Asia’s Seismic Shift: How Can the Financial Sector Serve Better?


Min ZhuBy Min Zhu

(Versions in  中文)

Asia is set to be the powerhouse for growth in the next decade, just as it was in the last one. The size of its economy is expected to expand more rapidly than the other regions of the world, and its share in the world output is expected to rise from 30 percent to more than 40 percent in the coming decade. The structure of the economy is expected to continue to transform from a narrower manufacturing hub to a group of vibrant, diverse and large markets with a rising middle-class population.

The role of the financial sector is critical in the success of this seismic transformation. Let me explain by focusing on three areas:

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Socrates & the Pope: Overheard at the IMF’s Spring Meetings


By IMFdirect editors

Socrates’ famous method to develop his students’ intellect was to question them relentlessly in an unending search for contradictions and the truth—or at the very least, a great quote.

The method was alive and well among the moderators, panelists and audiences of the IMF’s Spring Meetings seminars that took place alongside official discussions, where boosting high-quality growth, with a focus on the medium term, was at the top of the agenda.  Our editors fanned out and found a couple of big themes kept coming up.  Here are some of the highlights.

Monetary policy 

Lots of people are talking about what happens when the flood of easy money into emerging markets thanks to low interest rates in advanced economies like the United States slows even more than it has in the past year.

At a seminar on fiscal policy the discussion focused on the challenges facing policymakers as central banks slowly exit from unconventional monetary policy and interest rates begin rising.

A live poll of the audience found 63 percent said the global economy remains weak and unconventional monetary policies should remain in place.

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Meeting Rising Pressures to Address Income Inequality—A User’s Guide


By Sanjeev Gupta and Michael Keen

(Version in  EspañolFrançaisРусский中文 and 日本語)

These are difficult times for ministers of finance. Fiscal constraints are tight and raising economic growth a priority. At the same time, income inequality is on the rise, and so is public pressure for governments to do something about it through their tax and spending policies. What’s a minister to do? How can he or she meet these seemingly incompatible demands?

A new IMF paper provides some guidance. Governments, of course, will have their own equity objectives. What the paper aims to do is look at precisely how countries can achieve their distributional goals—whatever they are—at the least possible cost to (and maybe even increasing) economic efficiency. This can help achieve sustainable growth and, in many cases, lead to fiscal savings. An earlier study by IMF researchers found that on average, fiscal redistribution has been associated with higher growth, because it helps reduce inequality.

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Treating Inequality with Redistribution: Is the Cure Worse than the Disease?


By Jonathan D. Ostry and Andrew Berg

(Version in FrançaisPortuguêsРусский中文)

Rising income inequality looms high on the global policy agenda, reflecting not only fears of its pernicious social and political effects, (including questions about the consistency of extreme inequality with democratic governance), but also the economic implications. While positive incentives are surely needed to reward work and innovation, excessive inequality is likely to undercut growth, for example by undermining access to health and education, causing investment-reducing political and economic instability, and thwarting the social consensus required to adjust in the face of major shocks.

Understandably, economists have been trying to understand better the links between rising inequality and the fragility of economic growth. Recent narratives include how inequality intensified the leverage and financial cycle, sowing the seeds of crisis; or how political-economy factors, especially the influence of the rich, allowed financial excess to balloon ahead of the crisis.

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Lagarde: Women Can Help Grow the World Economy


(Versions in Español and عربي)

Hot off the press: a new study out today from our economists pointing to the striking economic benefits that could come from increased female participation in the work force.

IMF Chief Christine Lagarde, calling attention to the findings of the paper, “Women, Work, and the Economy,” made the case for policymakers to shift into high gear and give women equal opportunities to participate in the work force.

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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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Youth Speaking Out


CliftJBy Jeremy Clift

Young people, hardest hit by the global economic downturn, are speaking out and demanding change. Coming of age in the Great Recession, the world’s youth face an uncertain future, with lengthening job lines, diminished opportunities, and bleaker prospects that are taking a heavy emotional toll.

Some people call them the iPod generation—insecure, pressured, overtaxed, and debt-ridden—but insecure or not, around the world young people are challenging a system that appears to have let many down. “Young people want a world economy that is more just, more equal, and more human,” says Angel Gurría, secretary-general of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development.

Differing impact on generations

Youth Demanding Change

The Great Recession has taken its toll on the different generations in different ways. For the post–World War II baby boom generation, it’s essentially a wealth crisis. A generation that had hoped to retire has seen the value of its property and savings dramatically eroded. For the group known as Gen X (born 1965–80), it’s an income crisis. They should be in the period of their life when they are earning the most, but the downturn has depressed their salaries and threatens their pensions. For Gen Y (1981–2000), it’s about their future and the potentially damaging legacy of the boomer generation.

In recent issues of the magazine, we have looked at the impact of aging populations on economies around the world and how inequality affects growth.

In the March 2012 issue of F&D, we look at the need to urgently address the challenges facing youth and create opportunities for them. Watch a video on this.

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Shared Frustrations: How to Make Economic Growth in Sub-Saharan Africa More Inclusive


By Antoinette M. Sayeh

(Version in Français)

Suddenly it’s the thing everyone is talking about. Income inequality. Not just between countries, but inequality within countries.

In North Africa and the Middle East, jobless youth sparked the Arab Spring. In the United States, the growing gap between rich and poor is the “meta concern” of the Occupy Wall Street movement. Worldwide, frustrations appear to be on the rise.

What about sub-Saharan Africa? Sustained economic growth has certainly produced some tremendous advances. But a large proportion of the population is still living in poverty. So frustrations about the inclusiveness of growth are also shared within the region.

Complex story

Is the story really as negative in sub-Saharan Africa as the relatively slow reduction in the incidence of poverty and some people’s frustration suggest? Or is the underlying situation a little more complex?

In July, I wrote about the importance of inclusive growth and whether economic growth was a necessary or a sufficient condition for poverty reduction. The IMF’s latest Regional Economic Outlook for Sub-Saharan Africa takes that thinking a step further. The new analysis looks at how living standards for the poorest households have actually been changing in some countries in the region.

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The Other Rebalancing: Asia’s Quest for Inclusive Growth


By Anoop Singh

(Versions in 中文, 日本語)

For the past two or three decades, rising inequality—inequality of incomes, of economic outcomes and of economic opportunities—has taken a back seat to the goal of boosting overall growth. But growing discontent with the fallout of the global financial crisis has put inequality back on top of the policy agenda. While the symptoms may be different, tackling inequality is no less an issue in Asia.

Indeed, research shows that inequality can be counterproductive to sustaining longer-term growth. So, in increasingly turbulent global economic times, this gives added importance to promoting shared—or inclusive—growth in Asia that is more likely to be sustained.

This has been a major focus our latest Regional Economic Outlook, which we presented in Manila today. A great challenge for the government here, and for other countries across the region, is to raise living standards for a wide section of their populations. Continue reading

Haves and Have Less—Why Inequality Throws Us Off Balance


Jeremy CliftBy Jeremy Clift

We used to think that overall economic growth would pull everyone up. While the rich might be getting richer, everyone would benefit and would see higher living standards. That was the unspoken bargain of the market system.

But now research is showing that, in many countries, inequality is on the rise and the gap between the rich and the poor is widening, particularly over the past quarter-century.

With taxpayers footing the bill for troubles in the financial industry in advanced economies during the global economic crisis, this discrepancy seems particularly galling to wage-earners who have seen their pay stagnate or worse. Inequality has started to attract more research by economists.

The September 2011 issue of Finance & Development (F&D) looks at income inequality around the world and how it matters. Continue reading

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