Blog - Views on the Economy and the World

Views on the Economy and the World

A blog by Jeffrey Frankel

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For Academic Citation:Views on the Economy and the World,” Views on the Economy and the World, https://www.belfercenter.org/publication/views-economy-and-world.

265 posts

Congratulations to Ellen Johnson Sirleaf for yesterday winning the Mo Ibrahim Prize for Achievement in African Leadership. She recently retired as President of Liberia. It is for people like her that the award, which pays $5 million, was originally established. I explained and evaluated the Prize, a fascinating experiment, in “The Ibrahim Prize for Excellence Among African Leaders,” published in the African Policy Journal.

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There are lots of measures of inequality.  If we are interested only in income distribution within the United States, it doesn’t matter much which one we look at:  They all show rising inequality. But when we look at inequality internationally, which measure we look at makes all the difference.

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Inequality has been on the rise within the United States and other advanced countries since the 1980s and especially since the turn of the century.  The possibility that trade is responsible for the widening gap between the rich and the rest of the population has of course become a major political preoccupation

The Republicans, it is said, absolutely must pass a massive tax bill by Christmas, in order to have some major accomplishment to show for 2017, the first year in which they control all branches of government. Having apparently failed in their seven-year campaign to deprive some 20 million Americans of health insurance, they dare not fail in their Scrooge-like campaign to transfer billions of dollars to the ultra-rich.

What does international trade have to do with US jobs?  Surely the US trade deficit in manufacturing has reduced employment?  Not as much as you would think, on net.  Especially with regard to overall employment, which in the long run is determined by the size of the labor force.  But even if manufacturing jobs are considered more important than service jobs, trade policy has not been the main reason for their decline.  Perhaps the raw statistics can be made more intuitively convincing if one makes comparisons with other sectors.

The Next Fed Vice-Chair

| Nov. 01, 2017

There has been speculation that after Trump picks one of the five candidates to be chair of the Federal Reserve (with Jay Powell now apparently the front-runner), he could pick another one of them to be Vice-chair.  This latter position is the one that, sadly, Stanley Fischer is now vacating.

The Trump Administration has said it will announce its choice for the new Chair of the Federal Reserve Board by November 3. Subject to Senate confirmation, the chosen candidate will succeed Janet Yellen, whose term ends February 3.

The White House has said it views five candidates as front runners. Two are eminent economists with unusually impressive records — both in academic research, mostly at West Coast universities, and as practitioners of macroeconomic policy. That would be Yellen herself, who is a strong candidate for reappointment, and Stanford’s John Taylor. The other three front-runners are not professionally trained as economists, but rather come from financial backgrounds: Gary Cohn, Jerome Powell, and Kevin Warsh. They worked, respectively, for Goldman Sachs, Dillon Read, and Morgan Stanley; all three also have important government experience.

The VIX is too low!

| Sep. 28, 2017

During most of this year, the VIX — the Volatility Index on The Chicago Board Options Exchange — has been at the lowest levels of the last ten years.  It recentlydipped below 9, even lower than March 2007, just before the sub-prime mortgage crisis. It looks as though, once again, investors do not sufficiently appreciate how risky the world is today.

Known colloquially as the “fear index,” the VIX measures financial markets’ sensitivity to uncertainty, in the form of the perceived probability of large changes in the stock market.  It is inferred from the prices of option on the stock exchange (which pay off only when stock prices rise or fall a lot).   The low VIX in 2017 signals that we are in another “risk on” environment, when investors move out of treasury bills and other safe haven assets and instead “reach for yield” by moving into riskier assets like stocks, corporate bonds, real estate, and carry-tradecurrencies.