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Silvia Merler

Silvia Merler

Silvia Merler, an Italian citizen, joined Bruegel as Affiliate Fellow at Bruegel in August 2013. Her main research interests include international macro and financial economics, central banking and EU institutions and policy making.

Articles by Silvia Merler

The Fed’s problem with inflation

7 days ago

What’s at stake: the Federal Reserve raised the benchmark interest rate by one-quarter of a percentage point. The moved surprised no one, but it still prompted economists to asks themselves questions about the Fed’s relationship with inflation. We review the most recent contributions.

Joseph Gagnon at PIIE argues that the FOMC meeting offered three unexpected items. First, Chair Yellen pointed to “one-off” development in the prices of mobile phone service plans and pharmaceuticals in March, as the main reason the FOMC’s preferred measure of inflation has moved away from its 2 percent target to 1.5 percent as of April. Gagnon wonders whether the FOMC is revisiting the bad old days of the 1970s, when it tried to explain away inflation that was too high by pointing to a seemingly

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The Universal Basic Income discussion

14 days ago

What’s at stake: the concept of a Universal Basic Income (UBI), an unconditional transfer paid to each individual, was prominent earlier this year when Finland announced a pilot project. It’s now back in the discussion as the OECD published a report illustrating costs and distributional implications for selected countries. We review the most recent contributions on this topic.
By:
Silvia Merler
Date: June 12, 2017
Topic: European Macroeconomics & Governance

The OECD recently published a policy brief and a methodological note looking into the cost and benefits of adopting Basic Income (BI) as a policy option. The simplest way of introducing a BI would be to take existing cash benefits paid to those of working age and to

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The Mariel Boatlift Controversy

21 days ago

What’s at stake: how does immigration affect the wages of local workers? One way to answer this question is by exploiting a natural experiment. The Mariel boatlift of 1980 constituted an ideal experiment – bringing a sudden and large increase of low-skilled workers in just one city – but results are still hotly debated.

In 1980, 125,000 mostly low-skill immigrants arrived in Miami from Mariel Bay, Cuba (“Mariel Boatlift”) in the space of a few months. In 1990, David Card investigated the effects of the boatlift on the Miami labour market. The Mariel immigrants increased Miami labour force by 7%, and the labour supply to less-skilled occupations and industries by even more, because most of the immigrants were unskilled. Nevertheless, Card concluded that the Mariel influx had

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President Trump’s budget: the 3% growth quandary

28 days ago

What’s at stake: the Trump administration released its full budget proposal. Economists have been arguing about the feasibility of the underlying growth assumptions, and on whether there is a double-counting implied. We review the most recent contributions to this debate.

Bloomberg has a very telling graphical representation of what this budget would imply for the federal government (figure 1 below). CNN has updated numbers on what would be cut and by how much. While the overall proposed spending is about on par with last year, at $4.1 trillion for 2018, the budget envisions severe cuts to domestic programs focused on science and research, the arts and, most notably, social welfare programs. At the same time, defense spending would be increased by about 10% and more than half of

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The US and the productivity puzzle

May 8, 2017

What’s at stake: Productivity growth fell sharply following the global financial crisis and has remained sluggish since, inducing many to talk of a “productivity puzzle”. In the US, we may be seeing what look like early signs of a reversal. We review recent contributions on this theme.

A recent IMF note finds that the productivity slowdown reflects both crisis legacies and structural headwinds. In advanced economies, the global financial crisis has led to “productivity hysteresis” — persistent productivity losses from a seemingly temporary shock. Behind this are balance sheet vulnerabilities, protracted weak demand and elevated uncertainty, which jointly triggered an adverse feedback loop of weak investment, weak productivity and bleak income prospects. Structural headwinds, already blowing before the crisis, include a waning ICT boom and slowing technology diffusion, partly reflecting an aging workforce, slowing global trade and weaker human capital accumulation.

Because the pace of innovation in the hard-to-measure digital economy is very rapid, measurement error has been put forward as an explanation. Byrne et al. (2016) examine this issue in the US context and find little evidence that this slowdown arises from growing mismeasurement of the gains from innovation in information technology–related goods and services.

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The Trump tax cut

May 2, 2017

What’s at stake: on Wednesday, the Trump administration – now 100 days old – unveiled a draft tax plan including the intention to enact a radical cut to the corporate income tax, lowering it to 15 percent. While we are still missing details on how this and other measures would be implemented, we review some of the early reactions.

Tyler Cowen argues on Bloomberg View that the U.S. can afford Trump’s radical tax cut. While there are some potential problems with President Trump’s proposal, there is no fiscal reason such a tax plan ought be ruled out. It seems the administration is willing to consider a tax cut that increases the budget deficit. Cowen argues that most versions of the plan, if executed properly on the details, would most likely boost economic output and create new jobs, also in light of the fact that the rate of return on private investment is probably higher than the return on public investment.
This argument for a corporate tax cut – “let’s borrow more now while rates are relatively low” – is remarkably similar to the argument that Keynesians have been using for more government infrastructure spending for years.

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The decline of the labour share of income

April 24, 2017

What’s at stake: at odds with the conventional wisdom of constant factor shares, the portion of national income accruing to labour has been trending downward in the last three decades. This phenomenon has been linked to globalisation as well as to the change in the technological landscape – particularly “robotisation”. We review the recent literature on this issue.

Chapter 3 of the IMF’s 2017 WEO documents the downward trend in the labour share of income since the early 1990s, as well as its heterogeneous evolution across countries, industries, and workers of different skill groups. In advanced economies, labour income shares began trending down in the 1980s, reached their lowest level just prior to the global financial crisis of 2008, and have not recovered materially since. Labour income shares now are almost 4 percentage points lower than they were in 1970.

According to the IMF’s analysis, In advanced economies about half of the decline in labour shares can be traced to the impact of technology – a combination of rapid progress in information and telecommunication, and a high share of occupations that could be easily be automated. Global integration – as captured by trends in final goods trade, participation in global value chains, and foreign direct investment – also played a role, but its contribution is estimated at about half that of technology.

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Italian banks: not quiet on the eastern front

March 31, 2017

Italian banks are back in the spotlight. After MPS failed to raise enough capital from private investors earlier this year, Banco Popolare di Vicenza (BPVI) and Veneto Banca take centre stage. The story of these two banks epitomises the strategy of delayed reform that has been so characteristic of the Italian banking crisis.

Italian banks are back in the spotlight. After MPS failed to raise enough capital from private investors earlier this year, the centre stage has moved from Tuscany to the region of Veneto, in the Italian north-east. We have met the main characters previously: Banco Popolare di Vicenza (BPVI) and Veneto Banca were among the Italian banks that failed the ECB’s comprehensive assessment in 2014. They were also in the spotlight last year, when the bank-funded Atlante fund was created, mostly to become the underwriter of last resort in their (otherwise unlikely) capital raise.
If we look at the data, things are definitely not looking good. BPVI published its 2016 accounts this week, closing with a € 1.9 billion loss. Veneto Banca postponed the publication of its account, but it is expected to report a loss of about € 1 billion. Earlier this month, both banks asked access to precautionary recapitalisation, like the one currently discussed for Monte dei Paschi di Siena.
Gross NPLs for BPVI were € 9.8 billion in 2016, up 9.3% from last year. € 5.

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The American opioid epidemics

March 27, 2017

What’s at stake: The US Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) declares that the country is “in the midst of an unprecedented opioid epidemic”. Since 1999, the rate of overdose deaths involving opioids – including prescription pain relievers and heroin – nearly quadrupled. We review contributions looking at the economic drivers and implications of this phenomenon.

The opioid epidemics
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 91 Americans die every day from an opioid overdose. From 2000 to 2015, more than half a million people died from drug overdoses. Overdoses from prescription opioids are a driving force: since 1999, the amount of prescription opioids sold in the U.S. nearly quadrupled, and deaths from prescription opioids – drugs like oxycodone, hydrocodone, and methadone – have more than quadrupled. Some of the largest concentrations of overdose deaths were in Appalachia and the Southwest (Figure 1), with West Virginia, New Mexico, New Hampshire, Kentucky and Ohio being top-5 States. CNN has a historical overview of how opioids turned from “wonder drug” to abuse epidemics.

This trend may be connected to another disquieting statistics. In 2015 Princeton’s Anne Case and Angus Deaton documented a 21st century rise in the proportion of white non-Hispanic Americans dying in middle age.

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The inflation basket case

March 17, 2017

Inflation in the euro area has finally reached 2%. But Draghi is right to warn that the underlying dynamics do not point to this being a self-sustaining trend. Breaking down the numbers shows that many inflation basket items are still showing weak price growth or even deflation.

Last week, the European Central Bank left interest rates and its quantitative easing programme unchanged. The decision came as February’s inflation for the euro area reached 2% for the first time since 2013, with German inflation slightly above that level.
ECB President Draghi highlighted that there are no signs yet of a convincing upward trend in underlying inflation. Indeed, this stands out clearly if we look more in detail at the composition of the basket. Figure 1 shows the headline and core inflation rates for the euro area, together with the share of items in the Harmonised Consumer Price Index (CPI) basket that have experienced inflation rates below 1 and below zero. While the headline inflation rate for the EA has increased from 0.6% in November 2016 to 1.8% in January 2017 and 2% in February, the percentage of items that are in deflation has remained relatively high. As of February 2017, 21.3% of the EA HCPI basket was in deflation (up from 20.2% in January) and 47% of items experienced price growth below 1%.

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Taxing robots?

March 13, 2017

What’s at stake: “More human than human”, was the motto guiding the Tyrell Corporation’s engineering of biorobotic androids, in 1982’s Blade Runner. Fast forward to 2016, and Bill Gates argues that if robots perform human work, they should be taxed like humans. We review what economists think about this idea.

In a recent interview, Bill Gates discussed the option of a tax on robots. He argued that if today human workers’ income is taxed, and then a robot comes in to do the same thing, it seems logical to think that we would tax the robot at a similar level. While the form of such taxation is not entirely clear, Gates suggested that some of it could come from the profits that are generated by the labor-saving efficiency there, and some could come directly in some type of a robot tax.
The idea of regulating robotics also has appeal on the other side of the Atlantic, where the European Parliament (EP) has been discussing these issues over the past months. Earlier in February, the EP called for EU-wide legislation to regulate the rise of robots, including an ethical framework for their development and deployment, and the establishment of liability for the actions of robots including self-driving cars. But the EP rejected a proposal to impose a robot tax on owners, to fund support for retraining of workers put out of a job by robots.

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European identity and the economic crisis

March 6, 2017

What’s at stake: the EU prepares to mark the 60th anniversary of the Treaty of Rome, and the European Commission has presented a white paper “on the future of Europe”. However, some have argued that Europe is going through a serious identity crisis, whose roots are to be found in the economic crisis and whose implications could challenge further steps towards integration. We review the recent contributions to this debate.

Ferrera looks into what it means to be a European, and argues that integration proceeded so as to favour the emergence of a pan-European elite identity, while the inherited weight and inertia of national cultural frameworks prevented the emergence of a deeper sense of common citizenship across the EU. The ‘econo-cracy’ and austerity politics of the recent crisis years have eroded what little sense of solidarity there might have been, particularly the equality principle among nations in the EU.
Ferrera suggests two options for the way forward: (i) a both symbolic and institutional reaffirmation of political equality as a principle in EU governance; and (ii) a reaffirmation of the importance of national liberal-democratic welfare states as the underpinning to the ‘European Social Model’.
Risse takes issue with the “no demos” thesis about the European Union.

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Should we worry about Greek banks?

February 23, 2017

Earlier this month, the IMF and the European institutions clashed over conditions for sustainability of the Greek debt. One of the main disagreements seems to be the evaluation of the Greek banks’ health. Whose assessment should be trusted and are there reasons to worry?

Observers of the euro area crisis are accustomed to the fact that Greece periodically returns to centre stage. And when this happens, it is usually accompanied by a revival of the disagreement between the IMF and the European institutions. This happened earlier this month, as the two sides clashed over conditions for sustainability of the Greek debt and one of the main disagreements seems to lie in the evaluation of the Greek banks’ health.
The banks have undergone three rounds of recapitalisation since 2010 – the last of which in 2015 – for a total of €43 billion. The IMF Debt Sustainability Analysis (DSA), however, maintains the assumption that a buffer of around €10 billion – roughly half the amount of DTAs on Greek banks’ balance sheet – should be set aside to cover potential additional bank support needs. The European DSA instead does not assume any additional costs from future bank recapitalisation needs. The Bank of Greece, on the other hand, argues that Greek banks are set to maintain high capital ratios even in the adverse scenario of a recently published sensitivity analysis.

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Big data and first-degree price discrimination

February 20, 2017

What’s at stake: first-degree price discrimination – or person-specific pricing, had until recently been considered a theoretical case with unlikely real-world application. Yet the increasing availability of big data could make this possible. We review recent contributions on this issue.

Shiller (2014) looks at the issue of first-degree price discrimination with big data, in the context of Netflix subscription. He shows that demographics which could have been used in the past to personalize prices, poorly predict which consumers subscribe. By contrast, modern web-browsing data, with variables which reflect behavior – such as visits to Amazon.com and internet use – do substantially better in predicting consumer subscriptions. He then presents a model to estimate demand for Netflix services and simulate what would have been the outcome if 1st degree price discrimination had been implemented instead.
Simulations show that the increase in profits made feasible by first-degree price discrimination based on web-browsing  is much higher (12.2%), rather than when just demographics (0.8%), are used to predict individual reservation values. Shiller argues that this meaningful profit increase made possible by web browsing data supports the argument that first-degree PD will evolve from merely theoretical to practical.

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Is Germany a currency manipulator?

February 6, 2017

What’s at stake: the Financial Times reports that Peter Navarro, head of the US’s National Trade Council, has accused Germany of currency manipulation. He claims that the country uses a ‘grossly undervalued’ Euro to ‘exploit’ its trading partners. Angela Merkel replied that the Euro is managed by the European Central Bank, on which Germany does not exert influence. We review what the economic blogosphere thinks of this.

Paul Krugman argues that Navarro is right and wrong at the same time. Germany in effect has an undervalued currency relative to what it would have without the euro, against its neighbors. This is the result of a large real depreciation during the euro’s good years, which has only been partly reversed, because wages are downward sticky, and Germany has refused to support the kind of monetary and fiscal stimulus that would raise overall euro area inflation, which remains stuck at far too low a level. But this does does not necessarily mean that the euro as a whole is undervalued against the dollar. The euro is weak, but there’s no clear relationship between the problems of Germany’s role within the euro and questions about the relationship between the euro and other currencies.

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Climate change and financial markets

January 30, 2017

What’s at stake: Ever since the 2016 Paris Agreement to reduce emissions was signed, researchers have been looking at the impact that moves towards a low-carbon economy might have on financial markets and financial stability. We review these contributions here.  In February 2016, the ESRB published a report estimating the impact of a transition to […]

What’s at stake: Ever since the 2016 Paris Agreement to reduce emissions was signed, researchers have been looking at the impact that moves towards a low-carbon economy might have on financial markets and financial stability. We review these contributions here. 
In February 2016, the ESRB published a report estimating the impact of a transition to clean energy on financial markets. Keeping global warming below 2°C  – as agreed in Paris – will require substantial reductions in global greenhouse gas emissions over the next few decades. To reduce emissions, economies must reduce their carbon intensity. Given current technology, this implies a decisive shift away from fossil-fuel energy and related physical capital.

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Tariffs and the American poor

January 23, 2017
Tariffs and the American poor

What’s at stake: much has been said and debated — during the US election and beyond — about the distributional impact of free trade on the disadvantaged. But what would be the distributional impact of a new protectionism instead?

Currently, the US collects more than $33 billion a year – or roughly 0.2% of GDP – in tariffs, which are taxes on US imports. Furman, Ross and Shambaugh match import duties to standard consumer expenditure data and argue that tariffs likely impose a heavier burden on lower-income households, as these households generally spend more on traded goods as a share of expenditure/income and because of the higher level of tariffs placed on some key consumer goods.
For the US, they calculate — assuming that protection via tariffs does not induce domestic producers of similar goods to raise their prices at all — that the poorest 10% to 20% of households in the income distribution pay about $95 a year due to tariffs, middle-income households pay roughly $190, and the richest 10% about $500. In the figure below, we also show a range of higher tariff burdens that reflect some impact on prices of domestic goods (see Appendix note 6 for details).

Tyler Moran at PIIE agrees that tariff would hit the poor hardest, and broadly operate as a regressive tax.

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The economic effects of migration

January 16, 2017
The economic effects of migration

What’s at stake: migration is currently a very hot topic in both the US and the EU. Immigration issues have come to the forefront due to the problem of rapidly ageing populations, the refugee crisis, and growing anti-immigration political rhetoric. But what do we know about the economic effects of migration?

Jaumotte, Koloskova and Saxena at the IMF and VoxEU argue that migration, no matter how controversial politically (see figure 1), makes sense economically. In the long term, both high and low-skilled workers who migrate bring benefits to their new home countries by increasing income per person and living standards. High-skilled migrants bring diverse talent and expertise, while low-skilled migrants fill essential occupations for which natives are in short supply and allow natives to be employed at higher-skilled jobs. Gains are broadly shared by the population, so it may be well-worth shouldering the short-term costs to help integrate these new workers.
Figure 1

From Jaumotte et al.

Clemens and Pritchett (2016) assess the new economic case for migration restriction. Migration economics has traditionally stressed the effects of migration restrictions on income distribution in the host country. Recently the literature has taken a new direction by estimating the costs of migration restrictions to global economic efficiency.

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Compensating the “losers” of globalisation

January 9, 2017

What’s at stake: According to some, 2016’s political turmoil shows that the so-called “losers” of globalisation are striking back. There is, however, little agreement on how government should respond to this challenge.

An important contribution to the debate came this week from Maurice Obstfeld. He argues that countries must protect and expand gains from trade through policies that redistribute them more equitably. Globalisation offers potential economic gains for all. But there is no guarantee that this potential will be realised if governments do not take decisive action to support those who suffer from the side effects.
The political consensus that drove trade policy over much of the postwar period will dissipate without a policy framework to spread the risks of economic openness. Such a framework must ensure flexible labour markets and educated, agile workforces, while supporting job matching. It should improve the functioning of financial markets. And it must directly address inequality of incomes. We face many economic challenges, and trade is unique under the illusion that governments can shut out the rest of the world when it becomes inconvenient. In the 21st century, however, interdependence is not optional.
The question that follows is how this compensation for those who do not gain, or even lose out, through globalisation can be engineered.

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2016: The end

December 31, 2016

What’s at stake: 2016 is coming to an end. It will be remembered as an annus mirabilis and horribilis, at the same time. 2016 brought us some previously unthinkable political shocks, and admittedly took away some of our finest musicians. It also couldn’t help taking away Willy Wonka and Princess Leia, making this a much sadder Galaxy. This raises an obvious question: what are we in for, in 2017?

First, a due tribute to 2016. Tony Barber argues that we can summarise this year in one single word. The word in question is “Bundespräsidentenstichwahlwiederholungsverschiebung”, which roughly translates as “postponement of the repeat of the run-off election for federal president”, in references to the postponed re-run of the second round of this year’s Austrian presidential election. It has 51 characters, it takes 4 seconds to say (probably more, if your mother tongue is not German) and accurately depicts the confusion that dominated 2016.
FiveThirtyEight has collected the best and the worst data stories of 2016. Many prizes were assigned to both categories, so we’ll just report a few of the winners. The “Prize For Statistical Fortitude” went to the Los Angeles Times Poll, which during this year’s presidential campaign was the only major national poll that consistently showed Donald Trump leading in the popular vote.

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The strange case of the MPS capital shortfall

December 27, 2016

Italy’s banking saga continues with the announcement that beleaguered MPS may need to find an additional €3bn. What exactly has changed, and what does it say about ECB decision making?

Before Christmas the Italian government approved a decree authorising the use of up to €20bn of public funds to deal with the precautionary recapitalisation of Monte dei Paschi di Siena (MPS) and possibly other banks. I have discussed the details of the MPS case extensively in the past, for example here). Just when it seemed like Italy’s banking troubles had been put to rest, at least momentarily, the ECB reportedly told the Italian government that MPS now needs to raise €8.8bn of capital – rather that the €5bn previously predicted.
This is obviously a quite significant change. It almost doubles the shortfall and therefore also increases the amount that the state might be expected to chip in. So what can be the reason for this retroactive change? As of now, there seems to be quite a lot of confusion.
Both Reuters and the FT reports link this change to the deteriorating liquidity position of MPS, but this is not convincing. Liquidity is different than capital: if it were not, then we should conclude that whenever a bank (or indeed a state) is illiquid, it is also insolvent.

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The American dream

December 19, 2016
The American dream

What’s at stake: historian James Truslow Adams, in his 1931 book The Epic of America, stated that the American dream is "that dream of a land in which life should be better and richer and fuller for everyone, with opportunity for each according to ability or achievement”. Few ideas have ever been as powerful as the “American Dream”, and many recent political events hinge on the fear that this “dream” may be dead. Meanwhile, researchers have been trying to measure the reality behind the dream.

One of the defining features of the “American Dream” is the ideal of absolute income mobility, that is the expectation that children can have a higher standard of living than their parents. Despite academic interest and the policy relevance of this question, its operationalisation is made difficult by lack of a large, high-quality panel datasets linking children to their parents in the US. Halikias and Reeves 2016 compare results from a 2016 Urban Institute Working paper with results from an earlier PEW report and show that estimates of absolute income mobility vary quite dramatically even when researchers use the same source data (in this case, the Panel Study of Income Dynamics).

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Socio-economic determinants of the Italian vote

December 12, 2016
Socio-economic determinants of the Italian vote

The socio-economic factors driving the ‘no’ result from Italy’s referendum differ from the Brexit vote. The italian NO vote seems to have been driven by young voters, and mostly related to a sense of economic “malaise”. However, the Brexit vote appears to have been strongly driven by older voters and somewhat less educated ones.

On Sunday 4 December, Italy held a constitutional referendum in which almost 60% of the voters decided against a reform proposed by the government. The vote triggered the resignation of Prime Minister Matteo Renzi and opened a phase of political transition that will lead to new elections.
In light of the new elections ahead, it is important to understand the factors driving this vote. To investigate this, I run a regression analysis of the share of votes for NO at the province level on various socio-economic characteristics. Then I compare these findings with the drivers of the vote for the Democratic Party (Matteo Renzi’s party) in 2014 and with the drivers of the Brexit vote, which have been explored by my colleague Zsolt Darvas.
I find that the Italian NO vote was positively correlated with “economic malaise”, that is to say unemployment and relative economic backwardness.

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The political economy of macroprudential policy

December 12, 2016

What’s at stake: the emergence of renewed interest in macroprudential policy has characterised the aftermath of the great recession. There is not yet full agreement on what the tasks of macroprudential policy is or how it should be carried out, but there is a clear understanding that there is an important political economy dimension to it. We review some of the recent contribution on this.

Jon Danielsson and Robert Macrae write on VoxEU that the fatal flaw in macroprudential policy is that it ignores political risk, when political risk may be a major cause of systemic financial risk. Brexit, the rise of populist parties in Europe and the election of Donald Trump as President of the Unidìted States of America are examples of political risks that could potentially have financial stability repercussion. Yet, political risk is largely missing from the macroprudential debate, which makes it institutionally difficult for the financial authorities to publicly anticipate crises that have predominantly political causes, and difficult also to mitigate crises once they happen.

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Financial implications of the Italian referendum

December 2, 2016

On Sunday, Italy will held a constitutional referendum whose implications for the political stability of the country are uncertain. Right after the referendum, Italy’s oldest and most troubled bank – Monte dei Paschi di Siena – is expected to complete a very important and sizable capital raise. Here we look at the situation and implications of this critical juncture.

On Sunday, Italians vote in a referendum to decide whether an amendment to the Constitution proposed by the government should be implemented or not. The vote is not about any financial or economic issue, but its timing and its potential implication for political stability are such that a negative outcome could trigger some financial instability.
Italian banks are still bearing the burden of a significant load of non-performing loans (NPLs). We have discussed the issue of NPLs in the Italian banking sector several times before (see e.g. here and here), and there is not much new on this front. As of September 2016, the Bank of Italy was reporting that the total of bad debts in the system was €198.9bn, down from €200bn in August. Table 1 shows updated 2016Q3 gross NPL ratios for some of the biggest Italian banks, showing that the situation is diversified. While some initiatives (such as the guarantee scheme GACS) have been taken recently, these will likely take time to bear fruit.

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The Italian referendum

November 28, 2016
The Italian referendum

What’s at stake: on 4 December, Italy will hold a referendum on a proposed constitutional reform approved by Parliament in April. The reform, which was designed in tandem with a new electoral law, aims to overcome Italy’s “perfect bicameralism” by changing the structure and role of the Italian Senate. It also changes the distribution of competences between the state and regions. After the shocks of Brexit and the US election, polls are now drifting towards a defeat of the government’s position in Italy.

Yes, or No, that is the question. Marco Simoni – who is currently an economic advisor to PM Renzi – argues that the proposed reform would address a number of key institutional weaknesses in the country. By improving the functioning of Italian democracy, it would help establish proper accountability and trust in the political system. Mattia Guidi also makes the case for voting in favour of the reform, arguing that much of the criticism of the reform is unfounded and that it would ultimately bring Italy closer to the parliamentary systems used in other European countries.
Fabio Bordignon argues that a Yes vote will potentially lead to a more presidential form of politics, while a No vote could generate substantial uncertainty over the country’s political trajectory.

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Trumpocalypse now: first reactions

November 21, 2016

What’s at stake: this question should probably be re-formulated as “what’s NOT at stake?” On Tuesday 8 November, the US elected Donald Trump as its next President. Several aspects of Trump’s political and economic agenda appear extreme (we have previously focused on his stance on trade). After the initial shock, we review economists’ opinions on what has happened and what may happen. We will be coming back to this topic regularly.

Making sense of it
If you are like me, you are still probably asking yourself how did this happen. Electoral post-mortems are painful but needed. So if you still cannot make sense of it, Sylvain Chabé-Ferret has a good summary of currently prevailing theories on the roots of populism.
One view is that this is a sign thatthe losers of globalisation arae striking back. White blue-collar workers that have been hit by globalisation are voting for more protection from foreign workers. The fact that the middle class in developed countries has seen stagnating incomes since late 1980s has made its radicalisation more easy (see work by Branko Milanovic, Mishel et al. and Autor et al. on these aspects). Also look at Jed Kolko’s piece over at FiveThirtyEight, on Trump being stronger where the economy is weaker.

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Brexit and the law

November 14, 2016

What’s at stake: last week, the UK High Court ruled that the triggering of Article 50 – and therefore the Brexit process – should involve the UK Parliament. The Government will appeal the decision but this has created a new wave of uncertainty about the timing of Brexit, and on what this involvement can mean in practice. We review the different opinions.

Jo Murkens on the LSE blog has a very good explainer of the legal basis of the judgement, which he considers exemplary in its clarity and reasoning. The decision’s focus is strictly constitutional, not political: the only question it examined was whether, as a matter of UK constitutional law, the Crown, acting through the government, is entitled to use prerogative powers to trigger Article 50 in order to cease to be a member of the European Union. This – it turns out – hinges on a balance between constitutional requirements and individual rights.
Article 50 allows the UK to withdraw from the EU “in accordance with its own constitutional requirements”. Turning to these requirements, the government argued that the Crown – through the government – has a prerogative power to authorise the UK’s withdrawal from the EU, and that this power can only be taken away by express terms in an Act of Parliament.

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Income convergence during the crisis: did EU funds provide a buffer?

November 10, 2016

Did EU funds play an important role in limiting the hit of the crisis on regional income?

Economic convergence is at the heart of European Union integration.  Cohesion policy was born in the 1980s with the aim of complementing the creation of a single European market and fostering the economic development of less advantaged EU regions. This objective is especially relevant in light of the economic crisis that has exacted a heavy toll on many EU countries and regions, and created scepticism about the merits of EU policies.
In a recent paper, I look at how income convergence evolved in EU regions during the crisis, and assess the role played by the EU funds that are provided to the more disadvantaged regions with the aim of facilitating their convergence to average EU income levels. I find that EU funds did play an important role in limiting the hit of the crisis on regional income, providing an anchor for convergence.
Income convergence in the EU during the crisis
The starting point to assess the role of EU convergence funds during the crisis is to understand what happened to regional income convergence across the EU, over the last 15 years. To this end, I start from an absolute and a conditional income convergence analysis.

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The Wallonian Resistance

October 31, 2016

What’s at stake: this week has been filled with news that the he small Belgian region of Wallonia intended to veto CETA (the Canada-EU trade agreement). Eventually, Wallonia conceded defeat and agreed to let the agreement go on. But meanwhile, it spurred a debate on trade agreements and their sovereignty implications, which we summarise here.

Cecilia Bellora and Jean Fouré at CEPII have a review of CETA’s content. They argue that the agreement would go quite far and touch sensitive issues, such as consumer protection. This notwithstanding, it appears that a fairer reciprocity in the concession between EU and Canada has helped find an agreement, differently from what happened in the TTIP case, where negotiations are still frozen. However, a decisive question remains open, for CETA: will its ambitious content  be considered appropriate by the representatives of European and Canadian citizens? Bellora and Fouré argues that the recent vote by the parliamentary regional chambers of Belgium, demanding that the Federal executive does not sign CETA, seems to indicate that the answer is not obvious.
Dani Rodrik writes that instead of decrying people’s stupidity and ignorance in rejecting trade deals, we should try to understand why such deals lost legitimacy in the first place.

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