Libra 2.0

What’s left? The new plans envision

  • Several stablecoins tied to existing fiat currencies rather than (or in addition to) to the originally planned currency basket.
  • No more “permissionless” transactions, no more “censorship resistance.”
  • Vetting of new wallets by the operator (KYC, AML).

The new Libra White Paper.
Teunis Brosens and Carlo Cozucco in ING’s THINK.
Kiran Stacey and Hannah Murphy in the FT.
Philip Sandner and Jonas Gross in Medium.
Updated (April 25): Eichengreen and Viswanath-Natraj on VoxEU.

 

“On the Optimal ‘Lockdown’ during an Epidemic,” CEPR, 2020

CEPR Discussion Paper 14612, April 2020, with Martin Gonzalez-Eiras. PDF (local copy).

We embed a lockdown choice in a simplified epidemiological model and derive formulas for the optimal lockdown intensity and duration. The optimal policy reflects the rate of time preference, epidemiological factors, the hazard rate of vaccine discovery, learning effects in the health care sector, and the severity of output losses due to a lockdown. In our baseline specification a Covid-19 shock as currently experienced by the US optimally triggers a reduction in economic activity by two thirds, for about 50 days, or approximately 9.5 percent of annual GDP.

Medical Specialist Condemns Swiss Covid-19 Preparations and Response

In Die Mittelländische Zeitung, a Swiss doctor criticizes Switzerland’s preparations and response to Covid-19. He points to

  • Lack of preparation by political decision makers
  • Misleading communication by federal health officials
  • Their apparent lack of awareness of academic work on the topic
  • Arrogance in Switzerland and the West vis-à-vis China and other far eastern countries
  • Sensationalist scare mongering in the media
  • Calls for systematic infection of groups that are less at risk

Informative as far as medical aspects are concerned. Not convincing when criticizing statistical approaches to grasping the problem. Questionable as far as ex-post validation of eight studies and calls for action are concerned.

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.

For more recent papers, see for example CEPR’s Covid Economics: Vetted and Real-Time Papers.

Data:

Estimates and forecasts:

Oxford University’s government response tracker.

Coronavirus link database.

Updated: March 26, April 26, …

Coronavirus: The Hammer and the Dance

An excellent article written by Tomas Pueyo and published on Medium.

Summary of the article: Strong coronavirus measures today should only last a few weeks, there shouldn’t be a big peak of infections afterwards, and it can all be done for a reasonable cost to society, saving millions of lives along the way. If we don’t take these measures, tens of millions will be infected, many will die, along with anybody else that requires intensive care, because the healthcare system will have collapsed.

… Here’s what we’re going to cover today, again with lots of charts, data and models with plenty of sources:

  1. What’s the current situation?
  2. What options do we have?
  3. What’s the one thing that matters now: Time
  4. What does a good coronavirus strategy look like?
  5. How should we think about the economic and social impacts?

When you’re done reading the article, this is what you’ll take away:

  • Our healthcare system is already collapsing.
  • Countries have two options: either they fight it hard now, or they will suffer a massive epidemic.
  • If they choose the epidemic, hundreds of thousands will die. In some countries, millions. And that might not even eliminate further waves of infections.
  • If we fight hard now, we will curb the deaths.
  • We will relieve our healthcare system.
  • We will prepare better.
  • We will learn.
  • The world has never learned as fast about anything, ever.
  • And we need it, because we know so little about this virus.
  • All of this will achieve something critical: Buy Us Time.

If we choose to fight hard, the fight will be sudden, then gradual. We will be locked in for weeks, not months. Then, we will get more and more freedoms back. It might not be back to normal immediately. But it will be close, and eventually back to normal. And we can do all that while considering the rest of the economy too.

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.