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Posts Tagged ‘risks’

The political dynamite of calm economic reflection

In a carefully argued article in the New Statesman, the UK Business Secretary, Vince Cable, considers the slow recovery in the economy and whether additional measures should be adopted. He sums up the current state of the economy as follows:

The British economy is still operating at levels around or below those before the 2008 financial crisis and roughly 15 per cent below an albeit unsustainable pre-crisis trend. There was next to no growth during 2012 and the prospect for 2013 is of very modest recovery.

Unsurprisingly there is vigorous debate as to what has gone wrong. And also what has gone right; unemployment has fallen as a result of a million (net) new jobs in the private sector and there is vigorous growth of new enterprises. Optimistic official growth forecasts and prophets of mass unemployment have both been confounded.

He argues that supply-side policies involving “a major and sustained commitment to skills, innovation and infrastructure investment” are essential if more rapid long-term growth is to be achieved. This is relatively uncontroversial.

But he also considers the claim that austerity has kept the economy from recovering and whether policies to tackle the negative output gap should be adopted, even if this means a short-term increase in government borrowing.

But crude Keynesian policies of expanding aggregate demand are both difficult to implement and may not take into account the particular circumstance of the current extended recession – or depression – in the UK and in many eurozone countries. World aggregate demand, however, is not deficient. In fact it is expanding quite rapidly, and with the sterling exchange rate index some 20% lower than before the financial crisis, this should give plenty of opportunity for UK exporters.

Yet expanding UK aggregate demand is proving difficult to achieve. Consumers, worried about falling real wages and large debts accumulated in the years of expansion, are reluctant to increase consumption and take on more debts, despite low interest rates. In the light of dampened consumer demand, firms are reluctant to invest. This makes monetary policy particularly ineffective, especially when banks have become more risk averse and wish to hold higher reserves, and indeed are under pressure to do so.

So what can be done? He argues that there is “some scope for more demand to boost output, particularly if the stimulus is targeted on supply bottlenecks such as infrastructure and skills.” In other words, he advocates policies that will simultaneously increase both aggregate demand and aggregate supply. Monetary policy, involving negative real interest rates and quantitative easing, has helped to prevent a larger fall in real aggregate demand and a deeper dive into recession, but the dampened demand for money and the desire by banks to build their reserves has meant a massive fall in the money multiplier. Perhaps monetary policy needs to be more aggressive still (see the blog post, Doves from above), but this may not be sufficient.

Which brings Dr Cable to the political dynamite! He advocates an increase in public investment on infrastructure (schools and colleges, hospitals, road and rail projects and housing, and considers whether this should be financed, not by switching government expenditure away from current spending, but by borrowing more.

Such a strategy does not undermine the central objective of reducing the structural deficit, and may assist it by reviving growth. It may complicate the secondary objective of reducing government debt relative to GDP because it entails more state borrowing; but in a weak economy, more public investment increases the numerator and the denominator.

He raises the question of whether the balance of risks has changed: away from the risk of increased short-term borrowing causing a collapse of confidence to the risk of lack of growth causing a deterioration in public finances and this causing a fall in confidence. As we saw in the blog post Moody Blues, the lack of growth has already caused one ratings agency (Moody’s) to downgrade the UK’s credit rating. The other two major agencies, Standard & Poor’s and Fitch may well follow suit.

The day after Dr Cable’s article was published, David Cameron gave a speech saying that the government would stick to its plan of deficit reduction. Not surprisingly commentators interpreted this as a split in the Coalition. Carefully argued economics from Dr Cable it might have been, but political analysts have seen it as a hand grenade, as you will see from some of the articles below.

When the facts change, should I change my mind? New Statesman, Vince Cable (6/3/13)
Keynes would be on our side New Statesman, Vince Cable (12/1/11)
Exclusive: Vince Cable calls on Osborne to change direction New Statesman, George Eaton (67/3/13)
Vince Cable: Borrowing may not be as bad as slow growth BBC News (7/3/13)
Vince Cable makes direct challenge to Cameron over economic programme The Guardian, Nicholas Watt (7/3/13)
Vince Cable Says George Osborne Must Change Course And Borrow More To Revive Growth Huffington Post, Ned Simons (6/3/13)
David Cameron and Vince Cable at war over route to recovery Independent, Andrew Grice (6/3/13)
Vince Cable: Borrowing may not be as bad as slow growth BBC News, James Landale (6/3/13)
David Cameron: We will hold firm on economy BBC News (7/3/13)
David Cameron: We will hold firm on economy BBC News (7/3/13)
Clegg Backs Cable Over Controversial Economy Comments LBC Radio, Nick Clegg (7/3/13)
It’s plain what George Osborne needs to do – so just get on and do it The Telegraph, Jeremy Warner (6/3/13)
Vince Cable’s plan B: a “matter of judgement” BBC News, Stephanie Flanders (7/3/13)
George Osborne needs to turn on the spending taps The Guardian, Phillip Inman (12/3/13)

Questions

  1. Why has monetary policy proved ineffective in achieving a rapid recovery from recession?
  2. Distinguish between discretionary fiscal policy and automatic fiscal stabilisers.
  3. Why has the existence of automatic fiscal stabilisers meant that the public-sector deficit has been difficult to bring down?
  4. In what ways has the balance of risks in using discretionary fiscal policy changed over the past three years?
  5. In what ways is the depression of the late 2000s/early 2010s (a) similar to and (b) different from the Great Depression of the early 1930s?
  6. In what ways is the structure of public-sector debt in the UK different from that in many countries in the eurozone? Why does this give the government more scope for expansionary fiscal policy?
  7. Why does the Office of Budget Responsibility’s estimates of the tax and government expenditure multipliers suggest that “if fiscal policy is to work in a Keynesian manner, it needs to be targeted carefully, concentrating on capital projects”?
  8. Why did Keynes argue that monetary policy is ineffective at the zero bound (to use Dr Cable’s terminology)? Are we currently at the zero bound? If so what can be done?
  9. Has fiscal tightening more than offset loose monetary policy?
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A cap fit for purpose?

As part of the Basel III round of banking regulations, representatives of the EU Parliament and member governments have agreed with the European Commission that bankers’ bonuses should be capped. The proposal is to cap them at 100% of annual salary, or 200% with the agreement of shareholders. The full Parliament will vote in May and then it will go to officials from the 27 Member States. Under a system of qualified majority voting, it is expected to be accepted, despite UK resistance.

The main arguments in favour of a cap are that it will reduce the focus of bankers on short-term gains and reduce the incentive to take excessive risks. It will also appease the anger of electorates throughout the EU over bankers getting huge bonuses, especially in the light of the recession, caused in major part by the excesses of bankers.

The main argument against is that it will drive talented top bankers to countries outside the EU. This is a particular worry of the UK government, fearful of the effect on the City of London. There is also the criticism that it will simply drive banks into increasing basic salaries of senior executives to compensate for lower bonuses.

But it is not just the EU considering curbing bankers’ pay. The Swiss have just voted in a referendum to give shareholders the right to veto salaries and bonuses of executives of major companies. Many of these companies are banks or other financial sector organisations.

So just what will be the effect on incentives, banks’ performance and the movement of top bankers to countries without such caps? The following videos and articles explore these issues. As you will see, the topic is highly controversial and politically charged.

Meanwhile, HSBC has revealed its 2012 results. It paid out $1.9bn in fines for money laundering and set aside a further $2.3bn for mis-selling financial products in the UK. But its underlying profits were up 18%. Bonuses were up too. The 16 top executives received an average of $4.9m each. The Chief Executive, Stuart Gulliver, received $14.1m in 2012, 33% up on 2011 (see final article below).

Webcasts and podcasts
EU moves to cap bankers bonuses Euronews on Yahoo News (1/3/13)
EU to Curb Bank Bonuses WSJ Live (28/2/13)
Inside Story – Curbing Europe’s bank bonuses AlJazeera on YouTube (1/3/13)
Will EU bonus cap ‘damage economy’? BBC Radio 4 Today Programme (28/2/13)
Swiss back curbs on executive pay in referendum BBC News (3/3/13)
Has the HSBC scandal impacted on business? BBC News, Jeremy Howell (4/3/13)

Articles
Bonuses: the essential guide The Guardian, Simon Bowers, Jill Treanor, Fiona Walsh, Julia Finch, Patrick Collinson and Ian Traynor (28/2/13)
Q&A: EU banker bonus cap plan BBC News (28/2/13)
Outcry, and a Little Cunning, From Euro Bankers The New York Times, Landon Thomas Jr. (28/2/13)
Bank bonuses may shrink – but watch as the salaries rise The Observer, Rob Taylor (3/3/13)
Don’t cap bank bonuses, scrap them The Guardian, Deborah Hargreaves (28/2/13)
Capping banker bonuses simply avoids facing real bank problems The Telegraph, Mats Persson (2/3/13)
Pro bonus The Economist, Schumpeter column (28/2/13)
‘The most deluded measure to come from Europe since fixing the price of groceries in the Roman Empire’: Boris Johnson attacks EU banker bonus cap Independent, Gavin Cordon , Geoff Meade (28/2/13)
EU agrees to cap bankers’ bonuses BBC News (28/2/13)
Viewpoints: EU banker bonus cap BBC News (28/2/13)
Voters crack down on corporate pay packages swissinfo.ch , Urs Geiser (3/3/13)
Swiss voters seen backing executive pay curbs Reuters, Emma Thomasson (3/3/13)
Swiss referendum backs executive pay curbs BBC News (3/3/13)
Voters in Swiss referendum back curbs on executives’ pay and bonuses The Guardian, Kim Willsher and Phillip Inman (3/3/13)
Swiss vote for corporate pay curbs Financial Times, James Shotter and Alex Barker (3/3/13)
HSBC pays $4.2bn for fines and mis-selling in 2012 BBC News (4/3/13)

Questions

  1. How does competition, or a lack of it, in the banking industry affect senior bankers’ remuneration?
  2. What incentives are created by the bonus structure as it is now? Do these incentives result in desirable outcomes?
  3. How would you redesign the bonus system so that the incentives resulted in beneficial outcomes?
  4. If bonuses are capped as proposed by the EU, how would you assess the balance of advantages and disadvantages? What additional information would you need to know to make such an assessment?
  5. How has the relationship between banks and central banks over the past few years created a moral hazard? How could such a moral hazard be eliminated?
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The Big Brother of the financial sector

The blame for the global economic crisis has been placed on many different people, but one area that has been severely criticised for the extent of the financial crisis is banking and financial regulation (or a lack thereof). One thing that has been repeated is that we must learn from our mistakes and therefore tighten financial regulation on a global scale. The Institute for Public Policy Research (IPPR) says the ‘rapid return to the City’s bonus culture shows that real reform has been “very limited”’. France in particular is arguing for tighter financial regulation, including curbing bankers’ bonuses to avoid a repeat of last year’s meltdown. However, it is meeting resistance from the UK and USA. Indeed, some banks appear to have extended their bonus culture.

As the banking sector slowly begins to recover, there is concern that few changes have been made to ensure that there is no repeat of the recent crisis. Banks have been warned that they should not resume taking risks, as they did before, as future bailouts by the government (and hence the taxpayer) will not keep happening. The European Union has now unveiled plans for new ‘super-regulators’, but only time will tell whether they will be a success.

EU unveils new ‘super-regulators’ BBC News (23/9/09)
EU proposes new Financial-Market supervision system The Wall Street Journal, Adam Cohen and Charles Forelle (24/9/09)
FSA head launches fresh attack on ‘swollen’ system ShareCast (24/9/09)
Bank crisis lessons ‘not learned’ BBC News (15/9/09)
US, UK resisting French drive for regulation AFP (22/9/09)
European System of Financial Supervisors (ESFS): Frequently Asked Questions Mondovisione (23/9/09)
Tighter grip on economy needed BBC News (13/9/09)
Turner warns against regulation overkill Money Marketing (23/9/09)
EU calls for European Banking, Securities Regulators Bloomberg (24/9/09)
EU financial watchdog to rely on moral authority The Associated Press (23/9/09)
Obama issues warning to bankers (including video) BBC News (14/9/09)

Questions

  1. What are the advantages and disadvantages of tighter regulation of the financial sector for (a) the UK and (b) the global economy? What forms should such regulation take?
  2. What are the arguments for and against imposing a statutory capital adequacy ratio on banks that is substantially higher than the ratios with which banks have been operating in recent years?
  3. In what ways was a lack of financial regulation responsible for the financial crisis?
  4. Why is the continuation and possibly growth of the bonus culture a potentially dangerous issue for any future crisis?
  5. The articles talk about ‘lessons being learned’. What lessons are they referring to?
  6. The financial crisis has affected everyone in some way. What has been the impact on taxpayers?
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The costs of climate change

The traditional macroeconomic issues are well-known: unemployment, inflation, economic growth and the balance of payments. However, the environment, and specifically climate change, have become increasingly important objectives for the global economy. Over recent months, many countries have announced new policies and measures to tackle climate change.

The costs of not tackling climate change are well-documented, but what about the costs of actually tackling it? Why is a changing climate receiving such attention and what are the economics behind this problem? The articles below consider this important issue.

Tougher climate target unveiled BBC News (16/10/08)
Brown proposes £60 billion climate fund BBC News (26/6/09)
EU says tackling climate change will cost global economy €400 billion a year Irish Times, Frank McDonald (26/6/09)
Obama makes 11th-hour climate change push Washington AFP, Ammenaul Parisse (25/6/09)
UK to outline emission cut plans BBC News (26/6/09)
What’s new in the EU: EU examines impact of climate change on jobs The Jerusalem Post, Ari Syrquin (25/6/09)
Climate change: reducing risks and costs The Chronicle Herald, Jennifer Graham (25/6/09)
Obama to regulate ‘pollutant’ CO2 BBC News (17/4/09)
Billions face climate change risk BBC News (6/5/07)
Obama vows investment in science BBC News (27/4/09)
Japan sets ‘weak’ climate target BBC News (10/6/09)

Questions

  1. Why is climate change an example of market failure?
  2. Apart from imposing limits on emissions, what other interventionist policies could be used? What are the advantages and disadvantages of each of them?
  3. According to the EU, the cost of tackling climate change is very high. So, why are we doing it? See if you can carry out a cost-benefit analysis!
  4. Why is climate change presenting a problem for insurance companies? Can it be overcome?
  5. Why is finance such an issue between developed and developing countries in relation to tackling climate change?
  6. What is the likely impact of climate changing policies on the labour market? Will we be able to adapt in the current economic crisis?
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