More in Global Economy


5 years

The Economics Nobel: Who Might Have Won?

Next Monday the 51th Nobel prize in Economics will be awarded. Allen R. Sanderson and John J. Siegfried offer some perspective on the first 50 years of the economics award by providing some context with the other Nobel prizes in "The Nobel Prize in Economics Turns 50" (American Economist, 2019, 64:2, pp. 167–182). They offer background on the genesis of the prize, how its official name has evolved, academic backgrounds, and big ideas that spanned several awards.

5 years

Quantitative Easing Is Back

The Federal Reserve, through its president Jerome Powell, has indicated that it is preparing to increase its balance “organically”. The effort to separate this latest monetary policy change of course from a full-blown new QE (quantitative easing) is, at the very least, amusing. If we look at what is being discussed, it has nothing to do with organic expansion and looks a lot like a new repurchase program.

5 years

Foreign Exchange Markets: $6.6 Trillion Per Day

Kenneth Kasa back in 1995. It's hard to understand at an intuitive level the difference between millions, billions, and trillions. I sometimes try to describe it this way. One million seconds in the past is about 11 days ago. One billion seconds is 11,000 days, which about 30 years ago. One trillion second is about 30,000 years ago, which would be the time period when early rock-paintings were done, when the main human inventions of the time were the oven, pottery, and twisting fibres to make rope. So the difference between a million and a billion is the difference between what happened the weekend before last, and what happened in 1989. The difference between a billion and a trillion is the difference between how long ago it was that world headlines were about Tiananmen Square demonstrations and the Berlin Wall coming down, compared with how long ago human culture was in its hunter-gatherer cave-dwelling stage . Mull over that comparison with this fact: foreign exchange markets trade $6.6 trillion per day, up from $5.1 trillion per day in the previous survey. The authoritative statistics on foreign exchange markets come from the Triennial Central Bank Survey conducted by the Bank of International Settlements. The data for the latest round of the survey, completed in April 2019, is now available (September 16, 2019). At first glance, this volume of trading seems like it must be a mistake. Total world exports of goods and services are about $25 trillion per year. Add in the investment flows across borders for 2018, which were $2 trillion in foreign direct investment, $1.9 trillion in portfolio investment, and $2 trillion in other financial transactions, mainly bank loans (according to UNCTAD). But these annual totals don't get anywhere close to the volume of for $6.6 trillion per day in foreign exchange markets. The obvious conclusion is that most foreign exchange trading isn't about facilitating exports and imports, nor about facilitating flows of international investment. Instead, it's about financial transactions that seek to address the risks of shifts in foreign exchange rates, or to profit directly from those shifts. For example, about half the foreign exchange market is swaps contracts (that is a contract where one party is owed a certain amount in one currency, over some period of time, and another party is owed an amount in a different currency, over some different period of time, and they agree to swap these payments). There's also an interesting insight into how foreign exchange markets work from looking at what currencies are used the most. It turns out that the US dollar is involved in 88% of all foreign exchange deals, either as the currency being sold or being bought. Again, this isn't about facilitating trade or investment related to the US economy. Instead, it's because if there is a deal happening between, say, the Brazilian real and the South African rand, the usual pattern of foreign exchange markets behind the scenes would be to convert both currencies into US dollars, and then to convert out to the desired currency. This pattern is one dimension of what is meant when people say that the US is the global "reserve currency."   With regard to other currencies, the BIS report notes: The US dollar retained its dominant currency status, being on one side of 88% of all trades. The share of trades with the euro on one side expanded somewhat, to 32%. By contrast, the share of trades involving the Japanese yen fell some 5 percentage points, although the yen remained the third most actively traded currency (on one side of 17% of all trades). ... As in previous surveys, currencies of emerging market economies (EMEs) again gained market share, reaching 25% of overall global turnover. Turnover in the renminbi, however, grew only slightly faster than the aggregate market, and the renminbi did not climb further in the global rankings. It remained the eighth most traded currency, with a share of 4.3%, ranking just after the Swiss franc. Given the size and complexity of foreign exchange markets, and their potentially very rapid reaction times, it's little wonder that they often move in ways which have long been hard for economists to explain. Every now and then, I post on the bulletin board beside my office a quotation from Kenneth Kasa back in 1995: "If you asked a random sample of economists to name the three most difficult questions confronting mankind, the answers would probably be: (1) What is the meaning of life? (2) What is the relationship between quantum mechanics and general relativity? and (3) What's going on in the foreign exchange market. (Not necessarily in that order)."

5 years

US Health Care Spending

About 25% of all US health care spending is wasted, according to an article just published in the Journal of the American Medical Association by William H. Shrank, Teresa L. Rogstad, and Natasha Parekh ("Waste in the US Health Care System Estimated Costs and Potential for Savings," October 7, 2019). They write: 

5 years

The US Deficit Problem Is A Spending Problem

US deficit is rising due to excessive spending increases, despite rising tax receipts. The federal government’s revenue went up by 4% to $3.46 trillion in the 2019 fiscal year, according to the CBO report. However, spending went up by more than 8% to $4.45 trillion.

5 years

The Repo Market Incident May Be The Tip Of The Iceberg

The Federal Reserve has injected $278 billion into the securities repurchase market for the first time. Numerous justifications have been provided to explain why this has happened and, more importantly, why it lasted for various days. The first explanation was quite simplistic: an unexpected tax payment. This made no sense. If there is ample liquidity and investors are happy to take financing positions at negative rates all over the world, the abrupt rise in repo rates would simply vanish in a few hours.

5 years

The Jobs Problem in India

One of India's biggest economic challenges is how new jobs are going to be created. Venkatraman Anantha Nageswaran and Gulzar Natarajan explore the issue in "India’s Quest for Jobs: A Policy Agenda" (Carnegie India, September 2019). They write:

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