In a new World Bank working paper, Bilal Zia and his coauthors study how insights from the biology of the human mind can help to better understand and facilitate learning of key development concepts, especially among illiterate populations in poor countries. To make people experience- rather than learning- the concept of probability, the researchers played a simple dice game in rural South Africa in a RCT involving 840 individuals. In the game each player started with one die and rolled till she got a six, then she was handed two dice and rolled till she got two sixes which on average took her much longer. Depending on how fast players were able to roll two sixes, they could reflect and update their beliefs about winning odds. Afterwards, players were told that winning the lotto would be equivalent to them rolling all sixes on nine dice. Read the complete blog post.
Financial crisis are typically associated with severe economic contractions and, in particular, lasting deteriorations in labor market conditions. Both the Great Depression and the 2007-9 recession are dramatic examples of such phenomena, which seems to be a more general attribute of credit-driven episodes of economic contraction (Reihnart and Rogoff, 2009). Why is this?
Despite such close connection between financial crises and sustained rises in unemployment, there is very little understanding of the mechanisms through which disruptions in credit markets transmit to labor market outcomes. In this blog post, we summarize one such mechanism, developed in Buera, Fattal-Jaef, and Shin (2014), which attempts to fill this gap developing a quantitative model with financial and labor market frictions.
Is Quantitative Easing the solution for the Eurozone?
Considering Quantitative Easing (QE) to be an effective way to save the Eurozone from deflation, De Grauwe and Ji (2015) argue that a QE programme can be so structured as not to pose a risk on German taxpayers – this risk being seen as the main obstacle against active policies by the ECB. However, they seem to miss some important points.
First, they fail to recognize that there is little convincing evidence that QE has any significant effect on consumer price inflation: QE does not buy-up ordinary goods and services, and consequently it does not create consumer price inflation. QE has delivered positive effects only when it has been implemented in conjunction with decisive fiscal stimulus, since it has counteracted the interest rate rises that deficit and debt growth would have otherwise caused. Giavazzi and Tabellini (2015) note that an accompanying fiscal expansion is critical to QE’s effectiveness. Yet fiscal expansion does not appear to be an option in the Eurozone, especially in already largely indebted countries, as it would trigger offsetting effects linked to Eurozone members having issued debt in a non-sovereign currency, which would neutralize the action of QE combined with fiscal expansion.
Policymakers and researchers would often like to measure whether reforms have their desired effects, but it’s not always feasible to collect survey data to shed light on this issue. Here, administrative data, that is being collected in any case, can help. Administrative data has no additional cost and may be readily available, particularly in countries that digitize the information they collect.
The ‘safety trap’ hypothesis and secular stagnation
Noting that Eurozone inflation has been declining for almost a year, and constantly undershooting forecasts, Landau (2104) suggests that underpinning those evolutions, including the lack of growth, might be one factor: an excess demand for ‘safe assets’. Essentially — Landau argues — agents have responded to extreme risk aversion by developing a strong inclination for holding liquid and safe assets (typically money and government bonds). In order to accumulate more of these assets, they have reduced consumption and investment, thus depressing aggregate demand. When inflation is low and the economy hits the zero lower bound (ZLB), interest rates cannot reach their (negative) equilibrium levels and the economy falls into what Landau refers to as a ‘safety trap’, with cumulative disinflation, increasing real interest rates, and depression setting in. This sounds as a plausible explanation for secular stagnation in the Eurozone.
The Financing for Development conference, organized by the IMF and the CFD, will take place at the Graduate Institute, Geneva, on April 16-17, 2015. The objective of the conference is to discuss new and enduring questions in development finance for Low-Income Developing Countries. The conference will include paper presentations, a policy panel, and a keynote address by Professor Jeffrey Sachs (The Earth Institute, Columbia University). A selection of papers will be published in a special issue of the Oxford Review of Economic Policy. Read more about the call for papers and the conference.
November 4 marked an important milestone in the Eurozone — the ECB took on direct supervision for the 120 largest banks and indirect supervision for all other banks. This came after a rigorous one-year examination of these banks’ books and subjecting their financial situation to different stress scenarios.1 Compared to the discussions right after the onset of the Global Financial Crisis in 2008, this is quite some progress. Six year ago, economists suggesting that the EU or Eurozone would need a single financial safety net were laughed out of the room by lawyers who pointed to the need for a treaty change and the political impossibility to do so. Six years and no treaty change later, the step towards a single supervisory mechanism can therefore be seen as quite an achievement towards a banking union matching the idea of a Single Market in Banking in Europe. On the other hand, the single supervisory mechanism has not been matched with similar progress on the resolution of weak banks on the European rather than national level, and there has been no move on connecting or joining the deposit insurance schemes across the Eurozone. A banking union on one and half pillars compared to the ideal of three pillars; a glass half full or half empty?
In a new paper, we address this question using detailed manufacturing census data from India. India offers an ideal laboratory for testing the role of institutions on firm lifecycle given the large persistent differences in institutions, business environment, and income across different regions. Specifically, we examine the relationship between plant size, age, and growth and ask: how does local financial development influence the size-age relationship? Are there differences in the size-age relationship across different industry characteristics and between the formal and informal manufacturing sector and does this vary with the extent of local financial development? Does the role of local financial development on firm lifecycle vary with major regulation changes in India such as financial liberalization, changes in labor regulation, and industry de-licensing?
Since the late 1990s, the importance of multinational banks has grown dramatically. Between 1999 and 2009 the average share of bank assets held by foreign banks in developing countries rose from 26 percent to 46 percent. The bulk of the pre-global crisis evidence analyzing the consequences of this significant transformation in bank ownership suggests that foreign bank participation brought many benefits to developing countries, especially in terms of bank competition and efficiency.
The recent global financial crisis, however, highlighted the role of multinational banks in the transmission of shocks across countries. Most of the research has focused on transmission through the lending channel – how foreign bank lending behaved during the crisis. A number of papers, including some before the recent global crisis, have documented that lending by foreign bank affiliates declines when parent banks’ financial conditions deteriorate.
One of the main obstacles that firms in developing countries face is lack of access to credit. A key factor that restricts access is insufficient collateral. Interestingly, banks in less-developed countries usually lend only against real estate; they rarely lend against other assets such as machinery, equipment, or inventory. The problem is that assets such as machines and equipment often account for most of the capital stock of small and medium-size firms. In this context, these assets become “dead capital”: they lose their debt capacity and only serve as inputs in the firms’ production processes.
While it’s true that machines and equipment are less redeployable than real estate, banks in developed countries do lend against these types of assets. In a recent study with Murillo Campello, we argue that the root of the problem lies in weak collateral laws. The law makes a clear distinction between two types of assets: immovable assets (e.g., real estate) and movable assets (e.g., machinery and equipment). Developing countries have weak collateral laws regarding movable assets, which makes its very difficult to pledge these assets as collateral. This shrinks the contracting space, since the menu of collateral becomes smaller, which limits access to credit. Moreover, since movable assets lose debt capacity, firms under-invest in technologies intensive in movable assets.