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Carlos A. Vegh

Fred H. Sanderson Professor of International Economics

  • cvegh1@jhu.edu
  • +1 (202) 663-5807
  • Campus Location: Washington DC
  • Office Location: BOB 711

About

Carlos A. Vegh is the Fred H. Sanderson Professor of International Economics at Johns Hopkins University, where he is jointly appointed in the School of Advanced International Studies (SAIS) in Washington, DC and the Department of Economics in the Zanvyl Krieger School of Arts and Sciences (KSAS) in Baltimore.  He was the World Bank Chief Economist for Latin America and the Caribbean in 2017-2019.  He is a Research Associate at the National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER) and was a Non-Resident Senior Fellow at the Brookings Institution.  He received his PhD in Economics from the University of Chicago in 1987. He spent the early years of his career at the IMF’s Research Department. From 1995 to 2013, he was a tenured Professor first at UCLA and then at the University of Maryland. At UCLA, he was also the Vice-Chair for Undergraduate Studies. He has been co-editor of the Journal of International Economics and the Journal of Development Economics, the leading journals in their respective fields, and Chief Editor of Economia (the journal of the Latin-American and Caribbean Economic Association, LACEA).  He has published extensively in leading academic journals on monetary and fiscal policy in developing and emerging countries. He has co-edited a volume in honor of Guillermo Calvo (MIT Press) and published a graduate textbook on open economy macroeconomics for developing countries (MIT Press). He has been a consultant for the IMF, World Bank, IDB, and policy institutions around the world.

Vegh, C., Gunter, S., Riera-Crichton, D., Vuletin, G. (2019). Non-Linear Effects of Tax Changes on Output: The Role of the Initial Level of Taxation. NBER

We estimate the effect of worldwide tax changes on output following the narrative approach developed for the United States by Romer and Romer (2010). We use a novel dataset on value-added taxes for 51 countries (21 industrial and 30 developing) for the period 1970-2014 to identify 96 tax changes. We then use contemporaneous economic records to classify such changes as endogenous or exogenous to current (or prospective) economic conditions. In line with theoretical distortionary and disincentive-based arguments — and using exogenous tax changes — we find that the effect of tax changes on output is highly non-linear. The tax multiplier is essentially zero under relatively low initial tax rate levels and more negative as the initial tax rate increases. Based on a global sample, these novel non-linear findings suggest that the recent consensus pointing to large negative tax multipliers in industrial countries, particularly in industrial Europe (e.g., Alesina, Favero, and Giavazzi, 2015), (i) is not a robust empirical regularity, and (ii) is based on results mainly driven by high initial tax rates in these countries. We also show that the bias introduced by misidentification of tax shocks critically depends on the procyclical or countercyclical nature of endogenous tax changes.

Vegh, C., Izquierdo, A., Lama, R., Medina, J.P., Puig, J., Riera Crichton, D., and Vuletin, G. (2019) Is the public investment multiplier higher in developing countries?  An empirical investigation. NBER.

Over the last decade, empirical studies analyzing macroeconomic conditions that may affect the size of government spending multipliers have flourished. Yet, in spite of their obvious public policy importance, little is known about public investment multipliers. In particular, the clear theoretical implication that public investment multipliers should be higher (lower) the lower (higher) is the initial stock of public capital has not, to the best of our knowledge, been tested. This paper tackles this empirical challenge and finds robust evidence in favor of the above hypothesis: countries with a low initial stock of public capital (as a proportion of GDP) have significantly higher public investment multipliers than countries with a high initial stock of public capital. This key finding seems robust to the sample (European countries, U.S. states, and Argentine provinces) and identification method (Blanchard-Perotti, forecast errors, and instrumental variables). Our results thus suggest that public investment in developing countries would carry high returns.

Vegh, C., Camarena, J.A., Galeano, L., Morano, L., Puig, J., Riera Crichton, D., Venturi, L., and Vuletin, G., (2019) Fooled by the cycle:  Permanent versus cyclical improvements in social indicators. NBER.

This paper studies the time-series behavior of a set of widely-used social indicators and uncovers two important stylized facts. First, not all social indicators are created equal in terms of the importance of cyclical fluctuations. While some social indicators such as the unemployment rate and monetary poverty show large cyclical fluctuations, other social measures such as the Human Development Index are, by construction, dominated by long-run trends. Second, a large fraction of the cyclical fluctuations in social indicators can be explained by the cyclical changes in income (proxied by real GDP per capita). Since cyclical income volatility is much larger in the developing world, these two critical facts raise fundamental issues regarding how permanent are improvements in social indicators (like the ones observed in many developing countries during the last commodity super-cycle). Finally, and relying on a global sample of industrial and developing countries, we dig deeper into the importance of cyclical versus permanent components by extending the seminal contribution of Datt and Ravallion (1992). In particular, we show that more than 40 percent of the fall in monetary poverty observed in Latin America and the Caribbean during the so-called Golden Decade can be attributed to cyclical changes in income.

Vegh, C., & Vuletin, G. (2015) Unsticking the flypaper effect in an uncertain world. NBER

We provide a novel explanation for the flypaper effect based on insurance arguments. In our model, the flypaper effect arises due to the differential response of precautionary savings to private income or fiscal transfers shocks in an uncertain world with incomplete markets. The model generates two testable implications: (i) the flypaper effect is a decreasing function of the correlation between fiscal transfers and private income, and (ii) such relationship is stronger the higher is the volatility of fiscal transfers and/or private income. An empirical analysis of Argentinean provinces for the period 1963-2006 finds strong support for the model's implications.

Vegh, C., & Riera-Crichton, D., Vuletin, G. (2015). Procyclical and countercyclical fiscal multipliers: Evidence from OECD countries. NBER

Using non-linear methods, we argue that existing estimates of government spending multipliers in expansion and recession may yield biased results by ignoring whether government spending is increasing or decreasing. In the case of OECD countries, the problem originates in the fact that, contrary to one's priors, it is not always the case that government spending is going up in recessions (i.e., acting countercyclically). In almost as many cases, government spending is actually going down (i.e., acting procyclically). Since the economy does not respond symmetrically to government spending increases or decreases, the "true" long-run multiplier for bad times (and government spending going up) turns out to be 2.3 compared to 1.3 if we just distinguish between recession and expansion. In extreme recessions, the long-run multiplier reaches 3.1.

Vegh, C., & Riera-Crichton, D. (2015). Tax multipliers: Pitfalls in measurement and identification. NBER

We contribute to the literature on tax multipliers by analyzing the pitfalls in identification and measurement of tax shocks. Our main focus is on disentangling the discussion regarding the identification of exogenous tax policy shocks (i.e., changes in tax policy that are not the result of policymakers responding to output fluctuations) from the discussion related to the measurement of tax policy (i.e., finding a tax policy variable under the direct control of the policymaker). For this purpose, we build a novel value-added tax rate dataset and the corresponding cyclically-adjusted revenue measure at a quarterly frequency for 14 industrial countries for the period 1980-2009. We also provide complementary evidence using Romer and Romer (2010) and Barro and Redlick (2011) data for the United States. On the identification front, our findings favor the use of narratives à la Romer and Romer (2010) to identify exogenous fiscal shocks as opposed to the identification via SVAR. On the (much less explored) measurement front, our results strongly support the use of tax rates as a true measure of the tax policy instrument as opposed to widely-used, revenue-based measures, such as cyclically-adjusted revenues.

Vegh, C., & Vuletin, G. (2014). Social implications of fiscal policy responses during crises. VOX, CEPR Policy Portal. 

This paper studies the social implications of fiscal policy responses to crises in Latin America over the last 40 years and in the Eurozone during the aftermath of the global financial crisis. We focus on the behavior of four social indicators: the poverty rate, income inequality, unemployment rate, and domestic conflict. We find a causal link from counteryclical (procyclical) fiscal policy responses to reductions (increases) in all four social indicators. These results call into question recent claims on "expansionary fiscal austerity."

Vegh, C., & Vuletin, G. (2014). The Road to redemption: Policy response to crises in Latin America. NBER

This paper analyzes the fiscal and monetary policy responses to crises in Latin America over the last 40 years. We argue that, on average, Latin American countries have "graduated" in terms of their policy responses in the sense that they have been able to switch from procyclical to counteryclical policy responses. This average response, however, masks a great deal of heterogeneity with some countries (such as Chile, Brazil, and Mexico) leading the graduation process and others (like Argentina and Venezuela) still showing procyclical policy responses. We further show that countercyclical policy responses have been effective in reducing the duration and intensity of crises. Finally, we relate our analysis to the current crisis in the Eurozone and argue that, like in many instances in Latin America, procyclical fiscal policy has increased the duration and intensity of the crisis.

Vegh, C., & Federico, P., Vuletin, G. (2014). Unsticking the flypaper effect in an uncertain world. NBER

We provide a novel explanation for the flypaper effect based on insurance arguments. In our model, the flypaper effect arises due to the differential response of precautionary savings to private income or fiscal transfers shocks in an uncertain world with incomplete markets. The model generates two testable implications: (i) the flypaper effect is a decreasing function of the correlation between fiscal transfers and private income, and (ii) such relationship is stronger the higher is the volatility of fiscal transfers and/or private income. An empirical analysis of Argentinean provinces for the period 1963-2006 finds strong support for the model's implications.

Vegh, C., & Federico, P., Vuletin, G. (2014). Reserve requirement policy over the business cycle. NBER

Based on a novel quarterly dataset for 52 countries for the period 1970-2011, we analyze the use and cyclical properties of reserve requirements (RR) as a macroeconomic stabilization tool and whether RR policy substitutes or complements monetary policy. We find that (i) around two thirds of developing countries have used RR policy as a macroeconomic stabilization tool compared to just one third of industrial countries (and no industrial country since 2004); (ii) most developing countries that rely on RR use them countercyclically; and (iii) in many developing countries, monetary policy is procyclical and hence RR policy has substituted monetary policy as a countercyclical tool. We interpret the latter finding as reflecting the need of many emerging markets to raise interest rates in bad times to defend the currency and not raise or lower the interest rate in good times to prevent further currency appreciation. Under these circumstances, RR policy provides a second instrument that substitutes for monetary policy. Evidence from expanded Taylor rules (i.e., Taylor rules that include a nominal exchange rate target) supports these mechanisms.

Vegh, C., & Vuletin, G. (2014). How is tax policy conducted over the business cycle? NBER
 
It is well known by now that government spending has typically been procyclical in developing economies but acyclical or countercyclical in industrial countries. Little, if any, is known, however, about the cyclical behavior of tax rates (as opposed to tax revenues, which are endogenous to the business cycle and hence cannot shed light on the cyclicality of tax policy). We build a novel dataset on tax rates for 62 countries for the period 1960-2013 that comprises corporate income, personal income, and value-added tax rates. We find that, by and large, tax policy is acyclical in industrial countries but mostly procyclical in developing countries. Further, tax policy in countries with better institutions and/or more integrated with world capital markets tends to be less procyclical/more countercyclical.

Vegh, C., & Vuletin, G. (2013). Tax policy procyclicality. VOX, CEPR Policy Portal. 

Vegh, C., & Vuletin, G. (2012).Graduation from monetary policy procyclicality. VOX, CEPR Policy Portal. 

Vegh, C., Frankel, J., & Vuletin, G. (2011).Fiscal policy in developing countries: Escape from procyclicality. VOX, CEPR Policy Portal. 

Vegh, C., Mendoza, E., & Ilzetzki , E. (2009). How big are fiscal multipliers? New evidence from new data. VOX, CEPR Policy Portal.