The Mundell-Fleming lecture by Ricardo Caballero (MIT), presented to the IMF's 10th annual research conference, drew a striking parallel between a sudden cardiac arrest and a financial crisis. The best option during a sudden cardiac arrest is to use a defibrillator. Ricardo argued that, using the analogy between the two events, we need to have “financial defibrillators” readily available during financial crises as well.
When it comes to the crisis, most of the media attention is focused on advanced and emerging market countries. But low-income countries have been badly hit too, reflecting their growing integration in the world economy. We can see sharp declines in exports, FDI, tourism, and remittances. Output growth in 2009 will be less than half of the pre-crisis rate of over 5 percent. Sub-Saharan Africa is the worst affected, with a contraction of real per capita GDP of almost 1 percent.
This is the bad news. But there is some good news in all of this. Low-income countries have been able to use fiscal policy as a countercyclical tool this time around, far more than in the past. Fiscal deficits are expected to increase in three-quarters of low-income countries in 2009, with an average expansion of 3 percent of GDP. Revenues have grown slower than GDP, reflecting the disproportionate impact of the crisis on trade and commodity revenues, as well as weakening tax compliance. Expenditures are expected to increase by about 2 percentage points of GDP.
Fiscal deficits cannot be lowered in the immediate future. For the time being, fiscal (and monetary) policies must continue to support economic activity. The economic recovery is uneven and could be threatened by any premature withdrawal of policy support. Private demand is still unable to stand on its own two feet. This gives rise to a policy conundrum. How can we reconcile the competing requirements of short-term support for the economy and longer term fiscal solvency?
One obvious fallout of the global financial crisis is a huge deterioration in fiscal conditions, particularly in advanced countries. The numbers are nothing short of staggering. Gross general government debt in the G-20 advanced economies is projected to approach 120 percent of GDP by 2014, up from about 80 percent in 2007, and this is even assuming no renewal of fiscal stimulus beyond 2010.
Now here’s the puzzle: how is it that Asia has rebounded sooner and more strongly than the rest of the globe from the economic slump when the region is so heavily dependent on exports for its growth? This, and the future prospects for the region, are two of the key issues we analyzed in the latest Regional Economic Outlook (REO) for Asia and the Pacific, recently launched in Seoul and Tokyo.