Saturday, May 18, 2013

ROI & The Economic Importance of Public Support of Scientific Research

Last month, academic advocate Zack Kopplin debated the importance of maintaining funding for scientific research, even in the face of other economic priorities. Kopplin argued that the Return on Investment reaped from the results of such research far outweigh both any costs associated with said research, and borrowing costs. 

Stephen Moore, a former fellow of both the Heritage Foundation and the Cato Institute, two prominent Washington DC-based free-market think-tanks provided the counter-point to Kopplin's argument. While at first arguing that the debt takes precedent over scientific funding, Moore resorted to mocking Kopplin's views via anecdotal mention of publicly-funded research on snail mating habits. "You are not a scientist" responded Kopplin. The host then chimed in to say that anecdotal arguments really have no place in a serious policy debate. 

We can all bring up anecdotes which, while not scientific, representative, typical, underline one's point of vies in the argument. In response to Moore's mention of funding for snail mating habits, I can also submit seemingly questionable research: on Oyster Glue.

2013 Story About Research on Oyster Glue
2010 Story About Research on Oyster Glue

For the past 13 years, research has been ongoing at Indiana's Purdue University, on exactly how Oysters, Mussels, Barnacles and other mollusks glue themselves to underwater surfaces. If this research doesn't seem relevant to society overall, think again. 

Although oyster glue research seems unorthodox, this research may very well yield an organic non-toxic glue, which can be used as an underwater construction material, or even to glue broken bones still inside a patient's body. From the economic point of view, the potential returns are enormous. So, we all have our anecdotes.

All jokes and anecdotes aside, the link between support for scientific research, and future economic growth is enormous, and simply cannot be downplayed or overlooked. 
Max Berre is an economist at the EDHEC-Risk Institute (Ecole Des Hautes Etudes Commerciales du Nord) who has worked as a sovereign debt expert at the Inter-American Development Bank in Washington and has taught financial economics at Maastricht University in the Netherlands.

Sunday, May 5, 2013

LSE Study: Self-Fulfilling Crisis of Eurozone Sovereign Debt

In an empirical study on Eurozone sovereign debt published at LSE and at CEPS, an EU-financed economic policy think tank, has found definitive evidence of the fragility of Eurozone-member-nation debt vis-a-vis non-eurozone EU debt. In particular, the study finds that aggressive growth in Eurozone sovereign bond spreads since 2010 have been generally disconnected from key market fundamentals. Just outside of the Eurozone meanwhile, standalone countries have faced a much lower degree of sovereign bond volatility, despite having similar Debt-to-GDP ratios as their Eurozone counterparts.

What this all means is that the credibility and competence of the European institutions behind the Euro, are being called into question by the market, as panicky investors flee the Eurozone, and countries that are hit by the resulting liquidity crises are forced apply stringent, recession-causing austerity measures. While Greece had indeed accumulated an unsustainable Debt-to-GDP ratio, other Eurozone countries that were hit by the crisis had Debt-to-GDP levels, which were certainly not worse than the of the US and the UK. What is needed, LSE argues, are pro-liquidity policies aimed at preventing the spread of sovereign debt liquidity polices from one country to the next. Exactly the sort of the thing Merkel and her henchmen are against.

The study's main author, Professor Paul De Grauwe, a former Belgian senator, is widely considered to be Belgium's most renowned economist 

We test the hypothesis that the government bond markets in the Eurozone are more fragile and more susceptible to self -fulfilling liquidity crises than in stand -alone countries. We find evidence that a significant part of the surge in the spreads of the PIGS countries in the Eurozone during 2010-11 was disconnected from underlying increases in the debt to GDP ratios and fiscal space variables, an d was the result of negative self -fulfilling market sentiments that became very strong since the end of 2010. We argue that this can drive member countries of the Eurozone into bad equilibria. 

We also find evidence that after years of neglecting high government debt, investors became increasingly worried about this in the Eurozone, and reacted by raising the spreads. No such worries developed in stand -alone countries despite the fact that debt to GDP ratios and fiscal space variables were equally high and increasing in these countries. 

Paul De Grauwe is a Professor in European Political Economy and head of the European Institute at the London School of Economics. He is also professor emeritus in international economics at KU Leuven and former member of the Belgian Federal Parliament.