Taming government debt—it can be done, but it ain’t easy


By Helge Berger and  Justin Tyson

Sooner or later, and one way or the other, government debt in advanced economies will have to come down from the record levels reached in the wake of the global economic and euro area crises. Figure 1.Dev in Gross Debt and Structural Balance in Adv Economies There is no magic number for how much sovereign debt an economy can shoulder. And, as bringing down debt by cutting government spending or raising taxes comes at the risk of reducing growth and employment in the short term, there are arguments to not proceed too hastily. But eventually debt will have to be put back on a downward path in many countries. This will help rebuild fiscal buffers and cope with the costs of aging. So, what should governments do?

Our new analysis takes a closer look at the historical record and key trade-offs.  The bottom line: it is possible to reduce debt when growth is low. Ultimately perseverance should pay off.

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The Times They are a-Changin’: will (fiscal) history repeat itself?


Carlo CottarelliBy Carlo Cottarelli

Recent political and social unrest in some emerging and developing countries may have idiosyncratic features. But they also have a common denominator: a yearning for more equality in incomes, economic self-determination, and political power. Are these developments in seemingly unrelated emerging economies the beginning of a trend?

Simple—some would say simplistic!—empirical evidence suggests that this may indeed be the case: look at the convergence of real per capita GDP in emerging markets to the level observed in Western Europe and the United States in the early sixties (see chart 1). One can conjecture that, once per capita income achieves this level, the rise of the middle class prompts demands for more equity in the distribution of economic and political power. We know the sixties. It was a time when the rise of the middle class led to a wave of social unrest and change that rocked the economy and society—a change that gradually spread throughout the western world (what we now call “advanced economies”), with a call for more social justice, more democracy, and a better life for everyone. What followed were deep social and economic transformations.

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For Richer, Not Poorer: Energy Subsidies in India


By David Coady and Thomas Richardson

Many countries seek to protect poorer households by subsidizing the consumption of fuel products. However, recent IMF research shows that fuel subsidies are both inefficient and inequitable, including in India.

But what about India? Are fuel subsidies also anti-poor? Sadly, yes. A new IMF working paper  shows that India’s fuel subsidies are both fiscally costly and socially regressive.

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On A Roll: Sustaining Strong Growth in Latin America


By Sebastián Sosa, Evridiki Tsounta, and Hye Sun Kim

(Versions in Español and Português)

Latin America has enjoyed strong growth during the last decade, with annual growth averaging 4½ percent compared with 2¾ in the 1980s and 1990s. What is behind this remarkable economic performance and will this growth be sustainable in the years ahead?

Our recent study (see also our working paper) looks at the supply-side drivers of growth for a large group of Latin American countries, to identify what’s behind the recent strong output performance.

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After a Golden Decade, Can Latin America Keep Its Luster?


Alejandro WernerBy Alejandro Werner

(Versions in Español and Português)

Latin America continues to be one of the fastest growing regions in the world, even though growth slowed down a bit in 2012. Many economies in the region are operating at or near potential, inflation remains generally low, and unemployment is at historically low levels.

In the near term, the region will continue to benefit from easy external financing and relatively high commodity prices. In our May 2013 Regional Economic Outlook, we project that the region will expand by about 3½ percent in 2013. In Brazil—the region’s largest economy—economic activity is strengthening, driven by improving external demand, measures to boost investment, and the impact of earlier policy easing. In the rest of Latin America, output growth is expected to remain near potential.

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The Lessons of the North Atlantic Crisis for Economic Theory and Policy


Joseph_E._StiglitzGuest post by: Joseph E. Stiglitz
Columbia University, New York, and co-host of the Conference on Rethinking Macro Policy II: First Steps and Early Lessons

(Versions in 中文, Français, 日本語, and Русский)

In analyzing the most recent financial crisis, we can benefit somewhat from the misfortune of recent decades. The approximately 100 crises that have occurred during the last 30 years—as liberalization policies became  dominant—have given us a wealth of experience and mountains of data.  If we look over a 150 year period, we have an even richer data set.

With a century and half of clear, detailed information on crisis after crisis, the burning question is not How did this happen? but How did we ignore that long history, and think that we had solved the problems with the business cycle? Believing that we had made big economic fluctuations a thing of the past took a remarkable amount of hubris.

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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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The Fiscal Milestone: Achievements, Fatigue, and Prospects


Fiscal Monitor

By Carlo Cottarelli

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

The 2008–09 global economic crisis pushed public debt ratios of advanced economies to levels never seen before during peacetime. These high debt levels expose countries to a loss of market confidence and, ultimately, damage long-term growth prospects.  Since 2010 advanced economies have been on a journey: the goal is to bring their public finances back to safer territory. They are in it for the long haul, not a sprint, and, as a redress of the large fiscal imbalances created by the crisis, without derailing the still fragile economic recovery, it requires a steady and gradual pace of adjustment—at least for countries not subject to market pressures.

This year we see the process of gradual fiscal adjustment reaching two symbolic milestones. First, the average deficit of advanced economies as a share of GDP will fall to half of its 2009 level at the peak of the crisis. Second, the average debt ratio will stop rising, after increasing steadily since 2007. Indeed, it will actually decline slightly.

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Scenes From A Central Bank: A Turkish Tale in Two Acts


By Robert Tchaidze and Heiko Hesse 

In mid 2010 the Turkish central bank decided to introduce a policy that increased uncertainty in interest rates hoping that would stop foreign investors who were pouring money into the country in search of a quick buck. That’s right. ‘Keep calm and carry on’ was replaced by ‘Keep them guessing.’

The Turkish economy was overheating.  Money poured into the country from foreign investors attracted by a strong economy and high yields. A lending boom resulted in excessive growth along with an appreciating exchange rate and widening current account deficit. While evidence of success, these kinds of capital inflows are a headache policymakers would rather avoid, as they expose a country to risks that affect the economy and financial system as a whole, while undermining the objective of controlling inflation.

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Subsidizing Energy Consumption: Why it’s Wrong and What Can Be Done About it


Carlo CottarelliBy Carlo Cottarelli

(Versions in Español中文, Français, 日本語, and Русский)

Let’s face it. Everybody loves cheap energy. Almost all human activities require energy consumption and, if something is so basic, it seems pretty obvious that it should not be denied to anyone and government should make it as cheap as possible to both households and companies, including through subsidies. This can help households avoid paying exorbitant energy bills at the end of the month, something that the poor may not be able to afford even for basic needs like heating and cooking.

Companies may also need energy subsidies to help them stay competitive. Energy subsidies appear even more appropriate, and even the obvious thing to do, in countries that have a large supply of energy, like oil producers. After all, this natural wealth in the form of energy belongs to the people; why shouldn’t it be cheap?

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