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?

Continue reading

Fiscal Adjustment: Too Much of a Good Thing?


By Carlo Cottarelli

(Versions in  عربي中文EspañolFrançais, Русский, 日本語)

The IMF has argued for some time that the very high public debt ratios in many advanced economies should be brought down to safer levels through a gradual and steady process. Doing either too little or too much both involve risks: not enough fiscal adjustment could lead to a loss of market confidence and a fiscal crisis, potentially killing growth; but too much adjustment will hurt growth directly.

At times over the last couple of years we called on countries to step up the pace of adjustment when we thought they were moving too slowly.

Instead, in the current environment, I worry that some might be going too fast.

Risk to recovery

The latest update of the Fiscal Monitor shows that fiscal adjustment is proceeding pretty quickly in the advanced economies—on average the deficit is projected to fall by a total of 2 percentage points of GDP in 2011-12. The decline is even larger in the euro area—about 3 percentage points of GDP. In a reasonably good growth environment this pace of adjustment would be fine. But in the current weaker macroeconomic environment bringing deficits down this quickly could pose a risk for the economic recovery. Continue reading

Latin America: What’s Ahead in 2012?


By Nicolás Eyzaguirre

(Version in Español, Português)

A few days after the first sunrise of 2012 kissed the shores of Latin America, it is natural to ask: What does the New Year hold for the region’s economies, especially with Europe still under stress?

For sure, a dimmer economic environment, here and abroad. Growth has softened in the larger countries of the region. Looking North, the United States is growing a bit more, but elsewhere activity is softening, including in China—an increasingly important customer for the region’s commodities.

Perhaps more importantly, global financial markets are still strained, because many questions about advanced economies remain unanswered:    Continue reading

Resolve and Determination—How We Get Out of This Together


By Christine Lagarde

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

This past weekend, 187 countries came together in Washington D.C. to focus on the economic crisis facing the world.

They were here for the 2011 Annual Meeting of the IMF and World Bank, at which finance ministers and central bank governors mix with businesspeople, civil society, labor leaders, and parliamentarians to discuss the critical issues we face.

Coming in to this Meeting, I had warned of a dangerous new phase now facing the global economy and had called for bold and collective action. Coming out of the Meeting, I feel strongly that the global community is beginning to respond.

Why? Three reasons: a shared sense of urgency, a shared diagnosis of the problems, and a shared sense that the steps needed in the period ahead are now coming into focus. Continue reading

The Danger Zone: Financial Stability Risks Soar


By José Viñals

(Versions in عربيFrançais日本語, and Русский)

We are back in the danger zone. Since the IMF’s previous Global Financial Stability Report, financial stability risks have increased substantially—reversing some of the progress that had been made over the previous three years.

 Several shocks have recently buffeted the global financial system: unequivocal signs of a broader global economic slowdown; fresh market turbulence in the euro area; and the credit downgrade of the United States.

This has thrown us into a crisis of confidence driven by three main factors: weak growth, weak balance sheets, and weak politics. Continue reading

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