Convergence, Crisis, and Capacity Building in Emerging Europe


by Nemat Shafik

Central, Eastern and Southeastern Europe has been through a lot. In two short decades, the region moved from a communist planned system to a market economy, and living standards have converged towards those in the West.

It has also weathered major crises: first the break-up of the old Soviet system in the early 1990s, then the Russian financial crisis in 1998, and finally the recent global economic crisis. How did these countries do it?

From the Baltic to the Balkans, the region’s resilience and flexibility are the result of hard work and adaptability. But more than anything, it is the strong institutions built over the last two decades that have enhanced the region’s ability to deal with the momentous challenges of the past, the present—and those to come.

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Beyond the Austerity Debate: the Deficit Bias in the post-Bretton Woods Era


By Carlo Cottarelli

(Version in Español)

The austerity vs. growth debate has raged in recent months, pitting those who argue that fiscal policy should be tightened more aggressively now to bring down high levels of debt, even though economic growth remains weak, against those who want to postpone the adjustment to better times. This is a critical issue for policymakers, perhaps the most important one in the short run.

And yet, this debate—which, mea culpa, I have myself contributed to―is attracting too much attention.

This is bad for two reasons:

  • The debate is driven, to some degree, by ideology and is therefore more focused on the relatively limited areas of disagreement than on the far broader areas of agreement. Most economists would agree that fiscal consolidation is needed in advanced economies, and that the average annual pace of adjustment during 2011-12―about 1 percentage point―is neither too aggressive nor excessively slow. Most economists would also agree that countries under pressure from markets have to adjust at a faster pace, while those that do not face such constraints have more time. Of course, there is disagreement on some aspects of the fiscal strategy, but it relates to specific country cases.
  • The debate is detracting attention from policy issues that may seem less urgent, but which are nevertheless critical in the medium term. I am referring to what I would call the institutional gaps in fiscal policymaking that still exist in most advanced and emerging economies. These gaps have contributed to a bias in the conduct of fiscal policy in favor of deficits that is behind many of the current problems.

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Bringing the Informal Sector into the Fold


By Masood Ahmed

(Version in عربي)

Unemployment rates in the Middle East and North Africa have remained above 10 percent over the past decade, the highest in the world. For the young the rates are even more daunting, at a persistent 25 percent: one in four of the region’s young people are without work. Many people who cannot find jobs in the formal economy are relegated to working in the informal sector, for lower wages and without the protections and opportunities that workers enjoy in the formal economy.

The informal economy is large and pervasive—and, often, ignored; however, the experience of those who work in the informal sector came under the media spotlight when Tunisian street vendor Mohamed Bouazizi set himself on fire that fateful day in December last year, sparking the Arab Spring protests.

Estimates indicate that the informal economy in the oil-importing countries of the Middle East and North Africa is substantially larger than in several Asian and Latin American countries. In Morocco, for example, the informal economy is estimated at 44 percent of officially measured GDP. In most other oil importers, it is estimated at close to one-third.

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Lively Debate on the Dead Sea Shores


By Nemat Shafik

(Version in عربي)

 I’ve been in Jordan this weekend, attending a vibrant meeting of the World Economic Forum on jobs and growth in the Middle East. I participated in a panel on employment with Queen Rania, and I’d like to share some of the ideas generated during that discussion and at the meeting more generally.

The atmosphere was both cautious and optimistic—cautious because of the growing risk of the downturn in advanced economies (particularly Europe) spreading to the region, and optimistic because of the recent political gains in both Libya and Tunisia in particular.

 One of my biggest (and heartening) takeaways was that there were more young people bubbling with ideas and entrepreneurial spirit (ready to take risk) than ever before at this regional forum—which reflects a growing recognition of their current role in the Arab Spring and the role they will have to play in the future as drivers of economic change.

 Creating jobs for the young and growing population in the Middle East and North Africa remains the dominant topic. Here on the Dead Sea, it’s jobs, jobs, jobs that are still on everybody’s mind. And it’s clear that there’s a tension between the high hopes for a better future in the long term and the impatience and frustration with difficulties and challenges in the short term. 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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Seven Pillars of Prosperity—Diversifying Economic Growth in the Caucasus and Central Asia


By David Owen

(Version in Русский)

Medium-term economic growth prospects in the Caucasus and Central Asia region are strong. But, to secure ongoing prosperity, the eight countries of the region—Armenia, Azerbaijan, Georgia, Kazakhstan, the Kyrgyz Republic, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan—will need to look beyond traditional sources of growth.

The challenge for policymakers will be to foster new and more diverse growth drivers, outside mining, oil, and gas.

There are seven policy pillars that can help them do that: Continue reading

Tax Matters for Developing Countries


By Carlo Cottarelli

You hear a lot these days—not least from me—about the fiscal problems of advanced economies. But let’s not forget the fiscal problems that low-income countries face, though they are of a different kind.

For all too many low-income countries, government tax revenues are far from enough to meet the needs of their people. Some have made good progress, and this helped them weather the crisis better than many advanced economies—but there is an underlying, quiet crisis of inadequately resourced governments. Continue reading

Unleashing Growth Potential in the Middle East


By Masood Ahmed

Recent popular protests in the Middle East and North Africa region, although likely to have a negative economic impact in the short run, might actually help to unleash the countries’ long-term growth potential.

By providing the impetus for reforms, these events may encourage better governance, greater transparency, and more competition—in other words, tackling many of the constraints that have held back progress in these societies. 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

Asia and the IMF: A Closer Engagement


By Anoop Singh

In just a few days’ time, the Korean government and the IMF will jointly host a high-level international conference in Daejeon, Korea. At the Fund, we are trying continually to enhance our strategic dialogue with Asia, and the conference is an important part of this effort.

Asia’s leadership of the global recovery is undeniable, as I have said in earlier blogs. And the extensive reforms and improved macroeconomic policy frameworks that underpinned the region’s remarkable resilience to the global crisis will see Asia’s successes continue. In just two short decades, we expect it to become the largest economic region in the world.

The Korea conference will be an opportunity to showcase Asia’s economic successes, and also highlight the importance of regional integration and cooperation, which has been growing rapidly in Asia.

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