Fabrizo Perri

Fabrizio Perri

Monetary Advisor

fperri@umn.edu
CV
Google Scholar | Personal Website

Interests:
Business cycles
International macroeconomics
Inequality

Fabrizio Perri first became affiliated with the Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis in 1997 as an associate analyst in the Research Department, was a senior economist in 2004–5, and is now a monetary advisor. Past positions include professor of economics at the University of Minnesota, Università Bocconi and William Berkley Professor in Economics and Business at New York University.

Fabrizio studied economics and social sciences at Università Bocconi, and received his M.A. and Ph.D. from the University of Pennsylvania. In addition to his work for the Minneapolis Fed, Fabrizio has taught at several universities, including Northwestern University, UCLA, University of Texas and University of Wisconsin Madison. He has been a visiting scholar at the International Monetary Fund, the Bank of Italy, at the Federal Reserve Board and at the Federal Reserve Banks of New York and Philadelphia. He is also an affiliate of the National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER), the Center for Economic and Policy Research (CEPR).

Fabrizio’s research focuses on business cycles, international macroeconomics, and inequality. His articles have appeared in journals such as the Journal of Political Economy, Econometrica, the Review of Economic Studies, and the Journal of Monetary Economics. Currently he is an associate editor at the American Economic Review, the Review of Economic Dynamics, and the Journal of International Economics.

Reverse Speculative Attacks

In January 2015, in the face of sustained capital inflows, the Swiss National Bank abandoned the floor for the Swiss Franc against the Euro, a decision which led to the appreciation of the Swiss Franc. The objective of this paper is to present a simple numerical framework that helps to better understand the timing of this episode, which we label a “reverse speculative attack”. We model a central bank which wishes to maintain a peg, and responds to increases in demand for domestic currency by expanding its balance sheet. In contrast to the classic speculative attacks, which are triggered by the depletion of foreign assets, reverse attacks are triggered by the concern of future balance sheet losses. Our key result is that the interaction between the desire to maintain the peg and the concern about future losses, can lead the central bank to first accumulate a large amount of reserves, and then to abandon the peg, just as we have observed in the Swiss case.

Macroeconomics and Household Heterogeneity

The goal of this chapter is to study how, and by how much, household income, wealth, and preference heterogeneity amplify and propagate a macroeconomic shock. We focus on the U.S. Great Recession of 2007-2009 and proceed in two steps. First, using data from the Panel Study of Income Dynamics, we document the patterns of household income, consumption and wealth inequality before and during the Great Recession. We then investigate how households in different segments of the wealth distribution were affected by income declines, and how they changed their expenditures differentially during the aggregate downturn. Motivated by this evidence, we study several variants of a standard heterogeneous household model with aggregate shocks and an endogenous cross-sectional wealth distribution. Our key finding is that wealth inequality can significantly amplify the impact of an aggregate shock, and it does so if the distribution features a sufficiently large fraction of households with very little net worth that sharply increase their saving (i.e. they are not hand-to mouth) as the recession hits. We document that both these features are observed in the PSID. We also investigate the role that social insurance policies, such as unemployment insurance, play in shaping the cross-sectional income and wealth distribution, and through it, the dynamics of business cycles.

On the Desirability of Capital Controls

In a standard two-country international macro model, we ask whether imposing restrictions on international non contingent borrowing and lending is ever desirable. The answer is yes. If one country imposes capital controls unilaterally, it can generate favorable changes in the dynamics of equilibrium interest rates and the terms of trade, and thereby benefit at the expense of its trading partner. If both countries simultaneously impose capital controls, the welfare effects are ambiguous. We identify calibrations in which symmetric capital controls improve terms of trade insurance against country-specific shocks and thereby increase welfare for both countries.

Macroeconomic Volatility and External Imbalances

Does macroeconomic volatility/uncertainty affects accumulation of net foreign assets? In OECD economies over the period 1970–2012, changes in country specific aggregate volatility are, after controlling for a wide array of factors, significantly positively associated with net foreign asset position. A standard open economy model with time varying macroeconomic uncertainty can quantitatively account for this relationship. The key mechanism is precautionary motive: more uncertainty induces residents to save more, and higher savings are in part channeled into foreign assets. Data and theory suggest that volatility is an important determinant of the medium/long run evolution of external imbalances in developed countries.

Assessing International Efficiency

This chapter is structured in three parts. The first part outlines the methodological steps, involving both theoretical and empirical work, for assessing whether an observed allocation of resources across countries is efficient. The second part applies the methodology to the long-run allocation of capital and consumption in a large cross section of countries. We find that countries that grow faster in the long run also tend to save more both domestically and internationally. These facts suggest that either the long-run allocation of resources across countries is inefficient, or that there is a systematic relation between fast growth and preference for delayed consumption. The third part applies the methodology to the allocation of resources across developed countries at the business cycle frequency. Here we discuss how evidence on international quantity comovement, exchange rates, asset prices, and international portfolio holdings can be used to assess efficiency. Overall, quantities and portfolios appear consistent with efficiency, while evidence from prices is difficult to interpret using standard models. The welfare costs associated with an inefficient allocation of resources over the business cycle can be significant if shocks to relative country permanent income are large. In those cases partial financial liberalization can lower welfare.

The International Diversification Puzzle Is Not as Bad as You Think

The international diversification puzzle is the fact that country portfolios are on average biased toward domestic assets, while one-good international macro models with nondiversifiable labor income risk predict the opposite pattern of diversification. This paper embeds a portfolio choice decision in a two-good international business cycle model and provides a closed-form solution for equilibrium country portfolios. Equilibrium portfolios are biased toward domestic assets because endogenous international relative price fluctuations make domestic assets a good hedge against labor income risk. Evidence from developed economies in recent years is qualitatively and quantitatively consistent with the mechanisms highlighted by the theory.

Global Banks and Crisis Transmission

We study the effect of financial integration (through banks) on the transmission of international business cycles. In a sample of 18/20 developed countries between 1978 and 2009 we find that, in periods without financial crises, increases in bilateral banking linkages are associated with more divergent output cycles. This relation is significantly weaker during financial turmoil periods, suggesting that financial crises induce co-movement among more financially integrated countries. We also show that countries with stronger, direct and indirect, financial ties to the U.S. experienced more synchronized cycles with the U.S. during the recent 2007–2009 crisis. We then interpret these findings using a simple general equilibrium model of international business cycles with banks and shocks to banking activity. The model suggests that the relation between integration and synchronization depends on the type of shocks hitting the world economy, and that shocks to global banks played an important role in triggering and spreading the 2007–2009 crisis.

Public versus Private Risk Sharing

Can public income insurance through progressive income taxation improve the allocation of risk in an economy where private risk sharing is incomplete? The answer depends crucially on the fundamental friction that limits private risk sharing in the first place. If risk sharing is limited because insurance markets are missing for model-exogenous reasons (as in Bewley (1986)) publicly provided risk sharing improves on the allocation of risk. If instead private insurance markets exist but their use is limited by limited enforcement (as in Kehoe and Levine (1993)) then the provision of public insurance interacts with equilibrium private insurance, as, by providing risk sharing, the government affects the value of exclusion from private insurance markets and thus the enforcement mechanism of these contracts. We characterize consumption allocations in an economy with limited enforcement and a continuum of agents facing plausible income risk and tax systems with various degrees of progressivity (public risk sharing). We provide conditions under which more publicly provided insurance actually reduces total insurance for agents (excess crowding-out), or under which more public insurance increases total insurance (partial crowding-out).

Tax Buyouts

The paper studies a fiscal policy instrument that can reduce fiscal distortions without affecting revenues, in a politically viable way. The instrument is a private contract (tax buyout), offered by the government to each citizen, whereby the citizen can choose to pay a fixed price in exchange for a given reduction in her tax rate for a period of time. We introduce the tax buyout in a dynamic overlapping generations economy, calibrated to match several features of the US income, taxes, and wealth distribution. Under simple pricing, the introduction of the buyout is revenue neutral but, by reducing distortions, benefits a significant fraction of the population and leads to sizable increases in aggregate labor supply, income, and consumption.

Cross-Sectional Facts for Macroeconomists

This article provides an introduction to the special issue of the Review of Economic Dynamics on “Cross-Sectional Facts for Macroeconomists”. The issue documents, for nine countries, the level and the evolution, over time and over the life cycle, of several dimensions of economic inequality, including wages, labor earnings, income, consumption, and wealth. After describing the motivation and the common methodology underlying this empirical project, we discuss selected results, with an emphasis on cross-country comparisons. Most, but not all, countries experienced substantial increases in wages and earnings inequality, over the last three decades. While the trend in the skill premium differed widely across countries, the experience premium rose and the gender premium fell virtually everywhere. At a higher frequency, earnings inequality appears to be strongly counter-cyclical. In all countries, government redistribution through taxes and transfers reduced the level, the trend and the cyclical fluctuations in income inequality. The rise in income inequality was stronger at the bottom of the distribution. Consumption inequality increased less than disposable income inequality, and tracked the latter much more closely at the top than at the bottom of the distribution. Measuring the age-profile of inequality is challenging because of the interplay of time and cohort effects.

Unequal We Stand: An Empirical Analysis of Economic Inequality in the United States, 1967-2006

We conduct a systematic empirical study of cross-sectional inequality in the United States, integrating data from the Current Population Survey, the Panel Study of Income Dynamics, the Consumer Expenditure Survey, and the Survey of Consumer Finances. In order to understand how different dimensions of inequality are related via choices, markets, and institutions, we follow the mapping suggested by the household budget constraint from individual wages to individual earnings, to household earnings, to disposable income, and, ultimately, to consumption and wealth. We document a continuous and sizable increase in wage inequality over the sample period. Changes in the distribution of hours worked sharpen the rise in earnings inequality before 1982, but mitigate its increase thereafter. Taxes and transfers compress the level of income inequality, especially at the bottom of the distribution, but have little effect on the overall trend. Finally, access to financial markets has limited both the level and growth of consumption inequality.

Evaluating Asset Pricing Models with Limited Commitment Using Household Consumption Data

We evaluate the asset pricing implications of a class of models in which risk sharing is imperfect because of limited enforcement of intertemporal contracts. Lustig (2004) has shown that in such a model the asset pricing kernel can be written as a simple function of the aggregate consumption growth rate and the growth rate of consumption of the set of households that do not face binding enforcement constraints. These unconstrained households have lower consumption growth rates than all other households in the economy. We use household data on consumption growth from the U.S. Consumer Expenditure Survey to identify unconstrained households, to estimate the pricing kernel implied by these models, and to evaluate their performance in pricing aggregate risk. We find that with low risk aversion these models cannot generate a substantial equity premium. On the positive side for high values (over 30) of the relative risk aversion coefficient, the limited enforcement pricing kernel generates a market price of risk that is substantially closer.

The Great Moderation and the U.S. External Imbalance

The early 1980s marked the onset of two striking features of the current world macroeconomy: the fall in U.S. business cycle volatility (the “great moderation”) and the large and persistent U.S. external imbalance. In this paper, we argue that an external imbalance is a natural consequence of the great moderation. If a country experiences a fall in volatility greater than that of its partners, its incentives to accumulate precautionary savings fall and this results in a permanent deterioration of its external balance. To assess how much of the current U.S. imbalance can be explained by this channel, we consider a standard two-country business cycle model in which households are subject to business cycle shocks they cannot perfectly insure against. The model suggests that a fall in business cycle volatility like that observed in the United States can account for about 20 percent of the actual U.S. external imbalance.

Does Income Inequality Lead to Consumption Inequality? Evidence and Theory

Using data from the Consumer Expenditure Survey, we first document that the recent increase in income inequality in the U.S. has not been accompanied by a corresponding rise in consumption inequality. Much of this divergence is due to different trends in within-group inequality, which has increased significantly for income, but little for consumption. We then develop a simple framework that allows us to characterize analytically how within-group income inequality affects consumption inequality in a world in which agents can trade a full set of contingent consumption claims, subject to endogenous constraints emanating from the limited enforcement of intertemporal contracts. Finally, we quantitatively evaluate, in the context of a calibrated general equilibrium production economy, whether this set-up, or alternatively a standard incomplete markets model, can account for the documented stylized consumption inequality facts from the U.S. data.

Understanding Consumption Smoothing: Evidence from the U.S. Consumer Expenditure Data

Consumption models with endogenous debt constraints differ from standard incomplete markets models in their predictions about an individual household’s ability to smooth consumption across time and states of the world. In this paper we develop these differences, both theoretically and quantitatively. We then use data from the U.S. Consumer Expenditure Survey (CE) to assess along which dimensions the predictions of these models are consistent with the empirical evidence. We find that both types of models fail to fully account for the data and argue that a model that combines aspects of both might be more successful.

Business Cycles in Emerging Economies: The Role of Interest Rates

We find that in a sample of emerging economies business cycles are more volatile than in developed ones, real interest rates are countercyclical and lead the cycle, consumption is more volatile than output and net exports are strongly countercyclical. We present a model of a small open economy, where the real interest rate is decomposed in an international rate and a country risk component. Country risk is affected by fundamental shocks but, through the presence of working capital, also amplifies the effects of those shocks. The model generates business cycles consistent with Argentine data. Eliminating country risk lowers Argentine output volatility by 27% while stabilizing international rates lowers it by less than 3%.

Competitive Equilibria with Limited Enforcement

We show how to decentralize constrained efficient allocations that arise from enforcement constraints between sovereign nations. In a pure exchange economy these allocations can be decentralized with private agents acting competitively and taking as given government default decisions on foreign debt. In an economy with capital these allocations can be decentralized if the government can tax capital income as well as default on foreign debt. The tax on capital income is needed to make private agents internalize a subtle externality. The decisions of the government can arise as an equilibrium of a dynamic game between governments.

Financial Globalization and Real Regionalization

Over the period 1972–1986, the US business cycle was strongly correlated with the business cycle in the rest of the industrialized world. Over the period 1986–2000, international co-movement was much weaker (real regionalization). At the same time, US international asset trade has increased significantly (financial globalization). We first document these phenomena in detail and then argue that they are related. In particular, we present a model in which financial globalization occurs endogenously in response to less correlated real shocks. Financial globalization, by enhancing cross-border capital flows, further reduces the international correlations in GDP and factor supplies. We find that both less correlated shocks and the endogenous change in international financial markets are needed to quantitatively account for the observed changes in the international business cycle.

On the Welfare Consequences of the Increase in Inequality in the United States

We investigate the welfare consequences of the stark increase in wage and earnings inequality in the US over the last 30 years. Our data stems from the Consumer Expenditure Survey, which is the only US data set that contains information on wages, hours worked, earnings and consumption for the same cross section of US households. We first document that, while the cross-sectional variation in wages and disposable earnings has significantly increased, the overall dispersion in consumption has not significantly changed. We also show that households at the bottom of the consumption distribution have increased their working hours to a larger extent than the rest of the population. In order to assess the magnitude and the incidence of the welfare consquences of these trends we stimate stochastic processes for earnings, consumption and leisure that are consistent with observed cross-sectional variability (both within and between education groups) and with household mobility patterns. In a standard lifetime utility framework, using consumption and leisure processes, as opposed to earnings processes, results in fairly robust estimates of these consequences. We find that about 60 percent of US households face welfare losses and that the size of these losses ranges from one to six percent of lifetime consumption for different groups.

Why Has the U.S. Economy Become Less Correlated with the Rest of the World?

In this paper we do two things. First we document that over the last 40 years the U.S. business cycle has become less synchronized with the cycle in the rest of the world. Second we try to explain why this has happened. We use a general-equilibrium model as a tool to discriminate between two alternative explanations: (i) a change in the nature of real shocks, and (ii) an increase in U.S. financial integration with the rest of the world. Our results indicate that financial integration has played the major role in producing the observed changes in international co-movement.

International Business Cycles with Endogenous Incomplete Markets

Backus, Kehoe, and Kydland (1992), Baxter and Crucini (1995), and Stockman and Tesar (1995) find two major discrepancies between standard international business cycle models with complete markets and the data: In the models, cross-country correlations are much higher for consumption than for output, while in the data the opposite is true; and cross-country correlations of employment and investment are negative, while in the data they are positive. This paper introduces a friction into a standard model that helps resolve these anomalies. The friction is that international loans are imperfectly enforceable; any country can renege on its debts and suffer the consequences for future borrowing. To solve for equilibrium in this economy with endogenous incomplete markets, the methods of Marcet and Marimon (1999) are extended. Incorporating the friction helps resolve the anomalies more than does exogenously restricting the assets that can be traded.

Financial Autarky and International Real Business Cycles

We present a two-country, two-good model in which there do not exist any markets for international trade in financial assets. We compare the predictions of this model to those of two other models, one in which markets are complete and a second in which a single non-contingent bond is traded. We find that only the financial autarky model can generate volatility in the terms of trade similar to that in data for the floating rate period and, at the same time, account for observed cross-country output, consumption, investment and employment correlations. We interpret our findings as evidence that the extent of international borrowing and lending opportunities is important for the international business cycle.

The Great Depression in Italy: Trade Restrictions and Real Wage Rigidities

In Italy, as in many other countries, the years immediately after 1929 were characterized by a major slowdown in economic activity. We argue that the depth and duration of the crisis cannot be explained solely by productivity shocks. We present a model in which trade restrictions together with wage rigidities produce a significant slowdown in economic activity. The model is also consistent with evidence from sectoral disaggregated data. Our model predicts that trade restrictions can account for about one-half of the slowdown observed in the data while real wage rigidities can account for one-fourth of it.

The Role of Fiscal Policy in Japan: A Quantitative Study

This paper analyzes the role of fiscal policy in the recent slowdown in Japan. A dynamic general equilibrium model is developed in which fiscal policy can have both expansionary effects (through increasing returns) and contractionary effects (through the increase of public debt and tax burden). A version of the model is calibrated to the Japanese economy and is used to measure the importance of both these effects. We find that, under a wide range of parameters, net expansionary effects are quantitatively small, thus suggesting a limited role for fiscal stabilization

L’integrazione europea: un’analisi empirica [In Italian]

[Abstract in English] This mainly empirical work aims to further investigate the distinction between center and periphery Europe. In the first part the author calculates some indices that shed light on the causes of the distinction shown by Bayoumi and Eichengreen and shows the evolution of these indices over time, trying to infer whether there is a trend towards integration or disintegration. Then, a more detailed analysis of the structure of trade between France, Italy and Germany is proposed. In the second part some indices of trade integration are calculated and two traditional tools from the empirical literature on international trade are used: the intensity indices and gravitation model.

Comment on: “Capital Controls and Monetary Policy Autonomy in a Small Open Economy” by J. Scott Davis and Ignacio Presno

Before the Great Recession hit the world economy in 2008, the widespread consensus among policy makers and researchers that more open international capital markets were desirable. As a result, most countries in the world removed restrictions to inward and outward capital flows. The 2008 crisis has changed things quite dramatically, and the movement toward more open capital markets not only has stopped, but also has reversed, and, for the first time since the late 1970s, we are observing a prolonged reduction in world capital openness. Fig. 1 shows these patterns by plotting the average, across all countries in the world, of the Chinn–Ito index (see Chinn and Ito, 2006) which measures de-jure restrictions to international capital flows. The 2008 crisis and the subsequent retrenchment in capital mobility has spurred a growth in work that reassesses why and how capital controls might be desirable. The paper by Davis and Presno (2016) (DP henceforth), belongs to this literature, and in particular focuses on whether and how capital controls help monetary policy achieve its domestic objective in an economy facing shocks to foreign real rates. This comment will first briefly discuss the argument for capital controls and some of the recent literature on the issue, so as to put DP in context. Then it will present a simple reduced form model to help the reader to better understand the argument of DP in favor of capital controls, and will discuss the role of exchange rates. Finally it will offer some concluding remarks.

Exchange Rate Policies at the Zero Lower Bound

We study how a monetary authority pursues an exchange rate objective in an environment that features a zero lower bound (ZLB) constraint on nominal interest rates and limits to international arbitrage. If the nominal interest rate that is consistent with interest rate parity is positive, the central bank can achieve its exchange rate objective by choosing that interest rate, a well-known result in international finance. However, if the rate consistent with parity is negative, pursuing an exchange rate objective necessarily results in zero nominal interest rates, deviations from parity, capital inflows, and welfare costs associated with the accumulation of foreign reserves by the central bank. In this latter case, all changes in external conditions that increase inflows of capital toward the country are detrimental, while policies such as negative nominal interest rates or capital controls can reduce the costs associated with an exchange rate policy. We provide a simple way of measuring these costs, and present empirical support for the key implications of our framework: when interest rates are close to zero, violations in covered interest parity are more likely, and those violations are associated with reserve accumulation by central banks.

On the Distribution of the Welfare Losses of Large Recessions

How big are the welfare losses from severe economic downturns, such as the U.S. Great Recession? How are those losses distributed across the population? In this paper we answer these questions using a canonical business cycle model featuring household income and wealth heterogeneity that matches micro data from the Panel Study of Income Dynamics (PSID). We document how these losses are distributed across households and how they are affected by social insurance policies. We find that the welfare cost of losing one’s job in a severe recession ranges from 2% of lifetime consumption for the wealthiest households to 5% for low-wealth households. The cost increases to approximately 8% for low-wealth households if unemployment insurance benefits are cut from 50% to 10%. The fact that welfare losses fall with wealth, and that in our model (as in the data) a large fraction of households has very low wealth, implies that the impact of a severe recession, once aggregated across all households, is very significant (2.2% of lifetime consumption). We finally show that a more generous unemployment insurance system unequivocally helps low-wealth job losers, but hurts households that keep their job, even in a version of the model in which output is partly demand determined, and therefore unemployment insurance stabilizes aggregate demand and output.

Macroeconomics and Household Heterogeneity

The goal of this chapter is to study how, and by how much, household income, wealth, and preference heterogeneity amplify and propagate a macroeconomic shock. We focus on the U.S. Great Recession of 2007-2009 and proceed in two steps. First, using data from the Panel Study of Income Dynamics, we document the patterns of household income, consumption and wealth inequality before and during the Great Recession. We then investigate how households in different segments of the wealth distribution were affected by income declines, and how they changed their expenditures differentially during the aggregate downturn. Motivated by this evidence, we study several variants of a standard heterogeneous household model with aggregate shocks and an endogenous cross-sectional wealth distribution. Our key finding is that wealth inequality can significantly amplify the impact of an aggregate shock, and it does so if the distribution features a sufficiently large fraction of households with very little net worth that sharply increase their saving (i.e. they are not hand-to mouth) as the recession hits. We document that both these features are observed in the PSID. We also investigate the role that social insurance policies, such as unemployment insurance, play in shaping the cross-sectional income and wealth distribution, and through it, the dynamics of business cycles.

Reverse Speculative Attacks

In January 2015, in the face of sustained capital inflows, the Swiss National Bank abandoned the floor for the Swiss Franc against the Euro, a decision which led to the appreciation of the Swiss Franc. The objective of this paper is to present a simple framework that helps to better understand the timing of this episode, which we label a “reverse speculative attack”. We model a central bank which wishes to maintain a peg, and responds to increases in demand for domestic currency by expanding its balance sheet. In contrast to the classic speculative attacks, which are triggered by the depletion of foreign assets, reverse attacks are triggered by the concern of future balance sheet losses. Our key result is that the interaction between the desire to maintain the peg and the concern about future losses, can lead the central bank to first accumulate a large amount of reserves, and then to abandon the peg, just as we have observed in the Swiss case.

On the Desirability of Capital Controls

In a standard two-country international macro model, we ask whether imposing restrictions on international non contingent borrowing and lending is ever desirable. The answer is yes. If one country imposes capital controls unilaterally, it can generate favorable changes in the dynamics of equilibrium interest rates and the terms of trade, and thereby benefit at the expense of its trading partner. If both countries simultaneously impose capital controls, the welfare effects are ambiguous. We identify calibrations in which symmetric capital controls improve terms of trade insurance against country-specific shocks and thereby increase welfare for both countries.

Macroeconomic Volatility and External Imbalances

Does macroeconomic volatility/uncertainty affect accumulation of net foreign assets? In OECD economies over the period 1970-2012, changes in country specific aggregate volatility are, after controlling for a wide array of factors, significantly positively associated with net foreign asset position. An increase in volatility (measured as the standard deviation of GDP growth) of 0.5% over period of 10 years is associated with an increase in the net foreign assets of around 8% of GDP. A standard open economy model with time varying aggregate uncertainty can quantitatively account for this relationship. The key mechanism is precautionary motive: more uncertainty induces residents to save more, and higher savings are in part channeled into foreign assets. We conclude that both data and theory suggest uncertainty/volatility is an important determinant of the medium/long run evolution of external imbalances in developed countries.

Wealth and Volatility

Periods of low household wealth in United States macroeconomic history have also been periods of high business cycle volatility. This paper develops a simple model that can exhibit self-fulfilling fluctuations in the expected path for unemployment. The novel feature is that the scope for sunspot-driven volatility depends on the level of household wealth. When wealth is high, consumer demand is largely insensitive to unemployment expectations and the economy is robust to confidence crises. When wealth is low, a stronger precautionary motive makes demand more sensitive to unemployment expectations, and the economy becomes vulnerable to confidence-driven fluctuations. In this case, there is a potential role for public policies to stabilize demand. Microeconomic evidence is consistent with the key model mechanism: during the Great Recession, consumers with relatively low wealth, ceteris paribus, cut expenditures more sharply.

Inequality, Recessions and Recoveries

Income inequality is at the center of recent economic and political debate in the United States. President Obama spoke recently of “a dangerous and growing inequality and lack of upward mobility” and stated that “making sure our economy works for every working American” is “the defining challenge of our time.”

Assessing International Efficiency

This chapter is structured in three parts. The first part outlines the methodological steps, involving both theoretical and empirical work, for assessing whether an observed allocation of resources across countries is efficient. The second part applies the methodology to the long-run allocation of capital and consumption in a large cross section of countries. We find that countries that grow faster in the long run also tend to save more both domestically and internationally. These facts suggest that either the long-run allocation of resources across countries is inefficient, or that there is a systematic relation between fast growth and preference for delayed consumption. The third part applies the methodology to the allocation of resources across developed countries at the business cycle frequency. Here we discuss how evidence on international quantity comovement, exchange rates, asset prices, and international portfolio holdings can be used to assess efficiency. Overall, quantities and portfolios appear consistent with efficiency, while evidence from prices is difficult to interpret using standard models. The welfare costs associated with an inefficient allocation of resources over the business cycle can be significant if shocks to relative country permanent income are large. In those cases partial financial liberalization can lower welfare.

Inequality and Redistribution During the Great Recession

In this paper, we explore the impact of the Great Recession on economic inequality and redistribution in the United States. We analyze many sorts of inequality (in earnings, disposable income, consumption expenditures and wealth) for different sections of the economic distribution.

International Recessions

The 2007–2009 crisis was characterized by an unprecedented degree of international synchronization as all major industrialized countries experienced large macroeconomic contractions around the date of Lehman bankruptcy. At the same time countries also experienced large and synchronized tightening of credit conditions. We present a two-country model with financial market frictions where a credit tightening can emerge as a self-fulfilling equilibrium caused by pessimistic but fully rational expectations. As a result of the credit tightening, countries experience large and endogenously synchronized declines in asset prices and economic activity (international recessions). The model suggests that these recessions are more severe if they happen after a prolonged period of credit expansion.

Discussion of “Monetary Policy and the Global Housing Bubble” by Jane Dokko, Brian M. Doyle, Michael T. Kiley, Jinill Kim, Shane Sherlund, Jae Sim, and Skander Van Den Heuvel

Tax Buyouts

The paper studies a fiscal policy instrument that can reduce fiscal distortions without affecting revenues, in a politically viable way. The instrument is a private contract (tax buyout), offered by the government to each citizen, whereby the citizen can choose to pay a fixed price in exchange for a given reduction in her tax rate for a period of time. We introduce the tax buyout in a dynamic overlapping generations economy, calibrated to match several features of the US income, taxes and wealth distribution. Under simple pricing, the introduction of the buyout is revenue neutral but, by reducing distortions, it benefits a significant fraction of the population and leads to sizable increases in aggregate labor supply, income and consumption.

Tax Buyouts: Raising Government Revenue without Distorting Work Decisions

Due to cyclical and structural factors, including the fiscal response to the 2007-2009 recession, and rising Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security expenditures, the U.S. government is facing unprecedented levels of spending, now and for years to come. To maintain fiscal sustainability, revenue levels must increase, but doing so through higher taxes depresses economic activity and is politically difficult.
This paper proposes a fiscal instrument, which we call a “tax buyout,” that would allow the government to raise at least part of the needed revenues in a politically viable way, and without stifling economic activity.

Discussion of “From Great Depression to Great Credit Crisis: Similarities, Differences and Lessons” by Miguel Almunia, Agustín Bénétrix, Barry Eichengreen, Kevin H. O’Rourke, Gisela Rua

Unequal We Stand: An Empirical Analysis of Economic Inequality in the United States, 1967–2006

The paper studies a fiscal policy instrument that can reduce fiscal distortions without affecting revenues, in a politically viable way. The instrument is a private contract (tax buyout), offered by the government to each citizen, whereby the citizen can choose to pay a fixed price in exchange for a given reduction in her tax rate for a period of time. We introduce the tax buyout in a dynamic overlapping generations economy, calibrated to match several features of the US income, taxes and wealth distribution. Under simple pricing, the introduction of the buyout is revenue neutral but, by reducing distortions, it benefits a significant fraction of the population and leads to sizable increases in aggregate labor supply, income and consumption.

Comment on “Unsecured Credit Markets Are Not Insurance Markets” by Kartik Athreya, Xuan S. Tam, and Eric R. Young

Discussion of “Planning to Cheat: EU Fiscal Policy in Real Time” by Roel Beetsma, Massimo Giuliodori, Peter Wierts

Comment on “Optimal Saving Distortions with Recursive Preferences” by Emmanuel Fahri and Ivan Werning

The International Diversification Puzzle Is Not as Bad as You Think

In simple one-good international macro models, the presence of non-diversifiable labor income risk means that country portfolios should be heavily biased toward foreign assets. The fact that the opposite pattern of diversification is observed empirically constitutes the international diversification puzzle. We embed a portfolio choice decision in a frictionless two-country, two-good version of the stochastic growth model. In this environment, which is a workhorse for international business cycle research, we derive a closed-form expression for equilibrium country portfolios. These are biased towards domestic assets, as in the data. Home bias arises because endogenous international relative price fluctuations make domestic stocks a good hedge against non-diversifiable labor income risk. We then use our theory to link openness to trade to the level of diversification, and find that it offers a quantitatively compelling account for the patterns of international diversification observed across developed economies in recent years.

Does Income Inequality Lead to Consumption Equality? Evidence and Theory

Using data from the Consumer Expenditure Survey, we first document that the recent increase in income inequality in the United States has not been accompanied by a corresponding rise in consumption inequality. Much of this divergence is due to different trends in within-group inequality, which has increased significantly for income but little for consumption. We then develop a simple framework that allows us to analytically characterize how within-group income inequality affects consumption inequality in a world in which agents can trade a full set of contingent consumption claims, subject to endogenous constraints emanating from the limited enforcement of intertemporal contracts (as in Kehoe and Levine, 1993). Finally, we quantitatively evaluate, in the context of a calibrated general equilibrium production economy, whether this setup, or alternatively a standard incomplete markets model (as in Aiyagari, 1994), can account for the documented stylized consumption inequality facts from the U.S. data.

Business Cycles in Emerging Economies: The Role of Interest Rates

We find that in a sample of emerging economies business cycles are more volatile than in developed ones, real interest rates are countercyclical and lead the cycle, consumption is more volatile than output and net exports are strongly countercyclical. We present a model of a small open economy, where the real interest rate is decomposed in an international rate and a country risk component. Country risk is affected by fundamental shocks but, through the presence of working capital, also amplifies the effects of those shocks. The model generates business cycles consistent with Argentine data. Eliminating country risk lowers Argentine output volatility by 27% while stabilizing international rates lowers it by less than 3%.

Competitive Equilibria with Limited Enforcement

We show how to decentralize constrained efficient allocations that arise from enforcement constraints between sovereign nations. In a pure exchange economy, these allocations can be decentralized with private agents acting competitively and taking as given government default decisions on foreign debt. In an economy with capital, these allocations can be decentralized if the government can tax capital income as well as default on foreign debt. The tax on capital income is needed to make private agents internalize a subtle externality. The decisions of the government can arise as an equilibrium of a dynamic game between governments.

Comment on “Current Accounts in the Long and the Short Run” by Aart Kraay and Jaume Ventura

International Business Cycles with Endogenous Incomplete Markets

Backus, Kehoe and Kydland (1992), Baxter and Crucini (1995) and Stockman and Tesar (1995) find two major discrepancies between standard international business cycle models with complete markets and the data: In the models, cross-country correlations are much higher for consumption than for output, while in the data the opposite is true; and cross-country correlations of employment and investment are negative, while in the data they are positive. This paper introduces a friction into a standard model that helps resolve these anomalies. The friction is that international loans are imperfectly enforceable; any country can renege on its debts and suffer the consequences for future borrowing. To solve for equilibrium in this economy with endogenous incomplete markets, the methods of Marcet and Marimon (1999) are extended. Incorporating the friction helps resolve the anomalies more than does exogenously restricting the assets that can be traded.