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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Seeing Our Way Through The Crisis: Why We Need Fiscal Transparency


by Carlo Cottarelli

Version in Français

Without good fiscal information, governments can’t understand the fiscal risks they face or make good budget decisions. And unless that information is made public, citizens and their legislatures can’t hold governments accountable for those decisions.

Fiscal transparency—the public availability of timely, reliable, and relevant data on the past, present, and future state of the public finances—is thus crucial to the foundation of effective fiscal management.

A new paper from the IMF on fiscal transparency, accountability, and risk considers the progress we have made in opening up the “black box” of fiscal policymaking over the past decade, the lessons of the recent crisis for current fiscal reporting standards and practices, and the steps we need to take to revitalize the global fiscal transparency effort.

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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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How to Exit the Danger Zone: IMF Update on Global Financial Stability


By José Viñals

(Versions in  عربي, 中文, EspañolFrançaisРусский日本語)

Since September of last year, risks to global financial stability have deepened, notably in the euro area.

However, over the past few weeks, markets have been encouraged by measures to provide liquidity to banks and sovereigns in the euro area. This recent improvement should not be taken for granted, as some sovereign debt markets remain under stress, and as bank funding markets are on life support from the European Central Bank (ECB).

Main sources of risk

Many of the root causes of the euro area crisis still need to be addressed before the system is stabilized and returns to health. Until this is done, global financial stability is likely to remain well within the “danger zone,” where a misstep or failure to address underlying tensions could precipitate a global crisis with grave economic and financial consequences.

Despite the recent improvements, sovereign financing stress has increased for many countries—with almost two-thirds of outstanding euro area bonds at spreads in excess of 150 basis points—and financing prospects are challenging. Markets remain very volatile and long-term foreign investors have sharply reduced their exposure to a number of euro area debt markets, including some in the core. Keeping these investors involved is essential to stabilizing markets.

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How Iceland Recovered from its Near-Death Experience


 By Poul M. Thomsen

(Versions in Español and Français)

When I traveled to Reykjavik in October 2008 to offer the IMF’s assistance, the situation there was critical. The country’s three main banks—which made up almost the entire financial system—had just collapsed within a week of each other. The sense of fear and shock were palpable—few, if any, countries had ever experienced such a catastrophic economic crash.

There was a lot of concern that a disorderly depreciation of the exchange rate would be ruinous for households and companies if nothing was done or that deposit runs would cripple what was left of the financial system. The scale of the uncertainty was staggering―the three banks had assets worth more than 1,000 percent of GDP, and no one knew at that point how large the losses would turn out to be and how they would be divided between Icelanders and foreigners.

Today, three years later, it is worth reflecting on how far Iceland―a country of just 320,000 people―has come since those dark days back in 2008. Continue reading

Between a Rock and a Hard Place: U.S. Fiscal Policy


By Rodrigo Valdés

(Versions in عربي,  中文日本語EspañolFrançaisРусский)

The United States faces two pressing challenges to fiscal policy: raise the debt ceiling, and begin the arduous process of reducing deficits and debt.

And, right now, this leaves U.S. fiscal policy between a rock and a hard place. How much savings should be found and in what form are crucial questions. So is when to put those savings in effect. Continue reading

The Solution Is More, Not Less Europe


By Antonio Borges

(Versions in عربي,  中文, 日本語EspañolFrançais)

It is hard to hold the course in the middle of a storm, but European policymakers need to if they want European integration to succeed. The sovereign debt crisis is a serious challenge, which requires a strong and coordinated effort by all involved to finally put it behind us.

Surviving the storm will be of little consequence if the euro area finds itself trapped in the perpetual winter of low growth. Germany may be expanding at record speed right now, but it wasn’t so long ago when it grew much more slowly—just 1.5 percent per year between 1995 and 2007. In contrast, Sweden grew by 3 percent a year and the United States by 2 percent during the same period.

Many experts fear that without reforms, growth in Germany could drop even lower in the next 5‑10 years and beyond when global trade cools again. The situation is worse in the countries that currently find themselves in the eye of the storm.

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