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  • Author: Thomas Grennes
  • Publication Date: 01-2013
  • Content Type: Journal Article
  • Journal: The Cato Journal
  • Institution: The Cato Institute
  • Abstract: The value of government debt relative to the size of the economy has become a serious problem, and the problem is likely to grow in the future. Total debt of the U.S. government relative to gross domestic product increased substantially since the financial crisis and the Great Recession that began in 2007, but the debt ratio has been increasing since 2001. Gross debt relative to GDP increased from 55 percent in 2001 to 67 percent in 2007 to 107 percent in 2012. Comparable figures for debt held by the public (net debt or gross debt minus debt held by various government agencies) were 80 percent in 2011 and 84 percent in May 2012 (IMF 2012). As a result, the debt ratio is now the highest in U.S. history, except for World War II, when it reached 125 percent of GDP (Bohn 2010). U.S. debt is also high relative to the debt of other high-income countries, and projections of future debt place the U.S. government among the world's largest debtors (IMF 2011, 2012; Evans et al. 2012). Gross debt consists of all the bonds issued by the U.S. Treasury, but a broader measure that includes contingent debt results in a much larger debt (Cochrane 2011). Contingent debt includes unfunded obligations related to Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, and loan guarantees to agencies such as Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, and these obligations are so large that they have been described as a “debt explosion” (Evans et al. 2012). The sovereign debt crisis of the European Union has similarities to the U.S. debt problem, but it also has significant differences, as will be shown below. Interestingly, the poorer countries of the world that have frequently experienced debt problems in the past, have avoided major debt problems so far.
  • Topic: Financial Crisis
  • Political Geography: United States, Europe
  • Author: Mark Hallerberg
  • Publication Date: 04-2013
  • Content Type: Journal Article
  • Journal: The Cato Journal
  • Institution: The Cato Institute
  • Abstract: Germany has a northern European welfare state. This means that social benefits are extensive compared not only to the American standards but compared to other European countries, such as Italy or Spain. In the early 2000s, both foreign observers and Germans themselves considered the country the “sick man of Europe.” Its firms seemed increasingly uncompetitive, due especially to its costly labor. Economic growth in this period was stagnant. This “exporting giant” even had a slight current account deficit.
  • Topic: Financial Crisis
  • Political Geography: Europe, Germany, Spain, Italy
  • Author: Jeffrey M. Lacker
  • Publication Date: 06-2012
  • Content Type: Journal Article
  • Journal: The Cato Journal
  • Institution: The Cato Institute
  • Abstract: The financial crisis of 2007 and 2008 was a watershed event for the Federal Reserve and other central banks. The extraordinary actions they took have been described, alternatively, as a natural extension of monetary policy to extreme circumstances or as a problematic exercise in credit allocation. I have expressed my view elsewhere that much of the Fed's response to the crisis falls in the latter category rather than the former (Lacker 2010). Rather than reargue that case, I want to take this opportunity to reflect on some of the institutional reasons behind the prevailing propensity of many modern central banks to intervene in credit markets.
  • Topic: Financial Crisis
  • Political Geography: United States
  • Author: Steven Horwitz
  • Publication Date: 06-2011
  • Content Type: Journal Article
  • Journal: The Cato Journal
  • Institution: The Cato Institute
  • Abstract: The combination of the recession and financial crisis of the last few years has led to quite the outpouring of books by economists purporting to explain what happened and why, and how to avoid a repeat performance. This very crowded field has seen a range of quality, but a good number of these books have been quite well done. Alchemists of Loss by Great Britain's Kevin Dowd and Martin Hutchinson is another very good treatment of the issues. The authors bring a wealth of experience to their book. Dowd has had a long career as an academic, with much of his work focusing on the history and theory of “free banking” and other forms of financial deregulation. Hutchinson is a longtime financial journalist and has worked in the merchant and investment banking industries in Britain. They have written a comprehensive, fairly detailed, and surprisingly entertaining account of the historical context, theoretical framework, and actual events of the crisis.
  • Topic: Financial Crisis
  • Political Geography: Britain
  • Author: Peter J. Wallison
  • Publication Date: 09-2011
  • Content Type: Journal Article
  • Journal: The Cato Journal
  • Institution: The Cato Institute
  • Abstract: The most important lesson we can learn from the financial crisis is what caused it. Even though the Dodd-Frank Act (DFA) has been signed into law, this is still an important question. If we do not attribute the crisis to the right cause, we could well stumble into another crisis in the future; and if the DFA was directed at the wrong cause, we should consider its repeal. There are several competing narratives. One of them will eventually be accepted, and will determine how the great financial crisis of 2008 is interpreted, and thus how it affects public policy in the future.
  • Topic: Financial Crisis
  • Author: J. Daniel Hammond
  • Publication Date: 09-2011
  • Content Type: Journal Article
  • Journal: The Cato Journal
  • Institution: The Cato Institute
  • Abstract: Chicago School economists have come in for criticism since the financial crisis and so-called Great Recession began in 2007. Commentators have blamed recent problems on a laissez-faire faith in the efficacy of markets and simple rules for business-cycle policy—ideas associated with economics as taught and practiced at the University of Chicago. Events over the past four years, we are told, demonstrate the need for a restoration of Keynesian thinking about business cycles and activist government policies to keep markets from failing. However, there is another aspect of Chicago School economics that is commonly overlooked. This is the conviction that economists' understanding of the business cycle is meager in light of the knowledge necessary for activist countercyclical policy to be effective. From this comes the Chicago School concern that economists and policymakers not attempt to do something beyond their capability. Overreaching can make the problems worse.
  • Topic: Economics, Financial Crisis
  • Political Geography: Chicago
  • Author: William Poole
  • Publication Date: 02-2010
  • Content Type: Journal Article
  • Journal: The Cato Journal
  • Institution: The Cato Institute
  • Abstract: David Wessel is a fine journalist; In Fed We Trust is a fine book. It belongs on the shelf of every student of the 2007–09 financial crisis. It is, as well, a good read for recreational observers of the economic scene. Wessel focuses on Fed Chairman Ben S. Bernanke, but he discusses the role of all the other key players as well. The biographical information on Bernanke is interesting, as are Wessel's comments on the policy approaches and personalities of the other policymakers.
  • Topic: War, Financial Crisis
  • Author: Mark Calabria
  • Publication Date: 02-2010
  • Content Type: Journal Article
  • Journal: The Cato Journal
  • Institution: The Cato Institute
  • Abstract: Arnold Kling's Unchecked and Unbalanced is a novel and insightful take on both the financial crisis and broader trends in the provision of government services. Its central point is best summarized by its subtitle, “How the discrepancy between knowledge and power caused the financial crisis and threatens democracy.” This is a brief, very readable book for two distinct audiences, those interested in further understanding the financial crisis and those interested in improving the accountability and efficiency of services provided by government.
  • Topic: Financial Crisis
  • Author: Deepak Lal
  • Publication Date: 06-2010
  • Content Type: Journal Article
  • Journal: The Cato Journal
  • Institution: The Cato Institute
  • Abstract: In the early 1980s, I was working as the research administrator at the World Bank, while the Third World was engulfed by a debt crisis. The current global financial crisis has eerie similarities, but different outcomes. Why?
  • Topic: Third World, Financial Crisis
  • Political Geography: Africa, Asia, Latin America
  • Author: Thomas M. Humphrey
  • Publication Date: 06-2010
  • Content Type: Journal Article
  • Journal: The Cato Journal
  • Institution: The Cato Institute
  • Abstract: It has become commonplace in the current crisis to refer to the Federal Reserve as the economy's lender of last resort (LLR). Typical is the observation of Glenn Hubbard, Hal Scott, and John Thornton (2009) that "Over many decades and especially in this financial crisis, the Fed has used its balance sheet to be a classical lender of last resort."
  • Topic: Financial Crisis