Fiscal austerity is hugely controversial. Opponents argue that it can trigger downward growth spirals and become self-defeating. Supporters argue that budget deficits have to be tackled aggressively at all times and at all costs. In this masterful book, three of today’s leading policy experts cut through the political noise to demonstrate that there is not one type of austerity but many.
Looking at thousands of fiscal measures adopted by sixteen advanced economies since the late 1970s, Austerity assesses the relative effectiveness of tax increases and spending cuts at reducing debt. It shows that spending cuts have much smaller costs in terms of output losses than tax increases. Spending cuts can sometimes be associated with output gains in the case of expansionary austerity and are much more successful than tax increases at reducing the growth of debt. The authors also show that austerity is not necessarily the kiss of death for political careers as is often believed, and provide new insights into the recent cases of European austerity after the financial crisis.
Bringing needed clarity to one of today’s most challenging subjects, Austerity charts a sensible approach based on data analysis rather than ideology.
It is rare for countries to give up their currencies and thus
their ability to influence such critical aspects of their economies as
interest and exchange rates. Yet ten years ago a number of European
countries did exactly that when they adopted the euro. Despite some
dissent, there were a number of arguments in favor of this policy
change: it would facilitate exchange of goods, money, and people by
decreasing costs; it would increase trade; and it would enhance
efficiency and competitiveness at the international level. A
decade is an ideal time frame over which to evaluate the success of the
euro and whether it has lived up to expectations. To that aim, Europe and the Euro
looks at a number of important issues, including the effects of the
euro on reform of goods and labor markets; its influence on business
cycles and trade among members; and whether the single currency has
induced convergence or divergence in the economic performance of member
countries. While adoption of the euro may not have met the expectations
of its most optimistic proponents, the benefits have been many, and
there is reason to believe that the euro is robust enough to survive
recent economic shocks. This volume is an essential reference on the
first ten years of the euro and the workings of a monetary union.
Alesina, Alberto. Europe and the Euro. University of Chicago Press, 2010.
We explore the question of how political institutions and particularly democracy affect economic growth. Although empirical evidence of a positive effect of democracy on economic performance in the aggregate is weak, we provide evidence that democracy influences productivity growth in different sectors differently and that this differential effect may be one of the reasons of the ambiguity of the aggregate results. We provide evidence that political rights are conducive to growth in more advanced sectors of an economy, while they do not matter or have a negative effect on growth in sectors far away from the technological frontier. One channel of explanation goes through the beneficial effects of democracy and political rights on the freedom of entry in markets. Overall, democracies tend to have much lower entry barriers than autocracies, because political accountability reduces the protection of vested interests, and entry in turn is known to be generally more growth-enhancing in sectors that are closer to the technological frontier. We present empirical evidence that supports this entry explanation.
Gender Based Taxation (GBT) satisfies Ramsey’s optimal criterion by taxing less the more elastic labor supply of (married) women. This holds when different elasticities between men and women are taken as exogenous and primitive. But in this paper we also explore differences in gender elasticities which emerge endogenously in a model in which spouses bargain over the allocation of home duties. GBT changes spouses’ implicit bargaining power and induces a more balanced allocation of house work and working opportunities between males and females. Because of decreasing returns to specialization in home and market work, social welfare improves by taxing conditional on gender. When income sharing within the family is substantial, both spouses may gain from GBT.
The structure of family relationships influences economic behavior and attitudes. We define our measure of family ties using individual responses from the World Value Survey regarding the role of the family and the love and respect that children need to have for their parents for over 70 countries. We show that strong family ties imply more reliance on the family as an economic unit which provides goods and services and less on the market and on the government for social insurance. With strong family ties home production is higher, labor force participation of women and youngsters, and geographical mobility, lower. Families are larger (higher fertility and higher family size) with strong family ties, which is consistent with the idea of the family as an important economic unit. We present evidence on cross country regressions. To assess causality we look at the behavior of second generation immigrants in the US and we employ a variable based on the grammatical rule of pronoun drop as an instrument for family ties. Our results overall indicate a significant influence of the strength of family ties on economic outcomes.
Artificial states are those in which political borders do not coincide with a division of nationalities desired by the people on the ground. We propose and compute for all countries in the world two new measures of borders and divisions of people. One is based on measuring how borders split ethnic groups into two separate adjacent countries. The other one measures how straight land borders are, under the assumption the straight land borders are more likely to be artificial. We then show that these two measures seem to be highly correlated with several measures of political and economic success.
Preferences for redistribution and state intervention in social policies, as well as the generosity of welfare states, differ significantly across countries. In this paper, we test whether there exists a feedback process of the economic regime on individual preferences. We exploit the “experiment” of German separation and reunification to establish exogeneity of the economic system. From 1945 to 1990, East Germans lived under a Communist regime with heavy state intervention and extensive redistribution. We find that, after German reunification, East Germans are more in favor of redistribution and state intervention than West Germans, even after controlling for economic incentives. This effect is especially strong for older cohorts, who lived under Communism for a longer time period. We further find that East Germans’ preferences converge towards those of West Germans. We calculate that it will take one to two generations for preferences to converge completely.
Many low skilled jobs have been substituted away for machines in Europe, or eliminated, much more so than in the US, while technological progress at the “top”, i.e. at the high-tech sector, is faster in the US than in Europe. This paper suggests that the main difference between Europe and the US in this respect is their different labor market policies. European countries reduce wage flexibility and inequality through a host of labor market regulations, like binding minimum wage laws, permanent unemployment subsidies, firing costs, etc. Such policies create incentives to develop and adopt labor saving capital intensive technologies at the low end of the skill distribution. At the same time technical progress in the US is more skill biased than in Europe, since American skilled wages are higher.
Why do countries delay stabilizations of large and increasing budget deficits and inflation? And what explains the timing of reforms? We use the war of attrition model as a guidance for our empirical study on a vast sample of countries. We find that stabilizations are more likely to occur when time of crisis occur, at the beginning of term of office of a new government, in countries with "strong" governments, (i.e. presidential systems and unified governments with a large majority of the party in office), and when the executive faces less constraints. The role of external inducements like IMF programs has at best a weak effect, but problems of reverse causality are possible.
Fiscal policy is procyclical in many countries, and especially in developing ones. We explain this policy failure with a political agency problem. Procyclicality is driven by voters who seek to "starve the Leviathan" to reduce political rents. Voters observe the state of the economy but not the rents appropriated by corrupt governments. When they observe a boom, voters optimally demand more public goods or fewer taxes, and this induces a procyclical bias in fiscal policy. The empirical evidence is consistent with this explanation: procyclicality of fiscal policy is more pronounced in more corrupt democracies.
The authors of this timely and provocative book use the tools of economic analysis to examine the formation and change of political borders. They argue that while these issues have always been at the core of historical analysis, international economists have tended to regard the size of a country as "exogenous," or no more subject to explanation than the location of a mountain range or the course of a river. Alesina and Spolaore consider a country's borders to be subject to the same analysis as any other man-made institution. In The Size of Nations they argue that the optimal size of a country is determined by a cost-benefit trade-off between the benefits of size and the costs of heterogeneity. In a large country, per capita costs may be low, but the heterogeneous preferences of a large population make it hard to deliver services and formulate policy. Smaller countries may find it easier to respond to citizen preferences in a democratic way.
Alesina and Spolaore substantiate their analysis with simple analytical models that show how the patterns of globalization, international conflict, and democratization of the last two hundred years can explain patterns of state formation. Their aim is not only "normative" but also "positive"—that is, not only to compute the optimal size of a state in theory but also to explain the phenomenon of country size in reality. They argue that the complexity of real world conditions does not preclude a systematic analysis, and that such an analysis, synthesizing economics, political science, and history, can help us understand real world events.
This book brings together a diverse group of experts on international monetary policy to examine the basic conceptual issues of currency unions and other monetary regimes, including flexible and fixed exchange rates, and assess the available empirical evidence on the performance of these alternative monetary systems. They also draw some policy conclusions on the desirability of currency unions for countries in various circumstances.
Currency Unions reviews the traditional case for flexible exchange rates and countercyclical?that is, expansionary during recessions and contractionary in booms monetary policy and shows how flexible exchange rate regimes can better insulate the economy from such real disturbances as terms-of-trade shocks. The book also looks at the pitfalls of flexible exchange rates and why fixed rates, particularly full dollarization might be a more sensible choice for some emerging-market countries. The contributors also detail the factors that determine the optimal sizes of currency unions, explain how a currency union greatly expands the volume of international trade among its members, and examine the recent implementation of dollarization in Ecuador.
The answer to the question posed in the title is "yes." Using a total of 128,106 answers to a survey question about "happiness," we find that there is a large, negative and significant effect of inequality on happiness in Europe but not in the US. There are two potential explanations. First, Europeans prefer more equal societies (inequality belongs in the utility function for Europeans but not for Americans). Second, social mobility is (or is perceived to be) higher in the US so being poor is not seen as affecting future income. We test these hypotheses by partitioning the sample across income and ideological lines. There is evidence of "inequality–generated" unhappiness in the US only for a sub–group of rich leftists. In Europe inequality makes the poor unhappy, as well as the leftists. This favors the hypothesis that inequality affects European happiness because of their lower social mobility (since no preference for equality exists amongst the rich or the right). The results help explain the greater popular demand for government to fight inequality in Europe relative to the US.
We study the organization of federations – or international unions – which decide together the provision of certain public goods. The benefit of centralization depends on the internalization of the spillovers, that of decentralization on the adaptability to local differences. We individuate as an optimal institutional design a form of fiscal federalism based on decentralization of expenditures and a system of subsidies and transfers between countries. Since this solution can be politically unfeasible, we study institutional compromises between a centralized federation and a decentralized one. "Flexible unions" and federal mandates in which both the state and federal levels are involved in providing public goods are typically superior to complete centralization and politically feasible. Finally, we study the effects of a qualified majority voting rule in a centralized system: we find that it can be a useful device to correct a bias toward "excessive" union–level activism.
The poor favor redistribution and the rich oppose it, but that is not all. Social mobility may make some of today's poor into tomorrow's rich and since redistributive policies do not change often, individual preferences for redistribution should depend on the extent and the nature of social mobility. We estimate the determinants of preferences for redistribution using individual level data from the US, and we find that individual support for redistribution is negatively affected by social mobility. Furthermore, the impact of mobility on attitudes towards redistribution is affected by individual perceptions of fairness in the mobility process. People who believe that the American society offers equal opportunities to all are more averse to redistribution in the face of increased mobility. On the other hand, those who see the social rat race as a biased process do not see social mobility as an alternative to redistributive policies.
We construct a set of indicators to measure the policy–making role of the European Union (European Council, Parliament, Commission, Court of Justice, etc.), in a selected number of policy domains. Our goal is to examine the division of prerogatives between European institutions and national ones, in light of the implications of normative models and in relation to the preferences of European citizens. Our data confirm that the extent and the intensity of policy–making by the EU have increased sharply over the last 30 years. Such increase has taken place at different speeds, and to different degrees, across policy domains. In recent times the areas that have expanded most are the most remote from the EEC's original mission of establishing a free market zone with common external trade policy. We conjecture that the resulting allocation may be partly inconsistent with normative criteria concerning the assignment of policies at different government levels, as laid out in the theoretical literature.
European countries are much more generous to the poor relative to the US level of generosity. Economic models suggest that redistribution is a function of the variance and skewness of the pre–tax income distribution, the volatility of income (perhaps because of trade shocks), the social costs of taxation and the expected income mobility of the median voter. None of these factors appear to explain the differences between the US and Europe. Instead, the differences appear to be the result of racial heterogeneity in the US and American political institutions. Racial animosity in the US makes redistribution to the poor, who are disproportionately black, unappealing to many voters. American political institutions limited the growth of a socialist party, and more generally limited the political power of the poor.
What is the optimal number of currencies in the world? Common currencies aspect trading costs and, thereby, the amounts of trade, output, and consumption. From the perspective of monetary policy, the adoption of another country?s currency trades offers the benefits of commitment to price stability against the loss of an independent stabilization policy. The nature of the trade depends on coñmovements of disturbances, on distance, trading costs, and on institutional arrangements such as the willingness of anchor countries to accommodate to the interests of clients.
We seek in our analysis to understand the forces that favor and oppose currency unions, that is, we extend the classic analysis of optimum currency areas from Mundell (1961). One consideration, not touched on in Mundell?s economic analysis, is that individual currencies are sometimes valued simply out of national pride. One would have expected these nationalistic concerns to be more intense for language than for money, yet most countries willingly use the language of another country, typically the one of a former colonial ruler. Given this acceptance of transplanted language, it is surprising how often people reject currency unions–which sometimes involve the use of another country's currency– simply on the grounds that important countries are supposed to have their own money.