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Monthly Archives: October 2014

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Housing Bubbles as Economic Policy

 

I’m curious why governments around the world are fond of pursuing higher house prices as economic policy. Not that I have anything in principle against higher house prices. I understand why governments want to do it, housing is an important concern for many people and a significant contributor to an economy. But all of that is wasted if the policies stimulate a housing bubble that eventually bursts leaving people poorer because their main asset drastically falls in value. But I’m concerned that governments introduce significant economic risk to the whole economy by promoting housing bubbles. We saw this with the recent Great Recession that consumed the US and much of the world in 2008-09. Yet governments continue to inflate housing bubbles. In the end, we are worse off when a housing bubble pops. I’m no ‘economic girly man‘ when it comes to risk, but surely as stakeholders in the global economy (and voters, depending on where you are) shouldn’t we be cognisant of the risks that our governments introduce? That way if we know about it, we can demand our governments to manage or even prevent these risks. This post will attempt to identify the key ways that governments have introduced risks into our economies in order to stimulate housing bubble.

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Risk, Market Failure and Government: Case for a Social Impact Bank?

Last week, I attended the All-Energy Australia Conference because of my interest in renewable technologies and energy efficiency. A couple of speakers from the Clean Energy Finance Corporation (CEFC) were highlights for me. The CEFC is an Australian Government-owned financial corporation that was established to address financial impediments to private financing of renewable energy, energy efficiency and low emissions projects and emissions – i.e. it addresses a market failure in clean energy financing. It does this by developing innovative financial products and working with private financiers, principally aimed at reducing risk which in turns reduces the risk premium charged to clean energy projects and companies. Furthermore, it does so by actually generating a profit for the Australian Government; it provides loans and equity on a commercial basis and doesn’t provide grants. It seemed to me that basic model of the CEFC would be useful in catalysing private capital in other policy areas, such as reducing social disadvantage. This blog post will go through my thinking on how a ‘Social Impact Bank’ could work along CEFC lines.

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Study of Incentives wins the 2014 Nobel Prize in Economics

I was so excited to find out this morning that Jean Tirole won the 2014 Nobel Prize in Economics. When I think of Prof. Tirole, I usually think of him together with his long-time collaborator, Jean-Jacques Laffont, who unfortunately passed away in 2004. Together, Tirole and Laffont wrote some insightful economic analysis that has heavily influenced my thinking on economics and, judging from the tributes (e.g. here from Justin Wolfers), many other economists. So, my excitement was tinged with a bit of sadness that Prof. Laffont did not see this day when the hard work of him and Prof. Tirole was recognised as worthy of the Nobel Prize. There work, applied game theory, principal-agent theory, asymmetric information and contract theory to how markets in the real world work. They did this by understanding the incentives between buyers and sellers in these markets instead of assuming that all markets were perfectly competitive. And, importantly they also looked at if it was feasible if government could intervene in markets that were imperfect. Tirole and Laffont have definitely influenced many regulators and policy-makers, and I’m glad Prof. Tirole won the Nobel Prize now because I think some of his and Laffont’s insights bear repeating. (more…)

Soil Carbon: Can We Have Our Cake and Eat it Too?

A key part of the Australian Government’s Direct Action Plan to presumably reduce emissions is to encourage the sequestration of carbon in soil. Given that the government has ‘axed the tax’ and plans to scale back or abolish the Renewable Energy Target, soil carbon sequestration is a key part of Australia’s carbon abatement policy. Soil carbon sequestration offers the alluring possibility of reducing Australia’s emissions without ‘clobbering the economy’. Instead of penalising businesses for emitting carbon, the Australian Government, through the Emissions Reduction Fund, will provide direct incentives for businesses to be rewarded for reducing carbon. Farmers will be a key beneficiary by producing carbon credits that polluters can use to offset emissions. This will allow Australian industry and consumers to operating as we always have without the associated economic restructuring caused by de-carbonising our energy sector. (more…)

Government as Risk Manager: Should We be More Worried?

The Productivity Commission (PC) recently released a draft inquiry report into ‘Natural Disaster Funding Arrangements’ in Australia. For those that don’t know, the Productivity Commission is an Australian Government independent agency that provides advice on economic reform. To my knowledge, I’m not sure if other national governments have a similar agency. The only one that comes close is the OECD, but that is a multilateral agency. The PC has a strong reputation of furnishing ‘frank and fearless’ advice to successive Australian Governments. So it is with some interest that I read this report. I have worked on the role of government in managing risk, so I was interested to learn the PC’s perspective on natural disaster risk management. (more…)