Friday, 14 June 2013

A speculative idea about currency unions

Angela Merkel wants unemployed Europeans to move, this after Paul Krugman pointed out the dangers that this has within a currency union in the absence of fiscal integration. A country gets into trouble: recession and high unemployment leads to budget deficits and a run up in the government debt levels. If the population then leaves to work elsewhere there will be no-one to restore the fiscal balance and, ultimately, repay this debt. Can currency unions actually work then?

How about this for an idea: the central bank guarantees a level of nominal GDP growth at the level of the whole union. States within the union issue bonds denominated in the currency of the union, but indexed to their own relative level of nominal GDP - the level of which is not guaranteed. This means that if bonds are issued to cover recession induced deficits but the young then emigrate, the level of the debt will be written down in respect of the relative fall in nominal GDP.

The only issue I can see is ensuring the objectivity of the entity which reports the relative level of the nominal GDPs of the countries within the union.

Related: the more I think about it, the less convinced I am about a Sterling Zone for a post independence Scotland. I'm becoming more pro Eurozone again - it's a much more symmetric grouping of countries, and to first order it is, like the USA, a closed economy. But there are all sorts of reforms needed: hence the ideas!

Sunday, 9 June 2013


... my PhD!

Some celebratory tunes:

Secova - Kindle

Also I am profiled in The Actuary magazine. Bet Paul Krugman cannae say that!

Tuesday, 4 June 2013

Independence as a “Real Option”: Explaining the campaign so far

A common refrain from pro-union campaigners has been for the SNP to provide detail around “what independence would look like”. To the extent that a vision of an independent Scotland has been provided by the SNP (not necessarily by Yes Scotland), differences with the status quo have been minimised.

The vision that the SNP have articulated has suggested a great deal of continuity: the Common Travel Area between the UK and the Republic of Ireland provides a model of continuing open borders; maintenance of the monarchy; continued membership of the EU and NATO; an emphasised “Social Union”; evidence that maintenance of the level of tax-and-spend is affordable; and, especially, the favoured option of a Sterling Union. This vision has led to the response from some on the pro-independence side that this does not optimally use the levers of independence, but it has also seemingly provoked the pro-union side (who might be expected to view this vision of continuity as second-best after their preferred union option) who also argue against this vision partially on the grounds that it would fail to deliver “genuine freedom”! Can we economically rationalise these positions?
Assume that, unless explicitly changed, “things” (by which I mean essentially everything) will continue to be the “same” after independence. What then is the value of independence? Independence could be viewed under the lens of real option theory: a real option is “the right — but not the obligation — to undertake certain … initiatives”. Under union, the Scottish Parliament cannot award itself new powers and “things” will of course continue to be the “same”. Under independence, “things” are the “same” until such time as, presumably, we don’t like this “same” path for “things” and the Parliament exercises this option and decide to change these “things”. Options are always valuable (since they represent a right but not an obligation). This means that if the SNP can make the case that “things” will continue to be the “same” after independence, and that independence represents an “option” to change things then, by this logic, independence is objectively optimal.
This is a potential explanation for the Independence-lite vision of the SNP which essentially points to how similar “things” will be after independence. It presents a scenario under which independence is almost objectively optimal. This is also a potential explanation for the vociferous objections to this vision from those opposed to independence. To counter the SNP vision, the pro-union campaign has to convince voters that “things” will not be the “same” after independence and they essentially have three channels in which to do this:
  1. the first is to assert that “things” will not be the “same” even under the SNP’s vision because of, for example, transition costs or risk exposures;
  2. the second is to claim that the SNP’s vision is impossible to implement, and so we cannot keep “things” the “same” (as in the HM Treasury paper on a Sterling Union);
  3. and the third channel is to argue that “things” won’t be the “same” because the option will be exercised immediately: an independent Scotland will choose “genuine freedom” instead of keeping “things” the “same”.
This sums up many of the campaign dynamics so far: the logical optimality of independence under the assumption of keeping “things” the “same” perhaps explains the SNP’s Independence-lite vision; And the third channel available to the pro-union campaigners perhaps explains the enthusiasm with which they point out that constrained independence does not represent real independence.

Originally posted on esrcscotecon

Monday, 3 June 2013

End May Links

Nick Rowe's Monetary stimulus vs financial stability is a false trade-off is a great description of general equilibrium outcomes as against the micro-mechanisms that they arise from: lower interest rates may induce me to save less from my (exogenous) income; but at the macro level, lower interest rates do not imply that there will be a lower savings rate applied to the (endogenous) national income.

Simon Wren-Lewis and George Kerevan discussing, in completely different ways, the rise of UKIP. My favourite UKIP post though was this spoof from the Daily Mash.

Paul Krugman makes the point that needs made again and again: to the extent that something which we might call "austerity" is needed, this austerity should be about working harder and not seeing the rewards in terms of higher consumption i.e. more work, less play; it should not be about mass unemployment.

Fascinating: French fertility fall