Archive for November 2011
With the deficit-reduction committee’s failure, American fiscal policy is drifting in a dangerous direction
[Greg Ip] Nov 26th 2011 | WASHINGTON, DC | from the print edition
THE failure by Congress’s joint select committee to produce a deficit plan was greeted with widespread disappointment, but little shock. Voters had long expected failure. Wall Street had predicted at best a small deal. Deprived of even that, stocks fell November 21st, the day the committee announced its failure, but soon turned their attention back to Europe.
Superficially the lack of alarm was understandable. The showdown between Republicans and President Barack Obama over the debt ceiling in August could have forced the federal government to renege immediately on its bills. In contrast, the law that established the “supercommittee” dictates that without a deficit plan, $1.2 trillion in spending cuts spread over domestic and defence programmes (a “sequester”) be triggered, but not until 2013.
Nov 14th 2011, 22:57 by G.I. | WASHINGTON
[Greg Ip] JAPANESE policymakers must watch Europe’s unfolding train wreck with mixed feelings. On the one hand, they take no joy in the economic and financial damage a vital trading partner is inflicting on itself. On the other hand, for a change they’re not the ones whose judgment is being dissected, debated and criticised.
That changes for one night, however. Tonight in my old stomping ground of Toronto, the following proposition will be debated: “Be it resolved that North America faces a Japan-style era of high unemployment and slow growth.” Paul Krugman and David Rosenberg take the “pro” side, while Larry Summers and Ian Bremmer represent the “con” side.
Japan has been studied so thoroughly that I may subtract rather than add value here. Nonetheless, there are two things I find get less attention than they deserve. They come in the form of a pop quiz:
1. How much of the gap between Japanese and American economic performance since the mid-1990s can be explained by demographics?
2. How much did fiscal tightening contribute to Japan’s steep recession of 1998?
The answer to (1) is “more than you think”, and the answer to (2) is “less than you think”. Okay, I don’t really know what you think. Still, when I learned the answers, I was surprised.
First, on demographics. Between 1994 and 2008 American GDP grew 3% a year while Japan’s grew 1.1%. That sounds dismal, but be sure you use the right benchmark. Japan’s potential growth slowed dramatically in the mid 1990s. As the chart at right illustrates, Japan’s working-age population at that time began a long decline, shrinking 0.4% per year over the period while America’s grew 1.2% according to the OECD. That 1.6 point differential can explain most of the difference in growth. Japanese productivity growth averaged a perfectly respectable 2.1% from 1994 to 2008, the same as America’s. At the time it was a disappointment because it was a sharp deceleration from prior decades. In retrospect, though, it may have been inevitable given that Japan had, technologically, almost caught up to America. (An overregulated and inefficient service sector made it difficult to close the remaining gap.) Read the rest of this entry »
Nov 11th 2011, 16:51 by G.I. | WASHINGTON
ASK any pundit why Italy is in crisis and they will mention some combination of Silvio Berlusconi, a towering national debt, and a moribund economy. The explanation resonates since all three have undeniably been enormous negatives for Italy. Today’s market action seems to vindicate the reasoning: with the prospect of a new government under Mario Monti and speedy implementation of a new budget, Italian bond yields have plummeted below 7%, and stocks around the world have rallied.
But these factors are not the root cause of the crisis and as long as Europeans behave as if they are, a resolution will elude them.
Italy has been burdened by Mr Berlusconi, a large national debt and a moribund economy for most of the past decade. As Daniel Gros points out, some of Italy’s key fundamentals—investment, R&D, educational attainment—have actually improved relative to Germany in that time. Yes, its debt remains a problem but, unlike Greece, it did not suddenly spiral out of control and was not, as far as we know, systematically underreported. As recently as 2009 Italy’s debt was 97% of GDP (it’s 100% now) and its deficit was 5% (compared to 4% this year, according to the IMF). Yet that year Italy could borrow at 4%, not much more than Germany, whereas now it must borrow at 6-7%, triple what Germany pays.
What changed is not Italy’s political or economic fundamentals but how investors perceive Italian debt. Read the rest of this entry »
How to deal with a collapsing bank under the Dodd-Frank rules
Nov 12th 2011 | NEW YORK | from the print edition
Central-bank lending to government serves a valuable, though risky, purpose
Nov 5th 2011 | from the print edition
[Greg Ip] IT CANNOT be pleasant to start a new job with a continent’s fate resting on your shoulders. On November 1st, Mario Draghi’s first day as president of the European Central Bank (ECB), peripheral-government bond yields shot up and stockmarkets sank on fears that Greeks might reject a rescue plan agreed days earlier. On November 3rd, as The Economist went to press, Mr Draghi was presiding over his first policy meeting. Much is riding on what the ECB decides then and in coming weeks because it alone currently has the means to stem the intensifying crisis. It has bought Greek, Portuguese and Irish debt; since early August, it has also purchased Spanish and Italian bonds. But its purchases have been intermittent and begrudging. Without a firm commitment to buy as much as needed to prevent yields on Italian and Spanish bonds rising so high that both countries become insolvent, investors have less incentive to return. The ECB’s reluctance to make such a commitment is understandable: its legal mandate and doctrinal persuasion bar it from directly supporting governments. Yet throughout history central banks have been lenders of last resort to their governments. In 1694 the English monarchy was broke and in need of a loan so that it could wage war with France. A group of financiers agreed to lend the crown £1.2m in return for a partial monopoly on the issue of currency. Thus was born the Bank of England. Read the rest of this entry »
Nov 1st 2011, 10:28 by G.I. | WASHINGTON