Economics PhD Admissions

In an NBER working paper, Jessica Bai, Matthew Esche, W. Bentley MacLeod and Yifan Shi argue:

We introduce a model of the admissions process based upon standard agency theory and explore its implications with economics PhD admissions data from 2013-2019. We show that a subjective score that aggregates subjective ratings and recommendation letter features plays a more important role in determining admissions than an objective score based upon graduate record exam (GRE) scores. Subjective evaluations by references who write multiple letters are not only more influential than those of references who write one letter, but they are also more informative. Since multiple-letter references are also more highly ranked economists, this implies that there is a constraint on the supply of high-quality references. Moreover, we find that both the subjective and objective scores are correlated with job placement at a top economics department after the completion of the PhD. These indicators of individual achievement have a smaller effect than an undergraduate degree from an Ivy Plus school (i.e., Ivy League + Stanford, MIT, Duke, and Chicago). In the self-selected pool of applicants, Ivy Plus graduates are twice as likely to be admitted to a top 10 graduate program and are much more likely to obtain an assistant professor position at a top 10 program upon PhD completion. Given that Ivy Plus students must pass a stringent selection process to gain admission to their undergraduate program, we cannot reject the hypothesis that admission committees use information efficiently and fairly. However, this also implies that there may be a return to attending a selective undergraduate program in order to be pooled with highly skilled individuals.

Robert Wolff’s “Original Wisdom”

Goodreads rating 4.37. Wolff describes his experiences in rural Malaysia and in the jungle among the Sng’oi, where he learns (rather than being taught) new forms of awareness and knowledge.

I saw clearly—perhaps for the first time—that most people, even scientists, can see the world only from one point of view: their own. [p. 146]

Malay culture values halus—soft, gentle, polite—and despises kasar.

“Sovereign Bond Prices, Haircuts and Maturity,” UniBe, 2022

With Tamon Asonuma and Romain Ranciere. UniBe Discussion Paper 22-13, November 2022. PDF.

We document that creditor losses (”haircuts”) during sovereign debt restructurings vary across debt maturity. In our novel dataset on instrument-specific haircuts suffered by private creditors in 1999-‒2020 we find larger losses on short- than long-term debt, independently of the specific haircut measure we use. A standard asset pricing model rationalizes our findings under two assumptions, both of which are satisfied in the data: increasing short-run restructuring risk in the run-up to a restructuring, and high exit yields. We relate our findings to the policy debate on restructuring procedures.

Mortality Externalities of CO2-Emissions

In the Quarterly Journal of Economics (137, 4), a group of authors estimates that

the mean global increase in mortality risk due to climate change, accounting for adaptation benefits and costs, is valued at roughly 3.2% of global GDP in 2100 under a high-emissions scenario. Notably, today’s cold locations are projected to benefit, while today’s poor and hot locations have large projected damages. Finally, our central estimates indicate that the release of an additional ton of CO2 today will cause mortality-related damages of $36.6 under a high-emissions scenario, with an interquartile range accounting for both econometric and climate uncertainty of [−$7.8, $73.0].

Mariana: CBDCs in Automated Market Makers

Three BIS innovation hubs plan to test DeFi inspired liquidity pools to exchange wCBDCs. BIS press release:

  • Project Mariana will use DeFi protocols to automate foreign exchange markets and settlement.
  • Automated market makers can become the basis for new generation of financial infrastructure.
  • Exploration on cross-border exchange of wholesale CBDCs is the first to involve three Hub centres.

The BIS Innovation Hub is launching a new project around central bank digital currencies (CBDCs) and Decentralised Finance (DeFi) protocols as part of its 2022 work programme.

Project Mariana explores automated market makers (AMM) for the cross-border exchange of hypothetical Swiss franc, euro and Singapore dollar wholesale CBDCs. It will seek to examine the potential between financial institutions to settle foreign exchange trades in financial markets.

The project involves the Eurosystem, Singapore and Switzerland BIS Innovation Hub Centres together with the Bank of France, Monetary Authority of Singapore and Swiss National Bank. The aim is to deliver a proof of concept by mid-2023.

Project Mariana uses DeFi protocols to automate foreign exchange markets and settlement, potentially improving cross-border payments (and supporting a priority of the Group of 20). Today, DeFi built on public blockchains uses smart contract protocols to automate markets for crypto and digital assets. AMM protocols combine pooled liquidity with innovative algorithms to determine the prices between two or more tokenised assets. In the future, similar AMM protocols could form the basis for a new generation of financial infrastructures facilitating the cross-border exchange of CBDCs.

“Money and Banking with Reserves and CBDC,” UniBe, 2022

UniBe Discussion Paper 22-12, October 2022. PDF.

We analyze retail central bank digital currency (CBDC) in a two-tier monetary system with bank deposit market power and externalities from liquidity transformation. Resource costs of liquidity provision determine the optimal monetary architecture and modified Friedman (1969) rules the optimal monetary policy. Optimal interest rates on reserves and CBDC differ. A calibration for the U.S. suggests a weak case for CBDC in the baseline but a much clearer case when too-big-to-fail banks, tax distortions or instrument restrictions are present. Depending on central bank choices CBDC raises U.S. bank funding costs by up to 1.5 percent of GDP.

“The Swiss National Bank in Brief”

PDF.

Contents

  • The SNB’s mandate
  • Monetary policy strategy
  • Implementation of monetary policy
  • Ensuring the supply and distribution of cash
  • The SNB’s role in the cashless payment system
  • Asset management
  • The SNB’s contribution to financial stability
  • International monetary cooperation
  • Independence, accountability and relationship with the Confederation
  • The SNB as a company
  • Legal basis

Appendix

  • Publications and other resources
  • SNB balance sheet
  • Addresses

Gabriel García Márquez’s “One Hundred Years of Solitude”

Translated by Gregory Rabassa. Goodreads rating 4.10.

…the secret of a good old age is simply an honorable pact with solitude. [p. 205]

… and once again she shuddered with the evidence that time was not passing, as she had just admitted, but that it was turning in a circle. [p. 341]

Both looked back then on the wild revelry, the gaudy wealth, and the unbridled fornication as an annoyance and they lamented that it had cost them so much of their lives to find the paradise of shared solitude. Madly in love after so many years of sterile complicity … [p. 345]

… and then they understood that José Arcadio Buendía was not as crazy as the family said, but that he was the only one who had enough lucidity to sense the truth of the fact that time also stumbled and had accidents and could therefore splinter and leave an eternalized fragment in a room. [p. 355]

Some of the book’s best phrases according to NewsLiterature:

  • “The world was so recent that many things lacked names, and to mention them you had to point your finger at them.”
  • “You don’t die when you should, but when you can.”
  • “Loneliness had selected his memories, and had incinerated the numbing heaps of nostalgic garbage that life had accumulated in his heart, and had purified, magnified and eternalized the others, the most bitter.”
  • “Actually, he did not care about death, but life, and that is why the feeling he experienced when they pronounced the sentence was not a feeling of fear but of nostalgia.”
  • “Like all the good things that happened to them in their long lives, that unbridled fortune had its origin in chance.”
  • “He had the rare virtue of not existing completely but at the right time.”
  • “He had had to promote thirty-two wars, and violate all his pacts with death and wallow like a pig in the dunghill of glory, to discover almost forty years late the privileges of simplicity.”
  • “The oldest cry in the history of mankind is the cry of love.”

Digital Money and Finance: What’s New?

CEPR/SUERF/CB&DC webinar with Darrell Duffie, Todd Keister, Harald Uhlig, Dirk Niepelt.

Youtube

Digitisation rapidly changes money, banking and finance. Are these changes fundamental and radical—or part of a continuous process of technological progress and efficiency improvement? Do academics have to re-think money, banking and finance—or do conventional theories apply? And do finance professionals and regulators need to re-assess their frameworks and tools to keep up with the transformation?

Darrell Duffie (Stanford University and Fintech & Digital Currencies RPN Member), Todd Keister (Rutgers University and Fintech & Digital Currencies RPN Member) and Harald Uhlig (University of Chicago, CEPR and Fintech & Digital Currencies RPN Member), three experts on macro economics, monetary economics and finance, shared their views on these and related questions. The webinar, which has been moderated by Dirk Niepelt (University of Bern, SUERF, CEPR and Fintech & Digital Currencies RPN Leader), started with brief opening remarks by each of the experts, followed by a discussion and a Q&A session.

Political Economy for Investors

Mark Dittli of the market NZZ interviews Russell Napier:

… the power to control the creation of money has moved from central banks to governments. By issuing state guarantees on bank credit during the Covid crisis, governments have effectively taken over the levers to control the creation of money.

… statistics on bank loans to corporates within the European Union since February 2020: Out of all the new loans in Germany, 40% are guaranteed by the government. In France, it’s 70% of all new loans, and in Italy it’s over 100%, because they migrate old maturing credit to new, government-guaranteed schemes.

… we are headed into a significant growth slowdown, even a recession, and bank credit is still growing. … The CFO of Commerzbank was asked about this fact in July, and she said that the government would not allow large debtors to fail.

… in a world where large parts of the global economy are in a system of financial repression, there will be all sorts of capital controls. That means that as an investor, you best invest in jurisdictions where you plan to spend your retirement.

GNU Taler

The GNU Taler project:

We are building an anonymous, taxable payment system using modern cryptography. Customers will use traditional money transfers to send money to a digital Exchange and in return receive (anonymized) digital cash. Customers can use this digital cash to anonymously pay Merchants. Merchants can redeem the digital cash for traditional money at the digital Exchange. As Merchants are not anonymous, they can be taxed, enabling income or sales taxes to be withheld by the state while providing anonymity for Customers.

No CBDC Act

Source

IN THE SENATE OF THE UNITED STATES
September 13, 2022

Mr. Lee (for himself and Mr. Braun) introduced the following bill; which was read twice and referred to the Committee on Banking, Housing, and Urban Affairs

A BILL

To amend the Federal Reserve Act to limit the ability of Federal Reserve banks to issue central bank digital currency.

Be it enacted by the Senate and House of Representatives of the United States of America in Congress assembled,

SECTION 1. SHORT TITLE.

This Act may be cited as the “No Central Bank Digital Currency Act” or the “No CBDC Act”.

SEC. 2. CENTRAL BANK DIGITAL CURRENCY.

Section 13 of the Federal Reserve Act is amended by adding after the 14th undesignated paragraph (12 U.S.C. 347d) the following:

“ No Federal reserve bank, the Board, the Secretary of the Treasury, any other agency, or any entity directed to act on behalf of the Federal reserve bank, the Board, the Secretary, or other agency, may mint or issue a central bank digital currency directly to an individual (including central bank digital currency issued to an individual through a custodial intermediary) or a digital currency intermediary, offer related products or services directly to an individual, or maintain an account on behalf of an individual (including an account in a specially designated account at a digital currency intermediary or supervised commercial bank). No Federal reserve bank may hold digital currencies minted or issued by the United States Government as assets or liabilities on their balance sheets or use such digital currencies as part of fulfilling the requirements under section 2A.”.

Carbon Accounting

Carbon flow, stock and budget according to the recent Geneva Report on Climate and Debt:

  • Annual global CO2 emissions from fossil fuel and industry: 40 gigatonnes.
  • Cumulative historical emissions since 1850: 2400 gigatonnes. They are responsible for a temperature rise of 1 degree Celsius.
  • Remaining carbon budget given 1.5 degree Celsius temperature rise cap: 300 gigatonnes.

Smart Banknote CBDC

Orell Füssli news release:

Orell Füssli Ltd. Security Printing and AUGENTIC GmbH announced their partnership on a “Smart Banknote CBDC” solution including trustwise.io’s Distributed Ledger Technology (DLT) a week ago. A smart banknote is a physical banknote that interacts with a CBDC solution and acts as a transitional device between traditional and CBDC based payment systems. A smart banknote can be used like a classic banknote; however, the owner can redeem his cold wallet (physical banknote) and transfer the note’s value to a digital wallet by scanning the QR code with the private key. Our smart banknote includes a public and a private key represented by QR codes of which the private one is sealed. When the cover of the private key is removed, the QR code scanned, the value of the banknote can be transferred to a digital wallet. Conceptually after this procedure, the smart banknote cannot be transferred anymore.

Lucas on an OECD Economic Expert Report

In a Carnegie-Rochester paper from 1979, Robert Lucas reviews an earlier report to the OECD by a group of independent experts. Lucas views the report as vacuous, eclectic, and dangerous:

… I know of no other way to convey the Report’s undisciplined eclecticism. It meanders through the long list of issues which have been defined in popular debate as “policy problems,” accepting all as equally suited to treatment by government action and equally amenable to economic expertise, offering ambiguous and unsupported opinion on each. Nowhere can one discern a consistent set of economic principles underlying either the choice of questions to be addressed or the policy stances which are recommended.

As an economist, I find this alarming, but not because I believe the Report will in any direct way contribute to a worsening in economic policy in the OECD countries. On the contrary, the Report is so nearly vacuous that it will be difficult to tell which governments are attempting to follow its guidance and which are not. It is alarming because of the vision of economics it presents, to the public and to us: an economics limited to the writing of safely ambiguous lines for insertion in the speeches of treasury officials and central bankers. It is opportunism posing as pragmatism.

And he argues that economics and economists can only lose from contributing to reports of this kind.

It seems certain that economic policy in the OECD countries in the coming ten years will involve a wide variety of government interventions in particular sectors and industries. The particular interventions which emerge will, looked at in the right way, presumably exhibit some pattern. (For a social scientist, this much must be taken as an article of faith.) The chances that it will be economic theory which provides coherence to these policies must be judged, however, to be near zero. In these circumstances, the McCracken Committee is attempting to create the appearance that economic advisors are technically in control of developments, guiding them in a spirit of flexibility and pragmatism, supported by the technical research efforts of an entire
profession.

Yet is it in the interest of economics that these political developments be viewed as being supported by a consensus of professional opinion? The main reason to answer in the negative, stressed in this review, is also the simplest: it is not true. There is also a second reason, of a more “pragmatic” nature. There is every reason to believe that the economic policies of the coming decade will, being guided by no economic principles, lead to very bad results. What can be the benefit of claiming for economic theory the blame for a collection of policies which in no way follow from it?

It would be interesting to know how Lucas assesses contemporary reports issued by the OECD and other bodies.

Monetary Policy, the NK Model, and Humility

In an NBER working paper John Cochrane concludes that

… we have been guilty of playing with too-complex models when we don’t really understand basics, such as stability, determinacy, and the frictionless limit. …

Given the state of actual agreed-on knowledge, central banks’ proclamations of detailed technocratic ability to manipulate delicate frictions is laughable. Figure 10 shows in chart form the Rube-Goldberg list of mechanisms the ECB thinks it understands and can manipulate. Central bankers who think they have any idea how all these boxes and arrows work, and how to manipulate them, should reread Bob’s unsung classic “on a report to the OECD” Lucas (1979) once a week. A little humility would do us all good.

“Macroeconomics II,” Bern, Fall 2022

MA course at the University of Bern.

Time: Monday 10:15-12:00. Location: A-126 UniS. Uni Bern’s official course page. Course assistant: Stefano Corbellini.

The course introduces Master students to modern macroeconomic theory. Building on the analysis of the consumption-saving tradeoff and on concepts from general equilibrium theory, the course covers workhorse general equilibrium models of modern macroeconomics, including the representative agent framework, the overlapping generations model, and the Lucas tree model.

Lectures follow chapters 1–4 (possibly 5) in this book.

“Makroökonomie I (Macroeconomics I),” Bern, Fall 2022

BA course at the University of Bern, taught in German.

Time: Monday 14:15-16:00. Location: Audimax. Uni Bern’s official course page. Course assistant: Wjera Yell Leutenegger.

Course description:

Die Vorlesung vermittelt einen ersten Einblick in die moderne Makroökonomie. Sie baut auf der Veranstaltung „Einführung in die Makroökonomie“ des Einführungsstudiums auf und betont sowohl die Mikrofundierung als auch dynamische Aspekte. Das heisst, sie interpretiert makroökonomische Entwicklungen als das Ergebnis zielgerichteten individuellen (mikroökonomischen) Handelns, und sie wird der Tatsache gerecht, dass wirtschaftliche Entscheidungen Erwartungen widerspiegeln und Konsequenzen in der Zukunft haben. Der klassische Modellrahmen, der in der Vorlesung entwickelt wird, bietet die Grundlage für die Analyse von Wachstum, Konsum, Arbeitsangebot, Investitionen oder Geld- und Fiskalpolitik sowie vieler anderer Themen, die auch in anderen Veranstaltungen des BA Studiums und darüber hinaus behandelt werden.

The course closely follows Pablo Kurlat’s (2020) textbook A Course in Modern Macroeconomics (book website). Lecture notes are available here.

Other intermediate macro texts:

  • Julio Garín, Robert Lester and Eric Sims (2021): Intermediate Macroeconomics (book website, PDF).
  • Matthias Doepke, Andreas Lehnert and Andrew W. Sellgren (1999): Macroeconomics (PDF). (Written by (then) graduate students as a companion text to Robert J. Barro’s textbook Macroeconomics [publisher website].)
  • Stephen D. Williamson (2018): Macroeconomics (publisher website).

SNB Losses in the News

My written statement for 20minuten:

Anlageverluste der SNB sind schlecht für den Schweizer Steuerzahler, denn ihm gehört die SNB. Sie können aber auch Entwicklungen widerspiegeln, die ihre guten Seiten haben. Jetzt zum Beispiel führt die Frankenstärke zu Anlageverlusten, bremst aber auch die importierte Inflation.

Die Diskussion um die Höhe der SNB-Ausschüttungen ist vielfach fehlgeleitet. In der Debatte geht vergessen, dass Gewinnausschüttungen das Reinvermögen von Bund und Kantonen nicht verändern. Denn Ausschüttungen sind keine Transfers von Dritten an Bund oder Kantone – sie tauschen lediglich eine Aktivposition in der Bilanz von Bund oder Kantonen gegen eine andere aus, wie bei einer Dividendenausschüttung eines Unternehmens. Die Hauptwirkung von Ausschüttungen ist, dass sie Beschränkungen wie die Schuldenbremse vorübergehend lockern. Das mag der Grund dafür sein, dass manche Politiker und Wähler sie mögen.

And the resulting publication.

SRF website and SRF Echo der Zeit (interview taken on 26 July).

The SNB’s Financial Result, Currency Reserves, and Distribution Reserve

How are SNB profits and losses distributed and what issues are debated?

Annual Result Funds two “Reserves”

The annual result (Jahresergebnis) of the Swiss National Bank (SNB) is split into two parts. The first part funds “provisions for currency reserves” (Zuweisungen an Rückstellungen für Währungsreserven) which are meant to provide a buffer against future losses on the SNB’s asset positions. The second part funds current and future profit distributions to the Confederation and cantons (Ausschüttungen an Bund und Kantone) and dividend payments to SNB shareholders. The ad hoc announcement regarding the SNB’s 2021 annual result (English, German) provides an overview.

Allocation Rules

The SNB decides how the annual result is split, subject to some guidance in the National Bank Law (NBG, English, German, e.g., Art. 30 (1) and Art. 42 (2d) NBG). In practice the SNB follows a mechanical rule to determine the provisions for currency reserves. This rule operates “on the basis of double the average nominal GDP growth rate over the previous five years” or “10% of the provisions at the end of the previous year,” whatever yields higher provisions (source).

How the second part of the annual result is split between current and future distributions is governed by an agreement between the SNB and the Federal Department of Finance (English, German). The law prescribes that the “[t]he Department and the National Bank shall, for a specified period of time, agree on the amount of the annual profit distribution with the aim of smoothing these distributions in the medium term” (31(2) NBG). In practice the SNB and the Federal Department of Finance have frequently revised the agreement. This reflected the SNB’s rapidly growing balance sheet and larger profits.

The current agreement determines the profit distributions and dividends to shareholders as follows: Define the “distributable annual result” (Ausschüttbares Jahresergebnis) as the annual result net of the allocation to provisions for currency reserves. The distribution reserve (Ausschüttungsreserve), a liability item in the SNB’s balance sheet, amounts to the cumulative past distributable annual results, net of the payments to Confederation, cantons and shareholders. The sum of distribution reserve and distributable annual result yields the “net profit” (Bilanzgewinn). When the net profit is negative the agreement prescribes zero distributions to the Confederation and the cantons. When it is positive the agreement prescribes distributions that rise up to CHF 6 billion, depending on the size of net profits. Under no circumstances must distributions be so high as to directly imply that the distribution reserve becomes negative.

Discussion

That the SNB determines how the annual result is split certainly makes sense. After all the SNB bears responsibility for monetary policy and thus needs to be able to employ its balance sheet as far as this has current and future monetary policy implications. It is doubtful, however, that the mechanical rule the SNB follows adequately reflects foreign exchange and investment risks as well as monetary policy needs going forward. Preferably, the SNB should determine the adequate provisions based on an analysis of risks and monetary policy needs and communicate its analysis and conclusions to the public (see my proposal from February 2021). In June 2021 the SNB Observatory made a similar proposal, arguing that the SNB should “[d]etermine a target ratio of provisions-to-balance sheet or provisions-to-foreign investments. Provisions should not be accumulated beyond this point.” More specifically, the SNB Observatory criticized that the SNB never actually uses the provisions to cover losses when they occur; it proposed that the SNB “[u]se the provisions for foreign investments to cover losses when they occur. Replenish provisions with profits of subsequent years.”

The procedure to determine the split between current and future distributions is rather inflexible and thus requires frequent adjustment if the SNB’s balance sheet changes. The fact that the SNB smoothes payouts from the distribution reserve (at too low a rate according to the SNB Observatory) suggests a lack of trust in the ability of decision makers at the federal and cantonal level to responsibly manage the funds received from the SNB. I find this questionable (see my comments from February 2021) but I realize that the law does require some degree of smoothing.

Finally, many of the political discussions surrounding the amount of SNB distributions are misguided. The debate neglects that profit distributions do not significantly alter the net worth of the Confederation or the cantons. After all, SNB profit distributions are not transfers from a third party—they just swap one asset item in the balance sheets of the Confederation and cantons against another one, like dividend payouts of a firm. The main effect of distributions is to temporarily relax restrictions such as the debt brake (see my explanations with links to further analysis); that might be the reason why some politicians and voters like them.

Details

  • The agreement between the SNB and the Federal Department of Finance states that “[t]he non-distributed amount of the annual result is allocated to this [distribution] reserve, and any shortfall for a distribution is drawn from it.” I think it should read “[t]he non-distributed amount of the annual result net of provisions for currency reserves is allocated …”
  • Per January 2022 the provisions for currency reserves amounted to CHF 95 billion. The distribution reserve amounted to CHF 103 billion.
  • Between 2005 and 2020 the return rates on SNB investments never fell below -6% (source).
  • As of mid 2022 the return rate appears to be on the order of -8% (balance sheet length approximately CHF 1 000 billion, first-quarter loss CHF 33 billion (source), prospective second-quarter loss 50 billion).
  • Swiss net foreign assets amount to roughly CHF 600 billion.

Updates: Minor editorial changes, 29 July.

“The Political Economy of Early COVID-19 Interventions in US States,” JEDC, 2022

Journal of Economic Dynamics and Control, July 2022, with Martin Gonzalez-Eiras. PDF (local copy).

We investigate how politico-economic factors shaped government responses to the spread of COVID-19. Our simple framework uses epidemiological, economic and politico-economic arguments. Confronting the theory with US state level data we find strong evidence for partisanship even when we control for fundamentals including the electorate’s political views. Moreover, we detect an important role for the proximity of elections which we interpret as indicative of career concerns. Finally, we find suggestive evidence for complementarities between voluntary activity reductions and government imposed restrictions.