Stock Buybacks Are the Wrong Target
Legislation banning companies from purchasing their own shares, or conditioning buybacks on investment in workers, would not significantly alter the distribution of wealth. What it would do is undermine the broad cooperation needed to tackle income inequality and a fast-changing labor environment.
Risky Retirement Business
Regardless of whether yields in advanced economies rise, fall, or stay the same, core demographic trends are unlikely to change in the coming years, implying that pension costs will continue to balloon. Is there an asset class that can provide yield-hungry pension-fund managers what they're looking for?
Misreading China’s Strength
The US believes that with Chinese growth slowing, China's leaders are desperate for a deal to end the bilateral trade war, regardless of when the current 90-day truce actually ends. But the two economies’ longer-term fundamentals compel a very different verdict about which side has the upper hand.
Will the US Capitulate to China?
The most important problem that a bilateral deal between the United States and China needs to resolve is Chinese theft of US firms’ technology. Unless the Chinese agree to stop stealing technology, and the two sides devise a way to enforce that agreement, the US will not have achieved anything useful from Trump's tariffs.
Europe, Please Wake Up
The first step to defending Europe from its enemies, both internal and external, is to recognize the magnitude of the threat they present. The second is to awaken the sleeping pro-European majority and mobilize it to defend the values on which the EU was founded.
A Mixed Economic Bag in 2019
Since the global synchronized growth of 2017, economic conditions have been gradually weakening and will produce an across-the-board deceleration in the months ahead. Beyond that, the prospect for markets and national economies will depend on a broad range of factors, some of which do not bode well.
How EU Leaders Can Prevent a No-Deal Brexit
British Prime Minister Theresa May’s strategy of threatening a no-deal Brexit requires a hard deadline that forces her opponents to capitulate. Without that, “running down the clock” becomes “kicking the can down the road,” which more accurately reflects May’s paradoxical combination of robotic inflexibility and exasperating indecisiveness.
Financial Stability in Abnormal Times
Despite improvements in the financial system since the 2008 crisis, the piecemeal reforms that have been enacted fall far short of what is needed. And an inexorably growing financial system, combined with an increasingly toxic political environment, means that the next major financial crisis may come sooner than you think.
At the recent World Economic Forum annual meeting in Davos, participants made the same mistake they always do: extrapolating from the recent past rather than looking genuinely into the future. Three key changes would enable the event to fulfill its considerable potential.
Warnings from the Global Trade Cycle
The global trade cycle is facing major stress in 2019, downward revisions have just begun, and the risk of a major slowdown in world GDP growth cannot be minimized. In a still tightly connected world, no major economy will be an oasis.
Morality and Money Management
Following his recent death, Vanguard Group founder Jack Bogle was widely and generously eulogized – and justifiably so. But if everyone followed Bogle’s investment strategy, market prices would turn into nonsense and would provide no direction to economic activity.
The World Economy Goes Hollywood
In a world where “nobody knows anything,” investors may be no better than film-studio moguls at predicting the future. If so, then markets, instead of being predictive, become increasingly reactive, simply extrapolating recent events.
Risks to the Global Economy in 2019
Over the course of this year and next, the biggest economic risks will emerge in those areas where investors think recent patterns are unlikely to change. They will include a growth recession in China, a rise in global long-term real interest rates, and a crescendo of populist economic policies.
Central Bankers’ Fiscal Constraints
With policy interest rates near zero in most advanced economies (and just above 2% even in the fast-growing US), there is little room for monetary policy to maneuver in a recession without considerable creativity. But those who think fiscal policy alone will save the day are stupefyingly naive.
Trump vs. the Economy
Between publicly chastising US Federal Reserve Chair Jerome Powell and escalating his trade war with China, US President Donald Trump has finally rattled the markets. While investors were happy to look the other way during the first half of Trump's term, the dangerous spectacle unfolding in the White House can no longer be ignored.
Is Canceling Brexit Now Inevitable?
As matters stand today, a new British referendum on leaving the European Union would produce a clear majority for remaining a member, regardless of how the votes were counted or the questions were asked. And with the only two Brexit options set to be rejected next month, the questions are increasingly likely to be asked.
Why Is the Fed Still Raising Interest Rates?
Given that the US Federal Reserve has long said that its interest-rate policy is “data dependent,” why has it pressed ahead with monetary tightening in the face of worsening economic indicators? Three reasons stand out.
In Defense of the Fed
Despite howls of protest from market participants and rumored threats from an unhinged US president, the Federal Reserve should be congratulated for its commitment to normalizing interest rates. There is simply no other way to break the US economy's 20-year dependence on asset bubbles.
The Biggest Emerging Market Debt Problem Is in America
A decade after the subprime bubble burst, a new one seems to be taking its place in the market for corporate collateralized loan obligations. A world economy geared toward increasing the supply of ﬁnancial assets has hooked market participants and policymakers alike into a global game of Whac-A-Mole.
Overestimating the EU Economy
If the EU were a soccer team, it would not lose games for lack of a game plan or due to inadequate capacity. The problem is that the team as a whole is not playing cohesively, and all of the top players are struggling individually, owing to messy problems at home.
Betting on Dystopia
The right way to think about cryptocurrency coins is as lottery tickets that pay off in a dystopian future where they are used in rogue and failed states, or perhaps in countries where citizens have already lost all semblance of privacy. That means that cryptocurrencies are not entirely worthless.
What we measure affects what we do. If we focus only on material wellbeing – on, say, the production of goods, rather than on health, education, and the environment – we become distorted in the same way that these measures are distorted; we become more materialistic.
How to Save Social Security Systems
Providing benefits to support a comfortable standard of living for retirees with just a modest rate of tax on the working population depends on there being a small number of pensioners relative to the number of taxpayers. That is no longer the case.
Brexit and the Global Economy
The United Kingdom’s divorce negotiations with the European Union have dragged on through multiple déjà vu moments, and the consensus among experts is that the economic fallout will be felt far more acutely in Britain than in the EU. But policymakers worldwide would benefit from watching the process closely.
Why Central Bank Digital Currencies Will Destroy Cryptocurrencies
Leading economic policymakers are now considering whether central banks should issue their own digital currencies, to be made available to everyone, rather than just to licensed commercial banks. The idea deserves serious consideration, as it would replace an inherently crisis-prone banking system and close the door on crypto-scammers.
The Lessons of Quantitative Easing
A decade after the US Federal Reserve launched one of the boldest policy experiments in the modern history of central banking, economists and policymakers are still debating its implications. To prepare for future crises, five key lessons should be kept in mind.
Why Italy is the Latest to Question Policy Orthodoxy
The budget standoff between Italy's anti-establishment government and the European Commission has rattled markets and brought back memories of the eurozone sovereign debt crisis. EU officials should remain open to unconventional economic-policy approaches, and the Italians should show that they are serious about long-term reforms.
The Long Sino-American Trade War
If governments are going to engage in trade wars, they should have a clear and pragmatic vision of where they want to end up. Yet the trade war initiated by the Trump administration seems less like a tough negotiating tactic, and more like a guessing game.
Theresa May Could Back a New Brexit Referendum
If voters rejected “no deal” in favor of no Brexit in a new referendum, May’s hardline opponents would be silenced, and her position as Prime Minister would be secured until the 2022 election. Why would she not seize this chance?
America’s Inflation Risks
Thanks to trade tariffs on Chinese imports, China-centric global value chains will no longer offset pressure on prices stemming from a tight US labor market. That could mean that the Federal Reserve must significantly exceed the so-called comfort zone of interest-rate normalization that financial markets are currently discounting.
The Big Blockchain Lie
Now that cryptocurrencies such as Bitcoin have plummeted from last year's absurdly high valuations, the techno-utopian mystique of so-called distributed-ledger technologies should be next. The promise to cure the world's ills through "decentralization" was just a ruse to separate retail investors from their hard-earned real money.
Crazy Rich Asia
With an unexpected hit on its hands, perhaps Hollywood will use more films like “Crazy Rich Asians” to illustrate key concepts about a region that is the biggest economic success story of the last several decades. There are many more stories about that story to be told.
Managing the Global Factor Better
The IMF is the body best suited to serve as a trusted adviser and an effective conductor of the global policy orchestra. If it is to fulfill that role, however, it must strengthen its credibility as a responsive and effective leader. That means listening to its members, then guiding them toward more harmonious policies.
The Restructuring of the World
Trade protectionism, together with fears over the national-security implications of technological development, are contributing to a balkanization of the world order. This is not good news for the United States as it faces an intensifying rivalry with an increasingly powerful China.
The Trade Wars of Codependency
Whatever the source, the conflict phase of codependency is now at hand. China is changing, or at least attempting to do so, while America remains stuck in the time-worn mindset of a deficit saver with massive multilateral trade deficits and the need to draw freely on global surplus saving to support economic growth.
When Hindsight Is Not 20/20
Surely the financial crisis of 2008 and its immediate aftermath could have been handled better; battlefield medicine is never perfect. But there is not even a prima facie case to be made for Rob Johnson and George Soros’s allegations of foolish ineptitude on the part of the Obama administration.
Do Spectacular Earnings Justify Spectacular US Stock Prices?
With share prices and corporate earnings moving together on a nearly one-for-one basis, one might conclude that the US stock market is behaving sensibly, simply reflecting the US economy’s growing strength. But the stock market has not always been so dismissive of the volatility of earnings.
Why the US Would Lose A Trade War with China
In handicapping the US-China conflict, Keynesian demand management is a better guide than comparative advantage. In principle, China can avoid any damage at all from US tariffs simply by responding with a full-scale Keynesian stimulus.
The Makings of a 2020 Recession and Financial Crisis
Although the global economy has been undergoing a sustained period of synchronized growth, it will inevitably lose steam as unsustainable fiscal policies in the US start to phase out. Come 2020, the stage will be set for another downturn – and, unlike in 2008, governments will lack the policy tools to manage it.
The Stable-Coin Myth
The problems with the latest wave of cryptocurrencies will be familiar to anyone who has encountered even a single study of speculative attacks on pegged exchange rates, or to anyone who has had a coffee with an emerging-market central banker. But this doesn’t mean that the flaws in these schemes will be familiar to investors.
A decade after the collapse of Lehman Brothers and the start of the global financial crisis, it is clear that many lessons have been learned, while many economic misconceptions remain embedded in the public consciousness. If economic history teaches us anything, it is to be mindful of our own limitations in a world of infinite uncertainties.
Final Thoughts on Secular Stagnation
Too little was done in the aftermath of the financial crisis a decade ago to stimulate aggregate demand, which would be boosted by a more equal income distribution. And substantially stronger financial regulation than was in place before 2008 needs to be adopted to minimize the risks of future crises.
Beyond Secular Stagnation
There is no reason economists should agree about what is politically possible. What they can and should agree about is what would have happened if their preferred policies had been implemented – and keep those lessons in mind as the next downturn approaches.
The Regional Costs of Venezuela’s Collapse
The refugee crisis generated by the country's economic implosion is comparable to that in Europe in 2015. In response, US President Donald Trump has floated the idea of military intervention, when what the US should be doing is increasing financial and logistical aid to Venezuela's neighbors.
Setting the Record Straight on Secular Stagnation
Echoing conservatives like John Taylor, the Nobel laureate economist Joseph Stiglitz recently suggested that the concept of secular stagnation was a fatalistic doctrine invented to provide an excuse for poor economic performance during the Obama years. This is simply not right.