“Lindau Was a Lesson in Building Courage and Confidence”

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When submitting my application for the 6th Lindau Meeting on Economic Sciences, I said that it would give me a platform to interact, exchange ideas and build collaborations with the best minds in the world: young enthusiastic people from across cultures and geographies. I now know that whatever you write, it is going to be an under-statement: my experience of Lindau was truly life changing, continuing to inspire me in my everyday life.

Lindau gave me the courage to believe in my dreams. It is very motivating to discover that there are so many young scientists who are working towards the common goal of making the world a better place to live.

I met people who have identified new economic problems brought about by the rapidly changing environment and who are using innovative ways to address issues of food wastage, environmental degradation and economic inequality. I now know that when I say that these are the causes that led me to study economics, I speak for many young people.

Lindau is the place to talk freely about your ideas and get valuable feedback from people who share your vision. This is the time and place to build networks that are already a step towards turning your ideas into actions.

The meeting is designed to create plenty of opportunities for informal conversations with Nobel Laureates over lunch or drinks. James Heckman spoke to us about his struggles in graduate school to come up with a research idea, in the process of which he read about a wide variety of topics. He told us: ‘Nothing I have learned has ever been non-useful.’ Bengt Holmström emphasised the role of serendipity, as opposed to luck, in his life: luck is random, but serendipity – that is, how well you use your luck – is not, he said.

I cannot tell you what you are going to experience because it will exceed all your expectations in one way or another.

The frontiers of science are often pushed by borrowing from other disciplines. I had a conversation with Nobel Laureate in Physics, Brian Schmidt, who had many insightful suggestions about the way we, economists, do research and how we can improve our techniques. Being an experimental physicist, he believes in the scientific use of data to answer important research questions and hopes that, in the future, more empirical economists will be honoured with the Nobel Prize.

One of the defining moments of my Lindau experience was being selected as a panellist alongside Nobel Laureate Eric Maskin and Howard Yana-Shapiro, chief agricultural officer of Mars Incorporated, to discuss problems and solutions to economic inequality in a globalised world. I seized the opportunity to draw on my own experience to talk about the problems of inequality in my home country, India.

In this respect, Lindau was a lesson in building courage and confidence: you have to speak what you believe in. The experience was rewarding. After the talk, many economists came forward to share their views on some of the issues I had raised.

Vladimir Petrov, a PhD student at University of Zurich, spoke about his experience of being involved in a start-up that is leveraging blockchain, an artefact of the new financial system, to build projects to save the environment. Carl Schramm, economist and entrepreneur, encouraged my initiative of building data to study entrepreneurship in developing countries. Discussions with Romesh Vaitilingam, writer and media consultant, taught me many important lessons about communicating economics to a broader audience without losing it in jargon.

 

Laureate Eric Maskin, Devaki Ghose and Howard Yana-Shapiro

Nobel Laureate Eric Maskin, Devaki Ghose and Howard Yana-Shapiro were on a panel discussing economic inequality at the Mars Science Breakfast during #LiNoEcon.

 

Interactions with Bruno Roche and Jay Jakub from Mars Incorporated contributed to my understanding of how collaborations between industry and academia can help address issues of economic importance, such as helping deprived communities. Lack of social and human capital in historically deprived communities hinders their participation in economic activities and restricts their purchasing power to buy goods from the market. Community-level interventions to invest in human capital can be beneficial for different stakeholders, starting from members of the community, policy-makers and multinationals.

As a confluence of ideas from both industry and academia, Lindau is different from any regular academic conference. It is not only about listening to seminars and raising questions. It is also about exchanging ideas with some of the brightest and most passionate young economists, drawing inspiration, engaging in conversations with Nobel Laureates and, most importantly, learning to express your own ideas.

My experience at Lindau opened windows of opportunities that I did not even know existed. It led me to foster connections with people who are deeply passionate about science and believe in using science to solve many of the world’s problems.

I highly encourage every young scientist to apply to the Lindau Meetings. I cannot tell you what you are going to experience because it will exceed all your expectations in one way or another. Oh, and did I not tell you that these five days are also packed with many fun activities, including music, dance and a boat trip to the pristine Mainau island?!

Young Women Economists in Lindau: Powerful Encounters

One of the reasons I applied to attend the 6th Lindau Meeting on Economic Sciences was the expectation of coming back brimming with self-motivation. Moreover, I expected to be deeply fascinated by the commitment of the pioneers of economic sciences, by their bravery in addressing world issues and by their lives as common individuals facing successes and failures. My expectations were by far exceeded.

I have always genuinely aspired to become an active participant in economics and to make a difference. My passion for the subject started with my postgraduate studies and further developed during my work at the United Nations and my academic experiences. A special opportunity offered by this meeting is the possibility of interacting with Nobel Laureates and other young academics, while sharing passions and values, understanding different cultures and exchanging ideas and future collaborations.

But what also fascinated me and made this experience even more magic and overwhelming was the passion, the eagerness and the determination of the many young women economists I had the pleasure of meeting in Lindau.

 

Zeinab Aboutalebi (left) and Angela De Martiis during the 6th Lindau Meeting on Economic Sciences. Picture/Credit: Lisa Vincenz-Donnelly/Lindau Nobel Laureate Meetings

Zeinab Aboutalebi (left) and Angela De Martiis during the 6th Lindau Meeting on Economic Sciences, Picture/Credit: Lisa Vincenz-Donnelly/Lindau Nobel Laureate Meetings

 

One of the ideas that particularly got my attention during the meeting is what Nobel Laureate Bengt Holmström called serendipity. Among the various questions to the laureates, many young economists were eager to know the secret of their success: how did they do it?

A common answer was indeed serendipity. An unexpected discovery that occurs by chance, a valuable finding that was not looked for by others, being in the right place at the right time, or simply luck. Nevertheless, the role of chance – or luck – in science is also driven by passion and determination. Often, such unexpected findings come from an error in the scientist’s own methodology, according to scientists Kevin Dunbar and Jonathan Fugelsang. Passion and determination were in fact the two main elements that I sensed when talking with young women economists about their research interests.

During my week at the meeting, I had the honour of presenting my research in front of five Nobel Laureates – an invaluable experience – and the pleasure of interviewing several young women economists from different countries, cultures and backgrounds. They came from Africa, Russia, Iran, China, the United States, Germany and Italy, and they all have one element in common: passion.

When I asked them about their motivation for doing academic research, the first answer was indeed passion, eagerness to learn, to understand and provide valuable results to inform some of today’s most debated issues – such as climate change, economic sanctions, information asymmetry, inequalities, labour markets, growth theory and monetary policy. The women economists, and women’s participation in the economy more generally, provide a diversity of economic thinking, as Janet Yellen recently emphasised in a speech at Brown University.

This diversity of thinking comes from the fact that, as one of these women economists told me, economics is not just economics. Being an economist implies knowing about mathematics, statistics, natural sciences, law, politics, psychology, history, sociology and more. Economics means dealing with issues that involve institutions and individuals. All these elements together make it a powerful tool for improving people’s welfare and lives.

On the one hand, welfare is one of the motivations driving Linda Glawe, a young German economist from the University of Hagen, to focus on prolonged growth slowdowns in emerging market economies and on the concept of the middle-income trap. In a world in which more than five billion people live in middle-income countries, representing more than 70% of the world’s poor population, a slowdown in emerging markets will have strong implications for low and high-income countries. Therefore, the danger of a middle-income trap is of great relevance for future welfare. After publishing a literature survey on the middle-income trap, Linda’s current research aims to provide a theoretical contribution to discussions of future growth in China.

On the other hand, when we talk about welfare we often refer to the fact that countries have unequal living standards that makes them grow faster or slower than others. Therefore, some countries display higher inequalities in incomes, wealth and human capital. These issues are among the main research interests of Rong Hai, a Chinese young assistant professor in economics at the University of Miami.

In one recent paper, she and laureate James Heckman investigate the determinants of inequality in human capital with an emphasis on the role of credit constraints. The results show that both cognitive and non-cognitive abilities are important determinants of human capital inequality. In addition, credit constraints are important because young people cannot borrow enough against their future human capital and thus suffer from lower consumption when they are in school.

In a second paper, Rong finds that reducing income inequality between low and median income households improves economic growth. But reducing income inequality through taxation between median and high-income households reduces economic growth.

 

Angela De Martiis and other young economists during the 6th Lindau Meeting on Economic Sciences,  Picture/Credit: Julia Nimke/Lindau Nobel Laureate Meetings

Angela De Martiis and other young economists during the 6th Lindau Meeting on Economic Sciences, Picture/Credit: Julia Nimke/Lindau Nobel Laureate Meetings

 

When investigating economic inequalities, there are many reasons to explore inequality within cities or states, especially if we consider that individuals move across space. Thus, the disparity of a particular area is also a reflection of the skills of these individuals as potential workers. From a labour economist perspective, Sarah Bana, an American Ph.D. candidate at the University of California, Santa Barbara, is interested in understanding the returns to skills and the role that skills play in earnings inequality in the US labour market.

One of her current research papers looks at displaced workers, those who lose their jobs as a result of a firm or plant closing. Analysing comprehensive occupational employment data, the results of her research suggest that vulnerable displaced workers’ difficulties in the labour market are a function of their skills and less related to the goods and services they were previously producing. This is due to the fact that the same set of tasks can be applied in the production of various goods and services, but there appears to be little scope for workers from shrinking occupations to find work with similar earnings, which may help to explain the large earnings losses.

As a researcher in labour economics, Sarah thinks of an individual’s work as their contribution to their family, community and society. But this may be hard for those workers who are displaced in worse labour market conditions.

Several studies investigate the effects of the global financial crisis on the labour market. The data from the displaced workers survey from 1984 to 2014 clearly show a sharp increase in the rate of job loss. Besides the effects on the labour market, the long-lasting impacts of the financial crisis on the economy and wider society have questioned the adequacy of the traditional tools in explaining periods of financial distress as well as the adequacy of the existing policy response.

At the same time, the financial crisis has shown that complex interconnections among financial institutions represent a mechanism for the propagation of financial distress and they are nowadays recognised as one of the key elements of potential financial instability or systemic risk.

This is one of the crucial issues that the young Italian economist Chiara Perillo, Ph.D. candidate at the University of Zurich, is investigating. In particular, she is exploring the implications of the unconventional monetary policies (such as quantitative easing) in the euro area by combining financial network analysis with econometric methods. Using the time evolution of loans granted from euro area banks to different institutional sectors operating in the euro area, her results show that since the beginning of quantitative easing there has been an increase in bank lending, but mostly addressed to the banking system itself.

Another element that drew my attention while getting to know the young women economists was their diverse backgrounds, another powerful tool for academic research in the diversity of thinking. Being Russian by origin and doing research based in Germany, Maria Kristalova, Ph.D. candidate at the University of Bremen, investigates the impact of the mutual sanctions between the EU and Russia, followed by the escalation of the Ukraine conflict in 2014. Her results show a division pattern of all EU-27 countries in two groups: the West European countries that recovered from the sanctions shock, and the East European and Baltic countries, which are still suffering with negative consequences.

Angela De Martiis (right) and Maria Kristalova during the 6th Lindau Meeting on Economic Sciences

Angela De Martiis with Maria Kristalova, Picture: Courtesy of Angela De Martiis

According to Maria, this topic is of crucial importance for gaining a better understanding of the costs of political decisions that might affect the aspired convergence of Europe. In a second research topic, Maria also looks at long-run co-evolution of innovation activities and public funding in German regions. The results show strong empirical evidence of its existence.

Another issue of crucial importance, one of the most controversial, is climate change. According to Jennifer Uju Okonkwo, a young Nigerian economist based at the University of Kiel, regardless of what sceptics think, research shows evidence that the climatic system is changing and this change has several negative consequences, such as rising sea levels, coastal flooding, droughts, global warming and changes in precipitation. Hence, there is a dire need to understand optimal ways to adapt to the changing climate. Her research thus aims at finding cost-effective strategies to manage climate change that could be beneficial to developing countries with limited adaptation funds.

When investigating the issue of climate change, we immediately come across divergent views and an asymmetry in information, thus generating inefficiencies in addressing and solving such a phenomenon. As a young Iranian economist working on applied microeconomic theory at Warwick University, Zeinab Aboutalebi is investigating the role of information asymmetry.

Her research is dedicated to tracing inefficiencies created through the strategic interaction among economic actors. The role of information asymmetry is crucial in shaping the resulting consequences and in reducing the inefficiencies using, for example, different incentive schemes, designing incentive mechanisms, delegation or persuasion techniques.

Zeinab is currently working on feedback in experimentation and how the goodwill of a principal to not discourage an agent, while providing him/her feedback about the result of the experiment, could cause large inefficiencies and uninformative communication between the principal and the agent. Information asymmetry and the lack of informative communication are thus the building blocks of most of today’s big phenomena.

From climate change, to inequality, displaced workers, sanctions, growth, monetary policy and information asymmetry, it was a pleasure to make this journey into the lives and research interests of seven young women economists – to discuss new research ideas, exchange views and laugh while talking about science and about a world that is a fascinating place still to be discovered with a pinch of serendipity and a lot of determination. Thank you for sharing your passion!

Only as Strong as the Weakest Link: Global Food Supply Chains

This article appeared in a shorter form in the German newspaper Handelsblatt on August 24, 2017.

A ‘Marshall Plan for Africa’ – 300 million Euro in total. This is Angela Merkel’s bold development promise ahead of the Federal election. Germany has also placed Africa at the heart of its G20 presidency. So the future chancellor, whoever it is, needs a solid development strategy. This strategy should put farmers’ needs first and leverage the scientific expertise of companies, like Mars, that are networked throughout Africa through their supply chains.

As Bill Gates has said, “if you care about the poorest, you care about agriculture.” This is why I am joining the best economists in the world at the Lindau Nobel Laureate Meetings in Germany 22—26 August. We are convening an event to discuss economic inequality, agriculture and the role of businesses.

 

I was discussing economic inequality at the 6th Lindau Meeting on Economic Sciences with economists Romesh Vaitilingam, Eric Maskin (Nobel Laureate) and Devaki Ghose.

I was discussing economic inequality at the 6th Lindau Meeting on Economic Sciences with economists Romesh Vaitilingam, Eric Maskin (Nobel Laureate) and Devaki Ghose.

 

Why is this such an important issue? Over 475 million of the world’s 570 million farms are smaller than two hectares. Even though these smallholder farms produce over 80% of the world’s food, 80% of the global population deemed “chronically hungry” are farmers. This is the 80-80 paradox.

Agricultural supply chains in food-insecure regions like Africa need an upgrade — but this won’t happen without a concerted and long-term effort. Look at China, where they managed the ‘structural transformation’ from a mostly farming to a mostly industrial economy well. From 1952 to 2004, the structure of China’s economy shifted, from agriculture providing half the country’s GDP to providing only 14% in 2004. During this transition, the non-farm rural sector boomed – services, transport, processing, etc. The rural non-farm sector went from providing almost none of the GDP to more than one-third. Importantly, the Chinese government sent engineers and scientists into the countryside to transfer knowledge and technology to farmers and encourage non-farm business growth. Knowledge sharing combined with better infrastructure linkages between small farmers, processing facilities and retailing companies lies at the core of China’s success.  

Yet, while we can take inspiration from China, replicating the transformation process of a highly regulated, state-managed economy is not feasible elsewhere. Many governments do not have the capacity to effect these changes. I believe multinational corporations can fill this void. Companies need to be part of the international development strategy and leverage their unique position at the apex of global supply chains to share technical skills and cutting-edge innovation.

Indeed, this is already starting to happen. For example, the staple food crops grown by African smallholder farmers are finally getting attention. Traditionally, crops suited to Western climatic conditions, like potato, wheat and corn, have received all the scientific investment. Their yield, for example, has increased by a factor of five or six since the 1930s. The yield of traditionally African crops, on the other hand, is much the same as it was 100 years ago.

 

The average yield of maize and wheat has tripled since 1961 whereas the yield of millet, a crop traditionally grown in areas of Africa and India, has only increased by 50 percent

The average yield of maize and wheat has tripled since 1961 whereas the yield of millet, a crop traditionally grown in areas of Africa and India, has only increased by 50 percent.

 

Through a lack of R&D, finger millet, Bambara groundnut, teff and other staple African crops are still vulnerable to disease, pests and drought. The resulting low yields mean that African farmers have too little food to feed their families. It is no wonder that 80% of the global population deemed “chronically hungry” are farmers.

When we saw that this was happening, a group of uncommon collaborators came together for one of the most ambitious projects in the history of plant science. Mars, NEPAD, Illumina, BGI, WWF, the UN Food and Agriculture Organization, the World Agroforestry Centre and others partnered to sequence 101 African orphan crop genomes to accelerate breeding programs and improve food security for the farmers who depend on these crops. The genomes are being made available to the public so that plant breeders everywhere can breed new cultivars of the African crops with higher yields and more resistance to disease, pests and climate change. Better crops create jobs and can stimulate the rural non-farm sector in Africa. African seed companies will spring up to distribute the new cultivars to farmers; transport companies will bring surplus to markets; processors will take on the role of making food ready for the consumer, and so on.

 

Taro is a traditional crop in areas of Africa and one of the 101 crops whose genomes we are sequencing to improve nutrition, yield and resistance to drought, diseases and pests. Picture/Credit: karimitsu/iStock.com

Taro is a traditional crop in areas of Africa and one of the 101 crops whose genomes we are sequencing to improve nutrition, yield and resistance to drought, diseases and pests. Picture/Credit: karimitsu/iStock.com

 

We welcome the German government’s initiative to boost development aid to Africa, but to maximize the impact of taxpayers’ money, we need more inclusive private-public partnerships to play their role and bring the Marshall Plan for Africa to life. An inclusive approach is the only way to address one of the travesties of our age: people who grow food that don’t have enough to eat.

Looking Ahead to Economics in 2020

Young economists and laureate Oliver Hart during the 6th Lindau Meeting on Economic Sciences.

Nobel Laureate Oliver Hart and young economists during the 6th Lindau Meeting on Economic Sciences. Photo/Credit: Christian Flemming/Lindau Nobel Laureate Meetings

 

The last four triennial Lindau Meetings on Economic Sciences have managed to come at significant moments for the global economy and the debate over how it should be run.

In 2008, there were emerging signs that the ‘Great Moderation’ of the previous decade had come to an end. But most people expected that the turbulence would be confined to the subprime mortgages of the United States.

 

Joseph Stiglitz in 2011 during the 4th Lindau Meeting on Economic Sciences. Picture/Credit: Christian Flemming/Lindau Nobel Laureate Meetings

Joseph Stiglitz in 2011 during the 4th Lindau Meeting on Economic Sciences, Picture/Credit: Christian Flemming/Lindau Nobel Laureate Meetings

Three years later and the economics profession was in the dock for failing to give any warning of what had turned out to be a global financial crisis and subsequently, a ‘Great Recession’ that cast millions into unemployment and left the major western economic powers reeling. Lindau 2011 was a focus of media attention as laureates such as Joseph Stiglitz lambasted his colleagues.

At this year’s meetings, the atmosphere was calmer with few signs of an imminent external crisis. Yet given the tenth anniversary of the onset of the global financial crisis, much of the media attention was on the defence of the European Central Bank’s quantitative easing programme by its president Mario Draghi, who gave the opening keynote speech.

Participating journalists were also intrigued by comments by German Federal Minister Peter Altmaier on Brexit and by laureate Chris Pissarides demanding that Germany reduce her current account surplus to bring a better balance to the eurozone and relief to countries such as Greece.

 

Christopher Pissarides during his lecture at the 6th Lindau Meeting on Economic Sciences, Picture/Credit: Julia Nimke/Lindau Nobel Laureate Meetings

Christopher Pissarides during his lecture at the 6th Lindau Meeting on Economic Sciences, Picture/Credit: Julia Nimke/Lindau Nobel Laureate Meetings

But at the same time, the Nobel Laureates and young economists at the Lindau Meeting were engaged in discussing a huge amount of new economic research that is going on at universities around the world that may well lead to new theories on how to make people wealthier, healthier and happier.

A total of 85 young economists made presentations on their research to a panel of laureates. These included: an experiment to achieving a collective agreement on which transactions using the cryptocurrency Bitcoin are valid and which are invalid by Demelza Hays of the University of Lichtenstein; the potential for education investment in China to combat child labour by Tang Can of Renmin University; and the work by Cindy Lopez-Bento of Maastricht University on knowledge spillovers from subsidised R&D – to name just three.

Assuming that the world economy continues on its path of consistent – albeit weak – growth, then the next Lindau Meeting on Economic Sciences in 2020 may be the first for 12 years where the focus will be far more on looking forwards than backwards.

How can economics tackle the growing problem of inequality? What can be done to boost levels of productivity that are essential for growth in per capita income and wealth? What does economics have to say about high levels of poverty and ill health in developing countries? All these issues were discussed at Lindau with two science breakfasts on productivity and inequality.

But hopefully in three years time these issues will be the ones grabbing the media limelight.

Young Economists Comment on the ‘Post-Truth’ Era

The economic consensus on such matters as the benefits of trade, technology and global integration has taken a political battering recently. We asked young economists of #LiNoEcon about their perspectives on what is often referred to as a ‘post-truth’ era, and what they think economists could or should do to combat it.

 

67th Lindau Nobel Laureate Meeting, 25.06.2017, Lindau, GermanyI think it is hubris to think that the economic consensus has ever played a role in influencing the man on the street. While the effects of trade nationalism may be catastrophic in economic dimensions I feel that in other research disciplines (e.g., climate research) the stakes are much higher. Consequently, we should stay resilient, persistent and join our fellow researchers from other fields speaking up in the name of truth.

        Chris Flath from Germany

 

 

 

 

 

 

        Photo/Credit: Julia Nimke/Lindau Nobel Laureate Meetings           

 

 

67th Lindau Nobel Laureate Meeting, 25.06.2017, Lindau, GermanyEconomists and other academic researchers are often wary of over representing their findings, which does not make it easy to communicate the complexities of these problems to the public.

Sarah Quincy from the US

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 
 

 

           Photo/Credit: Julia Nimke/Lindau Nobel Laureate Meetings

 

 

67th Lindau Nobel Laureate Meeting, 25.06.2017, Lindau, GermanyI think that this fact is mainly the outcome of the financial crisis and, more importantly, of the growing inequality in our societies.

        Dimitris Papadimitriou from Greece

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 
 
Photo/Credit: Julia Nimke/Lindau Nobel Laureate Meetings           

 

 

HelenaPolitical instability worldwide associated with migration flows and the financial crisis of 2008 (and thus rising income inequality) might be responsible for the development of extreme political and economic attitudes across society, especially in Europe.

Helena Chytilova from the Czech Republic

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 
 
 
           Photo/Credit: Julia Nimke/Lindau Nobel Laureate Meetings

 

 

6th Lindau MeetingI don’t think that this ‘post-truth’ phenomenon is a reaction against truth or science, but against ideology-based opinions disguised as facts.

        Pedro Degiovanni from Argentina

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

           Photo/Credit: Julia Nimke/Lindau Nobel Laureate Meetings           

 

 

6th Lindau Meeting on Economic SciencesCommunicate, communicate, communicate. We need to better explain our work and results, and actively engage in a discussion with the greater public.

Sofie R. Waltl from Austria

 

 

 
 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 
 
           Photo/Credit: Christian Flemming/Lindau Nobel Laureate Meetings           

 

 

6th Lindau MeetingI believe we as economists need to do a much better job of communicating ideas, basic economic concepts and research findings in a manner conducive to being easily understood by lay persons.

        Farooq Pasha from Pakistan

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

           Photo/Credit: Julia Nimke/Lindau Nobel Laureate Meetings          

 

 

67th Lindau Nobel Laureate Meeting, 25.06.2017, Lindau, GermanyThe tackling of anti-intellectualism should follow from building a consensus that is capable of better foreseeing the consequences of the policies justified by it. Additionally, economists would be in a much better position to address anti-intellectualism if we embraced natural sciences, and built the profession as a natural offspring of other major disciplines.

Benjamin Leiva from the US

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

           Photo/Credit: Julia Nimke/Lindau Nobel Laureate Meetings           

 

 

 

6th Lindau MeetingIn my opinion, the dissemination of information is the best way to combat the ‘post-truth’ mentality. Economists and researcher in various fields of study should try to connect their work with people; the debate should come out of closed circles, be more interactive and open to the dialogue in various areas of society using simple and easily accessible communication tools.

        Giovanna Zeny from Brazil

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 
           Photo/Credit: Julia Nimke/Lindau Nobel Laureate Meetings           

 

 

67th Lindau Nobel Laureate Meeting, 25.06.2017, Lindau, GermanyWhile I believe it is important to speak in terms everyone can understand when explaining economic ideas, economists should not simplify so much as to say ‘trade is always good’ when we know that trade creates winners and losers.

Andrew Jonelis from the US

 

 
 

 

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
           Photo/Credit: Julia Nimke/Lindau Nobel Laureate Meetings           

 

 

67th Lindau Nobel Laureate Meeting, 25.06.2017, Lindau, GermanyOur policies should have in mind the poorest, neediest, and least educated citizens in our societies. We need a Europe that takes care first of all of those citizens who do not travel abroad and do not speak any other idiom than their native language. Once we’ll have that Europe, we will be dramatically closer to a truly united Europe.

        Alessandro del Ponte from Italy

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

           Photo/Credit: Julia Nimke/Lindau Nobel Laureate Meetings           

Der Mythos von der unabhängigen Zentralbank

In der heutigen Welt des Fiatgeldes hat Geld keinen ‘inneren‘ Wert. Menschen messen ihm einen Wert bei, weil andere Menschen das ebenfalls tun. Solange sich alle einig sind, dass Fiatgeld Wert hat, hat es Wert. Sobald sich aber genügend Menschen plötzlich entscheiden, ungedecktes Papiergeld für wertlos zu halten, wird es wertlos.

In Hochinflationsepisoden verflüchtigt sich das Vertrauen in eine Fiatwährung und versuchen alle, sie zugunsten von Sachgütern, Rohstoffen und sogar anderen Fiatwährungen loszuwerden. Das Anschmeißen der Druckerpresse macht die Sache nur noch schlimmer.

Makroökonomische Modelle mit (Fiat-)Geld sind also naturgemäß Modelle mit multiplen Gleichgewichten. Während der Wert des Geldes in einem bestimmten Gleichgewicht stabil ist, entwickelt sich in einem anderen eine unkontrollierbare Inflationsdynamik mit der Folge, dass das Geld entweder wertlos (Hyperinflation) oder unendlich wertvoll (Fisher-‚Schuldendeflation‘) wird.

In solchen Modellen kann die Wirtschaft plötzlich in ein explosionsartig inflatorisches Gleichgewicht umspringen. Praktisch impliziert das die mögliche Auslösung eines ‘Runs auf die Zentralbank’.

Theoretisch können Zentralbanken natürlich die Nachfrage nach ihrer eigenen Währung immer durch eine Geldschöpfung ex nihilo decken. Wenn aber ständig das Risiko eines plötzlichen Umspringens auf ein explosionsartig inflatorisches oder deflatorisches Gleichgewicht besteht, können sie den Wert nicht garantieren.

Nobelpreisträger Professor Christopher Sims argumentiert, dass es die Fiskalpolitik ist, die den Wert von Fiatgeld garantiert. Deshalb kann es keine regierungsunabhängigen Zentralbanken geben. Die ‘unabhängige Zentralbank’ ist ein Mythos.

Aber was ist mit der Europäischen Zentralbank (EZB), deren Unabhängigkeit von den Regierungen per Abkommen garantiert wird? Das ursprüngliche Konzept des Eurosystems setzt eine strenge Trennung zwischen Geld- und Fiskalpolitik voraus und geht davon aus, dass die Geldpolitik keinen Anlass zu fiskalischen Transfers gibt.

Heute wissen wir, dass alle geldpolitischen Maßnahmen fiskalpolitische Konsequenzen haben: So sorgen beispielsweise Zinserhöhungen dafür, dass sich der Wohlstand aus stärker verschuldeten Ländern auf Länder mit weniger Schulden verlagert. Der Aufkauf von Staatsanleihen nach einem ‘Kapitalzeichnungsschlüssel’ reduziert die Kosten für die Geldaufnahme größerer und reicherer Länder.

Die Existenz des Euro war durch eine finanzielle Schieflage in einigen Ländern der Eurozone bedroht. Darauf musste die EZB gezwungenermaßen reagieren. Also ist auch die EZB mit den Regierungen verflochten.

Notenbanken sind nicht nur nicht von Regierungen unabhängig, sondern zudem auf eine angemessene und plausible antizyklische Finanzpolitik der Regierungen angewiesen. Wie Professor Sims es formuliert: “Wenn die Menschen verstehen, dass die Finanzpolitik in Zeiten starker Inflation die Ausuferung staatlicher Defizite einzudämmen versucht und in Zeiten, in denen sich die Zinsen an oder in der Nähe der unteren Grenze bewegen, die Defizite ausweiten wird, sind Sonnenflecken-Fluktuationen und multiple Gleichgewichte eliminiert.“

Die ‘Fiskaltheorie des Preisniveaus’ (fiscal theory of the price level) besagt, dass die Fiskalpolitik den realen Wert öffentlicher Schulden langfristig aufrechterhalten muss, um den Wert von Fiatgeld stabil zu halten und ein Umspringen auf eine instabile inflatorische Dynamik zu verhindern. Der Fiatgeld-‚Schwindel‘, wonach es – wie bei Tinkerbell – solange Wert hat, wie die Menschen daran glauben, hängt also genauso stark von der Glaubwürdigkeit der Fiskalpolitik wie der Geldpolitik ab.

Die Fähigkeit der Zentralbanken, in einer Krise als Kreditgeber letzter Instanz zu fungieren, ist auf ihre fiskalische Rückendeckung angewiesen. Wenn eine Zentralbank aktiv Vermögenswerte aufkauft, ist ihre technische Insolvenz möglich, wenn diese Vermögenswerte an Wert verlieren. Mehrere Zentralbanken in der Welt weisen derzeit ein negatives Eigenkapital entsprechend der Marktpreisbewertung aus, darunter einige (wie die chilenische Zentralbank) über einen längeren Zeitraum.

Es ist heftig debattiert worden, ob die Solvabilität von Zentralbanken Auswirkungen auf ihre Glaubwürdigkeit als Kreditgeber letzter Instanz oder ihre Fähigkeit zur Inflationsbekämpfung hat. Das scheint wohl nicht der Fall zu sein – vorausgesetzt, dass die Fiskalbehörden sie unterstützen können.

Oft reicht der Nettobarwert der künftigen Seigniorage aus, um Inkongruenzen zwischen Aktiva und Passiva entsprechend der Marktpreisbewertung abzudecken. Reicht die Seigniorage aber nicht aus, werden Steuereinnahmen benötigt, um die Lücken zu schließen. In der Praxis heißt das, dass der Nettobarwert der prognostizierten künftigen Primärüberschüsse ausreichen muss, um die Zentralbank ohne Erhöhung der Staatsverschuldung zu rekapitalisieren.

Was passiert, wenn die Fiskalbehörde nicht zur Rekapitalisierung ihrer Zentralbank bereit ist? In Ländern wie den USA wäre das undenkbar, da die Währung dort durch das ‚volle Vertrauen‘ der US-Regierung gestützt wird.

 

Laureate Christopher Sims during his lecture at the 6th Lindau Meeting on Economic Sciences. Picture/Credit: Christian Flemming/Lindau Nobel Laureate Meetings

Christopher Sims während seines Vortags auf der 6. Lindauer Tagung der Wirtschaftswissenschaften. Picture/Credit: Christian Flemming/Lindau Nobel Laureate Meetings

 

Aber in der Eurozone ist die Zentralbank nicht nur völlig unabhängig von der Regierung, sondern hat es zudem mit 19 Regierungen unterschiedlich starker finanzpolitischer Glaubwürdigkeit zu tun. Die Aufrechterhaltung der Euro-Stabilität hängt von der Bereitschaft all dieser Regierungen ab, für eine Rekapitalisierung der EZB zu sorgen.

Und ihre Bereitschaft wurde, um ehrlich zu sein, bereits auf den Prüfstand gestellt. Seit den ‘Whatever it takes’-Bemerkungen von EZB-Präsident Mario Draghi auf dem Höhepunkt der Euro-Krise 2012 hat die EZB in gewissem Sinne die Rolle einer fiskalischen Institution übernommen, die aktiv öffentliche Schulden von Ländern der Eurozone aufkauft, um die Anleihezinsen niedrig zu halten.

Hätte sie nicht so gehandelt, wären einige dieser Länder zweifelsohne aus der Eurozone gedrängt worden. Dies geschah wohl auf Kosten ihrer eigenen Solvabilität. Ein ‘Run auf die EZB’, wie unter dem Eindruck der Märkte, dass die finanzielle Unterstützung für die EZB auf sich warten lässt, zu erwarten gewesen wäre, hat jedoch nicht stattgefunden.

Aber die EZB könnte nach wie vor gezwungen sein, die öffentlichen Schulden von Ländern mit ‘unverantwortlicher’ Finanzpolitik aufzukaufen, wenn ansonsten ein partieller Einbruch des Euro zu befürchten wäre. Einige Länder der Eurozone könnten davor zurückschrecken, eine Zentralbank zu rekapitalisieren, die ihrer Ansicht nach aktiv Regierungen unterstützt hat, die gegen finanzpolitische Vorschriften verstoßen haben – insbesondere, da es der EZB an einer demokratischen Legitimation für solche Entscheidungen fehlt.

Die Eurozone lebt also weiterhin in einer Welt multipler Gleichgewichte, wenn auch momentan ein plötzliches Umspringen auf eine unkontrollierbare Inflationsdynamik wenig wahrscheinlich erscheint.

Professor Sims sagt, es wäre besser, wenn es eine demokratisch kontrollierbare finanzpolitische Institution für den gesamten Euroraum mit der Befugnis zur Steuererhöhung gäbe, die den An- und Verkauf (oder die Emission) von Staatsanleihen übernehmen könnte. „Aber ich weiß auch nicht, wie man das organisieren sollte“, schloss er seine Ausführungen.

In den Vereinigten Staaten weiß man, wie man so etwas angeht. Sie nennen eine solche Institution ‘Federal Government’. Leider scheinen wir von der Einführung einer solchen Einrichtung im Euroraum weit entfernt zu sein. So werden multiple Gleichgewichte und Sonnenflecken-Fluktuationen wohl noch viele Jahre zur Tagesordnung gehören.

#LiNoEcon Daily Recap – Saturday, 26 August

The 6th Lindau Meeting on Economic Sciences ended with the boat trip to Mainau Island. It was a day full of science, discussions, joy, genuine delight and even some tears. It is hard for us to say goodbye now but we will surely stay in touch. Enjoy the highlights of the last day of #LiNoEcon.

 

Video of the day:

 

Last glimpse of #LiNoEcon – we hope you enjoyed your time with us.

 

 

Picture of the day:

 

#LiNoEcon participants boarding the “Sonnenkönigin” on their way to Mainau Island.

6th Lindau Meeting on Economic Sciences 23.08.2017 - 26.08.2017, Lindau, Germany, Picture/Credit: Julia Nimke/Lindau Nobel Laureate Meetings

For even more pictures from the Lindau Nobel Laureate Meetings, past and present, take a look at our Flickr account.

 

Blog post of the day:

 

Panel Slider

At #LiNoEcon, three Nobel Laureates explored economists’ understanding of how policies on taxes, public spending and interest rates work together in a time of crisis.

Do take a look at more of our inspring blog posts.

 

Tweets of the day:

 

 

 

 

 

Last but not least, follow us on Twitter @lindaunobel and Instagram @lindaunobel and keep an eye out for #LiNoEcon.

This is the last daily recap of the 6th Lindau Meeting on Economic Sciences. The idea behind it was to bring to you the day’s highlights in a blink of an eye. We hope you enjoyed the meeting and wish you all safe travels home.

Blockchain Technology: ‘Proof-Of-Work’ Versus ‘Proof-Of-Stake’

Bitcoins. Photo/Credit: skodonnell/iStock.com

Bitcoins. Photo/Credit: skodonnell/iStock.com

 

Cryptocurrencies like Bitcoin and the blockchain technology that underpins them are gradually becoming household words. Although peer-reviewed research is only just beginning to develop on the topic, the cryptocurrency ecosystem is growing at an exponential rate. Everyday, new businesses, investors and researchers enter this dynamic space.

At the University of Liechtenstein, I have been working on an experimental blockchain project with Professor Dr Martin Angerer and Jonas Gehrlein, MSc from the University of Bern. Our research on blockchain technology has been an educational, demanding and exciting journey.

The terms ‘blockchain technology’ and ‘distributed ledger technology’ refer to a variety of different technologies that attempt to solve different problems. Cryptocurrencies and blockchain technology emerged after the 2007/08 global financial crisis. The most popular example of these technologies is Bitcoin.

Bitcoin is a decentralised and open-source digital currency that stores transactional data in a distributed database that is maintained by computers all around the world. The creator of Bitcoin, who is still unknown but goes by the pseudonym Satoshi Nakamoto, wanted to provide a decentralised, private and secure means of transferring value online that did not rely on trusting sovereign entities, central banks or financial intermediaries.

A major discussion in the cryptocurrency realm relates to the optimal algorithm for achieving a collective agreement on which transactions are valid and which are invalid within a distributed network. Currently, the two most popular methods are known as ‘proof-of-work’ and ‘proof-of-stake’.

Bitcoin’s proof-of-work algorithm uses large quantities of energy and hardware equipment, which have been estimated to cost approximately $400 million per year. Proof-of-stake is a newer invention that has not been rigorously tested in the market.

When my colleagues and I began our research project, we wanted to investigate the differences between these two consensus mechanisms in a laboratory environment. Our motivation was simple: if both systems achieve the same outcome but one system (proof-of-work) incurs a negative externality on the environment, then why are people still using it?

Despite the seeming superiority of proof-of-stake, market participants prefer proof-of-work. Using market capitalisation as a proxy for demand, the highest market capitalisation coins all rely on proof-of-work. But proof-of-stake is gaining popularity: Ethereum, the second largest market capitalisation coin, is expected to switch from proof-of-work to proof-of-stake during the next year.

Our research uses game theory and behavioural economics to study the strengths and weaknesses of these two competing systems in a lab environment with students.

Our first step was to boil down the complex nature of these consensus mechanisms into abstract concepts that could be easily modelled in a lab. We spent months reviewing the research literature and brainstorming possible set-ups for the experiment.

The lab setup for proof-of-work was relatively straightforward. We planned to draw from the public goods literature on network externalities. Students would be given the option to use a medium of exchange that incurred an internal personal cost or a medium of exchange that incurred an external cost for the environment.

Essentially, this represented the current fiat system versus the energy-guzzling Bitcoin. At this point, we were very excited about the direction of our research and about the contribution that it could make to the fields of economics and information science.

Unfortunately, our research hit an insurmountable obstacle when we tried to model proof-of-stake: we could not find a way to do it easily in a lab. We discussed potential drawbacks of the proof-of-stake system such as 51% attacks, deflationary spirals and uncertainty stemming from ambiguity. But we came to the conclusion that Bitcoin’s proof-of-work suffered from the same drawbacks, albeit to a lesser degree.

During my own reflection on the differences between proof-of-work and proof-of-stake, I came to the conclusion that these systems resemble our transition from a gold standard to a fiat standard. Like gold, Bitcoin uses electricity and capital equipment to mine new coins. The probability of randomly being chosen to create a block and receive a reward is equal to each miner’s amount of mining power divided by the total amount of mining power on the network.

On the other hand, proof-of-stake allows the users with the largest holdings to create coins out of thin air. In a proof-of-stake system, the probability of receiving a reward is equal to the fraction of coins held by the user divided by the total number of coins in circulation.

Following this logic, proof-of-stake would appear to be superior to proof-of-work because economic theory argues that the fiat system is superior to the gold standard due to deflationary spirals caused by hoarding. (Note, however, that my late uncle, the American economist Larry Sechrest, argued in his 1993 book, Free Banking: Theory, History, and a Laissez-Faire Model that the problems associated with the gold standard actually stemmed from regulation and not from the scarcity of gold.)

To date, my reflections have not helped us find a suitable set-up for the lab experiment: we have been unable to find a major setback of the proof-of-stake consensus mechanism. The only problem that I could find was quite philosophical in nature and too complicated to be easily modelled in a lab.

The twentieth-century Austrian logician, Kurt Gödel, argued that no system can prove its own correctness from within itself. In reference to proof-of-work and proof-of-stake, the former appears to solve Gödel’s incompleteness theorem while the latter relies on external truth to achieve consensus.

In a proof-of-work system, anyone can join the system and immediately determine the correct history of transactions in the blockchain because the correct chain is the longest chain by default. In comparison, proof-of-stake has not developed a method for ensuring that every computer in the network comes to the same conclusion on the correct history of transactions from within the system.

Instead, proof-of-stake relies on an external third party or host of third parties to establish agreement on the history of transactions. In plain terms: proof-of-stake establishes truth by appealing to an external anchor while proof-of-work establishes proof from within. Although the introduction of counterparties may not be a problem in every case, the original goal of the blockchain technology was to create consensus without intermediaries.

In the end, we could not find a suitable way to model proof-of-stake in a lab with humans. In our own analysis of this problem, we realised that there was a fundamental problem with the premise of our study: we were trying to model a lab experiment with humans based on a technology that was designed to minimise human interaction.

Although we have encountered this major setback in our study, we have learned a tremendous amount about blockchain technology and about our own strengths and weaknesses as researchers. Instead of giving up, we are going in a new direction with our blockchain research. After all, the journey for pioneers is never paved.

Is Economic Policy Ready for the Next Crisis?

The economics profession took a big hit in the wake of the global financial crisis. Why did macroeconomists with their fancy models not see it coming? Should governments inject money into the economy to boost demand or cut spending to reduce record public deficits? And why have zero interest rates and ‘quantitative easing’ not done more to improve anaemic rates of growth?

These questions and many more were up for debate at a panel of three Nobel Laureates and a young economist at the 6th Lindau Meeting on Economic Sciences on Friday 25 August. The participants considered the new conditions for monetary policy – cutting interest rates and rescuing banks – and fiscal policy – changing taxes and spending public money.

They also asked why, before the crisis, policy-makers seemed to have paid insufficient attention to financial markets in their models. Mario Draghi, the President of the European Central Bank, used his keynote speech [link to video on LindauNobel site that I can’t access] that launched the Lindau meeting on 22 August to admit that there was a ‘notable absence’ of a role for banking and finance in these models.

 

Panel discussion during the 6th Lindau Meeting on Economic Sciences. Picture/Credit: Julia Nimke/Lindau Nobel Laureate Meetings

Panel discussion during the 6th Lindau Meeting on Economic Sciences. Picture/Credit: Julia Nimke/Lindau Nobel Laureate Meetings

 

Martin Hellwig, the panel chair and director of the Max Planck Institute for Research on Collective Goods, started the discussion by highlighting that a debate over the effectiveness of fiscal stimulus policies in the US had been matched by one over austerity policies in Europe that involved doing the exact opposite.

Peter Diamond, co-recipient of the Nobel Prize in 2010, said that the decision by the US government to pursue an active fiscal policy, which lessened the depth of the recession, helped to explain the gap between growth rates in North America and Europe since the crisis.

But he acknowledged that the time lag involved in passing the legislation to push through fiscal measures, as well as concerns over what the money was spent on, had undermined people’s faith in the policies.

‘The depth and length of the Great Recession put both tax cuts and spending back on the US agenda although they were insufficiently used’, he said. ‘As the recession went on, the political will to do more was gone. The failure to follow up reflected a lack of appreciation by politicians and the general public of the value of suitable stimulus policies.’

Edward Prescott, co-recipient of the Nobel Prize in 2004, took a different view in a presentation with the title ‘The Unimportance of Monetary Policy and Financial Crises on Output and Unemployment’. He cited financial crises that saw countries experiencing contrasting outcomes at the same time: the US and Asia in the 2008 crisis; Chile and Mexico in 1980; and Scandinavia and Japan in 1992.

‘Financial crises do not impede development,’ he claimed. While the 2008 financial crisis was localised in North America and the euro area, there was a short recession and quick recovery in Japan, Taiwan and South Korea and no recession in Scandinavia and Australia. ‘Countries where fiscal policy was irresponsible had problems’, he maintained. ‘Fiscal responsibility is crucial: to spend is to tax and to tax is to depress. That’s what happens every time.’

Christopher Sims, co-recipient of the Nobel Prize in 2011, agreed that responsible fiscal policies were always required. But he went on to say that a responsible fiscal policy in the face of a major recession, in which inflation is falling below target, is ‘to expand and convince people that the expansion, via either additional spending or tax cuts, does not imply future taxes or spending cuts.’

‘You are doing this because you want inflation to go up,’ he added, referring to the struggle that central banks have had to drive inflation up from current levels of close to zero.

Sims urged young economists to fill in the ‘gaps’ in the major directions of monetary and fiscal policy research. But he also warned that many current research projects that simply seek to add extra elements to the standard ‘dynamic stochastic general equilibrium’ (DGSE) models, which were seen as having failed to spot the 2008 crisis, were just ‘fighting the last war’.

‘Right now, the biggest confusion that policy-makers have is that we have had low inflation below target for years despite the drastic measures that independent central banks have taken,’ he said. ‘We don’t have models that explain how we got stuck at this point for so long.’

Sims acknowledged that this was a new area where the paths have not been laid out and that empirical work that connected fiscal policies with the paradoxes of inflation was a ‘risky project’ for a PhD. But he concluded: ‘Precisely because of that, it might earn you the Nobel Prize.’

#LiNoEcon Daily Recap – Friday, 25 August

Friday was the last day in Lindau but not the last day of the meeting. Saturday is going to take the #LiNoEcon participants to Mainau Island, so while you are enjoying your last day on the picturesque island, let’s take a look at what happened yesterday. Here are our highlights from Friday:

 

Video of the day:

 

At #LiNoEcon, Laureate Jean Tirole comments on corporate social responsibility: “We need citizens and corporations to step in for the government and the market and try to do the common good.”

 

 

Picture of the day:

 

Laureate Myron Scholes conversing with young economists during a coffee break.

Myron Scholes in talk with young economists 6th Lindau Meeting on Economic Sciences 23.08.2017 - 26.08.2017, Lindau, Germany, Picture/Credit: Christian Flemming/Lindau Nobel Laureate Meetings

 

For even more pictures from the Lindau Nobel Laureate Meetings, past and present, take a look at our Flickr account.

 

Blog post of the day:

 

Sims

 

The myth of the independent central bank: economics writer Frances Coppola on Christopher Sims #LiNoEcon lecture.

Do take a look at more of our inspring blog posts.

 

Tweets of the day:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Last but not least, follow us on Twitter @lindaunobel and Instagram @lindaunobel and keep an eye out for #LiNoEcon.

We will keep you updated on the 6th Lindau Meeting on Economic Sciences with our daily recaps. The idea behind it is to bring to you the day’s highlights in a blink of an eye. The daily recaps will feature blog posts, photos and videos from the mediatheque.