Top Five Policy Priorities to Brighten America’s Economic Future


Deniz IganBy Deniz Igan

(version in Español)

There was a time in the not-so-distant past when science fiction could make us look forward to a better world. We had uplifting visions of the future in shows like Star Trek and Back to the Future. Today, the menu of options only offers a dystopian world ruined by poverty and violence (think The Hunger Games, Divergent, or Elysium).

It sure is easy to get pessimistic these days. Six years after the financial crisis, the recovery in the United States has been fragile and weaker than anything we have seen in the post-WWII period. Growth figures, in large part, have been serial disappointments, disrupted by government shutdowns, debt ceiling showdowns, or meteorologically-triggered slowdowns.

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A Downturn Without Layoffs? Reconciling Growth And Labor Markets In Latin America


Bertrand Gruss 2By Bertrand Gruss 

(version in Español and Português)

It looks as if labor markets in Latin America have not been following the economic news—literally! Economic activity has slowed markedly in the last three years, with some South American countries slipping into outright recession more recently. Yet, labor markets still appear remarkably strong, with unemployment rates, in particular, hovering at record-low levels in most countries (Figure 1). So, what is going on? Has the region discovered how to defy the law of gravity?

ENG.WHD REO Fall.Chart 1

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Infrastructure Investment: Part of Africa’s Solution


Antoinette SayehBy Antoinette M. Sayeh

Tremendous efforts are under way to upgrade sub-Saharan Africa’s infrastructure. But the needs on the ground are still immense as evidenced by the frequent electricity blackouts, poor roads, and insufficient access to clean water in many countries.

Infrastructure is one of the key challenges facing policymakers in the region—I experienced it first hand when I was finance minister of Liberia before coming to the IMF. The benefits are fairly clear: with improved infrastructure, new growth opportunities in the manufacturing and services sector can be generated, barriers to intraregional trade can be reduced, and economies will be better positioned to transition from low to higher productivity activities. Without improved infrastructure, I fear the increase in productivity and greater economic diversification necessary to sustain Africa’s current growth momentum will not materialize.

In this spirit, in the latest Regional Economic Outlook: Sub-Saharan Africa economists from the IMF’s African Department looked at progress so far in addressing the infrastructure deficit and discussed policies needed going forward.

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Does Raising the Minimum Wage Hurt Employment? Evidence from China


Prakash LounganiBy Prakash Loungani

(version in 中文)

Raising the minimum wage is a polarizing issue. One side worries that raising it will lower employment. The other side downplays the impact on employment and plays up the positive impact on the living standards of the poor. Both sides are able to cling to their beliefs as the evidence, much of which comes from high-income (“advanced”) economies, is mixed.

The majority of the global labor force, however, is in the emerging markets. Moreover, for a number of these countries, instituting a minimum wage or raising it is squarely on the policy agenda. But little is known about the impacts of minimum wages on employment and living standards in emerging markets.

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Natural Gas: The New Gold


Rabah ArezkiBy Rabah Arezki

(version in Español)

Natural gas is creating a new reality for economies around the world.  Three major developments of the past few years have thrust natural gas into the spotlight: the shale gas revolution in the United States, the reduction in nuclear power supply following the Fukushima disaster in Japan, and geopolitical tensions between Russia and Ukraine.

What’s cooking

Over the last decade, the discovery of massive quantities of unconventional gas resources around the world has transformed global energy markets, and reshaped the geography of global energy trade (see map). Consumption of natural gas now accounts for nearly 25 percent of global primary energy consumption. Meanwhile, the share of oil has declined from 50 percent in 1970 to about 30 percent today.

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Good Governance Curbs Excessive Bank Risks


By Luis Brandão-Marques, Gaston Gelos, and Erik Oppers 

The global financial crisis reminded us that banks often take risks that are excessive from society’s point of view and can damage the economy. In part, this is the result of the incentives embedded in compensation practices and of inadequate monitoring by stakeholders.  Our analysis found the right policies could reduce banks risky behavior. 

Our findings

In our latest Global Financial Stability Report we take stock of recent developments in executive pay, corporate governance, and bank risk taking, and conduct a novel empirical analysis.

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A Mirage, Not An Oasis: Easy Money and Financial Markets


By Fabio Cortes, David Jones and Evan Papageorgiou

Low interest rates and other central bank policies in the United States have sent investors looking for higher returns on their investments. Money is pouring into mutual funds and exchange-traded funds, which is fueling a mispricing of credit and a build-up of risks to liquidity in the markets—the ability to trade in assets of any size, at any time, and to find a ready buyer.

Mutual funds and exchange-trade funds are the largest owners of U.S. corporate and foreign bonds (Chart 1). This means they provide a lot of credit to grease the wheels of the financial system because they have taken investors’ money and lent it to corporates.

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