Author Archives: Dirk Niepelt

“Digital Euro: An Assessment of the First Two Progress Reports,” European Parliament, 2023

European Parliament, April 2023. PDF.

Executive summary:

The two progress reports provide an insightful overview over some of the thinking underlying the digital euro project. The reports remain vague in some respects, which is not surprising given the early stage of the project and the division of tasks between the ECB and the Commission.

The first report suggests that the digital euro can help preserve public money as the anchor of the payment system, but it does not explain how the decline in cash use endangers the anchor role or how a digital euro would mitigate the associated risks. It motivates the digital euro as contributing to Europe’s strategic autonomy, but does not clarify whether the autonomy concerns national security, cheaper payment services, or monetary sovereignty, and why either of these would suggest a focus on consumers rather than business users. More generally, the report discusses few economic motives for a digital euro in depth and this raises doubts about the proper sequencing of design choices. Some arguments for privacy restrictions are not fully convincing. The most important shortcoming of the first report is the lack of analysis of why digital euro holdings as stores of value are not desirable (or why this issue is beyond discussion) and whether strategies to limit such holdings cause collateral damage.

The second report lacks a discussion of incentive compatibility of the envisioned public-private partnership model. It also lacks detail on the proposed settlement, funding and defunding models and on the incidence of the payment scheme’s costs.

The reports do not discuss implications for central bank balance sheets, interest rates, political interference, and the ECB’s mandate to introduce a digital euro.

My colleague Cyril Monnet also wrote a report (PDF). His executive summary:

Since Facebook’s announcement of Libra in July 2019, central banks, including the European Central Bank (ECB), have accelerated investigations on the introduction of their own retail digital currency.

This study analyses the two reports published by the ECB regarding its investigation for the introduction of a digital euro.

The digital euro can offer many advantages over existing means of payment. However, most of these benefits, as outlined in the two reports, are of a systemic and social nature, rather than being benefits for users.

A broad acceptance and usage of the digital euro requires that it brings benefits not only to consumers but also to merchants. The digital euro needs a platform business model that brings consumers but also incentivises merchants to adopt it.

In addition, considering the social benefits it brings, the ECB should design the digital euro to promote its appeal. The ECB should consider eliminating holding limits and discontinuing penalising remuneration schemes as soon as possible after its introduction. Also, the ECB should consider adding some programmability features to the digital euro.

There are also some challenges ahead.

The deployment of the digital euro by regulated intermediaries results in a conflict of interest, as the digital euro competes with a significant source of their revenue, i.e. payments. To restrict the fees charged to users of the digital euro by intermediaries, the ECB should consider implementing a transparent fee structure that may incorporate subsidies.

Also, while consumers use cash to preserve their anonymity, the digital euro will always leave a data trail. It is therefore key that the future design of the digital euro preserves at least the privacy of its users, which may require the central bank to make compromises with some other objectives.

It is not clear that distributed ledger technology (DLT) is the best way to deploy the digital euro but making it DLT compatible and programmable can foster innovations in decentralised finance.

Update, late May 2023: Christian Hofmann also wrote a report (PDF). His executive summary:

… This paper argues that the paramount reason for introducing a digital euro should lie in the imperfections of the existing money landscape that offers the public suboptimal choices for store of value and payment transactions. In that respect, the introduction of a digital euro holds great promise for the public, and this paper focuses on one of the most essential design features of a digital euro. The European Central Bank (ECB) plans to introduce a limited version of a digital euro that would cap the maximum amounts of digital euros that individuals can hold, but this paper challenges the ECB’s assumption that such caps are needed in the interest of financial stability. The concerns voiced by the ECB and other central banks about the risks from sudden outflows of liquidity from bank deposits to CBDC are realistic, but this paper argues that these risks are manageable and that a digital euro might even support financial stability in a banking crisis. Properly implemented, an unlimited digital euro would allow central banks and other authorities to wield control more effectively during bank run scenarios and improve their overall ability to manage crises situations. 

The Economist on CBDC—and SVB

The Economist refers to our work in the `Free Exchange’ section:

But some argue banks would work fine if the public switched their deposits for central-bank digital currencies, so long as the central bank stepped in to replace the lost funding. “The issuance of [such currencies] would simply render the central bank’s implicit lender-of-last-resort guarantee explicit,” wrote Markus Brunnermeier and Dirk Niepelt in 2019. This scenario seems to have partly materialised since the failure of svb, as deposits have fled small banks for money-market funds which can park cash at the Fed, while the Fed makes loans to banks.

SNB Strategy Update

With its annual report from a few weeks ago the SNB communicated minor changes in its monetary policy strategy (p. 24):

The review of the monetary policy strategy showed that it has fundamentally proved its worth. There was no need to adjust the first two elements, namely the definition of price stability and the conditional inflation forecast. The strategy has enabled the SNB to fulfil its mandate of price stability well, despite repeated strong external shocks in recent years. The definition of price stability has allowed the SNB to react flexibly to such shocks and to weigh up the costs and benefits of monetary policy measures. The conditional inflation forecast has also proved its worth as the main indicator for the orientation of monetary policy and as a tool for its communication. It summarises the need for monetary policy action and helps to communicate monetary policy decisions in an understandable manner.

The formulation of the third element, however, has been adjusted. The SNB implements its monetary policy by setting the SNB policy rate. The third element now explicitly provides for the SNB to also use additional monetary policy measures to influence the exchange rate or the interest rate level, if necessary. With this adjustment, the SNB is taking into account the increased importance of such measures in recent years. Until now they have been mentioned in explaining the strategy, but were not explicitly included in the third element.

As part of this review, the SNB also decided to hold a news conference following every monetary policy assessment, in order to explain the monetary policy decision to the public in greater detail. This change was implemented for the first time at the September assessment.

In my NZZ article from August 2021 I had concluded (in German):

Daher ist eine Strategieüberprüfung inner- und ausserhalb der SNB sinnvoll. Geldpolitisch prüfenswert sind das Inflationszielband, die Zentralität des Zinsinstruments und die Kommunikation. Die Glaubwürdigkeit der SNB verbietet ein Auseinanderklaffen von Theorie und Praxis, aber auch allzu häufiges und detailversessenes Feilen an der Strategie, und sie verlangt Konzentration auf das Wesentliche. Gleichzeitig sollte die SNB ihre Bindung an den – gegebenenfalls sich wandelnden – Willen des Gesetzgebers betonen. Bei Fragen, die nicht allein in ihre Zuständigkeit fallen, muss sie klarstellen, dass sie Partei und nicht Schiedsrichterin ist. Damit die SNB auch in Zukunft zu den grossen Schweizer Erfolgsgeschichten zählt, muss sie von Zeit zu Zeit über die Bücher gehen. Doch alleine kann sie die Verantwortung in Geld- und Währungsfragen nicht tragen.

The title of that article was “Die Nationalbank ist an vielen Fronten gefordert”. Online, the NZZ added “—die Schweizerische Nationalbank braucht eine neue Strategie”.

“Finanzplatz steuert auf eine Verstaatlichung der UBS zu (Switzerland on its Way to Nationalizing UBS),” NZZ, 2023

Neue Zürcher Zeitung, March 22, 2023. PDF.

  • How to respond? Nationalization now rather than later? Breaking UBS up? Placing government representatives on the supervisory board?
  • Illiquidity crises and the lender of last resort.
  • Vollgeld, higher reserve requirements, and CBDC as partial solutions to TBTF problems.

Plans for a Deposit Token in Switzerland

Swiss Banking proposes a “Deposit Token,” New Money for Switzerland.

This white paper focuses on the question of how banks can best support the Swiss economy when it comes to settling transactions in digital assets and executing payments in a digitalised economy. As the digital transformation sweeps through the economy and society at large, it requires support from efficient, generally accepted and secure means of payment. Against this background and considering developments such as the tokenisation of assets and the emergence of decentralised finance applications, the Swiss Bankers Association (SBA) is working on the concept of a digital currency in the form of tokenised deposits based on distributed ledger technology (DLT): the “Deposit Token” (DT). This kind of stablecoin, if carefully designed, would potentially allow for a wide range of new applications, reduce risks, increase efficiency, and open up whole new areas of business. Looking at the big picture, the main goals are to preserve and strengthen Switzerland’s standing as a leading hub for innovation, support the Swiss franc (CHF) as a means of payment, and bolster the technological sovereignty of the CHF economic area.

Report in the NZZ.

German University Life c. 1900

An American professor’s perspective as reported on Irwin Collier’s Economics in the Rear-View Mirror:

On an October morning, some years since, a recent Vermont graduate and I entered together the Aula of the Friedrich-Wilhelms-University at Berlin. Lectures were still two weeks away; but Germany is a country of leisurely beginnings and this was the morning of matriculation. The great hall was thronged with an interesting company. At a long table sat the Rector Magnificus, Harnack, the mighty theologian, and the professors of the various faculties. Moving about the room were students of three types: foreigners like ourselves; wanderers from other universities of the Fatherland; and boys from the “Gymnasium,” who had passed the “Abiturient” examination and become “mules” or freshmen. These last we regard with interest. They are unquestionably the best trained school boys in the world. For nine years they have been drilled by the best masters, every one a doctor, for some thirty hours a week. They have been taught not simply to remember, but to analyze, compare and classify, until, at the age of eighteen or nineteen stand often on a better footing than graduates of our colleges. But there is another side to the shield, as I learned when I grew to know them better. They have marred their sight — sixty per cent of Germans over eighteen wear glasses. They have hurt their health by long hours of work at home and by little play save perhaps skating in winter and gymnastic exercises on the “Turnboden.” With all his learning, the German Jack is often a dull boy. …

“Fiscal and Monetary Policies,” Bern, Spring 2023

MA course at the University of Bern.

Time: Monday, 12.15 – 14.00. Location: UniS, A027. Uni Bern’s official course page. TA: Remo Taudien.

This course covers macroeconomic theories of fiscal policy (including tax and debt policy) and the interaction between fiscal and monetary policy. Participants should be familiar with the material covered in the course Macroeconomics II. The course grade reflects the final exam grade. 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.

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.

“Topics in Macroeconomics,” Bern, Spring 2023

BA course at the University of Bern.

Time: Monday, 10:15–12:00. Location: UniS, S101. Uni Bern’s official course page.

The course targets students who have completed their mandatory training in microeconomics, macroeconomics and mathematics and who are interested to make use of macroeconomic theory in order to analyze questions related to asset prices, bubbles, government debt, or the link between fiscal and monetary policy. The grade may depend on participation in class; small group projects; and/or a written exam.

The Economics of Brexit

In one of the eBooks that CEPR published in 2022 several authors draw first conclusions. From the introduction by Jonathan Portes:

The analyses in this eBook are very much a preliminary and incomplete account of the economic impacts of Brexit. In some cases, they raise as many questions as they answer.
For example, why have UK imports of EU goods fallen so sharply, while UK exports are much less affected, when (in contrast to the EU) the UK has not yet introduced the full panoply of import controls provided for under the TCA? Why has the large fall in the number of EU workers in some sectors – and a corresponding rise in vacancies – not translated into higher wages, at least in relative terms? Nevertheless, the overwhelming weight of the evidence presented suggests that – very much as economists predicted – Brexit has made the UK a less open economy, reduced UK trade in both goods and services, and increased prices for some products. Moreover, despite public scepticism of economists and their forecasts, our verdict is increasingly shared by the wider public (Surridge 2022).

However, as Fetzer points out, aggregate impacts are not the whole story by any means. His analysis suggests not only that the costs of Brexit are very unevenly distributed, but that, perhaps paradoxically, those areas that voted most heavily for Brexit are the worst affected, while London has escaped largely unscathed, at least so far.

“Sovereign Bond Prices, Haircuts and Maturity,” JIE, 2023

With Tamon Asonuma and Romain Ranciere. Journal of International Economics 140, 103689, January 2023. 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.

Lucas Kyriacou’s “Python for Macroeconomists”

Lucas Kyriacou has posted a Jupyter notebook with a great introduction to Python.

From the readme file:

This course aims to introduce PhD students to the basics of the popular and powerful programming language called Python. After going through the basics, we will also see some applications such as OLS regression, extraction of information from textual data, data visualization and object-oriented programming. In an extended version of this course we will further discuss various applications such as bulk downloading macroeconomic data, VAR estimation and solving macroeconomic models.

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.”

Webinar on “Digital Money and Finance: What’s New?,” CEPR/SUERF/CB&DC, 2023

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.