Banking on Reform: Can Volcker, Vickers and Liikanen Resolve the Too-Important-to-Fail Conundrum?


by José Viñals and Ceyla Pazarbasioglu

The global regulatory landscape governing banks has changed from its pre-crisis status quo.

In addition to the Group of Twenty advanced and emerging economies led global regulatory reforms, like Basel III, the United States and the United Kingdom have decided to directly impose limits on the scope of banks’ businesses. The European Union is contemplating a similar move.

We discussed these structural banking reforms a few weeks ago with officials from finance ministries, central banks, and supervisory authorities from around the world during the IMF and World Bank Spring Meetings. The design and implementation of these measures will have implications for global financial stability and sustainable growth, so we wanted to bring people together for the first global debate of the issue with G20 and other countries.

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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

Growing Pains: Europe’s Dilemma


By Bas Bakker

(Versions in Español and Français )

As the crisis in Europe deepens, it is worth asking how it all went wrong in the first place. In the past decade there have been stark differences in per capita GDP growth in Europe. Growth rates have ranged from close to zero in Italy and Portugal to more than 4 percent in the best performers. Why do some countries in Europe grow much faster than others? And how can those falling behind catch up before it is too late?

In part, these differences reflect “convergence”. It is much easier for poor countries to grow faster than it is for rich countries because they can import technology they do not already have. It is much more difficult to grow fast if you are already rich and at the technology frontier—now you can only get richer by innovation.

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An Important Starting Point—with One Gap


Guest post by David H. Romer,
University of California, Berkeley, and
co-host of the Conference on Macro and Growth Policies in the Wake of the Crisis

I had one major source of unhappiness with last week’s conference: the participants were largely silent about the dismal outlook in the advanced economies for the next several years. The current outlook for unemployment in the United States, Europe, and Japan is probably worse than it was in late 2008. Then, mainstream forecasts for 2009–2011 showed unemployment rising sharply—but generally to levels below what we are experiencing today—and then returning toward normal at a moderate pace. Today, not only is unemployment higher than most 2008 forecasts of its peak levels, but the expected pace of recovery is weaker.

Despite this deterioration, the dire sense of urgency in late 2008 has not increased. Indeed, it has largely disappeared. I find this complacency in the fact of vast, preventable suffering and waste hard to understand. Continue reading

Raising Competitiveness: Recipe for Tapping into the Middle East’s Growth Potential


By Masood Ahmed

(Version in  عربي )

With the global economy on the mend, countries in the Middle East and North Africa are witnessing a pickup in trade and economic growth. Aided by rising oil prices and production levels and supportive fiscal policies, economic growth for the region as a whole is projected to exceed 4 percent in 2010, almost double what it was in 2009.

In contrast, and unlike many emerging markets elsewhere, the region’s oil-importing countries saw only a mild slowdown in economic growth last year to 4½ percent and are likely to see growth nudge up to around 5 percent this year. However, as our October 2010 Regional Economic Outlook for the Middle East points out, that growth rate is well below the average of 6½ percent a year required to create the 18 million jobs needed over the next decade to absorb new labor-market entrants and eliminate chronically high unemployment. Continue reading

It’s Hip to Be Square—Why Good Financial Sector Supervision Is Important


By José Viñals 

Financial supervisors often get a raw deal. They are the stodgy “buttoned-up” guys who stand in the way of innovation, the dyed-in-the-wool bureaucrats who resist change and meddle with markets. On the list of thankless jobs they rank somewhere between traffic wardens and tax administrators.

And yet, as the global financial crisis taught us, supervision is incredibly important. Countries with the same set of rules had very different experiences during the crisis. Why? There are clearly many reasons but one of them is “better supervision.” After all, rules are only as good as their implementation. In some countries, the financial supervisor became the unsung hero of the crisis. One might say “It’s hip to be square!”  

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