Fiscal policy

By Michael Pomerleano

As fears of debt disaster swirl around Dubai and Europe, it is useful to take a closer look at local currency bond markets. A recent superb book – This Time is Different: Eight Centuries of Financial Folly, by Carmen M. Reinhart and Kenneth Rogoff - offers a veritable tour de force of local currency markets. Reinhart and Rogoff have done an extraordinary job of putting together statistics covering eight centuries of government debt defaults around the world. The lengthy historical perspective documents never-ending cycles of boom and bust.

Their story is vastly different from the reports propagated by the official community. The official story of local currency bond markets reads roughly as follows. The typical report from a multilateral financial institution (and there have been several) points to the rapid development of local currency bond markets over the past years as a source of strength for financial systems in emerging-market economies. They report that foreign investment is buoyant, with foreign investors channeling increasing volumes of funds into these markets. The authors invariably commend developing countries for borrowing in local currency to reduce foreign currency mismatches end encourage them to adopt better macroeconomic policies, improve debt management strategies, and undertake further financial sector reform. Read more

Ingram Pinn illustration

Financial crises have devastating impacts on the public finances. The impact is also most severe where the pre-crisis excesses were greatest. Among members of the Group of Seven leading high-income countries, this means the bubble-infected US and UK. The question both countries confront is how soon and how far to tighten. Tightening will have to be substantial. But premature action could be a devastating error. Read more

Pinn illustration

If we are to understand where we are, we must understand where we have
been. This is particularly true if we are to escape from the huge
fiscal deficits being run by many governments. These deficits are not
the result of government stupidity; they are mainly a consequence of –
and response to – private behaviour. We must not ignore this connection. Read more

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How did the world economy fall into such a deep hole? It is recovering, but painfully, and after a deep recession, despite unprecedented monetary and fiscal easing. Moreover, how likely is it that a balanced world economy will emerge from this force-feeding? The very fact that such drastic action has been necessary is terrifying. The fact that there is little room for a policy encore is yet more terrifying. Most terrifying of all is that this is not the first time in recent decades the world economy has had to be guided through a post-bubble collapse. Read more

From the FT:

Goodbye, Macroeconomics – Eli Noam Read more

By Andrew Sheng and Michael Pomerleano

The national authorities and the international community should be commended for the speed of action taken to stop the spread of the financial crisis. To protect the financial system from the deflation in asset bubbles, the public sector has essentially guaranteed all deposits, rescued systemically important institutions, made large liquidity injections and brought interest rates to zero or near zero under a zero interest rate policy. Almost all systemically important central banks entered into ZIRP under emergency conditions at the same time.

But the polices adopted to combat the crisis are creating their own problems. In the medium term, the treatment may be as expensive as the crisis. Read more

From the FT:

Wolfgang Münchau: Making the case for a weaker dollar Read more

By Thomas Palley

Over the past year the global economy has experienced a massive contraction, the deepest since the Great Depression of the 1930s. But this spring, economists started talking of “green shoots” of recovery and that optimistic assessment quickly spread to Wall Street. More recently, on the anniversary of the Lehman Brothers crash, Ben Bernanke, Federal Reserve chairman, officially blessed this consensus by declaring the recession is “very likely over”. Read more

Financial stability regulatory architecture is best realised on a national level.  Read more

By Andre Sapir

Imagine the US was facing the current crisis with the following situation: only 30 of its 50 states belong to the dollar area; most of the southern states are outside the dollar area and so is New York, home of the US financial centre; the seat of the US government is in Washington, but dollar area chairman Ben Bernanke operates from Pittsburgh and secretary Tim Geithner is mainly governor of Vermont, one of the smallest US states, with a population of roughly half a million.

Absurd? Yet this is exactly what the European Union looks like, with only 16 of its 27 member states belonging to the euro area; most of the eastern states and the UK, home of the EU financial centre, outside the euro area; the seat of the EU institutions in Brussels, but ECB president Jean-Claude Trichet operating from Frankfurt and Eurogroup chairman Jean-Claude Juncker mainly the prime minister of Luxembourg. Read more

By Greg Fisher

The UK government’s policies towards the banks are inadequate. This is not surprising because the British government and both main political parties lack firm ideological foundations. Neoliberalism has failed.  However, the circumstances the banks find themselves in are best understood through the lens of game theory; their situation is analogous to the prisoners’ dilemma. Government policy ought to be guided accordingly, with a firmer hand on bank lending. Read more

by Paul De Grauwe

There can be little doubt. The science of macroeconomics is in deep trouble. The best and the brightest in the field fight over the most basic problems. Take government budget deficits, which now exceed 10 per cent of gross domestic product in countries such as the US and the UK. One camp of macroeconomists claims that, if not quickly reversed, such deficits will lead to rising interest rates and a crowding out of private investment. Instead of stimulating the economy, the deficits will lead to a new recession coupled with a surge in inflation. Wrong, says the other camp. There is no danger of inflation. These large deficits are necessary to avoid deflation. A clampdown on deficits would intensify the deflationary forces in the economy and would lead to a new and more intense recession. Read more

By Ricardo Caballero

Perhaps one of the economic phenomena most akin to witch-hunting is the diagnostic and policy response that develops during the recovery phase of a financial crisis.  Understandably, pressured politicians and policymakers rush to find culprits and sources of instant gratification. All too often they find a ready supply of these in preconceptions and superficial analyses of correlations.  This time around the scapegoats are global imbalances and leverage. Read more

Abraham Lincoln famously said that “you can fool some of the people all of the time, and all of the people some of the time, but you cannot fool all of the people all of the time”. His successor, George W. Bush, is reported to have added: “You can fool some of the people all the time, and those are the ones you want to concentrate on.” Some British politicians wish to follow that advice in the debate on the public finances. Alistair Darling’s refusal to do that was, it appears, the reason Gordon Brown, the prime minister, wanted to drop him. But Mr Darling is to be praised, not dropped, for his probity. Read more

This financial year, the UK government is forecast to spend £4 for every £3 it raises. Never before, in peacetime, has the UK run such a deficit. This, one might imagine, would be a dominant concern in the British political debate. One would be quite wrong. The public is venting its rage over the expenses of members of parliament, instead. Read more

Ingram Pinn illustration

Is the US (and a number of other high-income countries) on the road to fiscal Armageddon? Are recent jumps in government bond rates proof that investors are worried about fiscal prospects? My answers to these questions are: No and No. This does not mean there is no reason for worry. It is rather that there are powerful arguments against fiscal retrenchment right now and strong reasons for welcoming recent moves in the bond markets. Read more

The UK has a strategic nightmare: it has a strong comparative advantage in the world’s most irresponsible industry. So now, in the wake of the biggest financial crisis since the 1930s, the UK must ask itself a painful question: how should the country manage the cuckoo sitting in its nest? Read more

By James W Dean and Richard G Lipsey

The enormous stimulus packages hastily put together by governments in most large economies encounter two sorts of criticisms from many conservative economists. Both criticisms are wrong.

The first is that spending will either be hurried and wasteful, or that it won’t come on stream until employment has recovered, and will therefore be inflationary. Read more

By Benn Steil

The Congressional Budget Office estimates that the US budget deficit will reach $1.85 trillion this year and $1.38 trillion in 2010, 13.1 per cent and 9.6 per cent of gross domestic product respectively. Much more worryingly, it projects deficits averaging more than $1 trillion a year for the next 10 years, which will raise the US public debt-to-GDP ratio to more than 80 per cent by 2019.

 Read more

In 2010, according to the European Commission’s latest forecasts, the UK government will be spending 52.4 per cent of gross domestic product and receiving just 38.7 per cent of GDP in revenue. It will, as a result, have a gigantic general government deficit of 13.8 per cent of GDP. Worse, the UK’s cyclically-adjusted deficit will be 12.2 per cent of GDP. These are numbers one would expect in a time of war. Read more