Category Archives: Regulations

Updates from Chicago Booth

Don’t rely on central banks to fight climate change
By Jeff Cockrell – In late August, five members of the US House of Representatives issued a statement urging President Joe Biden not to reappoint Jerome Powell, the chairman of the Federal Reserve, when his term expires in February 2022. The group, which included Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (Democrat of New York), cited two concerns with Powell’s leadership: the Fed’s relaxation of banking regulations and its lack of action “to mitigate the risk climate change poses to our financial system.”

Ocasio-Cortez and her fellow members of Congress are not the first to suggest that central banks—whose policies have traditionally focused on objectives such as price stability and low unemployment—have a role to play in fighting climate change. The British Parliament’s Environmental Audit Committee (EAC) has encouraged the Bank of England to conduct its bond purchases with borrowers’ carbon emissions in mind. Many central banks themselves have also accepted some responsibility for fighting climate change: the European Central Bank says it is “committed to taking the impact of climate change into consideration in our monetary policy framework.”

But Chicago Booth’s Lars Peter Hansen cautions that monetary policy is a weak substitute for fiscal policy, which is far better suited to address climate change through tools such as carbon taxation and investment in green technologies. Asking central bankers to step in where fiscal policy makers can’t or won’t risks exposing central banks to reputational damage and a loss of political independence, he argues. more>

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The looming harm of tax harmonization

By Akvile Jaseviciute and Bhuvam Patel – The OECD’s proposals to harmonize international tax regimes were generally welcomed by governments without considering potential benefits of tax competitiveness. Blinded by their wish to stop multinational corporations from moving their business to jurisdictions with more favorable tax regimes, few considered the practical implications of OECD’s plans. Currently, OECD countries have divergent tax regimes – the 2021 edition of the International Tax Competition Index produced by the Tax Foundation ranked countries regarding tax competitiveness. Estonia earned the top spot in the ranking because of its relatively low corporate tax rate, while Italy and France fared poorly due to features like punitive wealth and financial transaction taxes. We hence question, why countries with favorable tax systems should be held back by a harmonized but uncompetitive tax regime?

OECD Proposal Problems

Current OECD proposals on tax harmonization focus on ending the perceived tax ‘unfairness’ while providing little practical benefits. The first Pillar aims to set tax brackets universally on companies making global sales above €20 Billion and profit margins of more than 10%. However, in practice, large companies often place the taxpaying burden on other stakeholders – employees or investors. Therefore, instead of benefiting the most vulnerable, the proposal could be detrimental to workers as companies choose to cut wages instead of letting their revenues shrink. If insufficiently considered, such an outcome could further disadvantage low qualification workers, which are already significantly affected by the Covid-19 pandemic. more>

Integration or isolation for the EU?

By Genc Pollo – Last week, European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen visited Albania and other Western Balkan countries. Her main political message was that the future of our countries is within the European Union. Regarding Tirana and Skopje, she said that she was personally determined that the EU intergovernmental conference for the opening of accession negotiations should be convened as soon as possible, preferably within this year. She promised that the path towards a common future would be outlined at the Ljubljana summit with the leaders of the European Union together with their peers from the Balkans.

In parallel with these statements, the new agency Reuters reported that the EU had not agreed to guarantee to the Western Balkan countries the prospect of membership at the Ljubljana summit.

The two-page letter of invitation to the summit, signed by European Council President Charles Michel in the last paragraphs said that on the second day, October 6, there will talk about the Balkans, the need to stabilize the region, the current social-economic developments after the pandemic, strategic cooperation, etc. No word on EU enlargement, the future membership of our countries. Meanwhile, for Slovenian Prime Minister Janez Jansa (Slovenia currently holds the six-month presidency of the European Union), EU enlargement in the Balkans was the first and only objective of this summit, which was initiated by him.

The latest from Ljubljana is, in the end, the word ‘enlargement made it to the summit declaration. more>

Intellectual monopoly capitalism—challenge of our times

Unregulated capitalism has always tended to monopoly. But Big Tech represents a challenge antitrust tools can’t tame.
By Cédric Durand and Cecilia Rikap – Scientia potentia est—knowledge is power. The old adage has acquired a sinister connotation with the alarming dominance of Big Tech in the economy and society as a whole. Corporate Europe Observatory recently revealed that the sector is now by far the leading business lobbyist of European Union institutions.

But this is only the tip of the Iceberg of what the Italian economist Ugo Pagano calls ‘intellectual monopoly capitalism’. Knowledge, which should be a (non-rival, non-exclusive) public good, has been privately appropriated by top companies as capital: the share of intangible assets among S&P 500 corporations increased from 17 per cent in 1975 to 90 per cent in 2020.

For Pagano, the dramatic expansion of intellectual-property rights ‘involves the creation of a legal monopoly that can be potentially extended to the entire global economy’. His claim against a strict IP regime echoes the traditional position of economists treating knowledge as a gratuity.

Friedrich Hayek, for example, contended:

The growth of knowledge is of such special importance because, while the material resources will always remain scarce and will have to be reserved for limited purposes, the uses of new knowledge (where we do not make them artificially scarce by patents of monopoly) are unrestricted. Knowledge, once achieved, becomes gratuitously available for the benefit of all.

Recent calls for a patent waiver on Covid-19 vaccines graphically illustrate this broader principle: general progress requires that knowledge accrued through the experiments of some members of society be freely gifted. more>

The power of the European Central Bank

With inadequate fiscal policy, monetary policy labors to compensate, creating damaging economic distortions in the eurozone market.
By Bercan Begley – The pandemic has left millions of Europeans out of work and many underemployed, their businesses partly closed. Yet some are flourishing as never before. For European bourses, it has been marvelous. As the price of stocks has climbed, so has the wealth of those who own them.

Never have we seen such a disconnect between the real economy, the home of democracy, and the financial markets, the domicile for capitalists. And one institution has been at the centre of it all—the European Central Bank.

The ECB is perhaps the most powerful yet least understood institution in the eurozone. It has the power to engender economic, social and political change. Following the global financial crisis, the bank embarked on an epic experiment in monetary economics.

Two levers

There are two macroeconomic levers: fiscal and monetary policies. Before the introduction of the euro, both largely belonged to European Union member states. With monetary union, monetary policy moved to Frankfurt, centralized in the headquarters of the new ECB. Fiscal policy, such as tax-rate formulation, belonged to member states, but under the Maastricht treaty’s Stability and Growth Pact the European Commission supervised.

The lead-up to the crash saw profound capital misallocation in the eurozone. Pre-euro, ‘currency risk’ tempered financial venture-taking. A Munich-based bank would undertake due deliberation before converting Deutschmarks into Irish punts, due to the variability of exchange rates. Currency volatility played a risk-mitigating role, moderating investment allocation. Foolhardy owners of financial assets bore their losses and had no compensating recourse to the political domain. more>

Vaccine Greed: Capitalism Without Competition Isn’t Capitalism, It’s Exploitation

Among the pandemic’s many lessons, however, is that greed can easily work against the common good
By Jag Bhalla – DID GREED JUST save the day? That’s what British Prime Minister Boris Johnson claimed recently. “The reason we have the vaccine success,” he said in a private call to Conservative members of Parliament, “is because of capitalism, because of greed.

Despite later backpedaling, Johnson’s remark reflects a widely influential but wildly incoherent view of innovation: that greed — the unfettered pursuit of profit above all else — is a necessary driver of technological progress. Call it the need-greed theory.

Among the pandemic’s many lessons, however, is that greed can easily work against the common good. We rightly celebrate the near-miraculous development of effective vaccines, which have been widely deployed in rich nations. But the global picture reveals not even a semblance of justice: As of May, low-income nations received just 0.3 percent of the global vaccine supply. At this rate it would take 57 years for them to achieve full vaccination.

This disparity has been dubbed “vaccine apartheid,” and it’s exacerbated by greed. A year after the launch of the World Health Organization’s Covid-19 Technology Access Pool — a program aimed at encouraging the collaborative exchange of intellectual property, knowledge, and data — “not a single company has donated its technical knowhow,” wrote politicians from India, Kenya, and Bolivia in a June essay for The Guardian. As of that month, the U.N.-backed COVAX initiative, a vaccine sharing scheme established to provide developing countries equitable access, had delivered only about 90 million out of a promised 2 billion doses. Currently, pharmaceutical companies, lobbyists, and conservative lawmakers continue to oppose proposals for patent waivers that would allow local drug makers to manufacture the vaccines without legal jeopardy. They claim the waivers would slow down existing production, “foster the proliferation of counterfeit vaccines,” and, as North Carolina Republican Sen. Richard Burr said, “undermine the very innovation we are relying on to bring this pandemic to an end.” more>

Why Elon Musk Isn’t Superman

The Betting Economy vs. The Operating Economy
By Tim O’Reilly – At one point early this year, Elon Musk briefly became the richest person in the world. After a 750% increase in Tesla’s stock market value added over $180 billion to his fortune, he briefly had a net worth of over $200 billion. It’s now back down to “only” $155 billion.

Understanding how our economy produced a result like this—what is good about it and what is dangerous—is crucial to any effort to address the wild inequality that threatens to tear our society apart.

In response to the news of Musk’s surging fortune, Bernie Sanders tweeted:

Bernie was right that a $7.25 minimum wage is an outrage to human decency. If the minimum wage had kept up with increases in productivity since 1979, it would be over $24 by now, putting a two-worker family into the middle class. But Bernie was wrong to imply that Musk’s wealth increase was at the expense of Tesla’s workers. The median Tesla worker makes considerably more than the median American worker.

Elon Musk’s wealth doesn’t come from him hoarding Tesla’s extractive profits, like a robber baron of old. For most of its existence, Tesla had no profits at all. It became profitable only last year. But even in 2020, Tesla’s profits of $721 million on $31.5 billion in revenue were small—only slightly more than 2% of sales, a bit less than those of the average grocery chain, the least profitable major industry segment in America.

No, Musk won the lottery, or more precisely, the stock market beauty contest. In theory, the price of a stock reflects a company’s value as an ongoing source of profit and cash flow. In practice, it is subject to wild booms and busts that are unrelated to the underlying economics of the businesses that shares of stock are meant to represent. more>

Germany is the freest country in Europe; Norway, Lithuania, and Finland are the worst on the 2021 Nanny State Index

By Christopher Snowdon – Today sees the publication of the Nanny State Index, now in its fourth edition. Launched in 2016, it looks at the over-regulation of food, soft drinks, vaping, tobacco and alcohol in thirty European countries. Since the last edition was published in 2019, the COVID-19 pandemic has led governments around the world to impose coercive controls on an almost unprecedented scale.

The index does not include anti-Covid policies that are expected to be a genuinely temporary response to the pandemic, but the outlook is bleak nonetheless. Almost without exception, governments across Europe are adopting higher sin taxes and more prohibitions.

Norway tops the league table, although that could change once it legalises e-cigarettes. Lithuania, with its heavy temperance legislation, is again in second place while Finland drops to third. The top of the table is dominated by Scandinavia and Eastern Europe. Greece is the only country from southern Europe in the top half, largely thanks to its very high sin taxes on alcohol and tobacco. At the more liberal end of the table, the best countries are a mixed bag. Germany has performed the extraordinary feat of having the lowest score in all four categories of the index. more>

Updates from Chicago Booth

A new approach to ensuring drugs are safe
Researchers propose a new empirical method for monitoring and evaluating the safety of drugs already on the market
By Sarah Kuta – In May 2007, the US Food and Drug Administration issued a strict warning for rosiglitazone after studies linked the approved diabetes drug to an increased risk of heart problems. Use of the drug plummeted 78 percent in 15 months; annual sales dropped from $3 billion to $183 million.

In 2013, following additional studies of the drug’s safety, the FDA reversed course and removed restrictions on rosiglitazone. But it was too late to undo the damage caused by their initial warning—sales never recovered, and patients had to resort to taking potentially less suitable medications.

The FDA could have prevented this six-year roller-coaster ride if it had taken a more robust, data-driven approach to its postmarket drug surveillance process, suggests research by Southern Methodist University’s Vishal Ahuja, Texas Tech’s Carlos Alvarez, and Chicago Booth’s John R. Birge and Chad Syverson.

Using rosiglitazone as a retrospective case study, the researchers propose a new empirical method for monitoring and evaluating the safety of drugs already on the market. Their approach uses large, relevant, and reliable longitudinal databases and established econometrics methods to assess the relationships between approved drugs and potentially related adverse health events.

This evaluation method could help prevent incorrect drug recalls and warnings that cause financial consequences for drugmakers, confusion among doctors, and potential harm to patients’ health, the researchers argue. more>

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Updates from Chicago Booth

The cycle behind sovereign debt disasters
By Michael Maiello – In theory, sovereign debt can be a healthy part of a growing economy. Governments can borrow from creditors to fund trade deficits, importing goods from other countries so their citizens can buy the products and enjoy the benefits.

While that may be the idea, the results of such borrowing are generally disastrous, warns research by Stanford’s Peter M. DeMarzo, Chicago Booth’s Zhiguo He, and Copenhagen Business School’s Fabrice Tourre. There is no default plan for a sovereign borrower the way there is for, say, a corporate one—and borrower countries have proven unable or unwilling to commit to anything like one. Without the disciplining force of covenants, which are common in private-sector borrowing, the system doesn’t wholly account for the risks associated with economic booms and busts, which works against strategic, responsible borrowing.

The trio’s work on sovereign debt risks rests on a foundation of work by DeMarzo and He on private-sector debt, in which they describe the tendencies of corporations to borrow without restraint when they do not pledge collateral to specific lenders. As uncollateralized borrowers tend to issue debt in good times and bad, lenders demand ever-higher borrowing costs over time, erasing the benefits to the borrower company and increasing default risk. Collateral adds discipline to the process. In another study, DeMarzo argues that sovereign borrowers should pledge assets to creditors as collateral in the event of default. This latest research, with He and Tourre, suggests that such collateralization could crystallize the consequences of default and break the debt cycle that is so costly to so many citizens. more>

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