Eichengreen-O’Rourke update

Barry and I have updated our graphs here.

To recall: the red lines show what happen when governments respond to a worldwide economic crisis with monetary and fiscal stimulus. The blue lines show what happens when governments stick to monetary and fiscal orthodoxy. All very purgative and morally satisying no doubt, except that it led directly to the election of Adolf Hitler (something that I have been meaning to blog about for a while, but now I have to prepare for class..)

Today’s Instant Solution to Greece’s Problems

Not wanting to be outdone by Martin Feldstein, Laurence Kotlikoff (recently based known for his Limited Purpose Banking proposals) is the latest US-based economist to bring his analytical skills to bear on the Greece’s problems to diagnose an instant solution:

Is there some way that Greece can devalue without devaluing?

There is, indeed. The government can implement wage and price controls for, say, the next three months, with these controls covering not just the growth in wages and prices over the next three months, but also their initial levels. Specifically, the Greek government would decree that all firms must lower their nominal wages and prices by 30 per cent, effective immediately, and not change them for three months. After three months, everyone would be free to put prices and wages back up.

This is an interesting proposal. Indeed, if this decree-based approach proves to be successful, it could then be applied to other areas. For instance, in the sphere of justice, the Greek government could decree that people should obey the ten commandments. And, if it works in Greece, we should try the decree approach here. After all, we’re all in favour of evidence-based policy formulation.

Eichengreen on Leaving the Euro

The Greek situation is regularly discussed as being “a threat to the Euro” and, on this blog and elsewhere in Irish commentary, it has revived the idea that the solution to our economic problems is to leave the Euro and re-establish our own currency.

This idea is often discussed as though membership of the Euro simply involves being locked into a disadvantageous fixed exchange rate, which we can address by getting out of the Euro. In fact, the process of leaving the Euro would be far more complex than that and could have many downsides that would offset the benefit of a more competitive exchange rate. Perhaps it’s been linked to on this blog before but this paper by Barry Eichengreen provides plenty of food for thought on this issue.

Update: Thanks to Philip for pointing out that Eichengreen has a new column on Greece and the Euro. Link here.

Latvia’s Depression

This is a nice summary of Latvia’s recession or, perhaps more accurately, depression, which thus far has seen a decline in GDP of more than 25 percent. The Latvian example is interesting both because of its parallels with Ireland because of the fixed exchange rate with the Euro and also for its differences due to the problems associated with having a fixed but not “irrevocable” exchange rate.

Rationale for the Greek Deal

I’ve been following the news stories on the proposed potential Greek bailout. However, reading articles like this, I’m struggling to find a good rationale for the agreement that’s been reached. The following questions come to mind:

  1. Greece needs to address its huge fiscal problems. To do this will require putting through highly unpopular measures. How does the EU’s offer of a potential bailout help get this achieved? How does the Greek government convince its people that harsh measures are required to reduce its deficit and keep open its access to sovereign debt markets when they now know that the EU tooth fairy is waiting by to help?
  2. Even if the senior figures in the leading EU countries have ultimately decided to intervene to prevent the disruptions associated with a Greek failure to roll over its debt, why not wait until that failure has happened?
  3. Why would the EU wish to be associated in the Greek public’s minds with the harsh expenditure cuts and tax increases that would still have to follow even after a bailout deal?
  4. Do those who advocate this policy really believe that the current Greek crisis is sui generis or are they planning to put in place a safety net for the whole Euro zone? If the latter, can such a policy really be credible?
  5. Is the long-run macroeconomic stability of the Euro area better served by avoiding the dislocations associated with one its constituent members going through a sovereign debt default or should we be more concerned about the problems created by the new bailout mechanism that lets governments know that the EU will intervene if they choose not to tackle their fiscal crises?

I feel that in asking these questions, I’ve clearly been missing something. Hopefully those who thrashed out this deal have thought these issues through. My concern is that in the somewhat fevered quasi-crisis atmosphere of this week, precedents may be getting set that we will live to regret.

Update: To be honest, I probably should have linked to this hand-wringing Times editorial as a better illustration of what I’m confused about. The editorial worries about “depressing the value of the euro” (which would in fact be a good thing for the Euro area economy) and discusses how this “raises major doubts about the future of the single currency” without explaining why this is the case.  The piece ends with the dramatic note of “The European Union remains on alert and on financial standby.”  It does make one wonder a little whether this issue is being hijacked somewhat by those who see “Europe” as the solution to most ills.

Globalised Ireland

The Irish Times and other media today carried a report on the publication of a new globalisation index produced by Ernst & Young which places Ireland third on the globalised states list. The EY index joins an increasingly crowded field, so what follows is a bluffer’s guide to globalisation indices. As always, a good starting point (but never more than that) is the relevant Wikipedia entry.
Continue reading “Globalised Ireland”

Obama Asks US Banks to Lend

I know the parallels are not exact but this story is a reminder that our current banking situation—involving banks that don’t want to lend, governments exhorting them to do so and banks focused heavily on attempting to escape government control—is not exactly unique. Some highlights:

Bank executives say they itch to make profitable loans, as many as possible, but are struggling to find qualified borrowers. They also say that the administration is asking for increased lending even as it pursues financial reforms that will limit the ability of banks to make loans.

And, of course,

“America’s banks received extraordinary assistance from American taxpayers to rebuild their industry,” the president said after the meeting. “And now that they’re back on their feet, we expect an extraordinary commitment from them to help rebuild our economy.

And this:

This is the second time the president has convened bank executives to urge increased lending. The first meeting, in March, did little to slow the slide. The president said Monday that he continues to get “too many letters from small businesses who explain that they are creditworthy and banks that they’ve had a long-term relationship with are still having problems giving them loans.” But the White House on Monday defended the value of the rhetoric.

“I think that the bully pulpit can be a powerful thing,” said press secretary Robert Gibbs.

We’ll see whether asking nicely a second time works well for them.

Ireland and Scottish Independence

I found this story interesting. Clearly, the underlying story is just that Ireland is being used a political stick to beat Mister Salmond with. Beyond that, though, the exchange raises some interesting questions. Why are Scottish opposition politicians so sure that an independent Scotland would pursue policies that would lead it towards fiscal troubles of the Irish variety? How could Mr. Salmond assure them that this wouldn’t occur? Do the Scottish opposition believe that the Republic would be better off economically rejoining the United Kingdom?

And what about the banks? Would those two disastrous banks with the phrase “Scotland” in their names have been defined as Scottish banks to be bailed out by the Scottish taxpayer?  Presumably not but this raises the question of how one defines the fiscal responsibility for banking measures as one negotiates one’s way out of a united country.

UK Pre-Budget Report

Proof we’re not alone on the fiscal crisis front: The UK Pre-Budget report. The UK government plans to reduce its deficit from 12.6 percent this year to 12 percent next year and then gradually to 4.4 percent in 2014-15. One highlight of the statement: An immediate 50% supertax on bankers’ bonuses paid between now and April. Bankers, apparently, are furious and were seen crying into their Dom Perignon all over the City of London.

Paper on Systemic Risk

Here‘s a paper on “Containing Systemic Risk” which I submitted to the European Parliament’s Monetary and Economic Affairs Committee in relation to its Monetary Dialogue with ECB President Trichet.

I’m one of a panel of “experts” that briefs the committee. Here‘s a link to the page that contains all the expert papers for this year. Click on 7.12.09 and you’ll see papers by other economists on the topic of systemic risk as well as some interesting papers on the Monetary Exit Strategies.

What Determines the Location Choice of Foreign Investment in R&D ?

There is an ongoing discussion on this blog about attracting foreign investment in R&D in Ireland. In a recent research paper we analysed the location decisions of foreign affilates in the R&D sector incorported in the European Union over 1999-2006. Our research results suggest that, on average the location probability increases with market potential, agglomeration economies, R&D intensity and proximity to centres of  research excellence.  The determinants of the location choice of R&D foreign affiliates vary depending on the country of origin of the foreign investor. Thus, it appears that agglomeration externalities and business R&D intensity had a higher positive effect on the propensity to locate in an EU region in the case of multinationals from North America in comparison to European based multinationals. Proximity to centres of research excellence had a positive and significant effect on the location choice for North American R&D multinationals but no significant effect in the case of  European R&D multinationals.

Our research results suggest a number of policy implications. First, policy aiming at increasing the R&D intensity of regions are likely to foster the attractiveness of regions to R&D foreign investment. Second, positive externalities from clustering of R&D foreign affiliates outweigh competition effects. Third, given the heterogeneous behaviour of foreign investors, differentiated policy depending on target partner countries can increase the success of such policies.

G20 and Reforming Banking Regulation

The communiqué for the latest G20 summit is available here. It contains lots of the usual waffle about co-operation on this that and the other, but I think the most important element of the discussions relates to the reform of banking regulation.

Continue reading “G20 and Reforming Banking Regulation”

Why did world trade fall so rapidly during the present crisis?

Lots of explanations have been advanced as to why world trade fell so rapidly during 2008-9 — far more rapidly than at the start of the Great Depression. Problems associated with trade finance, and the vertical disintegration of modern manufacturing production, are the two that come up most frequently.

I’d like to offer another, more banal explanation: the composition of world trade is very different today than 80 years ago. In 1929, just 44 per cent of world merchandise trade involved manufactured goods. That proportion increased to 70 per cent in 2007. The reason this matters is that manufacturing is more volatile than the rest of the economy, and it was the output of and trade in manufactures, rather than primary products, which collapsed during the Great Depression.

Between 1929 and 1930, the volume of world trade in manufactures fell almost 15%, while trade in non-manufactures actually increased by 1% (I have to say I wonder about that, but this what what my source says). Weighting these two indices by the shares of manufactures and non-manufactures in total world trade, you get an implied fall in total world trade of 6 per cent in 1930 versus the 7.5 per cent actually experienced. Repeating the exercise, but this time using 2007 weights rather than 1929 weights, yields a counterfactual decline in world trade of 10 per cent in 1930 — equal to the decline the WTO is predicting for 2009. The changing composition of world trade can thus explain a lot, it seems.

An implication is that whenever the world economy recovers, world trade will recover with it, unless a surge of protectionism occurs in the meantime.

Learning from the Financial Crisis: Globally and Locally

Colm McCarthy’s suggestion that an inquiry into what went wrong is gaining some level of support in political circles.  While there is plenty of material to digest in terms of what went wrong locally, there is also a lot of interest in understanding what went wrong in the international financial system.  Part of the debate concerns the role of economists, especially in terms of forecasting such crises.

A reader recommends this blog post which is critical of mainstream macroeconomic models.  Of course, Willem Buiter of the LSE issued a notorious critique a while back.

More recently,  a group associated with the British Academy wrote a letter to the Queen to answer her question to Luis Garicano of the LSE as to “if these things are so large, how come everyone missed it?”, while Robert Lucas defended mainstream macroeconomics in the Economist magazine in this article.

An important dimension of this debate is the relative roles of economists in policy organisations, the financial sector and academia in assessing the risks of a crisis and speaking out on these risks. While some of the debate has focused on the role of academic economists, it is maybe more difficult to evaluate from the outside the performance of economists in policy organisations in providing risk assessment, since their advice is often confidential.   In this regard,  the external evaluations of the performance of the IMF in previous international crises sets an interesting precedent, with the Independent Evaluation Office now playing this role on a regular basis.

In relation to Ireland,  the testimony of Kevin Cardiff of the Department of Finance at a recent Oireachtas Committee hearing is quite interesting in explaining the evolution of the thinking of the Department in the run up to the crisis.  You can read the transcript here.

Collapsing trade in a Barbie world

In recent months, several analysts have argued that the unprecedented trade collapse the world is currently experiencing is linked to the vertical disintegration of production. Every time the US buys one fewer Barbie doll, trade declines not only by the value of the finished doll, but by the value of all the intermediate trade flows that went into creating it.

Not being a theorist, I have been puzzled by the argument for a while, but I now think I may understand.

Continue reading “Collapsing trade in a Barbie world”

Baltic trilemmas

The FT has a nice piece on Latvia this morning. To my mind the most interesting sentence in it was the following:

IMF officials have indicated that the organisation was divided over the wisdom of defending the lat’s peg but was finally persuaded by pressure from Riga’s EU partners as well as the Latvian government’s own refusal to contemplate devaluation.

If there is one thing we have learned about international currency markets in the past couple of decades, it is that fixed exchange rates and internationally mobile capital don’t sit well together. A European response to this general lesson has been to go for full monetary integration — EMU — rather than stick with unstable intermediate arrangements such as the EMS.

There are logical consequences for how we deal with Latvia. If the country’s EU partners don’t want it to devalue, they should offer it immediate EMU membership. If they don’t do this, then we can probably leave aside the normative point that Latvia ought in its own interests devalue, since as a positive matter it will almost certainly be forced to be. As this article points out, a forced devaluation would have repercussions far beyond Latvia. It would be nice to avert a crisis before the fact rather than after it, for once.

Suggestions for Ireland’s response to Obama’s tax plan

Trina Vargo of the US-Irish alliance offers some advice on how Ireland should respond to Obama’s proposed clampdown on tax havens here. Although this is more of a political approach to the issue than mine of a few weeks ago, she too cautions against over-reacting.

Two depressions revisited

Barry Eichengreen and I have posted an update to our column comparing the current global economic crisis with the Great Depression. The data are through the end of March (apart from the discount rate data, which are through the end of April). Further updates will be posted as the industrial output and trade data are processed by the international organisations which we are using as our source.

At the global level, March saw green shoots in the stock market, but not in the real economy — although world trade stabilised, and there was a clear deceleration in the rate of decline of world industrial output.

We are also, for the first time, posting data on individual countries. These emphasise the gravity of the current crisis. They also show green shoots in some countries, particularly in Eastern Europe and Japan. Hopefully subsequent numbers will confirm these encouraging signs.

Is this the end of the beginning, or a lull between storms? Hopefully the former, but how can one be certain, especially given the various unexploded landmines littering the economic landscape, and the steady increase in unemployment around the world with its potential to create new holes in the financial sector? The Great Depression also saw increases in output which turned out to be temporary, largely due to the policy mistakes of central bankers and politicians trapped by a gold standard mentality. As my column with Barry pointed out, the policy response has been much better this time around, and may be bearing fruit. Once the recovery is clearly under way, governments will need to start balancing the books. But a premature tightening of fiscal policy would be disastrous, which is why Europe needs to avoid artificial fiscal straitjackets.