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.
We have calculated that an increase in annual long-term economic growth of just a quarter of a percentage point could set in place a virtuous circle that would lead, after ten years, to a decline in the public debt-to-GDP ratio by 6 percentage points. This is because higher growth makes it easier to run a primary surplus and lowers the public debt-to-GDP ratio directly. This in turn lowers the interest rate, which in turn boosts economic growth.
As 2011 draws to a close, the recovery in many advanced economies is at a standstill, with some investors even exploring the implications of a potential breakup of the euro zone, and the real possibility that conditions may be worse than we saw in 2008. Olivier Blanchard, the IMF's Chief Economist, draws four main lessons in his year in review.