The Future of the State Revisited: Reforming Public Expenditure


By: Sanjeev Gupta and Martine Guerguil

(Version in EspañolFrançaisРусский中文, and 日本語)

The global financial crisis brought to the fore the question of sustainability of public finances. But it merely exacerbated a situation that was bound to attract attention sooner or later—governments all over the world have been spending more and more in recent decades. Here at the IMF, we’ve been looking into the factors behind this increase in public spending, particularly social spending, and our latest Fiscal Monitor report discusses some of the options for spending reform.

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Socrates & the Pope: Overheard at the IMF’s Spring Meetings


By IMFdirect editors

Socrates’ famous method to develop his students’ intellect was to question them relentlessly in an unending search for contradictions and the truth—or at the very least, a great quote.

The method was alive and well among the moderators, panelists and audiences of the IMF’s Spring Meetings seminars that took place alongside official discussions, where boosting high-quality growth, with a focus on the medium term, was at the top of the agenda.  Our editors fanned out and found a couple of big themes kept coming up.  Here are some of the highlights.

Monetary policy 

Lots of people are talking about what happens when the flood of easy money into emerging markets thanks to low interest rates in advanced economies like the United States slows even more than it has in the past year.

At a seminar on fiscal policy the discussion focused on the challenges facing policymakers as central banks slowly exit from unconventional monetary policy and interest rates begin rising.

A live poll of the audience found 63 percent said the global economy remains weak and unconventional monetary policies should remain in place.

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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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If China Sneezes, Africa Can Now Catch a Cold


By Paulo Drummond and Estelle Xue Liu

(Version in  中文)

Growing links with China have supported economic growth in sub-Saharan Africa. But the burgeoning commercial and financial ties between the developing subcontinent and the world’s second-biggest economy carry risks as well. These links also expose sub-Saharan African countries to potentially negative spillovers from China if the Asian giant’s growth slows or the composition of its demand changes.

The old aphorism “If America sneezes, the world catches a cold” referred to the U.S. economy’s role as a locomotive for the global economy, but it can now apply to any symbiotic relationship between a dominant economy and its clients. China has become a major development partner of sub-Saharan Africa. It is now the subcontinent’s largest single trading partner and a key investor and provider of aid.

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Meeting Rising Pressures to Address Income Inequality—A User’s Guide


By Sanjeev Gupta and Michael Keen

(Version in  EspañolFrançaisРусский中文 and 日本語)

These are difficult times for ministers of finance. Fiscal constraints are tight and raising economic growth a priority. At the same time, income inequality is on the rise, and so is public pressure for governments to do something about it through their tax and spending policies. What’s a minister to do? How can he or she meet these seemingly incompatible demands?

A new IMF paper provides some guidance. Governments, of course, will have their own equity objectives. What the paper aims to do is look at precisely how countries can achieve their distributional goals—whatever they are—at the least possible cost to (and maybe even increasing) economic efficiency. This can help achieve sustainable growth and, in many cases, lead to fiscal savings. An earlier study by IMF researchers found that on average, fiscal redistribution has been associated with higher growth, because it helps reduce inequality.

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Financial Crises: Taking Stock


Stijn ClaessensBy Stijn Claessens

Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.

The world has been littered with many financial crises over the centuries, yet many a time these lessons are ignored, and crises recur.  Indeed, there are many clear lessons on the causes of past crises, the severity of their consequences, and how future crises can be prevented or better managed when they occur.

This applies to the 2007-09 global financial crisis that brought colossal disruptions in asset and credit markets, massive erosions of wealth, and unprecedented numbers of bankruptcies.  Six years after the crisis began, its lingering effects are still visible in advanced and emerging markets alike. It is, therefore, a good time to take stock.

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Treating Inequality with Redistribution: Is the Cure Worse than the Disease?


By Jonathan D. Ostry and Andrew Berg

(Version in FrançaisPortuguêsРусский中文)

Rising income inequality looms high on the global policy agenda, reflecting not only fears of its pernicious social and political effects, (including questions about the consistency of extreme inequality with democratic governance), but also the economic implications. While positive incentives are surely needed to reward work and innovation, excessive inequality is likely to undercut growth, for example by undermining access to health and education, causing investment-reducing political and economic instability, and thwarting the social consensus required to adjust in the face of major shocks.

Understandably, economists have been trying to understand better the links between rising inequality and the fragility of economic growth. Recent narratives include how inequality intensified the leverage and financial cycle, sowing the seeds of crisis; or how political-economy factors, especially the influence of the rich, allowed financial excess to balloon ahead of the crisis.

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Jobs and Growth: Supporting the European Recovery


MD's Updated HeadshotBy Christine Lagarde

(Version in Français and Español)

As we begin the new year, Europe confronts both good and bad news. First the good news. Growth is finally picking up in the euro area as it is slowly emerging from the deep recession.  The bad news? Still nearly 20 million people are unemployed. Until the effects on employment have been reversed, we cannot say that the crisis is over.

Two trends are particularly troubling, now and for the future. First, the high level of long-term unemployment gives me great cause for concern: almost half of those without a job have been unemployed for more than a year. Second, I still worry about the large number of young people without jobs: nearly one quarter of Europeans under the age of 25 who are looking for a job cannot find one. In Italy and Portugal, more than one third of under-25s are unemployed, and in Spain and Greece more than one half are.

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Finish the Job on Financial Regulation


GFSRBy José Viñals

Brisbane and Basel may be 10,000 miles apart, but when it comes to financial regulation the two cities will be standing cheek by jowl.

At the next summit of the Group of Twenty advanced and emerging economies, to be held in Brisbane in November, political leaders will take the pulse of the global financial regulatory reform agenda, launched five years ago. The explicit goal of the Australian G-20 presidency is to finally complete these essential reforms. As Prime Minister Tony Abbott said today in Davos, “Financial regulation is always a work-in-progress, but these reforms now need to be finalized in ways that promote confidence without eliminating risk.”

I strongly support this extra push to create a safer financial system that can better support the needs of the real economy, and better protect taxpayers. For far too long, critics have been able to portray the G-20 reform agenda as a regulatory supertanker stuck in the shallow waters of technical complexity, financial industry pushback, and diverging national views. This image is increasingly off the mark.

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