Public Finances Are on the Mend, but No Clean Bill of Health


By Sanjeev Gupta and Martine Guerguil

(Version in Español FrançaisРусский中文, and 日本語)

We’ve had a spate of good news on the economic front recently. Does this mean that we are finally out of the fiscal woods? According to our most recent Fiscal Monitor report, not yet, as public debt remains high and the recovery uneven.

First, the good news. The average deficit in advanced economies has halved since the 2009 peak. The average debt ratio is stabilizing. Growth is strengthening in the United States and making a comeback in the euro area, and should benefit from the slower pace of consolidation this year. Emerging markets and developing countries have maintained their resilience, in part thanks to the policy buffers accumulated in the pre-crisis period. Talks of tapering in the United States have left a few of them shaken, but not (quite) stirred.

But there is still some way to go. The average debt ratio in advanced economies, although edging down, sits at historic peaks, and we project it will still remain above 100 percent of GDP by 2019 (Chart 1). The recovery is still vulnerable to several downside risks, including those stemming from the lack of clear policy plans in some major economies. The recent bouts of financial turmoil have raised concerns that the anticipated tightening of global liquidity could expose emerging markets and low-income countries to shifts in investor sentiment and more demanding debt dynamics.

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The Evolution of Monetary Policy: More Art and Less Science


By Giovanni Dell’Ariccia and Karl Habermeier

The global financial crisis shook monetary policy in advanced economies out of the almost complacent routine into which it had settled since Paul Volcker’s Fed beat inflation in the United States in the early 1980s.

Simply keep inflation low and stable, target a short-term interest rate, and regulate and supervise financial institutions, the mantra went, and all will be well.

Of course many scholars and policymakers, especially in emerging markets, were skeptical of this simple creed. But they did not make much headway against a doctrine seemingly well-buttressed by sophisticated theoretical models, voluminous empirical research, and over 20 years of “Great Moderation” —low inflation and output volatility. All of that has changed since the crisis, and ideas that were once marginal have now moved to center stage.

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India’s Investment Slowdown: The High Cost of Economic Policy Uncertainty


By Rahul Anand and Volodymyr Tulin

India, after witnessing spectacular growth averaging above 9 percent over the past decade, has started to slow in the last few years. The slump in infrastructure and corporate investment has been the single biggest contributor to India’s recent growth slowdown.

India’s investment growth, averaging above 12 percent during the last decade fell to less than one percent in the last two years. What is especially worrisome is that more and more investment projects are getting delayed and shelved, while the pipeline of new projects has become exceptionally thin.

This slowdown has sparked an intense public debate about its causes. Some commentators, including representatives of the business community, argue that high interest rates, which raise financing costs, are the major culprit, dampening investment.  Others maintain that interest rates are only partly responsible for the current weak levels of investment, suggesting that a host of other factors, particularly on the supply side, are at play.

Our new Working Paper seeks to shed some light on the reasons behind this investment malaise. Using a novel index of economic policy uncertainty—an innovation in our analysis—we find that heightened uncertainty regarding the future course of broader economic policies and deteriorating business confidence have played a significant role in the recent investment slowdown. 

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Abenomics—Time for a Push from Higher Wages


By Dennis Botman and Zoltan Jakab 

(Version in  日本語)

Japan’s economic progress over the past year has been impressive, with strong growth, and inflation, investment, and credit growth all heading in the right direction. But that progress is largely the result of last year’s sizable fiscal and monetary stimulus—the first two arrows of “Abenomics”. Now, the economy needs to transition to more sustainable, private-sector led growth. A hike in wages could be just the push needed to propel that shift.

As the ongoing annual wage-bargaining round draws to a close, total earnings are set to increase this year for employees at some well-known car manufacturers.  But, in the past, these increases have not trickled down to higher basic wages at small and medium-sized enterprises and to non-regular workers. This is problematic as higher inflation without higher incomes can hardly be characterized as a successful reform.

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Are Jobs and Growth Still Linked?


Prakash LounganiBy Prakash Loungani 

(Version in Español)

Over 200 million people are unemployed around the globe today, over a fifth of them in advanced economies. Unemployment rates in these economies shot up at the onset of the Great Recession and, five years later, remain very high. Some argue that this is to be expected given that the economy remains well below trend and press for greater easing of macroeconomic policies (e.g. Krugman, 2011, Kocherlakota (2014)). Others suggest that the job losses, particularly in countries like Spain and Ireland, have been too large to be explained by developments in output, and may largely reflect structural problems in their labor markets. Even in the United States, where unemployment rates have fallen over the past year, there is concern that increasing numbers of people are dropping out of the labor force, thus decoupling jobs and growth.

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Less Red Tape, More Credit: How the Private Sector Can Flourish in the Middle East


Min ZhuBy Min Zhu

(Versions in عربي)

To almost all economists it is clear that the private sector is critically important in creating jobs and achieving strong growth. The public sector is already overburdened in most countries. But what is not clear is how to support the private sector for it to play this important role.

To shed some light on how to facilitate strong job creation and growth by the private sector in the Middle East and North Africa, we held a conference in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, in December 2013, jointly with the Council of Saudi Chambers and the International Finance Corporation.

As the date of the conference approached, registrations kept increasing, and by the time we opened the conference, the registration numbers had skyrocketed to more than 800! I can think of no better sign of the importance of this topic for the people in this region.

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Pakistan: The Realities of Economic Reform


Jeffrey FranksBy Jeffrey Franks

(Version in اردو)

Following my most recent visit to Pakistan I noticed there seem to be many different and contradictory views about the government’s reform agenda supported by the IMF program. This piece addresses some of the key concerns on people’s minds.

1. The IMF dictated the content of the program.

The government mostly produced the policies supported in this program, which respond to key challenges facing Pakistan today.

The economic section of the PML-N party manifesto shows that most of the policies agreed with the IMF were actually those proposed by Prime Minister Sharif and his team before the elections, such as: fiscal consolidation, tax reform, measures to tackle the energy crisis, restructuring and privatizations of public sector enterprises, trade policy reforms, and steps to boost the investment climate.

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The Time is Nigh: How Reforms Can Bring Back Productivity Growth in Emerging Markets


By  Era Dabla-Norris and Kalpana Kochar

(Version in Español)

The era of remarkable growth in many emerging market economies fueled by cheap money and high commodity prices may very well be coming to an end.

The slowdown reflects not just inadequate global demand, but also structural factors that are rendering previous growth engines less effective, and the fact that economic “good times” reduced the incentives to implement further reforms to enhance productivity. With the end of the period of favorable global financing and trade conditions, the time is nigh for governments to make strong efforts to increase productivity—the essential foundation of sustainable growth and rising living standards. Continue reading

International Policy Coordination: The Loch Ness Monster


By Olivier Blanchard, Jonathan D. Ostry, and Atish R. Ghosh

International policy coordination is like the Loch Ness monster: much discussed but rarely seen. Going back over the decades, and even further in history to the period between the Great Wars, coordination efforts have been episodic.

Coordination seems to occur spontaneously in turbulent periods, when the world faces the prospect of some calamitous outcome and the key players are seeking to avoid cascading negative spillovers. In quieter times, coordination is rarer—though not unheard of; the Louvre and Plaza accords are examples.

Today, policy coordination has resurfaced as a hot topic: while the worst of the global financial crisis is behind us, no one would claim that a return to “Great Moderation” is in the cards, and policymakers around the globe appear worried about policy transmissions across many dimensions.

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Unleashing Brazil’s Growth


By Martin Kaufman and Mercedes García-Escribano

(Version in Español and Português)

Since the early 2000s, Brazil’s economy has grown at a robust clip, with growth in 2010 reaching 7.5 percent—its strongest in a quarter of a century. A key pillar of its hard-won economic success has been sound economic policies and the adoption of far-reaching social programs, which resulted in a substantial decline in poverty.

In the last couple of years Brazil’s growth slowed down. Although other emerging market economies experienced a similar slowdown, the growth outturns in Brazil were particularly disappointing. And the measures taken to stimulate the economy did not produce a sustained recovery. This is because unleashing sustained growth in Brazil requires measures geared not at stimulating domestic demand but at changing the composition of demand towards investment and at increasing productivity.

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