Postcard from São Paulo: the Latest Global Fiscal News–and Some of It’s Actually Good


By Carlo Cottarelli

(Versions in
عربي,  中文EspañolFrançaisPortuguêsРусский)

In São Paulo, Brazil last Friday we launched our latest assessment of the state of government finances, debts, and deficits.  While many countries are slogging through a tough fiscal time, there is some good news, including in the United States where the deficit will be lower this year than previously expected.  I will also give you an assessment of how the new information affects our sense of what needs to be done in the future.

Let me start by talking about the advanced economies where, as is well known, the fiscal accounts are generally weaker, reflecting large increases in deficits and debt ratios since the start of the crisis in 2008.  Continue reading

Promises, Promises. Better Measuring the Effect of Pension Reform


By Benedict Clements

We all hope to retire one day. Our pensions hold the promise of that.

But when that promise is a public pension, it’s also a lot like debt the government has to pay at some point in the future.

Good fiscal policy means thinking about how policy decisions—especially ones that involve long-term promises, such as pensions—affect government finances both today and in the future.

Problems, problems

The first problem is that good fiscal policy hasn’t always ruled the day, to put it mildly. Today, pension reform is a priority for the advanced economies as current trends are unsustainable—see Commandment V—and for many emerging and low-income economies that need “to improve coverage of health and pension systems in a fiscally sound manner.” Continue reading

Shifting Gears: Where the Rubber Meets the Fiscal Road


By Carlo Cottarelli

Undertaking a sizable fiscal adjustment is a lot like driving up a tall mountain: it’s hard work, it can take a long time, and you don’t want to run out of fuel partway up the incline. Countries are starting the climb, cutting back government deficits and debt levels, but according to our analysis often current plans aren’t enough to get countries where they need and want to go.

The plans in place are large by historical standards, which brings with it difficult choices, and particular risks and uncertainties. Let me fill you in on what these are. Continue reading

New Policy Ideas for a New World: Interview with Robert Solow


By iMFdirect

There has been plenty of reflection, during the past few years, on the causes of the global financial crisis. But, last month’s conference at the IMF focused on taking what we’ve learned from the crisis and looking toward the future of economic policy.

Robert Solow—Professor Emeritus at Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Nobel Prize winning economist—was among those who brought interesting perspectives and a wealth of experience to the conference discussions.

Watch Professor Solow’s interview and hear more about what he has to say on… Continue reading

Latin America: Making the Good Times Better


By Dominique Strauss-Kahn

(Version in Español, Português)

Latin America has enjoyed tremendous economic dynamism and a rising quality of life in recent years. But, faced with new challenges, the question is: how best to sustain this progress?

As I travel through the region this week—visiting Panama, Uruguay, and Brazil—I’m looking forward to hearing the views of government officials, parliamentarians, and university students on the key challenges facing their countries today. Here are three questions that I look forward to discussing during my trip. Continue reading

The Long and the Short of It—Government Debt Plans in 2011 and Beyond


By Carlo Cottarelli

(Version in Español)

As we said in the just-published Fiscal Monitor update, fiscal policy this year in some leading advanced economies is shaping up to be quite different from what was expected just last November.

The United States and Japan are delaying their earlier plans to reduce their public deficits, choosing instead to provide further support to their economies. The change in plans is even more remarkable if you look at the cyclically adjusted balance. You can see this in the charts. Some of the change in the fiscal stance with respect to our earlier projections is attributable to the somewhat better than projected fiscal results in 2010, a point to which I will return in a moment. Most of it, however, is due to additional stimulus measures introduced during the last two months. These two countries need to strengthen their fiscal adjustment credentials by detailing the measures they will adopt to lower deficits and debt over the medium term. Continue reading

Time Waits for No Man: How to Secure Financial Stability in 2011


By José Viñals

(Version in Español | 中文 | Français | 日本語 | Русский | عربي )

This morning, I presented our latest views on global financial stability in Johannesburg, South Africa.

So, where does the global financial system stand at the moment? Yes, we have witnessed improvements recently, but we are also observing a dichotomy between the economy and the financial system. While the global economic recovery has been continuing, financial stability is still at risk, because of a persistent lack of investor confidence in some advanced country sovereigns and their banking systems.

At this cross-roads, we see three key messages. Continue reading

Watch This (Fiscal) Space: Assessing Room for Fiscal Maneuver in Advanced Countries


By Jonathan D. Ostry

Public debt sustainability in most advanced economies used to be a non-issue, or at most a back-burner one. A couple years back, if the topic came up, most people associated it with developing or emerging market countries. Defaults, rising sovereign risk premia, getting shut out from capital markets were, let’s face it, not really imagined to be possibilities for advanced economies. Of course there were fiscal challenges, demographic pressures being the obvious one, but these were issues for the long term, not the here and now.

But today, fiscal problems are a key concern of policy makers in many industrial countries, and a reassessment of sovereign risk is a palpable threat to global recovery. While the financial crisis may be a convenient scapegoat for the debt blowout in the advanced countries, blame lies elsewhere, in how fiscal policy was managed before the great recession, not during it. And, more sobering still, taming public debt will require steadfast policy efforts over the medium term: quick fixes will not do the trick.

What is the worry? At the heart of the issue is the extent to which governments have room for fiscal maneuver—“fiscal space”—before markets force them to tighten policies sharply and, relatedly, the size of adjustments needed to restore or maintain public debt sustainability.

Yet, surprisingly, much of the talk about fiscal space—how to measure it and the policy implications—has so far been rather fuzzy. A new staff position note, which I co-authored with several IMF colleagues, aims to remedy this, providing an operational definition of the fiscal space concept as well as empirical estimates of available fiscal space for 23 advanced economies.

Continue reading

A Problem Shared Is a Problem Halved: The G-20’s “Mutual Assessment Process”


By Olivier Blanchard 1

The Group of Twenty industrialized and emerging market economies (G-20) has broken new ground over the past year or two. It has embraced the type of collaborative approach to policy design and review that is well suited to today’s interdependent world, where policies in one country can often have far-reaching effects on others.

Collective action by the G-20 in response to the recent crisis was critical in avoiding a catastrophic financial meltdown and a potential second Great Depression. Exceptional policy responses around the globe—including macroeconomic stimulus and financial sector intervention—indeed helped avoid the worst. These actions were notable, both for their scale and force, but also for their consistency and coherence.

Keen to build on this success, G-20 Leaders pledged at their 2009 Pittsburgh Summit to adopt policies that would ensure a lasting recovery and a brighter economic future. To meet this goal, they launched the “Framework for Strong, Sustainable, and Balanced Growth.” The backbone of this framework is a multilateral process, where G-20 countries together set out objectives and the policies needed to get there. And, most importantly, they undertake a “mutual assessment” of their progress toward meeting those shared objectives. With this, the G-20 Mutual Assessment Process or the “MAP” was born.

Continue reading

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