Economic Effects of Catalan Independence: A Historical and Theoretical Perspective

ITFD students organized a talk on the economic effects of Catalan independence with Prof. Jaume Ventura.

By Ben Beuchel ’16, Frederik Møller Jensen ’16, and Saskia Mösle ’16, students in the International Trade, Finance, and Development master’s program


Why are so many Catalans advocating independence? What would be the economic consequences of a potential separation from Spain? To find answers, BGSE students from the Master’s Program International Trade, Finance, and Development organized a talk on the economic effects of Catalan independence with Prof. Jaume Ventura. Prof. Ventura is a senior researcher at the Centre de Recerca en Economia Internacional (CREI), research professor at Barcelona GSE and member of the Wilson Initiative, a pro-Catalan-independence association of academics in the fields of economics and political science.

Photo: El Món
Photo: El Món

What is the optimal size of a state?

From a theoretical viewpoint, the ‘right’ size of a state is determined by a trade-off between two opposing forces. On the one hand, economies of scale and the border effect (i.e. political borders hamper trade) create a force towards larger countries. Such benefits are especially pronounced in areas such as economic markets and defense. On the other hand, heterogeneity of people’s preferences with respect to culture, the legal system or welfare, embodies a force for smaller countries. According to Prof. Ventura, these two forces have shaped the size and structure of the state in two waves throughout the history of globalization.

In the first wave, spanning from the Congress of Vienna to the beginning of the First World War, the number of countries more than halved, implying that states, on average, became larger. Political and economic integration proceeded hand in hand, and larger markets were created by sacrificing heterogeneity of preferences. After the Second World War, the second wave of globalization began. International trade reached higher levels and the number of countries multiplied to over 190. At the same time, international collaboration in the form of international organizations, such as the World Trade Organization, emerged. While this new era was characterized by political fragmentation regarding the nation state, larger markets were created through international cooperation and sacrificing economies of scope.

Figure 1
Figure 1. Trade share (right axis), the number of countries and WTO membership (left axis). Source: Gancia, Ponzetto, Ventura (2016).

 

The creation of supra-national organizations enabled countries to exploit economies of scale irrespective of their size. As supra-national entities took over functions such as defense, which had previously mandated a larger state, even small states were able to thrive. At the same time, competencies such as culture, law and order and the welfare state remained on national agendas, as cultural globalization proceeds more slowly than economic globalization. All in all, it seems that the homogeneity of constituents’ preferences has become a more decisive determinant of a country’s size in the second wave of globalization.

The Catalan perspective

With this theoretical background in mind, Prof. Ventura turned to the specific case of Catalonia. First, he argued that small states in Europe, such as Norway and Switzerland, are competitive and wealthy. A potential Catalonian state with 7.5 million inhabitants would be larger than Denmark, Norway and Ireland, and only slightly smaller than Switzerland. Studies also find that the effect of size on economic growth depends on the degree of openness (Alesina, Spolaore and Wacziarg 2005). If a country is very open, size seems to have negative effects on growth. Catalonia, with a high degree of openness of 130%, could thus potentially grow faster if independent from Spain.

Next, Prof. Ventura focused on the long-run economic benefits of independence. If Catalonia became independent, this would imply giving up economies of scale arising from the union with Spain. However, these costs remain limited, in his opinion. The fixed costs of running a Catalan state have been generously estimated to be €2.793m which represents 1.4% of Catalan GDP, or €383 per Catalan citizen. Additionally, markets and defense have already been outsourced to the EU and NATO, suggesting that Catalonia would not lose out if it gave up the union with Spain (provided that it remained a member of EU and NATO). A major benefit for the Catalan economy would be the stop of fiscal transfers to the rest of Spain. Currently, taxes paid to the central government exceed public spending in Catalonia by €16.409m (8.4% of GDP). Moreover, current public capital in the region is the lowest throughout Spain. Public investment in Catalonia accounted for merely 8-9% of Spanish public spending, even though Catalonia contributes roughly 20% to the Spanish GDP.

In the short-run, there is a chance that costs might arise from retaliation by the Spanish state, and maybe others. However, Prof. Ventura estimates such costs, e.g. commercial boycotts, to be small and short-lived. He argues that retaliation would not be a sub-game perfect outcome, as most of the EU’s foreign investments and trade with Spain flows through Catalonia.

While the potential economic gains are substantial, Prof. Ventura emphasized that the heterogeneity of preferences between Catalonia and the rest of Spain remains the key reason behind Catalonia’s longing for independence. He pointed to his experience in the U.S., where the states enjoy a high degree of autonomy regarding education, justice, infrastructure, welfare and culture. In contrast, Spain’s central government dominates most aspects of public policy and previous attempts to increase Catalonia’s autonomy within Spain have failed.

While the future of Catalonia remains uncertain, Prof. Ventura advocated the right to self-determination and believes that “Catalan independence offers a unique window of opportunity to reform a bankrupt state and adapt it to modern times, both in Catalonia and Spain”.

References

  1. Gancia, G. A., Ponzetto, G. A., & Ventura, J. (2016). Globalization and Political Structure. NBER Working Paper No. 22046.
  2. Alesina, A., Spolaore, E., & Wacziarg, R. (2005). Trade, Growth and the Size of Countries. Handbook of Economic Growth, 1499-1542.

 

Does Extended Time Improve Students’ Performance?

Editor’s note: This post is part of a series showcasing Barcelona GSE master projects by students in the Class of 2014. The project is a required component of every master program.


Does Extended Time Improve Students’ Performance? Evidence from Catalonia

Authors:

Ana María Costa Ramón, Laia Navarro-Sola, Patricia de Cea Sarabia

Master Program:

Economics

Project Summary:

Education is one of the main priorities of developed societies, and countries are investing huge amounts of resources in this area. However, little is known about the effectiveness of the inputs used in the education production function, leaving the final decision of investment to ideological or political reasons. In this context, there is an increasing support of extending class time among politicians and policy-makers as a way of improving education. Our paper is an investigation of the effect of an increase in the number of hours per day of class on the performance of the students.

As identification strategy, we exploit the exogenous variation generated by a policy change in Catalonia (a region of Spain), known as the “sixth hour policy”. This reform introduced one extra hour per day, representing an increase of 20% of the total number of hours per year. It involved an important investment for Catalonia and thus, knowing the effects of the policy is needed in order to assess whether it was effective or if there exists other alternatives. The specific characteristics of the policy implementation provide three different sources of variation: variation between cohorts, generated by the sudden implementation, variation between types of schools, since the policy was only addressed to public schools (leaving private schools timetable unchanged) and in last term, variation across regions, as the reform only affected public schools in Catalonia. These features allow us to take the policy implementation as a natural experiment and thus, to investigate more deeply the effects of extending school time.

Using the PISA database and the econometric specification of differences-in-differences, we find that there is no conclusive evidence of the causal relationship between extending school time and performance improvement. This difficulty comes from the implementation of the policy itself which was done simultaneously with other major educational changes, and thus it is hard to identify the channel through which this effect could be operating.

However, we face this lack of evidence on this causality introducing an innovative methodology in the study of extending time at school. To solve specific concerns about the suitability of the control group we construct a “synthetic control” group (an artificial control group), which is a weighted combination of other Spanish regions chosen to resemble education characteristics of Catalonia before the introduction of the “sixth hour policy” as much as possible. However, the particularities of the region of the study make it very hard to predict its behavior.

All in all, we believe that the use of the synthetic control approach can help to shed light on these issues in different case studies or with more detailed data. The analysis of time as an input in the education production function still requires a lot of research but as we have seen with our case study, natural experiments by themselves could be an imperfect tool. Maybe it is time to use more innovative approaches to this old topic.

Read the full paper or view slides below:

Modeling Independence

Ryan D. Griffiths,  Pablo Guillen, and Ferran Martinez i Coma of the University of Sydney released a working paper (PDF) in September with a model of Catalan independence. The abstract:

We propose a game theoretical model to assess the capacity of Catalonia to become a recognized, independent country with at least a de facto European Union (EU) membership. Support for Catalan independence is increasing for reasons pertaining to identity and economics. Spain can avoid a vote for independence by effectively ‘buying-out’ a proportion of the Catalan electorate with a funding agreement favorable to Catalonia. If, given the current economic circumstances, the buying-out strategy is too expensive, a pro-independence vote is likely to pass. Our model predicts an agreement in which Spain and the European Union accommodate Catalan independence in exchange for Catalonia taking a share of the Spanish debt. If Spain and the EU do not accommodate, Spain becomes insolvent, which in turn destabilizes the EU. The current economic woes of Spain and the EU both contribute to the desire for Catalan independence and make it possible.

HT: Tyler Cowen