Tag Archives: Growth

Ageing Economies Grew Faster

That’s what Daron Acemoglu and Pascual Restrepo document in an NBER working paper.

Figure 2 [below] provides a glimpse of the relevant pattern by depicting the raw correlation between the change in GDP per capita between 1990 and 2015 and the change in the ratio of the population above 50 to the population between the ages of 20 and 49. … even when we control for initial GDP per capita, initial demographic composition and differential trends by region, there is no evidence of a negative relationship between aging and GDP per capita; on the contrary, the relationship is significantly positive in many specifications.

In an article published in 2012 with Martín Gonzalez-Eiras (see also the VoxEU column), we provide a theory that can account for this finding.

Conference in Honor of Bob King at the Study Center Gerzensee

Jointly with the Journal of Monetary Economics and the Swiss National Bank, the Study Center Gerzensee organized a conference in honor of Bob King, long-term supporter of the Study Center.

Program: PDF.

Jaume Ventura’s discussion of a paper on trade and growth by Alvarez and Lucas: PDF.

My discussion of a paper on debt and debt constraints by Bhandari, Evans, Golosov, and Sargent: PDF.

Dynamics of the World Income Distribution

In a Resolution Foundation report, Adam Corlett examines the “Elephant Curve.” The curve shows that between 1988 and 2008 income growth in the 70th to 95th percentile range of the world income distribution was much lower than for almost all other percentiles. Since the lower middle class of rich countries is situated around the 80th percentile of the distribution the Elephant curve has been interpreted as evidence for stagnating middle class incomes in the rich countries.

Corlett emphasizes that

  • the country composition in 1988 and 2008 is not the same. Holding it constant the Elephant curve is less pronounced.
  • “Population changes, rather than just income changes, have driven the income growth distribution in the elephant curve.” Holding the relative population size across countries constant the Elephant curve is less pronounced.
  • There is lots of variation across developed economies. “[T]he weak figures for the mature economies as a whole are driven by Japan (reflecting in part its two ‘lost decades’ of growth post-bubble, but primarily due to likely flawed data) and by Eastern European states (with large falls in incomes following the collapse of the Soviet Union after 1988). Looking only at the remaining mature economies, far from stagnation we find average real income growth of 52 per cent with strong growth across the distribution, though slightly higher at the top. [But] there are great differences between these nations. US growth of 41 per cent was notably unequally shared, with low (but not zero) growth for poorer deciles meaning that the US comes closest to matching the stagnation and inequality narrative – despite international trade being much less important on a national level there than elsewhere [my emphasis]. But most people in most other rich countries experienced stronger growth.”

Binswanger’s “Money Out of Nothing”

In his recent book Geld aus dem Nichts (Money out of Nothing), Mathias Binswanger discusses the role of banks in creating money, and money’s role in affecting the macro economy. The book is written for a non specialist audience and the arguments are often quite loose.

In the first part of the book, Binswanger describes how money mostly is created by commercial rather than central banks.

Part II provides a nice historical overview. Binswanger describes the origins of modern banking with goldsmiths first storing gold for their merchant clients, then lending some of the stored gold to third parties, and finally issuing more “receipts” than what corresponds to the gold deposits they actually accepted. From there, he argues, it was a small step to state licensed national banks like the Bank of England. On p. 120 Binswanger describes how minimum reserve requirements got out of fashion, not least because they suffered from circumvention when they were binding.

Part III lacks precision and is misguided (see also pp. 30 or 66). It covers the link between money creation and growth but confuses national accounting concepts and their relation to money and credit. Clearly, growth can occur without credit (think of an economy with just one agent to see this most directly) but Binswanger seems to dispute this point, in line with earlier writings by his father. A “model” on p. 144 does not help to clarify his views because it is orthogonal to the argument. Binswanger criticizes mainstream economics for refusing to accept the presence of long-run links between money and growth but this critique remains vain. Part IV deals with money creation and its effect on financial markets.

Part V, on reform, is sensible. Binswanger rejects proposals to move (back) to the gold standard or a 100%-money regime (or, essentially equivalent, “positive money”). His arguments against the Swiss “Vollgeld” initiative resonate with points I made here and elsewhere, including the point that it would be difficult to enforce a “Vollgeld” regime (see also p. 122). Binswanger criticizes the “Vollgeld” initiative’s vagueness concerning actual implementation of monetary policy. He ends with more limited, rather standard proposals (relating to regulation, monetary policy objectives and capital requirements) to address problems in financial markets.

On the Benefits of Higher Inflation in Japan

In his blog, John Cochrane critically reviews arguments in favor of higher inflation in Japan.

He approves of the view that a conventional stimulus argument does not make much sense—given that Japanese growth is around potential and unemployment is low.

He does not approve of the view that inflation would be helpful by lowering (public and private) debt burdens. He doubts that an inflation induced default on outstanding debt would significantly lower taxes (rather than lead to more government spending) and that even if it did, such a default would increase the optimism of young households.

He also questions whether inflation could significantly reduce the real value of Japanese public debt (because debt maturity is short) and whether the debt burden is actually large (given near zero interest rates).

Cochrane for Growth

In a blog post, John Cochrane proposes step-by-step (politically unattractive) measures to increase growth:

  • Smarter (growth-oriented) regulation, in particular
  • Higher equity requirements and less short-term funding rather than complex financial regulation
  • Deregulation of health care supply
  • More cost-benefit analysis in environmental policy
  • Broad-based consumption rather than investment taxes
  • Clear separation of allocative and distributive fiscal policy
  • Focus on distortions in social programs
  • Deregulation of labor markets
  • Rational immigration rules distinguishing between permits to entry, reside, or work and citizenship
  • Less government intervention in the student loans market
  • Less protection, more free trade
  • More spending for the legal and criminal justice system
  • Etc.

Effects of Fiscal Tightening on Growth

In a Peterson Institute policy brief, Paolo Mauro and Jan Zilinsky argue that

the evidence is mixed: Those who hold a prior that fiscal adjustment is harmful for growth may find their beliefs confirmed, whereas those who believe a prior that the link is weak may find the evidence unconvincing (even aside from valid concerns about causality). To the extent that the case of Greece involves unique features beyond large fiscal adjustment, the data reveal that drawing conclusions from empirical associations that include this specific case requires caution.

Long-Term Interest Rates, Now and Then

A report by the White House Council of Economic Advisors surveys long-term interest rates. The “key takeaways” include:

Real and nominal interest rates in the United States have been on a steady decline since the mid-1980s. Declining interest rates are a global phenomenon. … [F]orecasters largely missed the secular decline of the last three decades.

The Ramsey growth model implies a link between labor productivity growth, per capita consumption growth and the real (inflation-adjusted) interest rate. Historically, periods of low real long-term interest rates have tended to coincide with low labor productivity growth. Projections of labor productivity growth, while imprecise, suggest 10-year real interest rates in the range of 1.5 to 3.5 per cent.

Asset-pricing models that incorporate risk suggest that the long-run nominal interest rate is the sum of expected future short-term real rates, expected future inflation rates, and a term premium. The 10-year rate in ten years that forward transactions in nominal Treasuries imply is currently 3.1 percent. Forward transactions in the market for TIPS suggest a long-term real rate just above 1.00 percent in ten years. Adding the CPI inflation rate implied by the Federal Reserve’s PCE inflation target would imply a forward nominal interest rate of 3.25 percent. The term premium in nominal Treasuries is currently estimated to be near zero, with a 2005-2014 mean of 1 percent. These components together suggest a 10-year nominal interest rate in the range of 3.1 (forward Treasuries) to 4.6 percent (based on FOMC forecasts of the long-run federal funds rate).

In a world with financially integrated national capital markets, the general level of world interest rates is determined by the equality of the global supply of saving and global investment demand. Capital markets of advanced economies are now tightly integrated while emerging market economies are becoming increasingly integrated into the global financial system. Low-income economies remain partially segmented from the global capital market. As a consequence of increasing international market integration, long-term real and nominal interest rates are increasingly moving in tandem and have declined along with U.S. rates. Nominal interest rates also tend to be correlated across countries though differences in inflation expectations can produce differences in nominal rates. In a world with uncertainty, global long-term real and nominal interest rates will include risk premiums that can reflect country-specific risk factors. Strong economic linkages, however, reinforce substantial correlation in countries’ long-term bond risk premiums.

Long-term interest rates are lower now than they were thirty years ago, reflecting an outward shift in the global supply curve of saving relative to global investment demand. It remains an open question whether the underlying factors producing current low rates are transitory, or imply long-run equilibrium long-term interest rates lower than before the financial crisis. Factors that are likely to dissipate over time—and therefore could lead to higher rates in the future—include current fiscal, monetary, and exchange rate policies; low-inflation risk as reflected in the term premium; and private-sector deleveraging in the aftermath of the global financial crisis. Factors that are more likely to persist—suggesting that low interest rates could be a long-run phenomenon—include lower forecasts of global output and productivity growth, demographic shifts, global demand for safe assets outstripping supply, and the impact of tail risks and fundamental uncertainty.

Scandinavia’s Success

In an online book published by the Institute of Economic Affairs, Nima Sanandaji argues not only that the Scandinavian success story predates the welfare state but also that the welfare state actually undermined the success story. From the book’s summary:

Many analyses of Scandinavian countries conflate correlation with causality. It is very clear that many of the desirable features of Scandinavian societies, such as low income inequality, low levels of poverty and high levels of economic growth, predated the development of the welfare state. It is equally clear that high levels of trust also predated the era of
high government spending and taxation. All these indicators began to deteriorate after the expansion of the Scandinavian welfare states and the increase in taxes necessary to fund it.

Deflation and Growth

In a BIS working paper (abstract page) Claudio Borio, Magdalena Erdem, Andrew Filardo and Boris Hofmann analyze the link between growth and deflation from a historical perspective. They conclude:

First, before accounting for the behaviour of asset prices, we find only a weak association between goods and services price deflations and growth; the Great Depression is the main exception. In some respects, this confirms previous work. Second, the link with asset price deflations is stronger and, once these are taken into account, it further weakens the association between goods and services price deflations and growth. Finally, we find some evidence that high private debt levels have amplified the impact of property price deflations but we detect no similar link with goods and services price deflations.

Parallels between Argentina and Greece

On Project Syndicate, Raquel Fernández and Jonathan Portes offer four lessons from the Argentinian default in 2001 for Greece:

… if the economics are on your side, you can and should ignore politicians prophesying disaster. … a short period of political turmoil can cost surprisingly little compared to a long period of mindless pursuit of misconceived policies. But … Greece must acknowledge that its fundamental problems are of its own making. … Greece is unlikely to enjoy the breathing space provided by a commodity boom. If it is to place itself on the road to a sustainable recovery, it has no time to lose.

“Austerity,” CEPR, 2014

CEPR Discussion Paper 10315, December 2014, with Harris Dellas. PDF. Also published as CESifo Working Paper 5146, Study Center Gerzensee Working Paper 14-07. PDF, PDF.

We shed light on the function, properties and optimal size of austerity using the standard sovereign debt model augmented to include incomplete information about credit risk. Austerity is defined as the shortfall of consumption from the level desired by a country and supported by its repayment capacity. We find that austerity serves as a tool for securing a more favorable loan package; that it is associated with over‐investment even when investment does not create collateral; and that low risk borrowers may favour more to less severe austerity. These findings imply that the amount of fresh funds obtained by a sovereign is not a reliable measure of austerity suffered; and that austerity may actually be associated with higher growth. Our analysis accommodates costly signalling for gaining credibility and also assigns a novel role to spending multipliers in the determination of optimal austerity.

“Ageing, Government Budgets, Retirement and Growth,” EER, 2012

European Economic Review 56(1), January 2012, with Martín Gonzalez-Eiras. PDF.

We analyze the short and long run effects of demographic ageing—increased longevity and reduced fertility—on per-capita growth. The OLG model captures direct effects, working through adjustments in the savings rate, labor supply, and capital deepening, and indirect effects, working through changes of taxes, government spending components and the retirement age in politico-economic equilibrium. Growth is driven by capital accumulation and productivity increases fueled by public investment. The closed-form solutions of the model predict taxation and the retirement age in OECD economies to increase in response to demographic ageing and per-capita growth to accelerate. If the retirement age were held constant, the growth rate in politico-economic equilibrium would essentially remain unchanged, due to a surge of social security transfers and crowding out of public investment.

(Unfortunately, the acknowledgements got lost in the publishing process.) For comments, we thank Casper van Ewijk, Enrique Kawamura, George McCandless, Alex Monge, Vincenzo Quadrini, Jaume Ventura, Fabrizio Zilibotti as well as conference and seminar participants at Banco Central de la Republica Argentina, CREI (Universidad Pompeu Fabra), EEA annual meeting, EPRU (University of Copenhagen), ESSIM, IIES (Stockholm University), Netspar, Penn State, SED annual meeting, Study Center Gerzensee, and Universidad de San Andres. Andreas Walchli provided valuable research assistance.

“Bedroht der demografische Wandel die Produktivität? (Does Population Ageing Lower Productivity Growth?),” NZZ, 2011

Neue Zürcher Zeitung, November 16, 2011. PDF. Ökonomenstimme, November 16, 2011. HTML.

  • The economics is not as worrying as many believe.
  • But the politics is.