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.
In late 2012 or early 2013 the U.S. federal government will again reach a statutory borrowing limit and will not be able to issue additional debt. Why is this a problem? First, because the federal government is spending considerably more than it collects in taxes; and second, because spending and tax collections are not synchronized. As a result, if the ceiling is not raised in time, the government would need to cut spending drastically, curtailing important government functions, with detrimental effects on output and employment. And just the mere possibility that the government might have to delay a payment on a bond could unsettle financial markets.
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. Preparing for the conference I just attended in Riga in which we tried to draw lessons, and reading the evidence, I could think of seven reasons.
Going forward, while the space for a macroeconomic policy response is smaller than it was entering the global financial crisis, Asia’s policymakers still have ample room to react appropriately to a sharp deleveraging of foreign banks arising from a euro area shock. In addition, capital adequacy ratios, which exceed regulatory norms in most economies, and low nonperforming loan ratios, combined with room to offer liquidity support, suggest that relatively healthy local banking systems should also provide a buffer, as they did in the wake of the global financial crisis.
The Baltic country of Latvia has gone through the most extreme boom-bust cycle in emerging Europe, and was among the first countries to ask for financial assistance from the international community. Today, it 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. Latvia has also successfully returned to international capital markets.
Sub-Saharan Africa's solid growth record has been supported by several factors, including significantly less civil conflict, the generally favorable commodity price developments benefiting Africa’s natural resource exporters; and the extensive debt relief provided to most highly-indebted poor countries. But I would ascribe key importance to sound policy choices by African governments – both in terms of pursuing appropriate macroeconomic policies and pressing ahead with important reform measures.
The debate on austerity vs. growth has gained in intensity, as countries in Europe and elsewhere struggle with low growth, high debt, and rising unemployment. In essence, policymakers are being asked to tackle a continuation of the worst crisis since the Great Depression. This would be no easy task under any circumstances. But it is made considerably harder by the fact that a number of countries need to engage in fiscal consolidation simultaneously. Complicating the picture further is the fact that monetary policy in most advanced economies is approaching the limits of what it technically can do to stimulate activity, while global growth remains weak.
The crisis has harmed growth, increased unemployment, and left a large number of people less protected. We are now seeing some signs of stabilization. Most countries are reducing their deficits and even if debt ratios are still rising, the return back to fiscal health has begun.