Are Banks Too Large? Maybe, Maybe Not


By Luc Laeven, Lev Ratnovski, and Hui Tong

Large banks were at the center of the recent financial crisis. The public dismay at costly but necessary bailouts of “too-big-to-fail” banks has triggered an active debate on the optimal size and range of activities of banks.

But this debate remains inconclusive, in part because the economics of an “optimal” bank size is far from clear. Our recent study tries to fill this gap by summarizing what we know about large banks using data for a large cross-section of banking firms in 52 countries.

We find that while large banks are riskier, and create most of the systemic risk in the financial system, it is difficult to determine an “optimal” bank size. In this setting, we find that the best policy option may not be outright restrictions on bank size, but capital—requiring  large banks to hold more capital—and better bank resolution and governance.

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Treating Inequality with Redistribution: Is the Cure Worse than the Disease?


By Jonathan D. Ostry and Andrew Berg

(Version in EspañolFrançaisPortuguêsРусский中文)

Rising income inequality looms high on the global policy agenda, reflecting not only fears of its pernicious social and political effects, (including questions about the consistency of extreme inequality with democratic governance), but also the economic implications. While positive incentives are surely needed to reward work and innovation, excessive inequality is likely to undercut growth, for example by undermining access to health and education, causing investment-reducing political and economic instability, and thwarting the social consensus required to adjust in the face of major shocks.

Understandably, economists have been trying to understand better the links between rising inequality and the fragility of economic growth. Recent narratives include how inequality intensified the leverage and financial cycle, sowing the seeds of crisis; or how political-economy factors, especially the influence of the rich, allowed financial excess to balloon ahead of the crisis.

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The Time is Nigh: How Reforms Can Bring Back Productivity Growth in Emerging Markets


By  Era Dabla-Norris and Kalpana Kochar

(Version in Español)

The era of remarkable growth in many emerging market economies fueled by cheap money and high commodity prices may very well be coming to an end.

The slowdown reflects not just inadequate global demand, but also structural factors that are rendering previous growth engines less effective, and the fact that economic “good times” reduced the incentives to implement further reforms to enhance productivity. With the end of the period of favorable global financing and trade conditions, the time is nigh for governments to make strong efforts to increase productivity—the essential foundation of sustainable growth and rising living standards. Continue reading

Taming government debt—it can be done, but it ain’t easy


By Helge Berger and  Justin Tyson

Sooner or later, and one way or the other, government debt in advanced economies will have to come down from the record levels reached in the wake of the global economic and euro area crises. Figure 1.Dev in Gross Debt and Structural Balance in Adv Economies There is no magic number for how much sovereign debt an economy can shoulder. And, as bringing down debt by cutting government spending or raising taxes comes at the risk of reducing growth and employment in the short term, there are arguments to not proceed too hastily. But eventually debt will have to be put back on a downward path in many countries. This will help rebuild fiscal buffers and cope with the costs of aging. So, what should governments do?

Our new analysis takes a closer look at the historical record and key trade-offs.  The bottom line: it is possible to reduce debt when growth is low. Ultimately perseverance should pay off.

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Strengthening the Foundations for Fiscal Policymaking: A New Fiscal Transparency Code


Min ZhuBy Min Zhu

In the last two decades, countries have come a long way in shedding greater light on their public finances. The global economic crisis has reminded us, however, that we need to do more to ensure fiscal policymaking is based on reliable data on fiscal outcomes, credible forecasts of fiscal prospects, and a comprehensive assessment of fiscal risks. Working with civil society, governments, and others, the IMF has just presented a revised draft of its Fiscal Transparency Code, and we would like to know what you think of it so we can improve it further. You can comment here.

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Banking on Reform: Can Volcker, Vickers and Liikanen Resolve the Too-Important-to-Fail Conundrum?


by José Viñals and Ceyla Pazarbasioglu

The global regulatory landscape governing banks has changed from its pre-crisis status quo.

In addition to the Group of Twenty advanced and emerging economies led global regulatory reforms, like Basel III, the United States and the United Kingdom have decided to directly impose limits on the scope of banks’ businesses. The European Union is contemplating a similar move.

We discussed these structural banking reforms a few weeks ago with officials from finance ministries, central banks, and supervisory authorities from around the world during the IMF and World Bank Spring Meetings. The design and implementation of these measures will have implications for global financial stability and sustainable growth, so we wanted to bring people together for the first global debate of the issue with G20 and other countries.

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Preventing The Next Catastrophe: Where Do We Stand?


David RomerGuest post by David Romer
University of California, Berkeley, and co-host of Rethinking Macro II: First Steps and Early Lessons

(Versions in 中文, 日本語, and Русский)

As I listened to the presentations and discussions, I found myself thinking about the conference from two perspectives. One is intellectual: Are we asking provocative questions? Are interesting ideas being proposed? Are we talking about important issues? By that standard, the conference was very successful: the discussion was extremely stimulating, and I learned a great deal.

The second perspective is practical: Where do we stand in terms of averting another financial and macroeconomic disaster? By that standard, unfortunately, I fear we are not doing nearly as well. As I will describe, my reading of the evidence is that the events of the past few years are not an aberration, but just the most extreme manifestation of a broader pattern. And the relatively modest changes of the type discussed at the conference, and that in some cases policymakers are putting into place, are helpful but unlikely to be enough to prevent future financial shocks from inflicting large economic harms.

Thus, I believe we should be asking whether there are deeper reforms that might have a large effect on the size of the shocks emanating from the financial sector, or on the ability of the economy to withstand those shocks. But there has been relatively little serious consideration of ideas for such reforms, not just at this conference but in the broader academic and policy communities.

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