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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Advanced Economies Strengthening, Emerging Market Economies Weakening


WEOBy Olivier Blanchard

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

The issue probably foremost on everyone’s mind, is the fiscal situation in the United States, and its potential implications.

While the focus is on the shutdown and the debt ceiling,  we should not forget the sequester, which is leading to a fiscal consolidation this year which is both too large and too arbitrary. The shutdown is yet another bad outcome, although one which, if it does not last very long, has limited economic consequences.  

Failure to lift the debt ceiling would, however, be a game changer.  Prolonged failure would lead to an extreme fiscal consolidation, and surely derail the U.S. recovery. But the effects of any failure to repay the debt would be felt right away, leading to potentially major disruptions in financial markets, both in the U.S. and abroad.   We see this as a tail risk, with low probability, but, were it to happen, it would have major consequences.

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Global Outlook—Still Three Speeds, But Slower


2010 WEO BLANCHARD By Olivier Blanchard

Today we released our update of the World Economic Outlook.

The world economy remains in 3-speed mode.  Emerging markets are still growing rapidly.  The US recovery is steady.  And much of Europe continues to struggle. 

There is however a twist to the story.   Growth almost everywhere is a bit weaker than we forecast in April, and the downward revision is particularly noticeable in emerging markets.  After years of strong growth, the BRICS in particular are beginning to run into speed bumps.  This means that the focus of policies will increasingly need to turn to boosting potential output growth or, in the case of China, to achieving more sustainable and balanced growth.

What the Numbers Show

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The Cat in the Tree and Further Observations: Rethinking Macroeconomic Policy


akerlofGuest post by George A. Akerlof
University of California, Berkeley
Senior Resident Scholar at the IMF, and co-host of the Conference on Rethinking Macro Policy II: First Steps and Early Lessons

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

I learned a lot from the conference , and I’m very thankful to all the speakers.  Do I have an image of the whole thing?  I don’t know whether my image is going to help anybody at all, but my view is that it’s as if a cat has climbed a huge tree. It’s up there, and oh my God, we have this cat up there.  The cat, of course, is this huge crisis.

And everybody at the conference has been commenting about what we should do about this stupid cat and how do we get it down and what do we do.  What I find so wonderful about this conference is all the speakers have their own respective image of the cat, and nobody has the same opinion.  But then, occasionally, those opinions mesh.  That’s my image of what we have been accomplishing.

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Debt in a Time of Protests


by Nemat Shafik

As the world economy continues to struggle, people are taking to the streets by the thousands to protest painful cuts in public spending designed to reduce government debt and deficits. This fiscal fury is understandable.

People want to regain the confidence they once had about the future when the economy was booming and more of us had jobs.

But after a protracted economic crisis, this will take planning, fair burden-sharing, and time itself.

If history is any guide, there is no silver bullet to debt reduction. Experience shows that it takes time to reduce government debt and deficits. Sustained efforts over many years will ultimately lead to success.

Most countries have made significant headway in rolling back fiscal deficits. By the end of next year in more than half of the world’s advanced economies, and about the same share of emerging markets, we expect deficits —adjusted for the economic cycle—to be at the same level or lower than before the global economic crisis hit in 2008.

But with a sluggish recovery, efforts at controlling debt stocks are taking longer to yield results, particularly in advanced economies. Gross public debt is nearing 80 percent of GDP on average for advanced economies—over 100 percent in several of them—and we do not expect it to stabilize before 2014-15.

So what can governments do to ease the pain and pave the way for successful debt reduction?

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United States: How Inequality Affects Saving Behavior


By Oya Celasun

(Version in Español)

The incomes of U.S. households have become more unevenly distributed over the past three decades. For example, the Congressional Budget Office estimates that after-tax income almost tripled for the top 1 percent of households between 1980 and 2007, but grew only 22 percent for the bottom 20 percent.

Recent research has focused on the link between income inequality and growth, but less attention has been paid to the link between inequality and savings. So together with a few colleagues we have looked at how income distribution is linked to saving behavior.

Saving rates matter because they are an important factor for the U.S. economic outlook. The decline in the saving rate in the years leading up to the crisis (from 10 percent of after-tax income in 1980 to 1.5 percent in 2005) is the mirror image of the unsustainable boom in consumer spending during the bubble years.

Following the crisis, sharp losses in the values of houses and financial assets, as well as difficulties in obtaining new credit, forced American families to save more and rebuild their wealth. The ensuing rise in the saving rate, which stood at 4 percent in the second quarter of 2012, has been an important reason why the recovery from the 2008–09 recession has been sluggish.

Therefore, our study looked at which types of households drove the aggregate saving rate down before the crisis and those that drove it up afterwards, so as to improve our ability to assess the potential for future U.S. growth.

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Top 20 — iMFdirect’s Top 20 list


Three years after the launch of iMFdirect as a forum for discussing economic issues around the world, we look back at some of our most popular posts.

The IMF blog has helped stimulate considerable debate about economic policy in the current crisis, on events in Europe and around the world in Asia, Africa, Latin America, and the Middle East, on fiscal adjustment, on regulating the financial sector, and the future of macroeconomics–as economists learn lessons from the Great Recession.

As readers struggled to understand the implications of the crisis, our most popular post by far was IMF Chief Economist Olivier Blanchard’s Four Hard Truths, a look back at 2011 and the economic lessons for the future.

Here’s our Top 20 list of our most popular posts by subject (from more than 300 posts):

1.  Global Crisis: Four Hard Truths; Driving With the Brakes On

2.  Financial Stability: What’s Still to Be Done?

3.  Fiscal Policy:  Ten Commandments ; Striking the Right Balance

4.  Macroeconomic Policy: Rewriting the Playbook;  Nine Tentative Conclusions ; Future Study

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U.S. Fiscal Policy: Avoiding Self-Inflicted Wounds


by Gian Maria Milesi-Ferretti

(Version in Español)

The United States and much of the world economy are still recovering from the devastating global recession that began in 2008. Sometimes crises happen that we cannot foresee or avoid.

But for the U.S. economy, serious risks could come at the end of this year from two potential self-inflicted wounds: the so-called “fiscal cliff” and the debt ceiling.

Let’s start with the fiscal cliff. In simple terms: if U.S. policymakers do nothing, a number of temporary tax cuts will expire and significant across-the-board spending reductions will kick in on January 1, 2013. The combined effect of these measures could result in a huge fiscal contraction, which would derail the economic recovery.

Why is this happening?

The payroll tax break, the Bush tax cuts (enacted in 2001 and 2003, and extended for two years at the end of 2010), as well as exemptions on the Alternative Minimum Tax are set to expire on January 1, 2013.

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Lessons from Latvia


By Olivier Blanchard

In 2008, Latvia was widely seen as an economic “basket case,” a textbook example of a boom turned to bust.

From 2005 to 2007, average annual growth had exceeded 10%, the current account deficit had increased to more than 20% of GDP.  By early 2008 however, the boom had come to an end, and, by the end of 2008, output was down by 10% from its peak, the fiscal deficit was shooting up, capital was leaving the country, and reserves were rapidly decreasing.

The treatment seemed straightforward: a sharp nominal depreciation, together with a steady fiscal consolidation.  The Latvian government however, wanted to keep its currency peg, partly because of a commitment to eventually enter the euro, partly because of the fear of immediate balance sheet effects of devaluation on domestic loans, 90% of them denominated in euros.  And it believed that credibility required strong frontloading of the fiscal adjustment.

Painful adjustment

Many, including me, believed that keeping the peg was likely to be a recipe for disaster, for a long and painful adjustment at best, or more likely, the eventual abandonment of the peg when failure became obvious.

Nevertheless, given the strong commitment of both Latvia and its European Union partners, the IMF went ahead with a program which kept the peg and included a strongly front-loaded fiscal adjustment.

Four years later, Latvia has one of the highest growth rates in Europe, the peg has held, and the fiscal and current accounts are close to balance.

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Imagining If Key Foreign Banks Start Reducing Their Exposure in Asia


By Anoop Singh

European banks play an important role in supplying credit to several Asian economies. What happens if they start reducing their exposure to the region?

The largest borrowers from European banks are Australia, Hong Kong SAR, Korea, Malaysia, New Zealand, Singapore, and Taiwan Province of China, while China, India, and the economies of South East Asia generally have smaller liabilities.

Among European banks, those from the United Kingdom have a particularly significant presence in Asia. For most regional economies, the nonbank private sector—businesses and households—is the main recipient of credit from foreign banks as a whole.

Prominent role

European banks play a prominent role in the areas of trade credit and specialized project financing. In several Asian economies, however, lending by local subsidiaries and branches is funded primarily by local deposits, reducing potential deleveraging pressures.

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