The Future of Higher Education

Application season always makes me wonder about the future of higher education.  The business model is hard to understand.  The costs are hideous.  The sources of funds not obvious.  And there is no way to imagine that tuition alone can prepare us — by which I mean higher education in general — for the future.  This year I had the chance to speak about these issues in China with university administrators from across the Asia-Pacific region.  It was fascinating to see how much our concerns are similar.  The implication is that we all have a lot of work to do to ensure that higher education has a sustainable future.  I gave two contributions — both of which are below.

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Populism and Economic Policy

On 28 September 2018, Lorenzo Forni of Prometeia invited me to give a short comment on the relationship between ‘populism’ and economic policy-making.  Although, I hadn’t thought about that relationship before, I came up with four things I think we might want to consider (in addition to what we might useful think of as ‘populism’ in the context of the question Lorenzo asked).  My argument was that populists bring new people into the policy-making process.  They also bring a healthy dose of unpredictability.  Their messaging on policy issues is not great, which causes problems in a world defined by rational expectations, and they tend to be skeptical toward independent agencies like central banks.  Finally, populists are disinclined to international policy coordination.  The combination is not wholly bad — sometimes change is for the good! — but the results are often below the promises that populists make to the electorate.  The text of the presentation follows.

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Reforming Europe Starts at Home

Earlier this week, French President Emmanuel Macron gave a speech outlining his proposals to reform the European Union.  And there were a lot of proposals in that speech.  Surprisingly, though, not many of them focused on the euro area or on the process of European macroeconomic governance.  Macron talked about creating some kind of common budget and naming a European Minister of Finance, but he did not touch on the major issues sketched in European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker’s State of the Union address or the letter of intent and reflection papers that the Commission has produced as well.

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The Danger of Building Walls in Europe

On 21 August, I was invited to talk about the importance of ‘walls’ in a European context at an annual socio-cultural-political event called ‘The Meeting’ in Rimini.  I sketched these notes as an aide for the interpreters who were supposed to render my unique version of the English language into fluent Italian.  My host, Paolo Magri, insisted that I speak in Italian instead.  What followed was probably more authentic as a set of off-the-cuff remarks using my one hundred and fifty mangled Italian vocabulary words, but it may not have delivered the full message.  My central argument is that we should be wary of identity-based political mobilization.  Any politician who wants to mobilize ‘us’ against ‘them’ is not your friend.  That is as true in the United States as it is in Europe.  Alas, Europe’s history with that kind of politics is a tragic one.  Let’s hope we don’t have to experience it again.

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The Relevance of U.S. Experience for Europe’s Capital Markets Union

This is a talk I gave on 21 June at the European Political Strategy Center, which is the in-house think tank of the European Commission.  The audience was very generous in listening to my presentation.  The point I tried to make is that the capital markets union is an important project, but we should be careful to ensure that policymakers supplement the efforts to make capital markets more efficient with efforts to make them more resilient.  This is an argument that I have made before and yet it is probably worth repeating.  Given the dynamics behind Europe’s economic and financial crisis, there is simply too much at stake.


Thank you for giving me the opportunity to share some thoughts about the relevance of U.S. experience for Europe’s capital markets union. My argument is that U.S. experience is relevant both in terms of its successes and in terms of its mistakes. The most important lesson I draw from the United States is about the importance of managing or channeling the flight to quality when financial markets come under duress. In jargon, my specific concern is when a sudden increase in liquidity preference translates into a spontaneous return of home bias. In plainer language, what interests me is how we handle situations where investors decide to place priority on protecting the value of their assets.

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U.S. Presidential Elections – Known and Unknown

The U.S. Presidential elections represent a stark choice between a competent if unexciting continuation of the status quo and an emotional – perhaps even terrifying – break with the past. Moreover, the results of the contest will be felt far beyond the borders of the United States. On 17 and 18 March, I was invited by the United States consulate in Milan to participate in a series of events to explain the ongoing elections. The audiences were mostly Italian but there were some others mixed into the groups as well. My goal was give some sense of how the U.S. elections are going to have an impact on the outside world. That impact will be both direct and indirect. The direct effects will come through the change in U.S. foreign policy. The indirect effects will come through the change in economic policy. I outlined the two issues in turn. Then I offered some thoughts on the future of U.S. global leadership. The bottom line in all three cases is very similar: Americans must choose between the familiar and the unknown – and the world must accept the consequences.

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