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Did the OECD Composite Leading Indicators see it coming?

27 June 2016

CLI working paperRoberto Astolfi, OECD Statistics Directorate

To some Professor Luis Garicano of the London School of Economics is a leading expert in the fields of productivity and industrial organisation, but to many he’s the man Queen Elizabeth asked “Why did no one see it coming?”; “it” being the crisis. In retelling the story, Pr. Garicano pointed out that he welcomed the question as it provided an opportunity to cite many that did see it coming, including Messrs, Krugman and Volcker. Was the OECD among them?

At the OECD, we use a number of techniques to determine what the data are telling us is happening now and what might happen in the future. Dave Turner from the OECD Economics Department describes some of those approaches here. One additional technique used by the OECD Statistics Directorate, is the system of Composite Leading Indicators (CLIs). Simply put, the CLIs combine individual indicators for a given country to anticipate when economic expansion starts entering a downturn, or when growth starts to return. A relevant question in this context therefore is:

How useful were the OECD CLIs just before the crisis?

Perhaps the simplest way to answer the question is by reference to the headline messages announced in each of the monthly CLI Press Releases over the crisis period.

The first indication of potential trouble ahead came in September 2007 (Figure 1) where the headline assessment moved from ‘Mixed outlook’ to “Moderating outlook”. With each successive bulletin, the announcements became more pessimistic. “Weakening outlook” in the months that followed gave way to “Downswing” in January 2008, and even February 2009’s “Lowest level since 70s” was followed by “New low” in March 2009.

From today’s estimates we know that the CLI for the OECD area as a whole reached its pre-crisis high in June 2007, six months before the actual GDP peak that we now locate in December 2007 (vertical solid red line and black dotted line, respectively, in Figure 1).

Using the most recent statistical information, (in other words, including any revisions that may have been made in the interim) Gyomai and Guidetti in 2011 concluded that the “CLI was able to anticipate the downturn in the real economy at least 5 months ahead of its initial materialisation” (detailed results are available in the Statistics Newsletter).

A more stringent approach is to review the performance of the CLI at the time of the crisis using only the statistical information that was then available, as we do in the recently published Statistics Working Paper.

Figure 1: Evolution of CLI Press Release headlines during the Great Recession, OECD area

CLINote: The vertical lines identify the turning points detected by the CLIs for the OECD area as a whole (peak in June 2007 and trough in February 2009, marked in red) and GDP (marked in dotted black, with a peak in December 2007 and a trough in May 2009).

This approach is more ‘severe’ as formal identification of the turning points can only ever be confirmed some time after they manifest. Nevertheless, even with this more severe examination the latest results confirm the leading properties of the CLI while also indicating that the statistical and methodological revisions that have occurred since the crisis have not shifted CLI turning points to earlier dates, nor have they artificially improved the CLI performance.

Overall then, the OECD CLIs proved to be a robust tool in anticipating the crisis some months before GDP reached its pre-crisis high watermark, and so, perhaps they can be added to the list of illustrious names that can be quoted the next time somebody asks ‘why did no-one see it coming’. Moreover, although, by their very nature and design, CLIs are not able to quantify the magnitude of slowdowns or upturns, and, so, could not quantify the severity of the crisis, the increasing downbeat tone of assessments that followed the first warning in September 2007 provided strong pointers.

 

Useful links

OECD work on leading indicators and tendency surveys

OECD System of Composite Leading Indicators

The use of short-term indicators and survey data for predicting turning points in economic activity – A performance analysis of the OECD system of CLIs during the Great Recession

Regions will drive the success of the Sustainable Development Goals

24 June 2016
by Guest author

regions 2016Rolf Alter, Director of the OECD Public Governance and Territorial Development Directorate @raltergov

The ratification of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) at the UN General Assembly in September 2015, composed of 17 goals and 169 targets, set a global agenda for achieving environmental sustainability, social inclusion and economic development by 2030. They provide a set of ambitions to whose realization all countries must contribute. One of the challenges is adjusting our focus, looking beyond national approaches to the powerful role that regions and cities play. The global agenda will require local data, the engagement of many stakeholders and all levels of government, and improved government capacity to steer and manage the delivery of public policies for inclusive growth.

Regions at a Glance 2016 makes a critical contribution to advancing this global agenda, providing disaggregated data and unveiling the differences within countries that otherwise remain hidden behind national averages.

For the first time, the assessment of well-being outcomes across OECD regions includes a range of dimensions, from income and jobs to health, the environment or civic engagement. It can help countries pursue policy goals that take into account the specific conditions of regions and incorporate local solutions.

These new data are revealing. For example, average life expectancy at birth in Mississippi, USA, is 75 years, 6 years less than in Hawaii. Differences within some cities are even more staggering: for example, there is a 20-year gap in life expectancy between neighbourhoods in London; this is more than twice the 8-year gap among OECD countries. Similarly, while gaps across OECD regions have narrowed over the last decade in well-being dimensions such as education and access to services, gaps have increased in income, air pollution and safety. In 2014, the difference in unemployment rates among all OECD regions was above 30 percentage points – almost 10 percentage points higher than the difference in unemployment among OECD countries.

The SDGs will not be achieved without the full engagement of a broad spectrum of stakeholders, including the people living in the world’s cities. Metropolitan areas, home to about half of the population of the OECD, are critical to the economic prosperity of countries, contributing to 62% of GDP growth of the OECD area in the period 2000-13. Household incomes were 17% higher in metropolitan areas than elsewhere in 2013. However, metropolitan areas are also host to greater inequality than their respective countries, and these inequalities grow as cities become more populated.

This is not just about income: inequality encompasses many dimensions of life. In 2014, 53% of the OECD urban population was exposed to levels of air pollution higher than those recommended by the World Health Organisation. If unchecked, these disparities will grow as urbanisation continues in OECD countries. A holistic approach is required to ensure that cities are inclusive, sustainable and safe.

The challenge is to ensure that all levels of government are implicated in the implementation of the SDGs. OECD data show that regional and local governments play crucial roles in the well-being of today’s and future generations. For example, 70% of subnational government (SNG) spending goes to education, health, economic affairs and social expenditures. At the same time, Regions at a Glance documents how spending responsibilities are shared across central and subnational governments. But aligning priorities between national and subnational governments and ensuring the capacities and resources needed for implementation remain critical challenges.

New data from an OECD-EU Committee of Regions survey of European regional and local authorities show that the lack of co-ordination across sectors and levels of government, red tape, and excessive administrative procedures are the top challenges for infrastructure investment at the subnational level.

The SDGs, UN Conferences on Climate Change, and the New Urban Agenda of Habitat III offer opportunities to refocus our attention on multi-level policy actions and on local data. Within this context, Regions at a Glance 2016 is an important contribution to creating pathways from the local level to meeting global goals.

Useful links

OECD Forum 2016 – Inclusive Cities

 

Capitalism Corrupts the Inclusive Market Mechanism

23 June 2016
by Guest author

panthera logoMarkus Schuller, founder of Panthera Solutions

The Brexit debate in the United Kingdom shows that archaic drivers of our societies can emerge again, even in the cradle of democracy. The opponents in this fight are not the UK vs Brussels, but the disenfranchised vs the elite. And even this only represents the outcome of false premises and their validating concepts. As former Labour Party minister Tony Benn put it: “This country and the world have been run by rich and powerful men from the beginning of time.”

The development of capitalism from the 18th century through to the 20th saw radical and sometimes rapid change not just in technologies and production processes, with the invention of the steam engine or mass production, for example, but also in philosophical and political concepts. The humanist project of the liberation of the individual was strengthened during the Enlightenment, but a new idea emerged too, that the whole of society could improve – social progress. The political translation of this included the fight for universal suffrage, human rights, minority rights, etc. The attitudes and actions that flowed from this were not always coherent with the ambitions they exemplified. Remember the euphoric belief in technology before WWI or the social/national questions during the second half of the 19th century in several monarchies and empires.

Despite all the upheavals the transition to the modern industrial age entailed, the process also produced stabilising social phenomena through the self-empowerment of the individual, such as labour unions or the new property-owning, entrepreneurial middle class. Twin phenomena were at work again, this time economic and political rather than philosophical and political.  The mass consumerism the new economy that would allow the new socioeconomic system to emerge and flourish depended on a widened participation of the individual in both the economy and society. It was only through this widened participation that narratives like the American Dream could manifest themselves – the prototype of social mobility driven by an inclusive market mechanism.

Society benefitted from increased social mobility not least because of the stark contrast it presented with anachronistic injustices like slavery, discrimination against women, oppression of ethnic or religious minorities, and inequalities of income and wealth. This in turn benefitted the economy by expanding the consumer base, for instance through increased labour market participation by women throughout the 20th century.

In short, social mobility was a necessary condition for political and economic self-empowerment of individuals, combined with an inclusive market mechanism that allowed them to live this self-empowerment in many different ways. And this remains the case today. Through social mobility, an inclusive market mechanism and equality of opportunities enable the best in our societies to get a chance to make it to the top. At the same time, the best are forced to compete responsibly for the best solutions of the problems of our times on a level playing field.

Here, the “false premises and their validating concepts” becomes visible. In the early 1980s, when Margret Thatcher and Ronald Reagan began to increase the competitiveness of their economies for the upcoming globalization on the basis of the theories of the Chicago School, their reforms were labeled as liberalisation, deregulation and privatisation. The claim was that this trinity would strengthen the individual in their societies and the competitiveness of their economies. The “victory” of capitalism over communism in 1989 reinforced the reform agenda. The interpretation of capitalism that dominated this agenda however shows a lack of congruence with an inclusive market mechanism. As Noam Chomsky said in September 2015): “Progress requires puncturing the bubble of inevitability: austerity, for instance, is a policy decision undertaken by the designers for their own purposes. US capitalism also benefits from ideological obfuscation: despite its association with free markets, capitalism is shot through with subsidies for some of the most powerful private actors.”

The game plan that would play out as globalisation was designed in Bretton Woods in 1944 and through GATT in 1947. Since the 1980s, the dynamics of this process has led to a massive reduction of extreme poverty worldwide, especially since the economic convergence of emerging markets gained momentum in the 1990s. In parallel, those dynamics damaged the social cohesion of developed economies as productivity gains and participation through gainful work became decoupled, while employees were tamed by increasing their consumption not through higher income in return for their productivity gains, but by getting into debt. Paraphrasing Margaret Thatcher: “You may not be able to get a wage increase, but you can get a loan.”

This development led to a weakening of the inclusive market mechanism through an oligopolisation of market-based allocation processes and a plutocratically-biased political decision making process.

This development also led to a weakening of equality of opportunities through a disintegration of the middle class and its stabilising factors like democratic participation or solidarity movements like labour unions.

Altogether it led to a weakening of social mobility in our societies. And a return to business as usual as described by Tony Benn. The debate is not about political ideologies and their partisan views on whether more public or private sector dominance is better.  The question is how to make sure our societies stay competitive in an evidence-based, innovation-driven search for democratically legitimized solutions for the challenges of our times.

Useful links

This article is based on Kapitalismus gefährdet Marktmechanismus by Markus Schuller

The economic consequences of Brexit OECD Insights

OECD Centre for Opportunity and Equality (COPE)

Bringing money into the digital age

22 June 2016
by Guest author

Blockchain-Logo-WhiteNicolas Cary, co-founder of Blockchain and YBUSA

Mankind created software and technologies reducing every distance, border, and difficulty, pulling the world instantly closer together. But what about finance? Wall Street and financial services have not fundamentally changed in the past fifty years. This thirteen trillion dollar industry relies on services and fee structures from a bygone era. Online financial offerings pale in comparison to our other digital experiences. Technology makes it possible for instantaneous payments, except that right now it takes days, or even weeks to make basic transactions. All this begs the question: why can’t money be digital too?

Ten years ago, people were using Kodak film to develop photos, going to Blockbuster to rent movies, and heading to the local bookstore to pick up the latest bestseller. No one had heard of of the iPhone (because it hadn’t been invented yet) and Instagram, and companies like Netflix were unknown or not yet in existence.  The digital world is part of our DNA now, it’s how we consume our entertainment, share our experiences and stay in touch with our loved ones. We are now seeing the emergence of FinTech challenging one of the most entrenched and consolidated industry in existence – finance. FinTech questions the wisdom of the traditional financial sector providing consumers and business more choice, freedom, and access to financial services than ever before.

Today it should be easy for someone based in Berlin to do business with someone in Paraguay; but it’s not. Borders continue to hinder people’s ability to do business globally. While billions of people around the world have no access to financial services whatsoever, many others are dramatically underserved by traditional banks. In 2015, banks in the US alone took in over $31,000,000,000 in overdraft fees. Think about that for just a moment. $31 billion in fees from people who didn’t have any money in the first place. According to recent data from Goldman Sachs, 33% of people who identified themselves as Millennials do not expect to even have a traditional bank account in five years. Between the billions of people without access to financial services and the advent of software to digitize financial services — it is clear there is a seismic shift in both need and consumer expectations.

Things are changing though. Fast. For the first time, we have the technology to meet those needs in the financial sector. The blockchain, the technology that settles and clears transactions on the Bitcoin network, makes it possible to bring billions of people into the global financial economy for the first time.

But what is the blockchain?

The blockchain is a transaction network that uses a distributed ledger and digital currency to settle transactions with a high degree of certainty. The network is decentralized, just like the internet, which means it’s very durable. Anyone in the world can write to the blockchain database but no one can unwind the history.

Blockchains provides three very compelling value propositions for policy makers. They are far more cost-efficient, secure, and transparent. With distributed ledgers there is no need for a central third party to manage the process, ensure version control, or police participants. Despite the lack of a governing third party, blockchains are secure because the infrastructure and incentives built into the network make it virtually impossible to alter transactions after they are confirmed by the network. This makes them censorship proof and far more secure that centralized databases. Finally, blockchains provide complete transparency to participants and outsiders alike.

This technology can democratize access to financial services and enable people who do not know each other to faithfully complete economic transactions without relying on counterparties or intermediaries. To be clear, open source software can do what banks have done for thousands of years.

People are realizing the potential of the blockchain and the bitcoin network it supports. This is clear from the transaction growth in bitcoin over the last few years. The chart below shows the number of transactions on the bitcoin blockchain which is doubling every 12 months.

blockchain

Now is the time to support the growth of such open and decentralized value transfer networks. Legacy systems are centralized proprietary cost centers. They rely on outdated settlement periods designed in the 1950’s. As consumers demand an increasingly digital experience, payment solutions designed by banks are band-aids which include fundamentally flawed security solutions. Such systems expose consumers to needless risk. According to one study by LexisNexis, fraud costs the U.S. economy more than $190B each year. In 2015, there was an increase in the number of large scale breaches of data. The number of incidents have continued to go up, increasing by more than 10% from 2014 according to a major cybersecurity firm. This is because centralizing data increases the risk of a breach.

Aside from fraud and data breaches, the centralized payment systems of the past have simply not kept up with the need of a global population connecting digitally in ever more complex and constant ways. Before we can get to a world where the Circular Economy and Internet of Things are improving sustainability and driving down the costs of production, we have to have a payments network that can facilitate purely digital transactions. This has very exciting implications for helping reduce corruption and reducing human driven impacts on the climate.

This world won’t come to fruition without a way for people to transact with each other affordably, quickly, and easily. The bitcoin blockchain makes this feasible. For the first time an open, accessible, and fair financial future is possible. The good news is that this technological backbone is being used and adapted allowing millions to connect and transact in ways never thought possible. Much work remains to be done to scale such a network to reach the lives of the billions still outside the financial sector. While businesses, citizens, and new technology companies are experimenting with this technology and making it more usable and accessible, policy makers have a role to play as well. The first step is engaging with this new and powerful system. Inviting current participants, entrepreneurs, and software developers to policy meetings to stay abreast of developments and learn how and when to play a supportive role.

Useful links

Ministers, the business community, civil society, labour and the Internet technical community will gather in Cancún, Mexico on 21-23 June for an OECD Ministerial Meeting on the Digital Economy: Innovation, Growth and Social Prosperity.

Freedom of choice, bitcoins and legal tender Adrian Blundell-Wignall on OECD Insights

Of taxis and smart phones: balancing innovation and regulation

21 June 2016

hailing appSharon Masterson, International Transport Forum Corporate Partnership Board

Necessity is the mother of invention – or is it? It could be argued that the time-honoured adage only holds when we know what we want or need. But what if we don’t? “If I had asked people what they wanted”, Henry Ford famously quipped, “they would have said ‘faster horses’.”

While the car was a revolutionary innovation, it was not immediately disruptive. Early cars were expensive luxury items, so the market for horses and carts remained intact until the Ford Model T created a mass market by making the new technology affordable, thanks to more efficient production methods.

What the transport sector is facing today in many areas follows a similar pattern. True, this time around, innovations are not as disruptive to the eye as motor cars replacing horses. Instead, current disruptive forces in the mobility sector hide under the hood of largely familiar-looking vehicles and in the invisible “cloud” – for instance in the shape of autonomous driving, electric mobility or app-based transport services.

But there are parallels. Take ride-hailing via smart phones: The technology has been on the market for several years. Not even the leading players like Uber or Didi Chuxing, its Chinese rival, have come to dominate the provision of mobility. They are rapidly gaining ground against the traditional forms of moving about in a car, however, and within a decade or two could well become dominant. In a recent survey in China, 8 out of 10 respondents aged 18 to 35 said they had already used a car-hailing app.

The potential of app-based transport has certainly fired up investors: Uber recently received USD 3.5 billion from Saudi Arabia’s sovereign fund, and Didi Chuxing raised USD 7 billion from investors and lenders, including 1 billion from Apple. Today, Uber is the world’s most valuable start up, with a market capitalisation of USD 62.5 billion. Conversely, the Nasdaq-listed Medallion Financial, a huge provider of loans to buy taxi licenses, has lost well over 50% of its stock value since December 2014.

Policy makers in many countries have been caught somewhat off guard by the rapid rise of app-based ride-hailing platforms. In many countries, regulation has been lagging and policymakers struggle in balancing the need to ensure public safety, consumer protection and tax compliance with the potential benefits: higher efficiency of transport, better service, more transparency and the simple fact that consumers like the convenience of pushing a smartphone button to order a ride.

What has not been lagging is the response of those who could possibly to lose out. Legal action by traditional taxi operators has led to some app-based services being banned, operators fined, executives taken into custody, and even violence.

Against this backdrop, a reasoned debate about principles that can serve as a basis for regulators to set frameworks is urgently needed – and this is what we have been working for at the International Transport Forum with key actors. Uber and the International Road Transport Union (IRU, globally representing taxi drivers, among others) are both members of the ITF Corporate Partnership Board (CPB),  and we brought the two together at our 2015 summit of transport ministers. For the first time ever, Uber’s chief strategist David Plouffe and Umberto di Pretto, Secretary-General of the IRU, shared a stage to discuss what the rise of the shared economy means for transport. They agreed that new regulation was needed and just disagreed about how to move forward until that happened – demonstrating that constructive dialogue is possible, even invaluable in such a process.

As a next step, as part of the Corporate Partnership Board’s programme of work, a workshop was convened. Representatives from Uber and Lyft, the taxi industry, regulators, academics and other stakeholders came to Paris in November 2015 to seek points of consensus on regulation and identify persistent points of tension that need focused attention to resolve. The report emanating from that meeting, entitled App-Based Ride and Taxi Services: Principles for Regulation, will make fascinating reading for regulators. Among other things, it offers them four pieces of concrete advice:

  • Focus policy regarding for-hire transport on the needs of consumers and society. This will enable the development of innovative services which could contribute towards public policy objectives such as equitably improving mobility, safety, consumer welfare and sustainability.
  • Keep the regulation framework as simple and uniform as possible. Avoid creating different categories for regulating new mobility services. Regulators should seek to adapt frameworks to better deliver on policy objectives in innovative ways and not simply preserve the status quo.
  • Encourage innovative and more flexible regulation of for-hire transport services. Use data and the findings from data analysis for more timely intelligence to inform the policymaking process. Today’s data accuracy and availability mean that more than ever before, policymakers have tools at hand which enable them to take a more flexible approach to regulation and through monitoring, evaluate how these regulations are working, and adapt or streamline as necessary.
  • Work more closely with operators to achieve data-led regulation.. The emergence of digital connectivity and wireless communications has opened the possibility of new types of instruments that could allow better control of the efficiency and provision of services as well as giving authorities a completely new and transparent way of pursuing policy objectives.

The emphasis on the role of data here is particularly interesting. Do app-based transport services increase congestion or reduce it? Do they provide better mobility for people without cars or access to public transport, or not?  These questions, among the most hotly debated issues around the arrival of these services, can only be settled with enough relevant data. (“In God we trust, everyone else, bring data”, former New York City mayor Michael Bloomberg often said, quoting the eminent statistician W.E. Deming).

If regulators learn to work with those who have the data, and learn how to harness the power of this data, it will be for the benefit of businesses and citizens. We have also just published another report on data-driven transport policy. But – in the immortal words of Rudyard Kipling – that’s another story!

Useful links

The reports mentioned above are part of a series of Corporate Partnership Board reports. For more information, please contact either Programme Manager [email protected] or Project Manager [email protected]

Recent ITF reports:

The sharing economy and new models of service delivery

Ministers, the business community, civil society, labour and the Internet technical community will gather in Cancún, Mexico on 21-23 June for an OECD Ministerial Meeting on the Digital Economy: Innovation, Growth and Social Prosperity

 

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