Strengthening the Foundations for Fiscal Policymaking: A New Fiscal Transparency Code


By Min Zhu

In the last two decades, countries have come a long way in shedding greater light on their public finances. The global economic crisis has reminded us, however, that we need to do more to ensure fiscal policymaking is based on reliable data on fiscal outcomes, credible forecasts of fiscal prospects, and a comprehensive assessment of fiscal risks. Working with civil society, governments, and others, the IMF has just presented a revised draft of its Fiscal Transparency Code, and we would like to know what you think of it so we can improve it further. You can comment here.

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Preventing The Next Catastrophe: Where Do We Stand?


David RomerGuest post by David Romer
University of California, Berkeley, and co-host of Rethinking Macro II: First Steps and Early Lessons

(Versions in 中文, 日本語, and Русский)

As I listened to the presentations and discussions, I found myself thinking about the conference from two perspectives. One is intellectual: Are we asking provocative questions? Are interesting ideas being proposed? Are we talking about important issues? By that standard, the conference was very successful: the discussion was extremely stimulating, and I learned a great deal.

The second perspective is practical: Where do we stand in terms of averting another financial and macroeconomic disaster? By that standard, unfortunately, I fear we are not doing nearly as well. As I will describe, my reading of the evidence is that the events of the past few years are not an aberration, but just the most extreme manifestation of a broader pattern. And the relatively modest changes of the type discussed at the conference, and that in some cases policymakers are putting into place, are helpful but unlikely to be enough to prevent future financial shocks from inflicting large economic harms.

Thus, I believe we should be asking whether there are deeper reforms that might have a large effect on the size of the shocks emanating from the financial sector, or on the ability of the economy to withstand those shocks. But there has been relatively little serious consideration of ideas for such reforms, not just at this conference but in the broader academic and policy communities.

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The Ties That Bond Us: What Demand For Government Debt Can Tell Us About the Risks Ahead


by Serkan Arslanalp and Takahiro Tsuda

It’s not news that emerging markets can be vulnerable to bouts of market volatility. Investors often pull sudden stops—they stop buying or start selling off their holdings of government bonds.

But what has become apparent in recent years is that advanced economy government bond markets can also experience investor outflows, and associated runs. At the same time, some traditional and new safe haven countries have seen their borrowing costs drop to historic lows as they experience rising inflows from foreign investors.

Our new research shows that advanced economies’ exposure to refinancing risk and changes in government borrowing costs depend mainly on who is holding the bonds— the demand side for government debt.

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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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Top 20 — iMFdirect’s Top 20 list


Three years after the launch of iMFdirect as a forum for discussing economic issues around the world, we look back at some of our most popular posts.

The IMF blog has helped stimulate considerable debate about economic policy in the current crisis, on events in Europe and around the world in Asia, Africa, Latin America, and the Middle East, on fiscal adjustment, on regulating the financial sector, and the future of macroeconomics–as economists learn lessons from the Great Recession.

As readers struggled to understand the implications of the crisis, our most popular post by far was IMF Chief Economist Olivier Blanchard’s Four Hard Truths, a look back at 2011 and the economic lessons for the future.

Here’s our Top 20 list of our most popular posts by subject (from more than 300 posts):

1.  Global Crisis: Four Hard Truths; Driving With the Brakes On

2.  Financial Stability: What’s Still to Be Done?

3.  Fiscal Policy:  Ten Commandments ; Striking the Right Balance

4.  Macroeconomic Policy: Rewriting the Playbook;  Nine Tentative Conclusions ; Future Study

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Growing Institutions? Grow the People!


By Sharmini Coorey

(Version in Español)

“When you speak about institutions, in fact, you are speaking about the people.” These words, by Kosovo’s central bank governor Gani Gergüri at a recent conference in Vienna, capture an important truth that is often overlooked when we economists discuss amongst ourselves: without sound institutions, it’s very hard to achieve sustainable economic growth.

And the quality of those institutions hinges on the quality of the people running them―their educational background and training, and the prevailing business culture and approach to policymaking.

The work of Douglass North and the school of thought known as the new institutional economics has taught us that differences in deep institutions—defined as the formal and informal rules of economic, political and social interactions—are responsible for sustained differences in economic performance. This is also the central thesis in Acemoglu and Robinson’s fascinating new book, Why Nations Fail.

Inclusive (as opposed to extractive) economic and political institutions are central in nations’ efforts to avoid stagnation and ensure sustained prosperity. This is because sustained prosperity is a dynamic process of constant innovation and a never-ending cycle of Schumpeterian creative destruction, which can only be supported by open, inclusive institutions. Their thesis is certainly consistent with the contrasting experience of different countries in Central, Eastern and Southeastern Europe under communism and during the past two decades.

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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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Jobs and Growth: Can’t Have One Without the Other?


By Min Zhu

(Version in Español, in عربي))

As Frank Sinatra crooned about love and marriage, so it seems about jobs and growth:

“This I tell ya, brother, you can’t have one without the other.”

The IMF’s latest World Economic Outlook projects global growth of 3 ½ percent this year. To the person on the street, what matters is how this growth translates into jobs and wages. The news on the jobs  front, unfortunately, remains grim.

Five years after the onset of the Great Recession, 16 million more people are likely to remain unemployed this year than in 2007. This estimate is for a set of countries for which the IMF forecasts unemployment rates; adding in some countries for which the International Labour Organization provides forecasts only boosts the number.

The bulk of this increase in unemployed people has been in the so-called advanced economies (the IMF’s term for countries with high per capita incomes), as shown in the chart below.

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Global Financial Stability: What’s Still To Be Done?


By José Viñals

(Versions in Español, عربي)

The quest for lasting financial stability is still fraught with risks. The latest Global Financial Stability Report has two key messages: policy actions have brought gains to global financial stability since our September report; but current policy efforts are not enough to achieve lasting stability, both in Europe and some other advanced economies, in particular the United States and Japan.

Much has been done

In recent months, important and unprecedented policy steps have been taken to quell the crisis in the euro area. At the national level, stronger policies are being put in place in Italy and Spain; a new agreement has been reached on Greece; and Ireland and Portugal are making good progress in implementing their respective programs. Importantly, the European Central Bank’s decisive actions have supported bank liquidity and eased funding strains, while banks are reinforcing their capital positions under the guidance of the European Banking Authority. Finally, steps have been taken to enhance economic governance, promote fiscal discipline, and buttress the “firewall” at the euro area level.

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The Logic and Fairness of Greece’s Program


By Olivier Blanchard

(Version in ελληνικά عربي)

To get back to health, Greece needs two things. First, a lower debt burden. Second, improved economic competitiveness. The new program addresses both.

Bringing down the debt

Some countries have been able to work down heavy public debt burdens. Those that were successful did it through sustained high growth. But in Greece’s case, it had become clear that high growth—let alone sustained high growth—was not going to come soon enough. Debt had to be restructured.

The process was long and messy. After all, bargaining between creditors and debtors is rarely a love affair. In the process, foreign creditors were often vilified in Greece as bad guys—rich banks, who could and should be willing to take a hit. But in the end, banks belong to people, many of them saving for retirement, who saw the value of their bank shares go down in value.

All said, the PSI (private sector involvement) dealthe largest ever negotiated write-down of public debt—has reduced the debt burden of every man, woman, and child in Greece by close to €10,000 on average, a sizable contribution on the part of foreign savers.

Greece now has to do its part―with sustained political commitment to implement the difficult but necessary set of fiscal, financial, and structural reforms that have been agreed as part of the program supported by Greece’s partners in the eurozone and the IMF. It is a huge challenge, no doubt. But it is also an opportunity–to take advantage of the economic space opened up by private and official creditors. Will Greece seize it?

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