Financial bailouts, stimulus spending, and lower revenues during the Great Recession have resulted in some of the highest public debt ratios seen in advanced economies in the past forty years. Recent debates have centered on the pace at which to pay down this debt, with few questions being asked about whether the debt needs to be paid down in the first place.
A radical solution for high debt is to do nothing at all—just live with it. Indeed, from a welfare economics perspective—abstracting from real world problems such as rollover risk—this would be optimal. We explore this issue in our recent work. While there are some countries where clearly debt needs to be brought down, there are others that are in a more comfortable position to fund themselves at exceptionally low interest rates, and that could indeed simply live with their debt (allowing their debt ratio to decline through growth or windfall revenues).
As 2014 draws to a close, we thought you might like a look back at the most read blogs of the year. These are the headlines and ideas that caught your eyes and the list is based on readership. We thought we’d pull them all together for you in one quick read.
Wishing you a wonky & worldy 2015 from all of us at iMFdirect.
(Version in Español)
Over 200 million people are unemployed around the globe today, over a fifth of them in advanced economies. Unemployment rates in these economies shot up at the onset of the Great Recession and, five years later, remain very high. Some argue that this is to be expected given that the economy remains well below trend and press for greater easing of macroeconomic policies (e.g. Krugman, 2011, Kocherlakota (2014)). Others suggest that the job losses, particularly in countries like Spain and Ireland, have been too large to be explained by developments in output, and may largely reflect structural problems in their labor markets. Even in the United States, where unemployment rates have fallen over the past year, there is concern that increasing numbers of people are dropping out of the labor force, thus decoupling jobs and growth.
The issue probably foremost on everyone’s mind, is the fiscal situation in the United States, and its potential implications.
While the focus is on the shutdown and the debt ceiling, we should not forget the sequester, which is leading to a fiscal consolidation this year which is both too large and too arbitrary. The shutdown is yet another bad outcome, although one which, if it does not last very long, has limited economic consequences.
Failure to lift the debt ceiling would, however, be a game changer. Prolonged failure would lead to an extreme fiscal consolidation, and surely derail the U.S. recovery. But the effects of any failure to repay the debt would be felt right away, leading to potentially major disruptions in financial markets, both in the U.S. and abroad. We see this as a tail risk, with low probability, but, were it to happen, it would have major consequences.
Today we released our update of the World Economic Outlook.
The world economy remains in 3-speed mode. Emerging markets are still growing rapidly. The US recovery is steady. And much of Europe continues to struggle.
There is however a twist to the story. Growth almost everywhere is a bit weaker than we forecast in April, and the downward revision is particularly noticeable in emerging markets. After years of strong growth, the BRICS in particular are beginning to run into speed bumps. This means that the focus of policies will increasingly need to turn to boosting potential output growth or, in the case of China, to achieving more sustainable and balanced growth.
What the Numbers Show
Guest post by George A. Akerlof
University of California, Berkeley
Senior Resident Scholar at the IMF, and co-host of the Conference on Rethinking Macro Policy II: First Steps and Early Lessons
I learned a lot from the conference , and I'm very thankful to all the speakers. Do I have an image of the whole thing? I don't know whether my image is going to help anybody at all, but my view is that it's as if a cat has climbed a huge tree. It's up there, and oh my God, we have this cat up there. The cat, of course, is this huge crisis.
And everybody at the conference has been commenting about what we should do about this stupid cat and how do we get it down and what do we do. What I find so wonderful about this conference is all the speakers have their own respective image of the cat, and nobody has the same opinion. But then, occasionally, those opinions mesh. That’s my image of what we have been accomplishing.
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.
Following the crisis, sharp losses in the values of houses and financial assets, as well as difficulties in obtaining new credit, forced American families to save more and rebuild their wealth. The ensuing rise in the saving rate, which stood at 4 percent in the second quarter of 2012, has been an important reason why the recovery from the 2008–09 recession has been sluggish. Therefore, our study looked at which types of households drove the aggregate saving rate down before the crisis and those that drove it up afterwards, so as to improve our ability to assess the potential for future U.S. growth.
The IMF blog has helped stimulate considerable debate about economic policy in the current crisis, on events in Europe and around the world, 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.