Jobs. Jobs. Jobs. Getting the Labor Markets Working Again


By Olivier Blanchard

The sharp and persistent rise in unemployment in advanced economies since the 2008-09 financial crisis is a hotly debated policy issue.  Rightly so:  High persistent unemployment has major human and economic costs, from loss of morale to loss of skills.  More broadly, it seems to undermine the very fabric of society.

Against this backdrop, the theme for the IMF’s 13th Jacques Polak Annual Research Conference, “Labor Markets through the Lens of the Great Recession,” could not be timelier. This year’s conference program weaves together a number of contributions by researchers both inside and outside the IMF, aiming to shed light on those labor market issues that are central to the current economic and social landscape.

Cyclical vs. structural

Peter Diamond, Nobel Prize winner in Economics and Professor of Economics at MIT, will give the keynote Mundell-Fleming lecture on the controversial issue of cyclical vs. structural unemployment.

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Global Economy: Some Bad News and Some Hope


By Olivier Blanchard

(Versions in  عربي中文EspañolFrançaisРусский日本語)

The world economic recovery continues, but it has weakened further.  In advanced countries, growth is now too low to make a substantial dent in unemployment.  And in major emerging countries, growth that had been strong earlier has also decreased.

Let me give you a few numbers from our latest projections in the October World Economic Outlook released in Tokyo.

Relative to the IMF’s forecasts last April, our growth forecasts for 2013 have been revised down from 1.8%  to 1.5% for advanced countries, and from 5.8% down to 5.6% for emerging and developing countries.

The downward revisions are widespread.  They are however stronger for two sets of countries–for the members of the euro area, where we now expect growth close to zero in 2013, and for three of the large emerging market economies, ChinaIndia, and Brazil.

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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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World Faces Weak Economic Recovery


By Olivier Blanchard

(Versions in  عربي中文EspañolFrançaisРусский日本語)

The global recovery continues, but the recovery is weak; indeed a bit weaker than we forecast in April.

In the Euro zone, growth is close to zero, reflecting positive but low growth in the core countries, and negative growth in most periphery countries.  In the United States, growth is positive, but too low to make a serious dent to unemployment.

Growth has also slowed in major emerging economies, from China to India and Brazil.

Downside risks, coming primarily from Europe, have increased.

Let me develop these themes in turn.

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Lessons from Latvia


By Olivier Blanchard

In 2008, Latvia was widely seen as an economic “basket case,” a textbook example of a boom turned to bust.

From 2005 to 2007, average annual growth had exceeded 10%, the current account deficit had increased to more than 20% of GDP.  By early 2008 however, the boom had come to an end, and, by the end of 2008, output was down by 10% from its peak, the fiscal deficit was shooting up, capital was leaving the country, and reserves were rapidly decreasing.

The treatment seemed straightforward: a sharp nominal depreciation, together with a steady fiscal consolidation.  The Latvian government however, wanted to keep its currency peg, partly because of a commitment to eventually enter the euro, partly because of the fear of immediate balance sheet effects of devaluation on domestic loans, 90% of them denominated in euros.  And it believed that credibility required strong frontloading of the fiscal adjustment.

Painful adjustment

Many, including me, believed that keeping the peg was likely to be a recipe for disaster, for a long and painful adjustment at best, or more likely, the eventual abandonment of the peg when failure became obvious.

Nevertheless, given the strong commitment of both Latvia and its European Union partners, the IMF went ahead with a program which kept the peg and included a strongly front-loaded fiscal adjustment.

Four years later, Latvia has one of the highest growth rates in Europe, the peg has held, and the fiscal and current accounts are close to balance.

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Latvia Beat the Odds—But the Battle Is Far From Over


By Mark Griffiths

Latvia, a nation of about 2.2 million people bordering the Baltic Sea, went through the most extreme boom-bust cycle of the emerging market countries of Europe, and was among the first to ask for financial assistance from the international community.

Back in the dark days of December 2008, many doubted that Latvia—which joined the European Union in 2004 together with its Baltic neighbors Estonia and Lithuania—would be able to stick to the tough economic program it had just agreed with the IMF and the European Union. But it did. Against the odds, it successfully completed its IMF-supported program in December 2011.

Over the past three years, I have worked closely with the Latvian authorities in my capacity as IMF mission chief. Worked with them—but learnt from them too.

A successful comeback

Today, Latvia is one of the fastest growing economies in the European Union. Real GDP grew by 5½ percent in 2011, and is now projected to expand by 3½ percent in 2012, a number that possibly will come out even higher.

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Top Links from the IMF – Global and Regional Economic Analysis for April


The IMF and World Bank have just wrapped up their Spring Meetings for April, dominated by agreement on a huge boost to the anti-crisis firewall to prevent contagion in the event of another flare-up.

Here’s some of the highlights in our latest global and regional assessments:

Mediocre Growth, High Risks, and The Long Road Ahead


By Olivier Blanchard

(Versions in Español, عربي)

For the past six months, the world economy has been on what is best described as a roller coaster.

Last autumn, a simmering European crisis became acute, threatening another Lehman-size event, and the end of the recovery.  Strong policy measures were taken, new governments came to power in Italy and Spain, the European Union adopted a tough fiscal pact, and the European central bank injected badly needed liquidity.   Things have quieted down since, but an uneasy calm remains.  At any moment, it seems, things could get bad again.

This shapes our forecasts.  Our baseline forecast, released by the IMF on April 17,  is for low growth in advanced countries, especially in Europe.  But downside risks are very much present.

Brakes hampering growth

This baseline is constructed on the assumption that another European flare-up will be avoided, but that uncertainty will linger on.   It recognizes that, even in this case, there are still strong brakes to growth in advanced countries:  Fiscal consolidation is needed and is proceeding, but is weighing on growth.  Bank deleveraging is also needed, but is leading, especially in Europe, to tight credit.  In many countries, in particular in the United States, some households are burdened with high debt, leading to lower consumption. Foreclosures are weighing on housing prices, and on housing investment.

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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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Driving the Global Economy with the Brakes On


By Olivier Blanchard

(Versions in  عربي中文EspañolFrançaisРусский日本語)

After the speech by the IMF’s Managing Director in Berlin yesterday, my main messages on the global outlook will not surprise you.

Starting with the bad news–the world recovery, which was weak in the first place, is in danger of stalling. The epicenter of the danger is Europe, but the rest of the world is increasingly affected.

There is an even greater danger, namely that the European crisis intensifies. In this case, the world could be plunged into another recession.

Turning to the good news–with the right set of measures, the worst can definitely be avoided, and the recovery can be put back on track. These measures can be taken, need to be taken, and need to be taken urgently.

And now the numbers, starting at the epicenter:

The IMF’s forecast for growth in Euro Area for 2012 is ‑0.5 percent—this marks a decrease of 1.6 percentage points relative to our September 2011 projection. In particular, we predict negative growth in Italy (‑2.2 percent) and Spain (‑1.7 percent).

We have also revised downwards our forecasts for other advanced countries, although by less. Only for the United States, is our forecast unchanged at 1.8 percent.

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