When Reality Doesn’t Bite—Misconceptions about the IMF and Social Spending


By Benedict Clements and Sanjeev Gupta

(Versions in عربي, Français)

All too often we hear the claim that the programs the IMF supports in low-income countries hurt the most vulnerable by forcing cuts in social spending. This is a misconception.

Our study concludes that, contrary to these claims, IMF-supported programs boost education and health spending in low-income countries for as long as countries are engaged with the IMF.

Let the numbers do the talking

We based our analysis on public spending on education and health in 140 countries between 1985 and 2009. The dataset is the most comprehensive ever assembled to assess this issue. The results show the beneficial effects for social spending in program countries in several respects. Continue reading

iMFdirect—Our Top 10 Posts


As iMFdirect looks back at two years since our blog on global economics was launched in August 2009, we’ve compiled a list of  the posts that have drawn the most attention.

Collectively, the posts give a snapshot of some of the biggest challenges in the world economy—which because of this summer’s developments remain, in some ways, much the same today as two years ago. It’s worth noting that John Lipsky’s outlook for 2011 listed as the No. 1 downside risk to the global economy: “Renewed turbulence in sovereign debt markets could spill over to the real economy and across regions.”

From the start our aim has been to stimulate debate about global economic issues and to open up discussion, through the blog, to a broader audience. During the past two years we’ve had more than 200 posts from leading economists, including several Nobel Prize winners. Many have been reproduced by other blogs around the world and hundreds of people have provided comment and feedback, and participated in constructive debate.

Here are the iMFdirect posts that have drawn the highest number of views:

1. Ten Commandments for Fiscal Adjustment in Advanced Economies

2. Rewriting the Macroeconomists’ Playbook in the Wake of the Crisis

3. Fair and Substantial—Taxing the Financial Sector

4. 2010 Outlook: New Year, New Decade, New Challenges

5. The Future of Macroeconomic Policy: Nine Tentative Conclusions

6. Nanjing and the New International Monetary System

7. Global Safety Nets: Crisis Prevention in an Age of Uncertainty

8. 2011—A Pivotal Year for Global Cooperation

9. Warning! Inequality May Be Hazardous to Your Growth

10. Thinking Beyond the Crisis: Themes from the IMF’s 10th Annual Research Conference

Let us know what you think and subjects you would like to discuss. What would you like to see more of and what less of? We welcome your views and comments.

Wising Up to the Rising Costs of Aging Populations


Jeremy CliftJeremy Clift

Countries around the world are headed for a dramatic demographic transformation caused by falling fertility and rising life expectancy.  Particularly in advanced economies, but also in other parts of the world, populations are getting older and this will affect every dimension of life—from the shape of the family to the shape of the world order.

Most problematically, perhaps, it could throw into question the ability of many countries to provide a decent standard of living for the old without imposing a crushing burden on the young.

The latest issue of the IMF’s Finance & Development magazine explores the consequences on society of aging populations. The world’s population will reach 7 billion this year and is projected to exceed 9 billion in 2050. But in the lead article, Ronald Lee and Andrew Mason say that hidden behind these headline numbers are important changes in the age distribution of the population. Continue reading

Whack-A-Mole in China’s Bubbly Housing Market


By Nigel Chalk

(Version in 中文)

 It has gone out of fashion now but, not so long ago, there was a popular fairground attraction called Whack-A-Mole. Rascally moles would pop their cute little heads out of holes in the ground and your task was to use a giant rubber mallet to wallop the poor critters back from where they came. China’s bubbly housing market makes me think that this game could be ready for a comeback.

There’s a lot of talk these days of a bubble in China’s property market. Certainly there’s no shortage of super-sharp investors and analysts that have very strong (and very diverse) views—see what  James Chanos, Andy Rothman, and Nouriel Roubini have to say.

The China team at the IMF is regularly asked about this. The question crops up in many different guises: Is China’s property sector going to crash? What about all those empty apartments that have no one living in them? Have you seen the remarkable and pristine ghost towns in Ordos? Isn’t all this going to end badly? Continue reading

Union Jack: Be Nimble, Be Quick


By Ajai Chopra

The U.K. government should be nimble in its policy response if it looks as though the economy is headed for a prolonged period of weak growth, high unemployment, and subdued inflation. Currently, we don’t expect this scenario to happen. But if such a scenario appears to be in prospect, we recommend responding quickly with some combination of further quantitative easing by the Bank of England and temporary tax cuts.

The most likely scenario for the U.K. economy is that it will gradually recover, although it will face continued headwinds from a soft housing market, household and financial sector deleveraging, and ongoing consolidation of the budget. Against this, the economy should get a push from private investment and an increase in exports driven by the global recovery. Labor productivity may also rebound and improve competitiveness.

Led by these forces, the IMF is expecting a bumpy and uneven recovery in the U.K. and our updated growth forecast for the near term, taking into account the recent GDP release for the second quarter, will be published with the September World Economic Outlook. Over the medium term, we expect growth to accelerate gradually to about 2½ percent. Continue reading

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