When should multilateral considerations trump national interests in the imposition of controls on capital flows? An IMF paper explores the reasons why countries may want to impose controls and looks at when the wider interest should be taken into consideration, requiring some multilateral principles for their safe management.
Last week I travelled to Rio de Janeiro in Brazil to participate in a conference on managing capital flows. Organized jointly by the Brazilian authorities and the IMF, the conference brought together experts from both the demand and supply sides of the issue, including many with a wealth of hands-on experience. The discussion was rich and informative. Clearly we still have a lot to learn about the optimal approach to managing capital flows, about the right policy tools, and the right combination of tools. To start with two general, but important observations.
Sub-Saharan Africa’s “frontier markets”—the likes of Ghana, Kenya, Mauritius, and Zambia—were seemingly the destination of choice for an increasing amount of capital flows before the global financial crisis. Improving economic prospects in these countries was a big factor, but frankly, so too was a global economy awash with liquidity. Then the crisis hit. And capital—particularly in the form of portfolio flows—was quick to flee these countries as was the case for so many other economies. Fast forward to 2011. Capital flows are coming back to the frontier, but in dribs and drabs. In our recent Regional Economic Outlook we examined the experience of sub-Saharan Africa’s frontier markets, with a view to understanding how they can best make use of these inflow to meet their own development and growth objectives.
The April 2011 IMF-World Bank Spring Meetings are upon us here in Washington DC. With global challenges that require global solutions—the theme of the meetings—IMF Managing Director Dominique Strauss-Kahn reminds us that this is “not the time for complacency.” Here’s a snapshot of what you need to know to get you through the meetings….
In various guises, the “Year of Living Dangerously” has been used to describe the global financial crisis, the policy response to the crisis, and its aftermath. But, we’ve slipped well beyond a year and the financial system is still flirting with danger. Financial stability risks may have eased, reflecting improvements in the economic outlook and continuing accommodative policies. But those supportive policies—while necessary to restart the economy—have also masked serious, underlying financial vulnerabilities that need to be addressed as quickly as possible. Many advanced economies are “living dangerously” because the legacy of high debt burdens is weighing on economic activity and balance sheets, keeping risks to financial stability elevated. At the same time, many emerging market countries risk overheating and the build-up of financial imbalances—in the context of rapid credit growth, increasing asset prices, and strong and volatile capital inflows. Here is our suggested roadmap for policymakers to address these vulnerabilities and risks, and achieve durable financial stability.
The world economic recovery is gaining strength, but it remains unbalanced. Earlier fears of a double dip recession—which we did not share—have not materialized. And, although rising commodity prices conjure the specter of 1970s-style stagflation, they appear unlikely to derail the recovery. However, the unbalanced recovery confronts policy makers with difficult choices. In most advanced economies, output is still far below potential. Low growth implies that unemployment will remain high for many years to come. And the problems in Europe’s periphery are particularly acute. On the other end of the spectrum, emerging market countries must avoid overheating in the face of closing output gaps and higher capital flows. The need for careful design of macroeconomic policies at the national level, and coordination at the global level, may be as important today as they were at the peak of the crisis two years ago.
I am delighted to be back in China this week for a high-level seminar in Nanjing on the international monetary system. Every time I come to this part of the world, I am impressed by the dynamism of the economies and the optimism of the people. The region’s economic performance over the past few decades has been nothing short of remarkable. To sustain this progress, Asia needs to grapple with numerous challenges today and these relate directly to our discussions in Nanjing. The current international monetary system has certainly delivered a lot. But it also has flaws that need to be fixed, especially if the next phase of globalization is to succeed in bringing a strong and broad-based increase in living standards. I see four pressing issues.
I had one major source of unhappiness with last week’s conference on macroeconomic policies in the wake of the financial crisis: the participants were largely silent about the dismal outlook in the advanced economies for the next several years. With the exception of that one critical omission, I was impressed by the discussion. One striking feature was the consensus that there is no consensus. The crisis has, appropriately, made macroeconomists and policymakers humble about what we know. There were, however, some specific issues on which there was, if not unanimity, considerable agreement.
The global economic crisis taught us to question our most cherished beliefs about the way we conduct macroeconomic policy. Earlier I had put forward some ideas to help guide conversations as we reexamine these beliefs. I was heartened by the wide online debate and the excellent discussions at a conference on post-crisis macroeconomic policy here in Washington last week. At the end of the conference, I organized my concluding thoughts around nine points. Let me go through them and see whether you agree or not.
The international monetary system is a topic that encompasses a wide range of issues—reserve currencies, exchange rates, capital flows, and the global financial safety net, to name a few. Some are of the view that the current system works well enough. I take a less sanguine view. Certainly the world did not end with the crisis that began in 2008 and a recovery is under way. But, it is not the recovery we wanted—it is uneven, unemployment is not really going down, there are widening inequalities, and global imbalances are back. Reform of the international monetary system may be wide-ranging and complex. But concrete reforms are needed to achieve the kind of well-balanced and sustainable recovery that the world needs, and to help prevent the next crisis.