Modi, Sisi & Jokowi: Three New Leaders Face the Challenge of Food & Fuel Subsidies

In few policy areas does good economics seem to conflict so dramatically with good politics as in the practice of subsidies to food and energy.  Economics textbooks explain that these subsidies are lose-lose policies. In the political world that can sound like an ivory tower abstraction.   But the issue of unaffordable subsidies happens to be front and center politically now, in a number of places around the world.   Three major new leaders in particular are facing this challenge:  Sisi in Egypt, Jokowi in Indonesia, and Modi in India.

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 Has Italy Really “Gone Back Into Recession”?

Italians and the world have now been told that their economy slipped back into recession in the first half of 2014.  This characterization is based on the criterion for recession that is standard in Europe and most countries:  two successive quarters of negative growth.  But if the criteria for determining recessions in European countries were similar to those used in the United States, this new downturn would be a continuation of the 2012 recession in Italy, not a new one.  A common-sense look at the graph below suggests the same conclusion: the 2013 “recovery” is barely visible.

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US Monetary Policy and East Asia

I visited Korea earlier this summer and gave a talk on effects of U.S. Tapering on Emerging Markets.  (This was also the subject of comments at an Istanbul conference sponsored by the NBER and the Central Bank of Turkey in June.)

An interview on the effects of policy at the Fed and other advanced-country central banks on East Asian EMs now appears in KRX magazine (in Korean), August. Here is the English version:

Special Interview with  Jeffrey A. Frankel <KRX MAGAZINE> August

Q: On 10 June 2014, Federal Reserve Bank of Boston President Eric Rosengren said in a speech that the Fed’s “new” monetary policy tools, including forward guidance and large-scale asset purchases, were “essential” in ensuring the economic recovery in the United States. What do you think about the ‘ongoing’ U.S’s ‘Tapering’ policy? And what is your idea about appropriate “new” monetary policy?

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It Takes More than Two to Tango: Cry, But Not for Argentina, nor for the Holdouts

U.S. federal courts have ruled that Argentina is prohibited from making payments to fulfill 2005 and 2010 agreements with its creditors to restructure its debt, so long as it is not also paying a few creditors that have all along been holdouts from those agreements.  The judgment is likely to stick, because the judge (Thomas Griesa, in New York) told American banks on June 27 that it would be illegal for them to transfer Argentina’s payments to the 92 per cent of creditors who agreed to be restructured and because the US Supreme Court in June declined to review the lower court rulings.

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The ECB’s Unprecedented Monetary Stimulus

After the recent Draghi press conference announcing new measures to ease monetary policy in euroland, I responded to live questions from the Financial Times: “The ECB Eases,” podcast,  FT Hard Currency, June 5, 2014 (including regarding my proposal that the ECB should buy dollar bonds).

And also to questions in writing from El Mercurio, June 5:

• Many critics point that these measures do not solve the economic problems of the Eurozone and in that they only benefit the financial markets. Do you agree?

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China Is Not Yet #1

Widespread recent reports have trumpeted: “China to overtake US as top economic power this year.”  The claim is basically wrong. The US remains the world’s largest economic power by a substantial margin.

The story was based on the April 29 release of a report from the ICP project of the World Bank: “2011 International Comparison Program Summary Results Release Compares the Real Size of the World Economies.”     The work of the International Comparison Program is extremely valuable.  I await eagerly their latest estimates every six years or so and I use them, including to look at China.  (Before 2005, the data collection exercise used to appear in the Penn World Tables.)

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How to Address Inequality

Inequality has received a lot of attention lately, particularly in two arenas where it had not previously received as much: American public debate and the International Monetary Fund.  A major driver is the observation in the United States that income inequality has now returned to the extreme levels of the Gilded Age.  (The share of income held by the top 1% rose from 8% in 1980 to 19% in 2012, a level last seen in 1928, and probably the highest among advanced countries.  The share held by the top 0.1% rose from 2% to almost 9% currently, a level least seen in 1916. And mobility remains as low as ever.)  Inequality remains high in Latin America and has increased in many other parts of the world as well.

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ECB QE via FX: Plan B

My post last month was a proposal for the European monetary authorities to pursue Quantitative Easing, not by buying euro bonds, but by buying dollar bonds.   I also presented this idea in a speech at a conference sponsored by the Dallas Fed, April 4, “Why the ECB Should Buy US Treasuries.”

But what if the ECB is told by the international community, especially the US, that it doesn’t want them to push the euro down against the dollar, that it fears a re-ignition of the currency wars?   And what if the ECB concludes that it can’t buy US treasuries without US agreement?   After all, it was only February of last year that the G-7 Ministers and Governors agreed not to try to influence exchange rates.

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Considering QE, Mario? Buy US Bonds, Not Eurozone Bonds

         The ECB should further ease monetary policy.  Inflation at 0.8% across the eurozone is below the target of “close to 2%.”  Unemployment in most countries is still high and their economies weak.  Under current conditions it is hard for the periphery countries to bring their costs the rest of the way back down to internationally competitive levels as they need to do.  If inflation is below 1% euro-wide, then the periphery countries have to suffer painful deflation. 

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The Fiscal Stimulus & Market Turnaround: 5-Year Anniversary

Commentators are taking note of the five-year anniversary of the fiscal stimulus that President Obama enacted during his first month in office.   Those who don’t like Obama are still asking “if the  fiscal stimulus was so great, why didn’t it work?”    What is the appropriate response?

Those who think that the spending increases and tax cuts were the right thing to do have given a number of responses, which sound a bit weak to me.  The first is that the stimulus wasn’t big enough.  The second was that the Great Recession would have been much worse in the absence of the stimulus, perhaps a replay of the Great Depression of the 1930s.  (The media are fond of this line of reasoning because it allows them to escape making a judgment.  They can just say “nobody knows what would have happened otherwise.”)    The third response is that the fiscal stimulus was short-lived, and in fact was reversed by the Congress by 2010.

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