Beyond the Austerity Debate: the Deficit Bias in the post-Bretton Woods Era


By Carlo Cottarelli

(Version in Español)

The austerity vs. growth debate has raged in recent months, pitting those who argue that fiscal policy should be tightened more aggressively now to bring down high levels of debt, even though economic growth remains weak, against those who want to postpone the adjustment to better times. This is a critical issue for policymakers, perhaps the most important one in the short run.

And yet, this debate—which, mea culpa, I have myself contributed to―is attracting too much attention.

This is bad for two reasons:

  • The debate is driven, to some degree, by ideology and is therefore more focused on the relatively limited areas of disagreement than on the far broader areas of agreement. Most economists would agree that fiscal consolidation is needed in advanced economies, and that the average annual pace of adjustment during 2011-12―about 1 percentage point―is neither too aggressive nor excessively slow. Most economists would also agree that countries under pressure from markets have to adjust at a faster pace, while those that do not face such constraints have more time. Of course, there is disagreement on some aspects of the fiscal strategy, but it relates to specific country cases.
  • The debate is detracting attention from policy issues that may seem less urgent, but which are nevertheless critical in the medium term. I am referring to what I would call the institutional gaps in fiscal policymaking that still exist in most advanced and emerging economies. These gaps have contributed to a bias in the conduct of fiscal policy in favor of deficits that is behind many of the current problems.

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How to Get the Balance Right: Fiscal Policy At a Time of Crisis


By Anders Borg and Christine Lagarde

Last autumn was a turbulent time for Europe. The debt crisis deepened and financial markets became embroiled in turmoil, driven by fears of widespread restructuring of public debt. The crisis has harmed growth, increased unemployment, and left a large number of people less protected.

We are now seeing some signs of stabilization. Most countries are reducing their deficits and even if debt ratios are still rising, the return back to fiscal health has begun.

The International Monetary Fund and the Swedish Ministry of Finance are hosting an international conference in Stockholm on May 7-8, with the purpose of sharing knowledge and providing guidance on the best way to achieve fiscal consolidation, and on the role that effective fiscal policy frameworks and institutions can play in this endeavor.

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Seven Billion Reasons to Worry: the Financial Impact of Living Longer


By S. Erik Oppers

Everyone wants at some point to stop working and enjoy retirement.  In these uncertain economic times, most people worry about their pension. Now take your worries and multiply those several billion times. This is the scale of the pension problem. And the problem is likely bigger still: although living longer, healthier lives is a good thing, how do you afford retirement if you will live even longer than previously thought?

This so-called longevity risk, as discussed in the IMF’s Global Financial Stability Report has serious implications for global financial and fiscal stability, and needs to be addressed now.

Here’s the issue: governments have done their analysis of aging largely based on best guesses of population developments. These developments include further drops in fertility and some further increase in longevity. The trouble is that in the past, longevity has been consistently and substantially underestimated. We all live much longer now than had been expected 30, 20, and even just 10 years ago. So there is a good chance people will live longer than we expect now. We call this longevity risk—the risk we all live longer than anticipated.

Risky business

Why is that a risk, you may ask. We all like to live longer, healthy lives. Sure, but let’s now return to those pension worries. If you retire at 65 and plan your retirement finances expecting to live another 20 years (assuming you have enough savings for at least that period), you would face a serious personal financial crisis if you actually live to 95, or— well in your 100s.

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