Greece: Past Critiques and the Path Forward

IMG_0248By Olivier Blanchard

(Versions in DeutschEspañolFrançaisItalianoελληνικάРусский中文, 日本語عربي, and Português)

All eyes are on Greece, as the parties involved continue to strive for a lasting deal, spurring vigorous debate and some sharp criticisms, including of the IMF.

In this context, I thought some reflections on the main critiques could help clarify some key points of contention as well as shine a light on a possible way forward.

The main critiques, as I see them, fall under the following four categories:

  • The 2010 program only served to raise debt and demanded excessive fiscal adjustment.
  • The financing to Greece was used to repay foreign banks.
  • Growth-killing structural reforms, together with fiscal austerity, have led to an economic depression.
  • Creditors have learned nothing and keep repeating the same mistakes.

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When Is Repaying Public Debt Not Of The Essence?

By Jonathan D. Ostry and Atish R. Ghosh

Financial bailouts, stimulus spending, and lower revenues during the Great Recession have resulted in some of the highest public debt ratios seen in advanced economies in the past forty years. Recent debates have centered on the pace at which to pay down this debt, with few questions being asked about whether the debt needs to be paid down in the first place.

A radical solution for high debt is to do nothing at all—just live with it. Indeed, from a welfare economics perspective—abstracting from real world problems such as rollover risk—this would be optimal. We explore this issue in our recent work. While there are some countries where clearly debt needs to be brought down, there are others that are in a more comfortable position to fund themselves at exceptionally low interest rates, and that could indeed simply live with their debt (allowing their debt ratio to decline through growth or windfall revenues).

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Smart Fiscal Policy Will Help Jobs

Vitor Gasparby Vitor Gaspar 

(version in EspañolFrançais中文Русский, and 日本語)

Unemployment remains unacceptably high in many countries. It increased dramatically during the Great Recession. Global unemployment currently exceeds 200 million people. An additional 13 million people are expected to be unemployed by 2018.

The most worrisome is youth unemployment. There are examples of advanced economies in Europe where youth unemployment surged above 50 percent. In several developing economies, job creation does not absorb the large number of young workers entering the labor force every year.

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Emerging Market Corporate Sector Debt: A Stitch in Time Could Save Billions

By Julian Chow and Shamir Tanna

(Versions in Español)

Much has been said lately about growing private sector debt in emerging market economies. In our recent analysis, we examined the corporate sector in a number of countries and found their rising levels of debt could make them vulnerable.

Low global interest rates in the aftermath of the global financial crisis and ample amounts of money pouring in from foreign investors have enabled nonfinancial corporations to raise record levels of debt.

figure 1

Credit was readily available in the aftermath of the crisis, and economic expansion enabled earnings to grow healthily, thus helping to prevent leverage from rising too far and too fast.  Recently though, slowing growth prospects are beginning to put pressure on firms’ profitability. Moreover, higher debt loads have led to growing interest expense, despite low interest rates. As a result, the ability of firms to service their debt has weakened (Figure 1).

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The Trillion Dollar Question: Who Owns Emerging Market Government Debt

By Serkan Arslanalp and Takahiro Tsuda

(Version in EspañolFrançaisPortuguêsРусский中文 and 日本語)

There are a trillion reasons to care about who owns emerging market debt.  That’s how much money global investors have poured into in these government bonds in recent years —$1 trillion.  Who owns it, for how long and why it changes over time can shed light on the risks; a sudden reversal of money flowing out of a country can hurt.  Shifts in the investor base also can have implications for a government’s borrowing costs.

What investors do next is a big question for emerging markets, and our new analysis takes some of the guesswork out of who owns your debt.   The more you know your investors, the better you understand the potential risks and how to deal with them.

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The Lessons of the North Atlantic Crisis for Economic Theory and Policy

Joseph_E._StiglitzGuest post by: Joseph E. Stiglitz
Columbia University, New York, and co-host of the Conference on Rethinking Macro Policy II: First Steps and Early Lessons

(Versions in 中文, Français, 日本語, and Русский)

In analyzing the most recent financial crisis, we can benefit somewhat from the misfortune of recent decades. The approximately 100 crises that have occurred during the last 30 years—as liberalization policies became  dominant—have given us a wealth of experience and mountains of data.  If we look over a 150 year period, we have an even richer data set.

With a century and half of clear, detailed information on crisis after crisis, the burning question is not How did this happen? but How did we ignore that long history, and think that we had solved the problems with the business cycle? Believing that we had made big economic fluctuations a thing of the past took a remarkable amount of hubris.

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Rethinking Macroeconomic Policy

blanchBy Olivier Blanchard

(Versions in عربي中文FrançaisРусский, and Español)

The IMF has just hosted a second conference devoted to rethinking macroeconomic policy in the wake of the crisis. After two days of fascinating presentations and discussions, I am certain of one thing:  this is unlikely to be our last conference on the subject.

Rethinking and reforms are both taking place.  But we still do not know the final destination, be it for the redefinition of monetary policy, or the contours of financial regulation, or the role of macroprudential tools. We have a general sense of direction, but we are largely navigating by sight.

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