Author Archives: Dirk Niepelt

Deaths Per Capita versus Confirmed Cases Per Capita

Data from April 6, 2020.

Iceland and Luxembourg have many more confirmed cases per capita than other countries (either because they have more cases or better information). Mortality per confirmed case is highest in Italy, Spain, France, Belgium, Netherlands, UK.

Source: Author’s calculations based on Johns Hopkins data and World Bank data.

“Wirtschaftspolitik angesichts von Covid-19: Lastenteilung, aber keine Preismanipulationen (Economic Policy Responses to Covid-19: Burden Sharing, But no Price Distortions),” ÖS, 2020

Ökonomenstimme, 3 April 2020. HTML. Shorter version published in NZZ.

The aggregate Covid-19 shock calls for transfers of the type a pandemic insurance would have brought about. But we must not distort relative prices. They have to reflect scarcity, to provide incentives to overcome it. (This applies within countries but also across.)

“Preise müssen sich frei bilden können (Prices Must Reflect Scarcity),” NZZ, 2020

NZZ, 2 April 2020. PDF.

The aggregate Covid-19 shock calls for transfers of the type a pandemic insurance would have brought about. But we must not distort relative prices. They have to reflect scarcity, to provide incentives to overcome it. (This applies within countries but also across.)

Switzerland Peps Up SMEs

How Switzerland peps up SMEs: Banks are encouraged to extend credit (at 0%). The treasury guarantees the loans. The SNB refinances banks and accepts the guaranteed loans as collateral. Fast and efficient. Eventually, some of these loans will turn into grants of course. But that’s ok; the first-best response to a shock with asymmetric effects does involve transfers if markets are incomplete.

Data and Research on the Coronavirus

The first of a long sequence of nice papers on the virus by economists are out:

  • Martin Eichenbaum, Sergio Rebelo, and Mathias Trabandt (2020), The Macroeconomics of Epidemics. NBER wp 26882. (My comments on Twitter.)
  • James Stock (2020), Coronavirus Data Gaps and the Policy Response to the Novel Corona Virus. Mimeo. Conclusion: There is an urgent need to reliably estimate the asymptomatic rate—the share among the infected who do not show strong symptoms.

Data:

Oxford University’s government response tracker.

Coronavirus link database.

Blog by Klaus Wälde on case numbers in Germany.

 

Updated: 26 March 2020, 18:15.

Marshall Islands CBDC

The Marshall Islands CBDC project moves forward. Algorand, the project partner, reports that

blockchain for the world’s first national digital currency, the Marshallese sovereign (SOV), will be built using Algorand technology. The SOV will circulate alongside the US dollar and help the Marshall Islands efficiently operate in the global economy.

Coronavirus: Effects on Course Program in Gerzensee

The Central Bankers Course ”Monetary Policy, Exchange Rates, and Capital Flows” has been postponed to 2021.

Doctoral courses currently take place as usual, subject to the following restrictions:

  • Participants are not allowed to attend Study Center Gerzensee events nor enter the Center’s premises for 14 days after returning from areas where the Coronavirus has spread. As of 2 March 2020, these areas are China, South Korea, Singapore, Iran, and Northern Italy defined as Tuscany, Emilia-Romagna and all other Italian regions further north.
  • Participants with symptoms of any mild or severe sickness are not allowed to attend Study Center Gerzensee events nor to check in at the Study Center.
  • Participants who experience symptoms after check in must stay in their hotel room and wait for instructions by local authorities.

On the Future of Payments and Settlement

In its Quarterly Review, the BIS offers nice perspectives on the future of payments. Morten Bech and Jenny Hancock survey innovations in payments, and where the problems lie. Tara Rice, Goetz von Peter and Codruta Boar examine the fall in the number of correspondent banks. Morten Bech, Umar Faruqui and Takeshi Shirakami discuss cross border payments. Morten Bech, Jenny Hancock, Tara Rice and Amber Wadsworth discuss securities settlement. And Raphael Auer and Rainer Böhme explore design choices of a retail CBDC.

e-krona Pilot

The Riksbank starts a pilot project with Accenture to develop a technical solution for a retail e-krona.

Users shall be able to hold e-kronor in a digital wallet, make payments, deposits and withdrawals via a mobile app. The user shall also be able to make payments via wearables, such as smart watches, and cards.

The pilot runs for a year, on a distributed ledger, according to the Riksbank’s press release. More detailed information is contained in this note.

 

 

 

“Цифровые деньги и цифровые валюты центральных банков: главное, что нужно знать,” Econs, 2020

Econs (a non-profit project of the communications department of the Russian central bank), February 13, 2020. HTML.

Russian version of my VoxEU column on digital money and CBDC. What are we actually talking about? What do we know? And what should policymakers do? I discuss the following points:

  • Finance has been digital forever – what’s new about ‘digital money’?
  • Does the nature of money change?
  • What is central bank digital currency?
  • What is the link between CBDC and the blockchain?
  • Would CBDC have macroeconomic effects?
  • Would CBDC foster bank disintermediation and bank runs?
  • Why consider CBDC at all?
  • What opportunities does CBDC offer?
  • Where do the risks lie?
  • Do the opportunities justify the risks?
  • Do central banks have a choice?

“Fiscal and Monetary Policies,” Bern, Spring 2020

MA course at the University of Bern.

The classes follow selected chapters in the textbook Macroeconomic Analysis (MIT Press, 2019) and build on the material covered in the macro II course which follows the same text. Table of contents of the book. Uni Bern’s official course page.

Main contents:

  1. Concepts.
  2. RA model with government spending and taxes.
  3. Government debt in RA model.
  4. Government debt and social security in OLG model.
  5. Neutrality results.
  6. Consolidated government budget constraint.
  7. Fiscal effects on inflation. Game of chicken.
  8. FTPL. Active and passive policies.
  9. Tax smoothing.
  10. Time consistent policy.
  11. Sovereign debt.

Pretend Economists

In Foreign Affairs, Paul Romer criticizes “pretend economists” who pretend that economics—and they themselves—can answer normative questions on scientific grounds. He argues that “pretend economists” open the field to corruption.

The alternative is to make honesty and humility prerequisites for membership in the community of economists. The easy part is to challenge the pretenders. The hard part is to say no when government officials look to economists for an answer to a normative question. Scientific authority never conveys moral authority. No economist has a privileged insight into questions of right and wrong, and none deserves a special say in fundamental decisions about how society should operate. Economists who argue otherwise and exert undue influence in public debates about right and wrong should be exposed for what they are: frauds.

“Digital Money and Central Bank Digital Currency: An Executive Summary for Policymakers,” VoxEU, 2020

VoxEU, February 3, 2020. HTML.

What are we actually talking about? What do we know? And what should policymakers do? I discuss the following points:

  • Finance has been digital forever – what’s new about ‘digital money’?
  • Does the nature of money change?
  • What is central bank digital currency?
  • What is the link between CBDC and the blockchain?
  • Would CBDC have macroeconomic effects?
  • Would CBDC foster bank disintermediation and bank runs?
  • Why consider CBDC at all?
  • What opportunities does CBDC offer?
  • Where do the risks lie?
  • Do the opportunities justify the risks?
  • Do central banks have a choice?

Edward Snowden’s “Permanent Record”

An intriguing description of America’s intelligence community and the industry surrounding it; the slippery slopes; and Snowden’s motivation for following his conscience rather than the money. From the book, how we got here:

[After 9/11] [n]early a hundred thousand spies returned to work at the agencies with the knowledge that they’d failed at their primary job, which was protecting America. …

In retrospect, my country … could have used this rare moment of solidarity to reinforce democratic values and cultivate resilience in the now-connected global public. Instead, it went to war. The greatest regret of my life is my reflexive, unquestioning support for that decision. I was outraged, yes, but that was only the beginning of a process in which my heart completely defeated my rational judgment. I accepted all the claims retailed by the media as facts, and I repeated them as if I were being paid for it. … I embraced the truth constructed for the good of the state, which in my passion I confused with the good of the country.

And what to make of it:

Ultimately, saying that you don’t care about privacy because you have nothing to hide is no different from saying you don’t care about freedom of speech because you have nothing to say. Or that you don’t care about freedom of the press because you don’t like to read. … Just because this or that freedom might not have meaning to you today doesn’t mean that it doesn’t or won’t have meaning tomorrow, to you, or to your neighbor – or to the crowds of principled dissidents I was following on my phone who were protesting halfway across the planet, hoping to gain just a fraction of the freedom that my country was busily dismantling. …

Any elected government that relies on surveillance to maintain control of a citizenry that regards surveillance as anathema to democracy has effectively ceased to be a democracy.

Buy the book from a key contractor of the intelligence community. Reviews on goodreads. Youtube video of the 2013 presentation by CIA CTO Gus Hunt which Snowden discusses in the book.

Digital Dollar Project

Accenture, the Digital Dollar Foundation, and FTI Consulting are pushing for a digital USD. They have formed the Digital Dollar Project

to advance exploration of a United States Central Bank Digital Currency (CBDC). The purpose of the Project is to encourage research and public discussion on the potential advantages of a digital dollar, convene private sector thought leaders and actors, and propose possible models to support the public sector. The Project will develop a framework for potential, practical steps that can be taken to establish a dollar CBDC.

Central Banks Zoom In on CBDC

According to a BIS press release, several leading central banks collaborate with the BIS on matters relating to the introduction of CBDC:

The Bank of Canada, the Bank of England, the Bank of Japan, the European Central Bank, the Sveriges Riksbank and the Swiss National Bank, together with the Bank for International Settlements (BIS), have created a group to share experiences as they assess the potential cases for central bank digital currency (CBDC) in their home jurisdictions.

The group will assess CBDC use cases; economic, functional and technical design choices, including cross-border interoperability; and the sharing of knowledge on emerging technologies. It will closely coordinate with the relevant institutions and forums – in particular, the Financial Stability Board and the Committee on Payments and Market Infrastructures (CPMI).

The group will be co-chaired by Benoît Cœuré, Head of the BIS Innovation Hub, and Jon Cunliffe, Deputy Governor of the Bank of England and Chair of the CPMI. It will include senior representatives of the participating institutions.

Wealth Inequality and Wealth Taxes

In a series of blog posts, John Cochrane criticizes the Saez-Zucman proposal for higher wealth taxes. In posts #1 to #4 he argues that economic arguments for wealth taxes are inconsistent or not convincing. In post #5 he concludes that Saez-Zucman truly are motivated by political objectives which are grounded in the view that wealth of the rich is ill-gotten or that the rich have a disproportionate, negative influence on politics.

Saez and Zucman want to confiscate billionaires’ wealth, because they think billionaires have too much political power, billionaires all got their money unjustly, and somehow though big government cronyism is the problem, bigger government is the answer.

Cochrane rejects this view.

“Digital Finance,” FuW, 2020

Finanz und Wirtschaft, January 4, 2020. PDF.

  • Finance has been digital for decades. And both technology and preferences are only changing gradually. So, what triggers the abrupt changes in business models that we currently observe?
  • The interaction between industry on the one hand and legislators and regulators on the other has changed. New entrants exploit synergies across areas that have so far been regulated by independent authorities, or not at all. While entrants think and act outside the box, regulators and legislators have not yet been able to catch up.
  • Digital finance poses new challenges, including for financial stability, national security, and consumer protection (digital literacy).

Debt, Deficits, and MMT

One of the American Economic Association sessions in this year’s ASSA Meetings focused on “Modern Monetary Theory” (MMT) and (maybe somewhat unfairly in the same session) on last year’s presidential address by Olivier Blanchard, which suggested that persistently low interest rates on public debt render government budget constraints non-binding.

Greg Mankiw concluded in his paper that “MMT contains some kernels of truth, but its most novel policy prescriptions do not follow cogently from its premises,” in line with my own assessment.

Papers by Richard Evans, Michael Boskin, Jasmina Hasanhodzic, as well as by Johannes Brumm, Laurence Kotlikoff, and Felix Kubler argued that Blanchard’s conclusions are not robust, for various reasons.

Redrawing the Map of Global Capital Flows

Redrawing the Map of Global Capital Flows: The Role of Cross-Border Financing and Tax Havens, by Antonio Coppola, Matteo Maggiori, Jesse Schreger, and Brent Neiman:

We start with the dataset of global mutual fund and exchange traded fund (ETF) holdings provided by Morningstar and assembled in Matteo Maggiori, Brent Neiman and Jesse Schreger (2019a, henceforth MNS). For each position in the data, we link the security’s immediate issuer to its ultimate parent. The resulting data can then be used to create a mapping that transforms cross-border positions from a residency to nationality basis and that sheds light on how global firms finance themselves. …

First, in the case of bonds, positions are almost always reallocated away from Bermuda, the Cayman Islands, and other tax havens. Under nationality, these positions are often associated with developing countries like Brazil, China, India, and Russia, which may reflect the fact that developing countries find it easier to issue offshore than onshore, where the legal system and institutional quality may be of concern to foreign investors. Reallocating positions from tax havens to developed countries is also common, though, perhaps because tax havens allow them to access international investors with less onerous rules governing the withholding of taxes on interest payments. These patterns may also reflect tax-driven profit-shifting, whereby one unit of a company raises money at a low interest rate in a low-tax regime and loans it at a higher interest rate to an affiliated unit in a high-tax regime.

Second, in the case of equities, we find that many developed-country investments in tax havens are actually associated under nationality with China. Many of these positions are in securities issued through Variable Interest Entities (VIE), a structure designed to avoid China’s capital controls and the legality of which may rest on tenuous ground. Relatedly, we see a large share of equities reallocated by our algorithm away from Ireland and to developed countries, an adjustment reflecting the popularity of “tax inversions” there.

Third, in the case of asset-backed securities, for several investor countries, we find large reallocations toward the domicile of the investor, often because the underlying assets are found there. For example, our reallocation matrix records that 73.4 percent of U.S. investment in Cayman Islands’ asset-backed securities should instead be thought of as U.S. domestic investment, largely because those securities are backed by U.S. mortgages.

Sand Dollar

The Central Bank of the Bahamas introduces CBDC, according to a press release (December 2019).

The intended outcome of Project Sand Dollar is that all residents in The Bahamas would have use of a central bank digital currency, on a modernized technology platform, with an experience and convenience—legally and otherwise—that resembles cash. It is expected that this will allow for reduced service delivery costs, increased transactional efficiency, and an improved overall level of financial inclusion. The anonymity feature of cash is not being replicated, although the Sand Dollar infrastructure would incorporate strict attention to confidentiality and data protection.

Men and Women

On Marginal Revolution, Alex Tabarrok reported (in December 2019) that

[m]en and women are different. A seemingly obvious fact to most of humanity but a long-time subject of controversy within psychology. New large-scale results using better empirical methods are resolving the debate, however, in favor of the person in the street. The basic story is that at the broadest level (OCEAN) differences are relatively small but that is because there are large offsetting differences between men and women at lower levels of aggregation. Scott Barry Kaufman, writing at Scientific American, has a very good review of the evidence: