When Is Repaying Public Debt Not Of The Essence?


By Jonathan D. Ostry and Atish R. Ghosh

Financial bailouts, stimulus spending, and lower revenues during the Great Recession have resulted in some of the highest public debt ratios seen in advanced economies in the past forty years. Recent debates have centered on the pace at which to pay down this debt, with few questions being asked about whether the debt needs to be paid down in the first place.

A radical solution for high debt is to do nothing at all—just live with it. Indeed, from a welfare economics perspective—abstracting from real world problems such as rollover risk—this would be optimal. We explore this issue in our recent work. While there are some countries where clearly debt needs to be brought down, there are others that are in a more comfortable position to fund themselves at exceptionally low interest rates, and that could indeed simply live with their debt (allowing their debt ratio to decline through growth or windfall revenues).

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Don’t Rule it Out: Simplifying Fiscal Governance in Europe


By Petya Koeva Brooks and Gerd Schwartz

The 2008 global financial crisis and its aftermath have tested the European Union’s (EU) fiscal governance framework—the rules, regulations, and procedures that influence how budgetary policy is planned, approved, carried out, and monitored. Given the distinctive nature of EU integration, the framework aims to discipline national fiscal policies to prevent adverse spillovers to other countries and distortions to the conduct of the euro area’s common monetary policy.

The build-up of fiscal imbalances, however, revealed gaps in the framework. Public debt in the European Union soared following the crisis in 2008 to an average of around 95 percent in 2014—almost 30 percentage points above its average pre-crisis level (Chart 1).

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Growth Dividend from Stabilizing Fiscal Policies


Xavier DebrunBy Xavier Debrun 

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

Anyone can easily picture an economy where instability, stagnation and runaway government deficits converge into a perfect storm. Yet the simple mirror image of stability, growth, and balanced budgets currently seems odd to many. And with monetary policy looking breathless, some even wonder whether sacrificing fiscal sanity for short-term growth might not be worth a try.

In any economic debate, looking at the data is always a good starting point. And the latest issue of the Fiscal Monitor does exactly that. Our study looks at the experience with fiscal stabilization during the past three decades in a broad sample of 85 advanced, emerging market, and developing economies. The message is loud and clear: governments can use fiscal policy to smooth fluctuations in economic activity, and this can lead to higher medium-term growth. This essentially means governments need to save in good times so that they can use the budget to stabilize output in bad times. In advanced economies, making fiscal policies more stabilizing could cut output volatility by about 15 percent, with a growth dividend of about 0.3 percentage point annually.

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Fiscal Arrangements in Federations: Four Lessons for Europe


Martine GuerguilBy Martine Guerguil 

Does the European Union need closer fiscal integration, and in particular a stronger fiscal center, to become more resilient to economic shocks? A new IMF book, Designing a European Fiscal Union: Lessons from the Experience of Fiscal Federations, published by Routledge, examines the experience of 13 federal states to help inform the debate on this issue. It analyzes in detail their practices in devolving responsibilities from the subnational to the central level, compares them to those of the European Union, and draws lessons for a possible future fiscal union in Europe.

The book sets out to answer three sets of questions: (1) What is the role of centralized fiscal policies in federations, and hence the size, features, and functions of the central budget? (2) What institutional arrangements are used to coordinate fiscal policy between the federal and subnational levels? (3) What are the links between federal and subnational debt, and how have subnational financing crises been handled, when they occurred?

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What’s not to love about free data


By iMFdirect

The IMF has released a new, free online data tool.

You can find all sorts of good stuff: from budget numbers to balance of payments data, debt statistics to critical global indicators.  Good data supports good policy choices. With reliable and timely economic data, people can identify turning points in the economy or see looming risks.

*Wonky Warning* The data platform provides greater dynamic data visualizations, which show development over time and interact with each other. It includes a richer library of statistical tools, such as forecasting, smoothing, and aggregation. The platform strengthens the narrative and analysis of any data and allows users to customize their data experience.

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Housing Bubbles: An Ounce of Prevention is Worth a Pound of Cure


By Kevin Fletcher and Peter Kunzel

The main features of boom-bust cycles in housing markets are by now all too familiar.

During booms, conditions such as lax lending standards and low interest rates help drive up house prices and with them mortgage debt.

When the bust arrives, over-indebted households find themselves underwater on their mortgages— owing more than their homes are worth.

Feeling the pinch of reduced wealth and access to credit, households, in turn, rein in consumption. At the same time, lower house prices cause investment in new houses to tumble.

Together, these forces significantly depress output and increase unemployment. Non-performing loans increase, and banks respond by tightening credit and lending standards, further depressing house prices and adding to the vicious cycle.

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It’s Unofficial!


DSC_7906By Sabina Bhatia 

I know it might sound odd, but I actually like the IMF-World Bank Annual Meetings. I know the traffic snarls on Pennsylvania Avenue are terrible, Washington cabbies ruder than ever, lots of men in dark suits (and sadly, they are still mostly men), and there is the constant rush from meeting to meeting.

But beyond the long lines, long hours, cold coffee and the constant buzz of communiqués, press releases, and scores of official meetings, I find my place in the  rich and stimulating discussions among the non-official community.

This year, over 600 civil society organizations, including members of parliament, academics, and several youth and labor groups, came to the meetings. They deliberated, discussed and debated some thorny issues. The burning issues close to their hearts? Not that different from what officials are also debating.  Here is some of what I heard:

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