U.S. Fiscal Policy: A Tough Balancing Act


Deniz IganBy Deniz Igan

(Version in Español)

Much has changed on the fiscal front since we started worrying about U.S. fiscal sustainability. The federal government budget deficit has fallen sharply in recent years―from almost 12 percent of GDP in 2009 to less than 7 percent in 2012. And recent budget reports show that the deficit is shrinking faster than expected only a few months ago, to a projected 4½ percent of GDP for the current fiscal year, which ends September 30. Plus, health care cost growth has slowed down dramatically since the Great Recession, alleviating the pressure on public health care programs at least temporarily.

Does this mean we can stop worrying? Not quite. Recent developments certainly mean that things are better than we thought just a few years ago and the fiscal adjustment needed to restore sustainability is smaller. But if the choice and timing of policy measures is not right, the deficit reduction may turn out to be too much in the short run—stunting the economic recovery—and not enough in the long run.

So, in our recent annual check-up of the U.S. economy, our advice is to slow the pace of fiscal adjustment this year—which would help sustain growth and job creation—but to speed up putting in place a medium-term road map to restore long-run fiscal sustainability.

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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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Promises, Promises. Better Measuring the Effect of Pension Reform


By Benedict Clements

We all hope to retire one day. Our pensions hold the promise of that.

But when that promise is a public pension, it’s also a lot like debt the government has to pay at some point in the future.

Good fiscal policy means thinking about how policy decisions—especially ones that involve long-term promises, such as pensions—affect government finances both today and in the future.

Problems, problems

The first problem is that good fiscal policy hasn’t always ruled the day, to put it mildly. Today, pension reform is a priority for the advanced economies as current trends are unsustainable—see Commandment V—and for many emerging and low-income economies that need “to improve coverage of health and pension systems in a fiscally sound manner.” Continue reading

Shifting Gears: Where the Rubber Meets the Fiscal Road


By Carlo Cottarelli

Undertaking a sizable fiscal adjustment is a lot like driving up a tall mountain: it’s hard work, it can take a long time, and you don’t want to run out of fuel partway up the incline. Countries are starting the climb, cutting back government deficits and debt levels, but according to our analysis often current plans aren’t enough to get countries where they need and want to go.

The plans in place are large by historical standards, which brings with it difficult choices, and particular risks and uncertainties. Let me fill you in on what these are. Continue reading

Global Recovery Strengthens, Tensions Heighten


By Olivier Blanchard

The world economic recovery is gaining strength, but it remains unbalanced.

Three numbers tell the story. We expect the world economy to grow at about 4.5 percent a year in both 2011 and 2012, but with advanced economies growing at only 2.5 percent, while emerging and developing economies grow at a much higher 6.5 percent.

On the good news side. Earlier fears of a double dip—which we did not share—have not materialized. Continue reading

Exploring Economic Policy Frontiers After the Crisis: 2010 IMF Research Conference


By Olivier Blanchard

The crisis has forced economists and policymakers to go back to their drawing boards. Where did they go wrong, and what implications does the crisis have for both macroeconomic theory and macroeconomic policy making?

This was the topic of this year’s IMF Jacques Polak Research Conference. The conference was the first since the passing of Jacques Polak, after whom the conference has been named, and to which he came every year until last year. Present at the Fund’s creation and a long time Fund economist, Jacques had been described by the Managing Director as “a leader of critical thought during the post-war evolution of the global economy.” As such, this conference, and its focus on the post-crisis evolution of the global economy, was fitting a fitting tribute to Jacques. We shall miss him.

Post-crisis policymaking

The twelve papers presented at the conference provided rich fodder for discussion. For two days, researchers and policymakers explored the contours of policy making in the post-crisis world. I want to share with you some of the major themes: Continue reading

Weekend in Washington: Cooperating Our Way Out of Crisis


By Dominique Strauss-Kahn

(Version in عربي 中文 Español Français 日本語 Русский )

This past weekend in Washington DC, as the economic leaders of 187 countries gathered for the Annual Meetings of the IMF and World Bank, the mood was tense. The world’s finance ministers and central bank governors were concerned because the global recovery is fragile. And uneven. And it is fragile because it is so uneven.

In the emerging markets of Asia, Latin America, and the Middle East, things are going pretty well. Even in Africa, many countries have returned to growth much faster than in previous recessions. In Europe, however, the recovery is sluggish. And in the United States, it remains subdued. The IMF’s latest economic outlook, released during the meetings, does not anticipate a “double dip.” But there are risks. Continue reading

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