Countries with oil, mineral or other natural resource wealth, on average, have failed to show better economic performance than those without, often because of undesirable side effects. This is the phenomenon known as the Natural Resource Curse. This paper reviews the literature, classified according to six channels of causation that have been proposed. The possible channels are: (i) long-term trends in world prices, (ii) price volatility, (iii) permanent crowding out of manufacturing, (iv) autocratic/oligarchic institutions, (v) anarchic institutions, and (vi) cyclical Dutch Disease. With the exception of the first channel – the long-term trend in commodity prices does not appear to be downward – each of the other channels is an important part of the phenomenon. Skeptics have questioned the Natural Resource Curse, pointing to examples of commodity-exporting countries that have done well and arguing that resource exports and booms are not exogenous. The relevant policy question for a country with natural resources is how to make the best of them.
What does “black swan” really mean? In my view, it should refer to an event that is considered virtually impossible by those whose frame of reference is limited in time span and geographical area, but that is well within the probability distribution for those whose data set includes other countries and other decades or centuries.
Historically, many countries have suffered a pattern of procyclical fiscal policy: spending too much in booms and then forced to cut back in recessions. This problem has especially plagued Latin American commodity exporters. Since 2000, fiscal policy in Chile has been governed by a structural budget rule that has succeeded in implementing countercyclical fiscal policy. Official estimates of trend output and the 10-year price of copper – which are key to the decomposition of the budget into structural versus cyclical components – are made by expert panels and thus insulated from the political process. Chile’s fiscal institutions hold useful lessons everywhere, but especially in other commodity exporting countries.
This paper finds statistical support for a series of hypotheses regarding forecasts by official agencies that have responsibility for formulating the budget. 1) Official forecasts of budgets and GDP in a 33-country sample are overly optimistic on average. 2) The bias is stronger at longer horizons 3) The bias is greater among European governments that are politically subject to the budget rules. 4) The bias is greater in booms. 5) In most countries, the real growth rate is the key macroeconomic input for budget forecasting. 6) In Chile it this the real price of copper. 7) Chile has avoided the problem of overly optimistic official forecasts. The conclusion: official forecasts tend to be overly optimistic, if not insulated from politics, and the problem can be worse when the government is formally subject to budget rules. The key innovation that has allowed Chile to achieve countercyclical fiscal policy in general, and to run surpluses in booms in particular, is not just a structural budget rule in itself, but a regime that entrusts to independent expert panels responsibility for estimating long-run trends in copper prices and GDP.
The characteristics that distinguish most developing countries, compared to large industrialized countries, include: greater exposure to supply shocks in general and trade volatility in particular, procyclicality of both domestic fiscal policy and international finance, lower credibility with respect to both price stability and default risk, and other imperfect institutions. These characteristics warrant appropriate models.
Models of dynamic inconsistency in monetary policy and the need for central bank independence and commitment to nominal targets apply even more strongly to developing countries. But because most developing countries are price-takers on world markets, the small open economy model, with nontraded goods, is often more useful than the two-country two-good model. Contractionary effects of devaluation are also far more important for developing countries, particularly the balance sheet effects that arise from currency mismatch. The exchange rate was the favored nominal anchor for monetary policy in inflation stabilizations of the late 1980s and early 1990s. After the currency crises of 1994-2001, the conventional wisdom anointed Inflation Targeting as the preferred monetary regime in place of exchange rate targets. But events associated with the global crisis of 2007-09 have revealed limitations to the choice of CPI for the role of price index.
The participation of emerging markets in global finance is a major reason why they have by now earned their own large body of research, but it also means that they remain highly prone to problems of asymmetric information, illiquidity, default risk, moral hazard and imperfect institutions. Many of the models designed to fit emerging market countries were built around such financial market imperfections; few economists thought this inappropriate. With the global crisis of 2007-09, the tables have turned: economists should now consider drawing on the models of emerging market crises to try to understand the unexpected imperfections and failures of advanced-country financial markets.
By putting together a relatively large data set on bilateral remittances of emigrants, this paper is able to shed light on the important hypothesis of smoothing. The smoothing hypothesis is that remittances are countercyclical with respect to income in the worker’s country of origin (the recipient of the remittance), while procyclical with respect to income in the migrant’s host country (the sender of the remittance). The econometric results confirm the hypothesis.
The renminbi is a fresh new hopeful among the ranks of international currencies. This paper looks to history for help in evaluating the factors determining its prospects. The three best precedents in the twentieth century were the rise of the dollar from 1913 to 1945, the rise of the Deutsche mark from 1973 to 1990, and the rise of the yen from 1978 to 1991. The fundamental determinants of international currency status are economic size, confidence in the currency, and depth of financial markets. The new view is that, once these three factors are in place, internationalization of the currency can proceed quite rapidly. Thus some observers have recently forecast that the RMB may even challenge the dollar in a decade. But they underestimate the importance of the third criterion, the depth of financial markets. In principle, the Chinese government could decide to create that depth, which would require accepting an open capital account, diminished control over the domestic allocation of credit, and a flexible exchange rate. But although the Chinese government has been actively promoting offshore use of the currency since 2010, it has not done very much to meet these requirements. Indeed, to promote internationalization as national policy would depart from the historical precedents. In all three twentieth-century cases of internationalization, popular interest in the supposed prestige of having the country’s currency appear in the international listings was scant, and businessmen feared that the currency would strengthen and damage their export competitiveness. Probably China, likewise, is not yet fully ready to open its domestic financial markets and let the currency appreciate, so the renminbi will not be challenging the dollar for a long time.
Fiscal and monetary policy each has a role to play in mitigating the volatility that stems from the large trade shocks hitting commodity-exporting countries. All too often macroeconomic policy is procyclical, that is, destabilizing, rather than countercyclical. This paper suggests two institutional innovations designed to achieve greater countercyclicality, one for fiscal policy and one for monetary policy. The proposal for fiscal policy is to emulate Chile’s structural budget rule, and particularly its avoidance of over-optimism in forecasting. The proposal for monetary policy is called Product Price Targeting (PPT), an alternative to CPI-targeting that is designed to be more robust with respect to terms of trade shocks.
American fiscal policy has been procyclical: Washington wasted the expansion period 2001–2007 by running budget deficits, but by 2011 had come to feel constrained by inherited debt to withdraw fiscal stimulus. Chile has achieved countercyclical fiscal policy – saving in booms and easing in recession – during the same decade that rich countries forgot how to do so. Chile has a rule that targets a structural budget balance. But rules are not credible by themselves. In Europe and the United States, official forecasts are overly optimistic in booms; so revenue is spent rather than saved. Chile avoids such wishful thinking by having independent panels of experts decide what is structural and what is cyclical.
The paper studies forecasts of real growth rates and budget balances made by official government agencies among 33 countries. In general, the forecasts are found: (i) to have a positive average bias, (ii) to be more biased in booms, (iii) to be even more biased at the 3-year horizon than at shorter horizons. This over-optimism in official forecasts can help explain excessive budget deficits, especially the failure to run surpluses during periods of high output: if a boom is forecasted to last indefinitely, retrenchment is treated as unnecessary. Many believe that better fiscal policy can be obtained by means of rules such as ceilings for the deficit or, better yet, the structural deficit. But we also find: (iv) countries subject to a budget rule, in the form of euroland’s Stability and Growth Path, make official forecasts of growth and budget deficits that are even more biased and more correlated with booms than do other countries. This effect may help explain frequent violations of the SGP. One country, Chile, has managed to overcome governments’ tendency to satisfy fiscal targets by wishful thinking rather than by action. As a result of budget institutions created in 2000, Chile’s official forecasts of growth and the budget have not been overly optimistic, even in booms. Unlike many countries in the North, Chile took advantage of the 2002-07 expansion to run budget surpluses, and so was able to ease in the 2008-09 recession.