A Tribute to Mario J. Rizzo

by Andreas Hoffmann

Today is Mario J. Rizzo’s 70th birthday. There are very few economists who are as important to the development of contemporary Austrian economics as Mario.

To honor his birthday, I have received numerous messages and posts for ThinkMarkets that I will publish one after another. These posts portray Mario as a great contributor to the Austrian revival, an extraordinarily open-minded scholar and a great friend. And as is obvious by me writing this, Mario has influenced people all over the world and helped connect the international Austrian/Hayekian community with that in the U.S.

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Estonia’s Astonishing Development

by Andreas Hoffmann

Intellectual Takeout’s Luis Pablo has published a nice piece on Estonia’s astonishing development. You can find it here. He attributes this development to Estonia’s “market-oriented reforms” during the 1990s. Importantly, Estonia has sticked with the “market-oriented” approach. I suggest that this persistence might help explain why the country has fared better than most other countries following liberalization.

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Workshop on the Future of the EMU

I would like to bring the following to your attention:

– Call for Papers –

Workshop on the Future of the EMU

Leipzig, Germany

May 30, 2018

The Institute for Economic Policy at Leipzig University invites submissions for the international workshop on the Future of the European Monetary Union. The workshop will take place at Leipzig University on May 30, 2018. The papers should be policy-oriented, building a solid basis for a profound discussion of the future of the European Monetary Union. The best papers can be published after a peer-review process in a special issue of Economists’ Voice. Participation in the workshop is free, travel and accommodation costs of selected presenters will be reimbursed.

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Two Cheers for Placebo-Regulation

by Andreas Hoffmann and Sebastian Müller

The financial crisis of 2007 eroded the public confidence in financial markets. Many people have come to believe that only the government can guarantee the stability of financial markets. Responding to increased public demand, politicians from across the political spectrum support additional “macroprudential regulation”. However, little is known about the consequences of the newly proposed regulatory efforts. When politicians fear unforeseen consequences of regulation, they might turn to Placebo-regulation, which is some regulation that merely provides a warm glow for the general public. Given the widespread belief in the need for government regulation, we suggest that such Placebo-regulation may be a good option. Market distortions are avoided. But confidence in financial markets might be restored.

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Most Popular Posts of 2017

ThinkMarkets got a facelift in 2017 and there were lots of new posts. Some posts have received more attention than others. Below you find the most popular new posts of 2017:

  1. Richard Thaler’s Nobel Prize
  2. David Rockefeller as an Economist
  3. 200 Years of the Theory of Comparative Advantage
  4. A Crisis in Economics?
  5. An Axiomatic Case for the Flat Tax


A Critical Appraisal of Network Unbundling

High-speed broadband networks are key to the growth of digital markets as well as most modern forms of communication, and have been subject to far-reaching regulation in many countries. In this piece, we’ll review the rationale behind a cornerstone of the prevailing regulatory paradigm: forced access to incumbent operators’ network infrastructure by alternative operators on regulated terms, so-called “unbundling”.

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Why Europeans Lost Trust in the ECB

by David Herok and Andreas Hoffmann*

Since the financial crisis, trust in the European Central Bank (ECB) has declined substantially among Europeans. We argue that the decline in trust is worrisome and can be both a cause and a consequence of the ECB’s policy failure.

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Unintended Monetary Policy Effects – Tale II: ECB Crisis Policies

by Andreas Hoffmann and Nicolás Cachanosky

The Federal Reserve’s (Fed) and European Central Bank’s (ECB) policy responses to the recent financial disasters offer two tales of unintended consequences. Our previous post outlined undesired effects of the Fed’s policies. In this post, we suggest that the ECB’s stabilization policy did not only fail to achieve its goals. Monetary policy has also hampered the structural adjustment of the European economy and prolonged the crisis.

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Should Central Banks Lean Against the Wind?

by Andreas Hoffmann

The pre-crisis Jackson Hole Consensus view on how to take asset market developments into account in monetary policy can be summarized as follows: Because it is hard to spot bubbles in asset markets with certainty ex-ante, central bankers should not lean against the wind when there seems to be a boom in financial markets (as long as the inflation rate does not pick up). However, as a rapid fall in asset prices can pull the real economy into the maelstrom of crisis, monetary policy should react decisively when a bubble bursts and “clean up the mess” to  prevent spillovers to the real economy.

Because there is empirical evidence that countries with greater credit and asset market booms in the 2000s experienced more severe financial crises in 2007-9, the pre-crisis consensus view has lost popularity. Policymakers and academics have started to think of ways to curb financial booms and lower the probability of crisis using macroprudential regulation or leaning-against-the-wind monetary policy. Continue reading

IREF Research Support

I’d like to draw your attention to the following opportunity:

Call for Research Proposals

IREF is a free-market oriented think tank based in France. It promotes ideas, debates, events, and rigorous academic research.

With regard to research, IREF supports original research projects that lead to the production of papers of academic quality of at least 7,000 words. This support is not a prize to published work, nor is it an encouragement to “work in progress”.
The paper must have clear policy implications. It will be circulated as an IREF working paper and the author is expected to publish it in a reputed academic journal.

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Two Tales of Unintended Consequences of Monetary Policy – Tale 1

by Nicolás Cachanosky and Andreas Hoffmann

Even when a policy is successful in achieving its desired ends, we have to consider its unintended and unforeseen consequences, resulting from cumulative market adjustments to policy changes that make it hard to judge the overall outcome of a policy in our complex economy. The Federal Reserve and European Central Bank’s monetary policy responses to the 2008 financial crisis offer two tales of major unintended consequences. This post discusses unintended outcomes of the U.S. Federal Reserve’s crisis policies. In our next post, we address ECB policies.

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O’Driscoll: Allan Meltzer Remembered

Allan Meltzer has died at age 89. The number of articles on Meltzer these days indicate the significance of his contributions. Carnegie Mellon University and Bloomberg published good summary articles on Meltzer’s outstanding academic career, ideas and influence in policy. Jerry O’Driscoll‘s personal note on Alt-M emphasizes that Meltzer was also a great manager and communicator (“He can herd cats”). Check it out!

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An Axiomatic Case for the Flat Tax

by André Casajus[*] and Andreas Hoffmann

Estonia was the first European country to introduce a flat tax on income in 1994. Many others followed. For example, Hungary successfully introduced a flat tax in 2012. In the U.S., some of the States (e.g. Pennsylvania) have introduced a flat tax on income. As in Germany, however, the federal income tax in the U.S. is still progressive. We believe the case for the flat tax is strong. Presenting an axiomatic justification for the flat tax as a redistribution rule, this post suggests that you need to accept only a few basic properties to favor a flat tax for income redistribution.

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Are we all Debt Liquidationists now? … No!

by Andreas Hoffmann

A growing number of economists suggest that governments in highly indebted countries should consider liquidating debt via financial repression. In other words, they want governments to intervene in financial markets and push government borrowing costs below the rate of inflation to erode the real value of debt. In a previous post, I argued that financial repression is dangerous and a drag on growth. This post explains why we can be hopeful that, despite a rise in popularity, the debt liquidationists will not succeed in putting their ideas to work. Debt liquidation via financial repression would necessitate far-reaching regulation or drastic measures, both of which seem unlikely in the US.

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Call for Papers: 2017 SDAE Meetings (Deadline: April 1, 2017)

The annual meeting of the Society for the Development of Austrian Economics will be held during the Southern Economics Association meetings in Tampa, FL at the Tampa Marriott Waterside Hotel and Marina, November 17-19, 2017 (Friday to Sunday; more information can be found here: https://www.southerneconomic.org/conference/).

Members interested in presenting papers, serving as chairs/discussants, or proposing entire panels should submit proposals by Saturday, April 1, 2017. Continue reading

Beware of Financial Repression

by Andreas Hoffmann

Government debt levels in many advanced economies, especially in Southern Europe, in the US and in Japan, have reached peacetime records. People are worried and rightly so: C. Reinhart and K. Rogoff have provided evidence that elevated debt-to-GDP ratios may contribute to stagnation or even debt crises. As austerity policies are unpopular with voters and growth remains rather sluggish, Reinhart and Rogoff suggest that governments might have to consider other options to reduce debt-to-GDP ratios. Debt should be liquidated via financial repression. It’s how governments typically dealt with high levels of debt in history, they say. This time is not different.

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The Revival of State Banking in Europe

by Alexander Fink[1] and Andreas Hoffmann[2]

Since 2009, the role of government in banking has increased substantially in Europe. This is, first, a consequence of capital injections or bailouts of private banks (for instance Dexia in Belgium, Royal Bank of Scotland in the UK, Hypo Real Estate and Commerzbank in Germany, Fortis in the Benelux, ABN Amro in the Netherlands, or Allied Irish Bank in Ireland). Second, the ECB has taken on a more dominant role in financial markets. And third, low-interest rates and mounting EU regulation seem to discourage private bank lending. Whereas private banks de-leverage and roll back their portfolios in the absence of great opportunities, so-called development banks substantially gain market share. This is odd and worrisome at the same time.

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The Germans Have Learned Nothing

by Andreas Hoffmann

Ever since the beginning of the EMU crisis, politicians, journalists and economists have blamed Germany’s “fiscal austerity” for the prolonged troubles in Europe’s periphery. If only the Germans spent more on goods and services, so the idea, the people in the periphery countries of Europe could sell more stuff. Exports would help their economies recover.

The German government, however, is found to engage in fiscal austerity. The recent budget surpluses even seem to annoy people. B. Setzer wrote (mischievously): “Germany has fiscal space even by German standards!”, and she should use it for the good of Europe. But she won’t. P. Krugman adds that Germany’s restrictive fiscal policy was a “drag” on growth in Europe. The Germans seem to have learned nothing from the crisis!

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The Euro: a Step Toward the Gold Standard?

by Andreas Hoffmann (University of Leipzig)

In a recent piece Jesus Huerta de Soto (2012) argues that the euro is a proxy for the gold standard. He draws several analogies between the euro and the classical gold standard (1880-1912). Like when “going on gold” European governments gave up monetary sovereignty by introducing the euro. Like the classical gold standard the common currency forces reforms upon countries that are in crisis because governments cannot manipulate the exchange rate and inflate away debt. Therefore, to limit state power and to encourage e.g. labor market reforms he views the euro as second best to the gold standard from a free market perspective. Therefore, we should defend it. He finds that it is a step toward the re-establishment of the classical gold standard.

There has been much criticism of the piece that mainly addresses the inflationary bias of the ECB. I actually agree with much of it. In particular, imperfect currency areas have the potential to restrict monetary nationalism. This can be welcomed just as customs unions that allow for free trade (at least in restricted areas). But I have some trouble with De Soto’s conclusions and the view that adhering to the euro (as did adhering to gold) gives an extra impetus for market reform – in spite of the mentioned e.g. labor market reforms in Spain. Continue reading

Government Revenues from Low-Interest Rate Policies

by Andreas Hoffmann and Holger Zemanek*

Over the last two years Carmen Reinhart and Belen Sbrancia have published a series of papers on financial repression and its historical role in financing government debt. They show that throughout the Bretton Woods period governments in many advanced economies repressed financial markets to liquidate the high levels of debt that had been accumulated by the end of World War II.

During this period, low policy rates reduced debt servicing costs. Financial repression raised the attractiveness of government bonds relative to other investments. Inflation liquidated government debt. The authors report an annual debt liquidation effect for, e.g., the US and UK government debt of about 3 – 4 percent of GDP (Reinhart and Sbrancia 2011).

Today government debt levels in many countries are comparable to those after the Second World War II! After all, good politicians do not need a World War. There are plenty of other ways to spend. But in the light of the European debt crisis, governments are feeling the need to correct the spending-revenue misalignments in order to make debt-service sustainable. Continue reading