaken the financial sector, and the resulting pressure on public finances would compel austerity, thereby constraining consumer demand – and causing further damage to firms’ balance sheets. To prevent such a crisis, therefore, the exchange rate has to be managed – and in a manner that depends on a country’s specific circumstances. Large net central-bank reserves can help ease the process. Otherwise, a significant rise in interest rates must be used to retain short-term capital and allow more gradual real-sector adjustment. Higher interest rates will of course lead to slower growth and lower employment, but such costs are likely to be smaller than those of a full-blown crisis. Read Tailspin or Turbulence? here .
  • Feldstein on Steadily Improving Standard of Living

    Looking for some cheery economic analysis? Then Martin Feldstein is your man. Stop fretting over the slow rate of growth. Looking beyond 2014, Feldstein makes the case that slow, steady growth will bring significant improvement in the standard of living. From Project Syndicate : The Congressional Budget Office (CBO) projects that real per capita GDP growth will slow from an annual rate of 2.1% in the 40 years before the start of the recent recession to just 1.6% between 2023 and 2088. The primary reason for the projected slowdown is the decrease in employment relative to the population, which reflects the aging of American society, a lower birth rate, and a decelerating rise in women’s participation in the labor force. While the number of persons working increased by 1.6% per year, on average, from 1970 to 2010, the CBO forecasts that the rate of annual employment growth will fall to just 0.4% in the coming decades. A drop in annual growth of real per capita GDP from 2.1% to 1.6% looks like a substantial decline. But even if these figures are taken at face value as an indication of future living standards, they do not support the common worry that the children of today’s generation will not be as well off as their parents. An annual per capita growth rate of 1.6% means that a child born today will have a real income that, on average, is 60% higher at age 30 than his or her parents had at the same age. Of course, not everyone will experience the average rate of growth. Some will outperform the average 60% rise over the next three decades, and some will not reach that level. But a 30-year-old in 2044 who experiences only half the average growth rate will still have a real income that is nearly 30% higher than the average in 2014. But things are even better than those numbers imply. Although government statisticians do their best to gauge the rise in real GDP through time, there are two problems that are very difficult to overcome in measuring real incomes: increases in the quality of goods and services, and the introduction of new ones. I believe that both of these problems cause the official measure of real GDP growth to understate the true growth of the standard of living that real GDP is supposed to indicate. Read The Future of American Growth here .
  • The Challenge Ahead for Commodity-Price Dependent Latin American Economies

    Andrés Velasco , former finance minister of Chile, is not exactly bullish on growth in his country and across the region. At Project Syndicate , he lays out the challenge ahead. If Latin American economies do not diversify sufficiently, then maintaining anything close to the recent rate of growth will be difficult. Velasco: It is pretty clear by now that an extraordinarily benevolent external environment, not a revolutionary policy shift, underpinned Latin America’s rapid growth in the years following the 2008-2009 global economic crisis. As long as the price of soy, wheat, copper, oil, and other raw materials remained stratospheric, commodity-rich countries like Brazil, Chile, and Peru got a tremendous boost; even Argentina grew rapidly, despite terrible economic policies. But now “secular stagnation” – the concept du jour in US policy debates since former Treasury Secretary Larry Summers argued last November that the US (and perhaps other advanced economies) has entered a long period of anemic GDP growth – may also be coming to Latin America. The argument goes like this: high consumer debt, slowing population growth, and rising income inequality have weakened consumer demand and stimulated savings, while slowing growth in productivity and output itself has discouraged investment. So the “natural” rate of interest – the rate at which the demand for investment equals the supply of savings – has fallen, and arguably has become negative. But, because real interest rates cannot be strongly negative unless inflation is high (which it is not), there is a savings glut. With consumption and investment lagging, the US economy is bound to stagnate. But how could such a situation apply to Latin America, where GDP growth is faster, interest rates are higher, and domestic demand is stronger than in the US? Consider the region’s history. Until the recent commodity-driven boomlet, growth in Latin America was mediocre. The 1980’s are known as the “lost decade,” owing to a debt crisis and massive recessions, while the market-based reforms of the 1990’s did little to reignite short-run growth. From 1960 to 2007, only four countries in Latin America and the Caribbean – Brazil, Chile, the Dominican Republic, and Panama – grew faster than the US. So meager growth in the coming years would be a return to Latin America’s historical pattern, not a deviation from it. Read Secular Stagnation Heads South here .
  • Eichengreen: Lessons Learned From the Decade of Concern Over Global Imbalance

    At Project Syndicate , Barry Eichengreen declares the "era of imbalances is over." Ten years ago, Eichengreen notes, leading economies had rising current-account deficits--the U.S.'s rose to 5.8% of GDP--or current-account surpluses--China's hit 10% of GDP. But now, those surpluses and deficits are mostly under control. Eichengreen tries to sort out some lessons from the decade. Back in 2004, there were two schools of thought on global imbalances. The Dr. Pangloss school dismissed them as benign – a mere reflection of emerging economies’ demand for dollar reserves, which only the US could provide, and American consumers’ insatiable appetite for cheap merchandise imports. Trading safe assets for cheap merchandise was the best of all worlds. It was a happy equilibrium that could last indefinitely. By contrast, adherents of the Dr. Doom school warned that global imbalances were an accident waiting to happen. At some point, emerging-market demand for US assets would be sated. Worse, emerging markets would conclude that US assets were no longer safe. Financing for America’s current-account deficit would dry up. The dollar would crash. Financial institutions would be caught wrong-footed, and a crisis would result. We now know that both views were wrong. Global imbalances did not continue indefinitely. As China satisfied its demand for safe assets, it turned to riskier foreign investments. It began rebalancing its economy from saving to consumption and from exports to domestic demand. The US, meanwhile, acknowledged the dangers of excessive debt and leverage. It began taking steps to reduce its indebtedness and increase its savings. To accommodate this change in spending patterns, the dollar weakened, enabling the US to export more. The renminbi, meanwhile, strengthened, reflecting Chinese residents’ increased desire to consume. There was a crisis, to be sure, but it was not a crisis of global imbalances. Although the US had plenty of financial problems, financing its external deficit was not one of them. On the contrary, the dollar was one of the few clear beneficiaries of the crisis, as foreign investors, desperate for liquidity, piled into US Treasury bonds. Read A Requiem for Global Imbalances here .
  • Stiglitz Offers Up Prescription for EU Woes

    Writing at Project Syndicate , Joseph Stiglitz warns us not to celebrate Europe's exit of a double dip recession, given that there are EU states "with per capita GDP still below pre-2008 levels, unemployment rates above 20%, and youth unemployment at more than 50%." He is calling for "fundamental reform," in the euro zone. He does not chalk up the EU's economic woes to the euro zone itself being a bad idea. Rather, the design was the problem. Stiglitz: Much of the euro’s design reflects the neoliberal economic doctrines that prevailed when the single currency was conceived. It was thought that keeping inflation low was necessary and almost sufficient for growth and stability; that making central banks independent was the only way to ensure confidence in the monetary system; that low debt and deficits would ensure economic convergence among member countries; and that a single market, with money and people flowing freely, would ensure efficiency and stability. Each of these doctrines has proved to be wrong. The independent US and European central banks performed much more poorly in the run-up to the crisis than less independent banks in some leading emerging markets, because their focus on inflation distracted attention from the far more important problem of financial fragility. Likewise, Spain and Ireland had fiscal surpluses and low debt/GDP ratios before the crisis. The crisis caused the deficits and high debt, not the other way around, and the fiscal constraints that Europe has agreed will neither facilitate rapid recovery from this crisis nor prevent the next one. Finally, the free flow of people, like the free flow of money, seemed to make sense; factors of production would go to where their returns were highest. But migration from crisis-hit countries, partly to avoid repaying legacy debts (some of which were forced on these countries by the European Central Bank, which insisted that private losses be socialized), has been hollowing out the weaker economies. It can also result in a misallocation of labor. Internal devaluation – lowering domestic wages and prices – is no substitute for exchange-rate flexibility. Indeed, there is increasing worry about deflation, which increases leverage and the burden of debt levels that are already too high. If internal devaluation were a good substitute, the gold standard would not have been a problem in the Great Depression, and Argentina could have managed to keep the peso’s peg to the dollar when its debt crisis erupted a decade ago. Read An Agenda to Save the Euro here .
  • Frankel on the Resilient Dollar

    During the Great Recession, we were starting to come to terms with a weakening U.S. global economic position. And we saw the dollar lose ground (though it remained the chosen global currency). Well, the currency seems to be regaining that ground. At Project Syndicate , Jeffrey Frankel writes that the dollar will likely be replaced as the top currency someday. "But today is not that day." The International Monetary Fund’s most recent statistics suggest, unexpectedly, another pause in the dollar’s long-term decline. According to the IMF, the dollar’s share in foreign-exchange reserves stopped falling in 2010 and has been flat since then. If anything, the share is up slightly thus far in 2013. Similarly, the Bank for International Settlements (BIS) reported in its recent triennial survey that the dollar’s share in the world’s foreign-exchange trades rose from 85% in 2010 to 87% in 2013. Given dysfunctional US fiscal policy, the dollar’s resilience is surprising. Or maybe we should no longer be surprised. After all, when the global financial crisis erupted in 2008 from the bowels of the American subprime-mortgage market, global investors responded by fleeing to the US, not from it. They obviously still regard US Treasury bills as a safe haven and the In particular, the euro has its own all-too-obvious problems. Indeed, the euro’s share in reserve holdings and foreign-exchange transactions have both declined by several percentage points in the most recent statistics. At the same time, the IMF’s data indicate that the vaunted renminbi is not yet among the top seven currencies in terms of central-bank reserve holdings. And, according to the BIS, while the renminbi has finally broken into the top ten currencies in foreign-exchange markets, it still accounts for only 2.2% of all transactions, just behind the Mexican peso’s 2.5% share. Despite recent moves by the Chinese government, the renminbi still has a long way to go. To try to explain the recent stabilization of the dollar’s status, one might note something that the last three years have in common with the previous period of temporary reversal from 1992 to 2000: striking improvements in the US budget deficit. By the end of the 1990’s, the record deficits of the 1980’s had been transformed into record surpluses; today, the federal deficit is less than half its 2010 level. Read The Dollar and Its Rivals here .
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