Not Making the Grade: Report Card on Global Financial Reform


by Laura Kodres

Despite a host of reforms in the right direction, the financial structures that were in place before the global crisis have not actually changed that much, and they need to if the global financial system is to become a safer place.

Although the intentions of policymakers are clear and positive, the system remains precarious.

Our new study presents an interim report card on progress toward a safer financial system. Overall, there is still a long way to go.

How we measure progress

In our study, we first tried to pay attention to those features of financial systems related to the crisis—the large dominant, highly interconnected institutions, the heavy role of nonbanks, and the development of complex financial products for instance—features that need to be addressed in some way.

To do this we needed to construct measures of these features in a way that would allow us to gauge how well the reforms are working toward changing them. We looked at a lot of data, but we focus on three types of features.

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United States: How Inequality Affects Saving Behavior


By Oya Celasun

(Version in Español)

The incomes of U.S. households have become more unevenly distributed over the past three decades. For example, the Congressional Budget Office estimates that after-tax income almost tripled for the top 1 percent of households between 1980 and 2007, but grew only 22 percent for the bottom 20 percent.

Recent research has focused on the link between income inequality and growth, but less attention has been paid to the link between inequality and savings. So together with a few colleagues we have looked at how income distribution is linked to saving behavior.

Saving rates matter because they are an important factor for the U.S. economic outlook. The decline in the saving rate in the years leading up to the crisis (from 10 percent of after-tax income in 1980 to 1.5 percent in 2005) is the mirror image of the unsustainable boom in consumer spending during the bubble years.

Following the crisis, sharp losses in the values of houses and financial assets, as well as difficulties in obtaining new credit, forced American families to save more and rebuild their wealth. The ensuing rise in the saving rate, which stood at 4 percent in the second quarter of 2012, has been an important reason why the recovery from the 2008–09 recession has been sluggish.

Therefore, our study looked at which types of households drove the aggregate saving rate down before the crisis and those that drove it up afterwards, so as to improve our ability to assess the potential for future U.S. growth.

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The Long-term Price of Financial Reform


by André Oliveira Santos and Douglas J. Elliott

In response to the global crisis, policymakers around the world are instituting the broadest reform of financial regulation since the Great Depression.

Some in the financial industry claim the long-run economic costs of these global reforms outweigh the benefits. But our new research strongly suggests the opposite—the reforms are well worth the money.

Granted, just as adding fenders, safety belts, airbags, and crash avoidance features can make cars slower, we know that additional safety measures can slow down the economy in years when there is no crisis. The payoff comes from averting or minimizing a disaster.

Five years after the onset of the current crisis, we sadly know all too well the cost in terms of economic growth, so the potential gains in avoiding future crises are very large.

Our study finds that the likely long-term increase in credit costs for borrowers is about one quarter of a percentage point in the United States and lower elsewhere. This is roughly the size of one small move by the Federal Reserve or other central banks. A move of that size rarely has much effect on a national economy, suggesting relatively small economic costs from these reforms.

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Taking Away the Punch Bowl: Lessons from the Booms and Busts in Emerging Europe


By Bas B. Bakker and Christoph Klingen

With all eyes on the euro area, it is easy to forget that only a few years ago the emerging economies of Europe, from the Baltic to the Black Sea, went through a deep economic and financial crisis. This crisis is the topic of a new book that we will introduce to the public this week in Bucharest, London, and Vienna.

One lesson is that your best chance to prevent deep crises is forcefully addressing booms before they get out of hand. Another is that even crises that look abysmal can be contained and overcome— policies to adjust the economy and international financial support do work.

In the half decade leading up to the crisis, easy global financial conditions, confidence in a rapid catch-up with western living standards, and initially underdeveloped financial sectors spawned a tremendous domestic demand boom in the region. Western banking groups bankrolled the bonanza, providing their eastern subsidiaries with the funds to extend the loans that fueled the domestic boom. Continue reading

Capital Controls: When Are Multilateral Considerations of the Essence?


By Jonathan D. Ostry

One of the main arguments against capital controls is that, though they may be in an individual country’s interest, they could be multilaterally destructive in the same way that tariffs on goods can be destructive.

A particular concern is that a country might impose controls to avoid necessary macroeconomic and external adjustment, in turn shifting the burden of adjustment onto other countries.

A proliferation of capital controls across countries, moreover, may not only undercut warranted adjustments of exchange rates and imbalances across the globe, it may lead in the logical extreme to a situation of financial autarky or isolation in the same way that trade wars can shrink the volume of world trade, seriously damaging global welfare.

So should multilateral considerations trump national interests?

Possible rationales for controls

To begin, it is worth reviewing some of the reasons why countries may wish to impose controls.

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