A Glimpse of the Future

Jeff Hayden altby Jeff Hayden

One of my favorite car trips in the United States heads east out of Los Angeles and runs through the windswept San Gorgonio Pass, gateway to the Mojave and Sonoran deserts. I’m a fan of the drive on Interstate 10 not only because it affords access to a dramatic desert landscape but also because the funnel-like pass at San Gorgonio prompts thoughts about the planet’s energy future.

The pass—one of the windiest places in the United States—is home to the San Gorgonio Pass Wind Farm, an array of more than 4,000 turbines that harness wind to produce “clean”—non-fossil-fuel-based—energy. It’s a stunning sight, and I always wonder, is this what a sustainable energy future looks like? Can thousands of turbines sprawled over the landscape be part of society’s answer to a most pressing question: how to balance the massive need for energy to power economic growth and development while addressing our urgent need to sharply reduce carbon emissions, a chief contributor to climate change.

The question fuels intense debate—one that has become increasingly polarized and that frequently puts growth and sustainable energy in opposition. But are the two—growth and a more sustainable mix of energy sources—really enemies? Can a more benign mix of energy sources and technology bring power to the 1.3 billion people who don’t have it?

These questions, along with December’s United Nations climate summit in Paris, provided the inspiration for this issue of F&D.

The answers are complex but reassuring. Nicholas Stern of the London School of Economics argues that the twin challenges of fighting poverty and climate change are not mutually exclusive. And the International Labour Organization’s Peter Poschen says we need not choose between green and jobs.

Continuing with the energy theme, IMF economist Ian Parry looks at the practical problems of setting a price for carbon that reflects its true costs. And F&D analyzes the four major declines in oil prices in the past 30 years and finds an eerie similarity today to the prolonged slump that began in 1986.

On other topics, Paul Collier and coauthors look at the costs of treating and preventing HIV/AIDS in Africa. This issue of F&D also examines the high penalty countries pay when they default on sovereign debt, skewering the conventional wisdom that the costs of default are minimal, and includes articles on the bad effect elections have on intelligent decision making about public investment, the increasingly common practice of offering citizenship “for sale,” and China’s investment in Africa. And we profile economist Richard Layard, who says economics has strayed too far from its original purpose of promoting happiness and maximizing well-being.

Reviving Credit in the Euro Area

by Jean Portier and Luca Sanfilippo

A stock in excess of €900 billion of nonperforming loans continue to clutter the European banking system, impeding economic growth. This issue remains a key challenge for policy makers. As we show in our latest Global Financial Stability Report, part of the solution to address this legacy is an upgrade in legal systems. Current inefficiencies—long foreclosure times and insolvency procedures—are a reason for the gap between the value of loans on bank balance sheets and the price investors are willing to pay. A reliable legal environment and an efficient judicial system maximize the value of nonperforming loans (NPLs), reduce the value gap and give banks greater incentive to get NPLs off the books. Our analysis, using time to foreclose as a proxy for effective insolvency regimes, shows there is a large upside for new lending capacity in the euro area (Chart 1).

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The Effects of Wage Moderation: Can Internal Devaluations Work?

By Jorg Decressin and Prakash Loungani

Devaluation is often part of the remedy for a country in financial trouble. Devaluation boosts the competitiveness of a country’s exports and curtails imports by making them more costly. Together, the higher exports and the reduced imports generate some of the financial resources needed to help the country get out of trouble.

For countries that belong to—and want to stay in—a currency union, however, devaluation is not an option. This was the situation facing several euro area economies at the onset of the global financial crisis: capital had been flowing into these countries before the crisis but much of it fled when the crisis hit.

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Tackling Inequality in sub-Saharan Africa Could Yield Mileage on Growth

Antoinette Sayehby Antoinette Sayeh

(Versions in Français and Português)

Rising inequality is both a moral and economic issue that has implications for the general health of the global economy, and impacts prosperity and growth.

So it’s not surprising that reducing inequality is an integral part of the Sustainable Development Goals  adopted by world leaders at the United Nations summit in September. I often discuss with my colleagues where sub-Saharan Africa stands with respect to these objectives. Unfortunately, the region remains one of the most unequal in the world, on par with Latin America (see Chart 1). In fact, inequality seems markedly higher at all levels of income in the region than elsewhere (see Chart 2).

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Migration: A Global Issue in Need of a Global Solution

2014MDNEW_04By Christine Lagarde

(Versions in عربي中文Français, 日本語, РусскийTürk, and Español)

As the Group of Twenty leaders gather in Turkey this weekend, they will have on their minds heartbreaking images of displaced people fleeing countries gripped by armed conflict and economic distress.  The surge of refugees in the last few years has reached levels not seen in decades. And these numbers could increase further in the near future. 

The immediate priority must be to help the refugees—who bear the heaviest burden, and too often tragically—with better access to shelter, health care and quality education.

Many of the countries neighboring conflict zones—which have welcomed most of the refugees—have stretched their capacity to absorb people to the limit. To support additional public services for refugees, they will require more financial resources. The international community must play its part. With the IMF’s support, for example, Jordan has been able to adjust its fiscal targets to help meet this need.

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Bad Debt in Emerging Markets: Still Early Days

by John Caparusso, Yingyuan Chen, Evan Papageorgiou and Shamir Tanna

(Versions in 中文, PortuguêsРусский, and Español)

Emerging markets have had a great run. The fifteen largest emerging market economies grew by 48% from 2009 to 2014, a period when the Group of Twenty economies collectively expanded by 6%.

How did emerging markets sustain this growth? In part, they drew upon bank lending to drive corporate credit expansion, strong earnings, and low defaults. This credit boom, combined with falling commodity prices and foreign currency borrowing, now leaves emerging market firms vulnerable and financial sectors under stress, as we discuss in the latest Global Financial Stability Report.

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Corruption: A Hidden Tax on Growth

By Vitor Gaspar and Sean Hagan

(Versions in Español عربي中文Français日本語, Русскийعربي)

In recent years, citizens’ concerns about allegations of corruption in the public sector have become more visible and widespread. From São Paulo to Johannesburg, citizens have taken to the streets against graft. In countries like Chile, Guatemala, India, Iraq, Malaysia and Ukraine, they are sending a clear and loud message to their leaders: Address corruption!

Policymakers are paying attention too. Discussing corruption has long been a sensitive topic at inter-governmental organizations like the International Monetary Fund. But earlier this month at its Annual Meetings in Lima, Peru, the IMF hosted a refreshingly frank discussion on the subject.  The panel session provided a stimulating debate on definitions of corruption, its direct and indirect consequences, and strategies for addressing it, including the role that individuals and institutions such as the IMF can play. This blog gives a flavor of the discussion.

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