Benn Steil

Geo-Graphics

A graphical take on geoeconomic issues, with links to the news and expert commentary.

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Showing posts for "U.S."

A GDP-Based IMF Would Boost China’s Voice . . . and America’s

by Benn Steil and Dinah Walker
reallocation

Since its creation after the 1944 Bretton Woods conference, membership of the International Monetary Fund (IMF) has grown from 29 countries to 188.  Representation, in terms of votes and quotas, has also become less connected with the relative weights of each country in the global economy.  As today’s Geo-Graphic shows, China would be by far the biggest beneficiary of an IMF voting reallocation based purely on gross domestic product, gaining eight percentage points.  What is much less well known, however, is that the United States would be the second biggest beneficiary, well above third-place Japan and fourth-place Brazil.  As the United States already has enough votes to wield unique veto power, this would have little practical effect on its already enormous influence.  But it does explain why the United States has been consistently more aligned with the so-called BRIC developing nations on IMF reform than with its fellow rich nations in Europe. Read more »

Should the Fed Follow the Bank of England and Subsidize Bank Lending?

by Benn Steil and Dinah Walker
us and uk lending capitalization corrected

Last week’s Bank of England (BoE) poll of UK lenders turned up some good news: credit “availability” for both households and companies is on the rise – as we document in the upper right figure of today’s Geo-Graphic.  The Old Lady of Threadneedle Street was quick to take credit for the credit: “Lenders noted,” crowed the BoE, “that the Funding for Lending Scheme,” through which the BoE and UK Treasury have since August provided banks with cheap funds to boost their lending, “had been an important factor behind this increase.” Read more »

Is Federal Student Debt the Sequel to Housing?

by Benn Steil and Dinah Walker
student loans and defaults

Back in March, we showed that the $1.4 trillion in U.S. direct federal student loans that will be outstanding by 2020 will amount to roughly 7.7% of the country’s gross debt. This is 6.3 percentage points higher than it would have been had the scheme not been nationalized in President Obama’s first term. Read more »

Greece Hurtles Toward Its Fiscal Cliff

by Benn Steil and Dinah Walker
image

The United States marches solemnly towards its fiscal cliff, awaiting only the command from the Goddess of Reason to halt. Unfortunately for Greece, that country plugged its ears back in March.

Like the United States, Greece made prior commitments on spending and taxation in order to bind itself to the mission of deficit reduction. Unlike the United States, Greece left itself little means to unbind itself. As shown in the graphic above, its massive debt restructuring in March only reduced its debt-to-GDP ratio from 170% to 150%, but in the process made further significant restructuring much more difficult. Read more »

Obama’s Green Jobs Cost Big Bucks

by Benn Steil and Dinah Walker
green jobs

President Obama is committed to pursuing a “[renewable-energy] strategy that’s cleaner, cheaper, and full of new jobs” (January 24, 2012). He highlighted the job point during the October 16 presidential debate: “I expect those new energy sources to be built right here in the United States. That’s going to help [young graduates] get a job.”

Green may be good, but this week’s Geo-Graphic shows that the jobs come at a hefty cost.
Read more »

There’s a $1 Trillion Hole in Romney’s Budget Math

by Benn Steil and Dinah Walker
Major Tax Expenditures

In last week’s vice-presidential debate, Republican Paul Ryan defended the fiscal prudence of lowering top marginal income tax rates by arguing that it would be accompanied by “forego[ing] about $1.1 trillion in loopholes and deductions . . . deny[ing] those loopholes and deductions to higher-income taxpayers.” The $1.1 trillion he refers to is actually an amalgam of specific “tax expenditures” – benefits distributed through reductions in taxes otherwise owed – identified by the Joint Committee on Taxation.  We break out the largest 10 of these graphically in the figure above. The full list is available here: http://subsidyscope.org/data/ Read more »

The Fed Should Pledge to Stop Pledging for a While

by Benn Steil and Dinah Walker
pledge to stop pledging

Back in February, Benn argued that the Fed’s three-year zero-rate pledge, combined with a 2% long-run inflation target, may have been a pledge too far, given the Fed’s poor forecasting record going back decades.  The Board of Governors’ and Reserve Banks’ first three-year forecasts in October 2007, for example, were wildly off the mark: actual 2010 GDP, unemployment, and inflation were all outside the range of the 17 forecasts.  Yet at its September meeting, the Fed’s Open Market Committee extended its zero-rate pledge into 2015, on the basis of its forecast that unemployment would still be significantly above their “longer run” expectation at that time—as shown in the figure above.  But last week’s September payrolls report revealed that the unemployment rate had dropped more than anticipated, to 7.8%, putting the 6-month trend line into 2015 well within the Fed’s comfort zone.  This implies that interest rates, by the Fed’s own reasoning, may well need to rise sooner.  We think it’s time that the Fed pledged to stop pledging for a while. Read more »

Is Bernanke Right on QE3 and the Mortgage Market?

by Benn Steil and Dinah Walker
Mortgage Rates and QE3

Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke defended QE3 at his September 13 press conference by arguing that it would lower mortgage rates and increase home prices.  Over 80% of U.S. household debt is mortgage debt, so the extent to which he is right could be of considerable consequence to the future path of economic recovery.  Read more »

How Ryan Gets His Budget Savings

by Benn Steil and Dinah Walker
Ryan and Obama Budget

In his Path to Prosperity, Republican vice presidential candidate Paul Ryan called for $40 trillion in spending over the next 10 years, $7 trillion less than President Obama called for in his 2013 budget.  What accounts for the gap? $1 trillion is from Medicaid and other health programs. Another $1.4 trillion comes from anticipated (wished for?) interest-cost savings ($4.3 trillion compared with $5.7 trillion).  So where does Ryan make his really big cuts? “Other” mandatory spending.  $631 billion was spent on these programs in 2011, though Ryan proposes paring this to only $349 billion by 2018.  Over ten years, Ryan slashes a whopping $3.5 trillion vis-à-vis Obama, targets unspecified, from this large and broad category, which includes political minefields like unemployment compensation, retirement benefits, earned income and child tax credits, food assistance, and veteran benefits.  This sounds a lot like a New Year’s pledge to cut 1,000 calories a day from the category of “meals.” Read more »

Tax Expenditures and the Budget Deficit

by Benn Steil and Dinah Walker
Tax Expenditures

“Tax expenditures” are an opaque form of government spending that operates through the tax code – instead of the government making direct payments to individuals or institutions, tax credits are issued.  In total, they cost the U.S. government about $1.1 trillion annually – roughly equivalent to the country’s enormous budget deficit. Read more »