January/February 2006

In This Edition

  • Are the Causes of Bank Distress Changing? Can Researchers Keep Up?

    Since 1990, the banking sector has experienced enormous legislative, technological, and financial changes, yet research into the causes of bank distress has slowed. One consequence is that traditional supervisory surveillance models may not capture important risks inherent in the current banking environment. After reviewing the history of these models, the authors provide empirical evidence that the characteristics of failing banks have changed in the past ten years and argue that the time is right for new research that employs new empirical techniques. In particular, dynamic models that use forward-looking variables and address various types of bank risk individually are promising lines of inquiry. Supervisory agencies have begun to move in these directions, and the authors describe several examples of this new generation of early-warning models that are not yet widely known among academic banking economists.

  • On the Size and Growth of Government

    The size of the U.S. federal government, as well as state and local governments, increased dramatically during the 20th century. This paper reviews several theories of government size and growth that are dominant in the public choice and political science literature. The theories are divided into two categories: citizen-over-state theories and state-over-citizen theories. The relationship between the 16th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution and the timing of government growth is also presented. It is likely that portions of each theory can explain government size and growth, but the challenge facing economists is to develop a single unifying theory of government growth.

  • Replicability, Real-Time Data, and the Science of Economic Research: FRED, ALFRED, and VDC

    This article discusses the linkages between two recent themes in economic research: “real time” data and replication. These two themes share many of the same ideas, specifically, that scientific research itself has a time dimension. In research using real-time data, this time dimension is the date on which particular observations, or pieces of data, became available. In work with replication, it is the date on which a study (and its results) became available to other researchers and/or was published. Recognition of both dimensions of scientific research is important. A project at the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis to place large amounts of historical data on the Internet holds promise to unify these two themes.

  • The Evolution of the Subprime Mortgage Market

    This paper describes subprime lending in the mortgage market and how it has evolved through time. Subprime lending has introduced a substantial amount of risk-based pricing into the mortgage market by creating a myriad of prices and product choices largely determined by borrower credit history (mortgage and rental payments, foreclosures and bankruptcies, and overall credit scores) and down payment requirements. Although subprime lending still differs from prime lending in many ways, much of the growth (at least in the securitized portion of the market) has come in the least-risky (A-) segment of the market. In addition, lenders have imposed prepayment penalties to extend the duration of loans and required larger down payments to lower their credit risk exposure from high-risk loans.

  • The Fed's Monetary Policy Rule

    This article was originally presented as a speech at the Cato Institute, Washington, D.C., October 14, 2005.

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