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  • Author: Joseph E. Gagnon, Steve Kamin, John Kearns
  • Publication Date: 05-2021
  • Content Type: Policy Brief
  • Institution: Peterson Institute for International Economics
  • Abstract: COVID-19 vaccination programs are generally understood to be a prerequisite for a return to normalcy in our social and economic lives. Emergency measures to research, test, produce, and distribute vaccines have been expensive, but increases in GDP resulting from the vaccines are expected to exceed those costs by wide margins. Few studies have quantified the economic costs and benefits of different rates of COVID-19 vaccination, however. This Policy Brief focuses on developing such a quantitative assessment for the United States; the approach may be applied to other countries as well. Two illustrative scenarios support the conclusion that most plausible options to accelerate vaccinations would have economic benefits that far exceed their costs, in addition to their more important accomplishment of saving lives. This Policy Brief shows that if, for example, the United States had adopted a more aggressive policy in 2020 of unconditional contracts with vaccine producers, the up-front cost would have been higher but thousands of lives would have been saved and economic growth would have been stronger. Instead, the federal government conditioned its contracts on the vaccines’ being proven safe and effective. The projections presented in this analysis show that even if unconditional contracts led to support for vaccines that failed the phase III trial and ultimately were not used, the cost would have been worth it.
  • Topic: Economics, Health, Crisis Management, COVID-19, Health Crisis
  • Political Geography: North America, United States of America
  • Author: Julia Coronado, Simon Potter
  • Publication Date: 03-2020
  • Content Type: Policy Brief
  • Institution: Peterson Institute for International Economics
  • Abstract: The US monetary system faces significant challenges from advances in technology and changes in the macroeconomy that, left unaddressed, will threaten the stability of the US economy and financial system. At the same time, low interest rates mean that central banks will not have the policy ammunition they had in the past during the next recession. The Federal Reserve needs new tools to meet its mandates of price stability and maximum employment. It also needs to preserve the safety and soundness of the financial system in a rapidly digitizing world. The authors propose a Fed-backed digital currency to solve both problems. Their proposal creates a regulated system of digital currency accounts for consumers managed by digital payment providers and fully backed by reserves at the Fed. The system would be limited in size, to preserve the functions and stability of the existing banking system. Fed backing would mean low capital requirements, which would in turn facilitate competition. Low fees and no minimum balance requirements in the new system would also help financial institutions reach the roughly 25 percent of the US population that is currently either unbanked or underbanked. Digital accounts for consumers could also provide a powerful new stabilization tool for both monetary and fiscal policies. For fiscal policy, it could facilitate new automatic stabilizers while also allowing the Fed to provide quantitative easing directly to consumers. This tool could be used in a timely manner with broad reach to all Americans.
  • Topic: Economics, Government, Monetary Policy, Banks, Macroeconomics
  • Political Geography: North America, United States of America
  • Author: Julia Coronado, Simon Potter
  • Publication Date: 04-2020
  • Content Type: Policy Brief
  • Institution: Peterson Institute for International Economics
  • Abstract: In the second part of their Policy Brief, Coronado and Potter discuss how the system of digital payment providers (DPPs) proposed in their first Policy Brief on this topic adds a new weapon to the monetary toolkit that could be implemented in a timely, effective, and inclusive manner. They describe how a digital currency backed by the Federal Reserve could augment automatic fiscal stabilizers and—more importantly—harness the power of “helicopter” money or quantitative easing directly to consumers in a disciplined manner. To implement QE directly to consumers, Coronado and Potter propose the creation of recession insurance bonds (RIBs)—zero-coupon bonds authorized by Congress and calibrated as a percentage of GDP sufficient to provide meaningful support in a downturn. Congress would create these contingent securities; Treasury would credit households’ digital accounts with them. The Fed could purchase them from households in a downturn after its policy rate hits zero. The Fed’s balance sheet would grow by the value of RIBs purchased; the initial matching liability would be deposits into the DPP system. The mechanism is easy for consumers to understand and could boost inflation expectations more than a debt-financed fiscal stimulus could.
  • Topic: Economics, Government, Monetary Policy, Insurance
  • Political Geography: North America, United States of America
  • Author: Chad P. Bown
  • Publication Date: 05-2020
  • Content Type: Working Paper
  • Institution: Peterson Institute for International Economics
  • Abstract: While the public was transfixed by the Trump administration’s policies alleging that imports were a threat to America’s national security during 2017–20, there was a concomitant and more quiet US policy shift on the export side. Addressing the national security threat presented by exports posed different economic and institutional challenges from those associated with import policy, including the acknowledgment that export controls for legitimate national security reasons can be the first-best policy to confront the problem at its source. Yet, export controls could also be misused as a beggar-thy-neighbor policy to redistribute economic well-being across countries, even from one ally to another. This paper describes how US export control policy evolved over 2017–20, as well as the international institutions—first the Coordinating Committee for Multilateral Export Controls (COCOM), then the Wassenaar Arrangement—historically tasked with multilateralizing US export restrictions used to protect national security. With the potential for US export control policy to brush up more frequently against WTO rules designed to limit the use of export restrictions, the paper also highlights new challenges for the WTO’s system of resolving trade disputes. Overall, a US failure to strike the right balance for its export control policy would result in it being ineffective at addressing national security risks, costly for the economy, and problematic for trade and diplomatic relations.
  • Topic: Economics, Government, National Security, Exports, Trade
  • Political Geography: North America, United States of America
  • Author: Olivier Blanchard, Thomas Philippon, Jean Pisani-Ferry
  • Publication Date: 06-2020
  • Content Type: Policy Brief
  • Institution: Peterson Institute for International Economics
  • Abstract: The measures that most governments took in response to the sudden collapse in economic activity during the COVID-19 lockdowns nearly exclusively focused on protecting vulnerable workers and firms. These measures included unemployment benefits, grants, transfers, loans at low rates, and tax deferrals. As lockdowns are lifted, governments must shift policies toward supporting the recovery and design measures that will limit the pain of adjustment while preserving productive jobs and firms. This Policy Brief explores how such measures can be designed, with particular emphasis on Europe and the United States. The authors propose a combination of unemployment benefits to help workers, wage subsidies and partially guaranteed loans to help firms, and debt restructuring procedures for small and medium-sized companies handicapped by excessive legacy debt from the crisis.
  • Topic: Debt, Economics, Government, Labor Issues, Unemployment, Coronavirus
  • Political Geography: Europe, North America, United States of America
  • Author: Olivier Jeanne
  • Publication Date: 01-2020
  • Content Type: Working Paper
  • Institution: Peterson Institute for International Economics
  • Abstract: In theory, tariffs are partially offset by a currency appreciation in the tariff-imposing country or by a depreciation in the country on which the tariff is imposed. Based on a calibrated model, this paper finds that US tariffs imposed in 2018 should not have had a large impact on the dollar but may have significantly depreciated the renminbi. This prediction is consistent with a high-frequency event analysis looking at the impact of tariff-related news on the dollar and the renminbi. Tariff-related news explains about one-third of the renminbi depreciation observed in 2018.
  • Topic: Economics, Tariffs, Exchange Rate Policy, Currency
  • Political Geography: North America, United States of America
  • Author: David Reifschneider, David Wilcox
  • Publication Date: 03-2020
  • Content Type: Working Paper
  • Institution: Peterson Institute for International Economics
  • Abstract: If the Federal Reserve does not decisively change the way it conducts monetary policy, it will probably not be capable of fighting recessions in the future as effectively as it fought them in the past. This reality helped motivate the Fed to undertake the policy framework review in which it is currently engaged. Researchers have suggested many steps the Fed could take to improve its recession-fighting ability; however, no consensus has emerged as to which of these steps would be both practical and maximally effective. This paper aims to fill that gap. It recommends that the Fed commit as soon as possible to a new approach for fighting recessions, involving two key elements. First, the Fed should commit that whenever it runs out of room to cut the federal funds rate further, it will leave the rate at its minimum level until the labor market recovers and inflation returns to 2 percent. Second, the Fed should commit that under the same circumstances, it will begin to purchase longer-term assets in volume and will continue such purchases until the labor market recovers. If the forces driving the next recession are not unusually severe, this framework might allow the Fed to be as effective at fighting that recession as it was in the past. If the next recession is more severe, however, the Fed will probably run out of ammunition even if it takes the two steps recommended here. Therefore, both monetary and fiscal policymakers should consider yet other steps they could take to enhance their ability to fight future recessions.
  • Topic: Economics, Monetary Policy, Federal Reserve
  • Political Geography: North America, Global Focus, United States of America
  • Author: Chad P. Bown, Soumaya Keynes
  • Publication Date: 03-2020
  • Content Type: Working Paper
  • Institution: Peterson Institute for International Economics
  • Abstract: On December 10, 2019, the World Trade Organization’s (WTO) 25-year-old system of resolving disputes broke down. This paper explains why. It describes the dysfunctional system that preceded the WTO, when the United States dealt with politically troublesome imports by using voluntary export restraints and increasingly resorted to the “aggressively unilateral” Section 301 policy to resolve trade concerns. The WTO was a compromise between the rest of the world and the United States, whereby the latter accepted some constraints with the expectation that the new system of binding dispute settlement would serve its interests. But although the creation of the WTO resolved some concerns about American unilateralism in the short term, its system of handling disputes turned out to be politically unsustainable.
  • Topic: Economics, World Trade Organization, Trade, Donald Trump
  • Political Geography: North America, United States of America
  • Author: Maurice Obstfeld
  • Publication Date: 10-2019
  • Content Type: Working Paper
  • Institution: Peterson Institute for International Economics
  • Abstract: This paper is a partial exploration of mechanisms through which global factors influence the tradeoffs that US monetary policy faces. It considers three main channels. The first is the determination of domestic inflation in a context where international prices and global competition play a role, alongside domestic slack and inflation expectations. The second channel is the determination of asset returns (including the natural real safe rate of interest) and financial conditions, given integration with global financial markets. The third channel, which is particular to the United States, is the potential spillback onto the US economy from the disproportionate impact of US monetary policy on the outside world. In themselves, global factors need not undermine a central bank’s ability to control the price level over the long term—after all, it is the monopoly issuer of the numeraire in which domestic prices are measured. Over shorter horizons, however, global factors do change the tradeoff between price-level control and other goals such as low unemployment and financial stability, thereby affecting the policy cost of attaining a given price path.
  • Topic: Economics, Government, International Trade and Finance, Monetary Policy
  • Political Geography: North America, United States of America
  • Author: Gary Clyde Hufbauer , Zhiyaou (Lucy) Lu
  • Publication Date: 10-2019
  • Content Type: Policy Brief
  • Institution: Peterson Institute for International Economics
  • Abstract: In early 2019, several important members of the World Trade Organization (WTO) submitted noteworthy proposals in a realm of international commerce that has evolved faster than rules to govern it: e-commerce or digital trade. While countries agree on less controversial subjects like banning unsolicited commercial electronic messages, the three leading WTO members—China, the European Union, and the United States—have big differences in their approaches to more challenging issues: data flows, data localization, privacy invasions by data collectors, transfer of source code, imposition of customs duties and internet taxes, and internet censorship. Their differing viewpoints lead Hufbauer and Lu to conclude that the prospect of reaching a high-level WTO e-commerce agreement is not promising. To reach an agreement, either most of the contentious issues must be dropped or the number of participating countries must be sharply reduced. A WTO accord, even of low ambition, would have value if only to establish basic digital norms on matters such as banning unsolicited commercial messages and protecting online consumers from fraudulent practices. A more ambitious accord covering the controversial issues should be negotiated in bilateral and/or plurilateral/regional pacts rather than in the WTO.
  • Topic: Economics, World Trade Organization, Finance, Privacy, Data
  • Political Geography: China, Europe, Asia, North America, United States of America, European Union