Findings

Follow the Money

Kevin Lewis

November 15, 2010

Shopping for Anonymous Shell Companies: An Audit Study of Anonymity and Crime in the International Financial System

J.C. Sharman
Journal of Economic Perspectives, Fall 2010, Pages 127-140

Abstract:
The last few years have seen an international campaign to ensure that the world's financial and banking systems are "transparent," meaning that every actor and transaction within the system can be traced to a discrete, identifiable individual. I present an audit study of compliance with the prohibitions on anonymous shell companies. In particular, I describe my attempts to found anonymous corporate vehicles without proof of identity and then to establish corporate bank accounts for these vehicles. (Transactions processed through the corporate account of such a "shell company" become effectively untraceable-and thus very useful for those looking to hide criminal profits, pay or receive bribes, finance terrorists, or escape tax obligations.) I solicited offers of anonymous corporate vehicles from 54 different corporate service providers in 22 different countries, and collated the responses to determine whether the existing legal and regulatory prohibitions on anonymous corporate vehicles actually work in practice. To foreshadow the results, it seems that small island offshore centers may have standards for corporate transparency and disclosure that are higher than major OECD economies like the United States and the United Kingdom.

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Corporations and economic inequality around the world: The paradox of hierarchy

Gerald Davis & Adam Cobb
Research in Organizational Behavior, forthcoming

Abstract:
Using time-series data from the US since 1950 and from 53 countries around the world in 2006, this chapter documents a strong negative relation between an economy's employment concentration (that is, the proportion of the labor force employed by the largest 10, 25, or 50 firms) and its level of income inequality. Within the US, we find that trends in the relative size of the largest employers (up in the 1960s and 1970s, down in the 1980s and 1990s, up in the 2000s) are directly linked to changes in inequality, and that corporate size is a proximal cause of the extravagant increase in social inequality over the past generation. We conclude that organization theory can provide a distinctive contribution to understanding societal outcomes.

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Wage Rigidities and Jobless Recoveries

Robert Shimer
University of Chicago Working Paper, November 2010

Abstract:
This paper explores how real wage rigidities can generate jobless recoveries. Suppose that after a transitory shock, the capital stock lies below trend. If wages are flexible, they decline as the economy grows back to trend. If wages are completely rigid and the labor market is otherwise frictionless, the transitory shock causes a proportional and permanent decline in employment, capital, output, consumption, and investment relative to trend. In a search model with rigid wages, the impact of the shock eventually disappears but quantitatively the behavior of the economy is very similar.

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Catastrophe Economics: The National Flood Insurance Program

Erwann Michel-Kerjan
Journal of Economic Perspectives, Fall 2010, Pages 165-186

Abstract:
Hurricane Betsy, which hit Louisiana September 9, 1965, was one of the most intense, deadly, and costly storms ever to make landfall in the United States: it killed 76 people in Louisiana and caused $1.5 billion in damage - equal to nearly $10 billion in 2010 dollars. In 1965, no flood insurance was available, so victims had to rely on friends and family, charities, or federal relief. After that catastrophe, the U.S. government established a new program in 1968-the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP)-to make flood insurance widely available. Now, after more than 40 years of operation, the NFIP is today one of the longest standing government-run disaster insurance programs in the world. In this paper, I present an overview of the 40 years of operation of the National Flood Insurance Program, starting with how and why it was created and how it has evolved to now cover $1.23 trillion in assets. I analyze the financial balance of the NFIP between 1969 and 2008. Excluding the 2005 hurricane season (which included Hurricane Katrina) as an outlier, policyholders have paid nearly $11 billion more in premiums than they have received in claim reimbursements over that period. However, the program has spent an average of 40 percent of all collected premiums on administrative expenses, more than three quarters of which were paid to private insurance intermediaries who sell and manage flood insurance policies on behalf of the federal government but do not bear any risk. I present challenges the NFIP faces today and propose ways those challenges might be overcome through innovative modifications.

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The US productivity slowdown, the baby boom, and management quality

James Feyrer
Journal of Population Economics, January 2011, Pages 267-284

Abstract:
This paper examines the relationship between the entry of the baby boom into the workforce and the productivity slowdown. Lucas (Bell J Econ 9(2):508-523, 1978) shows how management quality plays a role in determining output. The baby boom's entry into the workforce resulted in more managers from smaller, pre-baby boom cohorts. These marginal managers were necessarily of lower quality, leading to a drop in total factor productivity. As the boomers aged, this effect was reversed. A calibrated model of managers, workers, and firms suggests that the management effects of the baby boom may explain roughly 20% of the observed productivity slowdown and resurgence.

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Treasure Islands

James Hines
Journal of Economic Perspectives, Fall 2010, Pages 103-126

Abstract:
In movies and novels, tax havens are often settings for shady international deals; in practice, they are rather less flashy. Tax havens, also known as "offshore financial centers" or "international financial centers," are countries and territories that offer low tax rates and favorable regulatory policies to foreign investors. For example, tax havens typically tax inbound investment at zero or very low rates and further encourage investment with telecommunications and transportation facilities, other business infrastructure, favorable legal environments, and limited bureaucratic hurdles to starting new firms. Tax havens are small; most are islands; all but a few have populations below one million; and they have above-average incomes. The United States and other higher-tax countries frequently express concerns over how tax havens may affect their economies. Do they erode domestic tax collections; attract economic activity away from higher-tax countries; facilitate criminal activities; or reduce the transparency of financial accounts and so impede the smooth operation and regulation of legal and financial systems around the world. Do they contribute to excessive international tax competition? These concerns are plausible, albeit often founded on anecdotal rather than systematic evidence. Yet tax haven policies may also benefit other economies and even facilitate the effective operation of the tax systems of other countries. This paper evaluates evidence of the economic effects of tax havens.

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How Wealth Accumulation Can Promote Cooperation

Thomas Chadefaux & Dirk Helbing
PLoS ONE, October 2010, e13471

Abstract:
Explaining the emergence and stability of cooperation has been a central challenge in biology, economics and sociology. Unfortunately, the mechanisms known to promote it either require elaborate strategies or hold only under restrictive conditions. Here, we report the emergence, survival, and frequent domination of cooperation in a world characterized by selfishness and a strong temptation to defect, when individuals can accumulate wealth. In particular, we study games with local adaptation such as the prisoner's dilemma, to which we add heterogeneity in payoffs. In our model, agents accumulate wealth and invest some of it in their interactions. The larger the investment, the more can potentially be gained or lost, so that present gains affect future payoffs. We find that cooperation survives for a far wider range of parameters than without wealth accumulation and, even more strikingly, that it often dominates defection. This is in stark contrast to the traditional evolutionary prisoner's dilemma in particular, in which cooperation rarely survives and almost never thrives. With the inequality we introduce, on the contrary, cooperators do better than defectors, even without any strategic behavior or exogenously imposed strategies. These results have important consequences for our understanding of the type of social and economic arrangements that are optimal and efficient.

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Why Does the Economy Fall to Pieces after a Financial Crisis?

Robert Hall
Journal of Economic Perspectives, Fall 2010, Pages 3-20

Abstract:
The worst financial crisis in the history of the United States and many other countries started in 1929. The Great Depression followed. The second-worst struck in the fall of 2008 and the Great Recession followed. Commentators have dwelt endlessly on the causes of these and other deep financial collapses. This article pursues modern answers to a different question: why does output and employment collapse after a financial crisis and remain at low levels for several or many years after the crisis. It focuses on events in the United States since 2008. Existing macroeconomic models account successfully for the immediate effects of a financial crisis on output and employment. I will lay out a simple macro model that captures the most important features of modern models and show that realistic increases in financial frictions that occurred in the crisis of late 2008 will generate declines in real GDP and employment of the magnitude that occurred. But this model cannot explain why GDP and employment failed to recover once the financial crisis subsided-the model implies a recovery as soon as financial frictions return to normal. At the end of the article, I will mention some ideas that are in play to explain the persistent adverse effects of temporary crises, but have yet to be incorporated into the mainstream model.

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What the Government Purchases Multiplier Actually Multiplied in the 2009 Stimulus Package

John Cogan & John Taylor
NBER Working Paper, October 2010

Abstract:
Much of the recent economic debate about the impact of stimulus packages has focused on the size of the crucial government purchases multiplier. But equally crucial is the size of the government purchases multiplicand-the change in government purchases of goods and services that the multiplier actually multiplies. Using new data from the Bureau of Economic Analysis and considering developments at both the federal and the state and local level, we find that the government purchases multiplicand through the 2nd quarter of 2010 has been only 2 percent of the $862 billion American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) of 2009. This increase in government purchases has occurred mainly at the federal level. While states and localities received substantial grants under ARRA, state and local governments have not increased their purchases of goods and services. Instead they reduced borrowing and increased transfer payments. These findings explain why, regardless of the size of a government purchases multiplier, changes in government purchases have had no material effect on the growth of GDP since the time ARRA was enacted. The implication is not that ARRA has been too small, but rather that it failed to increase government consumption expenditures and infrastructure spending as many had predicted from such a large package. A consideration of the counterfactual event that there had not been an ARRA supports the hypothesis that state and local government borrowing would have been higher and purchases would have been about the same in the absence of ARRA.

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Freedom of information acts and public sector corruption

Monica Escaleras, Shu Lin & Charles Register
Public Choice, December 2010, Pages 435-460

Abstract:
Various countries have recently implemented Freedom of Information acts believing that greater transparency can reduce public sector corruption. To test this, we analyze annual data on 128 countries between 1984 and 2003 using a variety of propensity score matching techniques and overall find no significant relationship with one exception: In the developing world, FOI acts are significantly associated with rising levels of corruption. Further investigation suggests this may be due to the fact that the effectiveness of FOI acts appears to be conditioned by a country's institutional arrangements.

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The Economic Crisis from a Neoclassical Perspective

Lee Ohanian
Journal of Economic Perspectives, Fall 2010, Pages 45-66

Abstract:
This paper assesses the 2007-2009 recession using neoclassical business cycle theory. I find that the 2007-2009 U.S. recession differs substantially from other postwar U.S. recessions, and also from the 2008 recession in other countries, in that lower labor input accounts for virtually all of the decline in income and output in the United States, while lower productivity accounts for much of other U.S. recessions and the 2007-2009 recession in other countries. I also find that existing classes of models, including financial market imperfections models, do not explain the U.S. recession. This is because the 2007-2009 recession is almost exclusively related to what appear to be labor market distortions that drive a wedge between the marginal product of labor and the marginal rate of substitution between consumption and leisure, a topic about which current classes of financial imperfection models are largely silent. I discuss future avenues for developing this class of models, and I consider alternative hypotheses for the recession, including the view of John Taylor and others that economic policies intended to help manage the crisis, actually deepened the recession by increasing uncertainty and distorting incentives.

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Government, Openness and Finance: Past and Present

Panicos Demetriades & Peter Rousseau
NBER Working Paper, October 2010

Abstract:
We explore the role of government in the nexus of finance and trade starting from the earliest days of organised finance in England and then broadening the analysis to 84 countries from 1960 to 2004. For 18th century England, we find that the government expenditures and international trade did have a positive long-run effect on financial development when measured as the value of private loans issued at the Bank of England. For the wider panel of countries and more recent data, we find that government expenditures and trade have positive effects on financial development for countries that are in the mid-ranges of economic development as measured by their per capita incomes, but have little effect for poor countries and strongly negative effects for the wealthiest ones.

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Intergenerational health selection in wealth: A first look at parents' health events and inter vivos financial transfers

Megan Andrew & Erin Ruel
Social Science Research, November 2010, Pages 1126-1136

Abstract:
Researchers have explored the considerable negative effect of an individual's or his spouse's poor health on their wealth accumulation. Health selection may also operate across generations, affecting the wealth of children whose parents suffer from poor health. We develop an intergenerational model of health selection in wealth using life course theory to understand whether parents' non-fatal serious health events affect inter vivos financial transfers to children. First, we estimate the relationship between parents' serious health events in adulthood and wealth accumulation, showing that data from the Wisconsin Longitudinal Study reproduce results from research using U.S. national panel studies and supporting the generalizability of our intergenerational health selection results. Second, we find strong evidence of intergenerational health selection. Individuals with less initial wealth and who experience a serious health event are about 34% more likely to transfer money to their children and transfer 60% more money to their children when they do.

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On the link between fiscal decentralization and public debt in OECD countries

Thushyanthan Baskaran
Public Choice, December 2010, Pages 351-378

Abstract:
Excessive borrowing by subnational governments is considered to be one of the perils of fiscal decentralization. On the other hand, fiscal decentralization might ensure the fiscal stability of the public sector by constraining Leviathan governments. Since the impact of decentralized government on fiscal outcomes is therefore ambiguous from a theoretical perspective, we explore this question empirically with a panel of 17 OECD countries over the 1975-2001 period. Our findings suggest that expenditure decentralization significantly reduces public indebtedness, whereas tax decentralization and vertical fiscal imbalances are insignificant.

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Dollars Dollars Everywhere, Nor Any Dime to Lend: Credit Limit Constraints on Financial Sector Absorptive Capacity

Asim Ijaz Khwaja, Atif Mian & Bilal Zia
Review of Financial Studies, forthcoming

Abstract:
We exploit an unexpected inflow of liquidity in an emerging market to study how capital is intermediated to firms. We find that backward-looking credit limit constraints imposed by banks make it difficult for firms to borrow, despite readily available bank liquidity, healthy aggregate demand, and a sharply falling cost of capital. The resulting aggregate failure to extend and retain capital in the economy suggests that agency costs that force banks to rely on sticky balance-sheet-based credit limits prevent emerging economies from effectively intermediating capital.


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