The global recovery continues, but the recovery is weak; indeed a bit weaker than we forecast in April, says IMF Chief Economist Olivier Blanchard. In the Euro zone, growth is close to zero, reflecting positive but low growth in the core countries, and negative growth in most periphery countries. In the United States, growth is positive, but too low to make a serious dent to unemployment. Growth has also slowed in major emerging economies, from China to India and Brazil.
With economic growth expected to continue at a reasonably good clip this year and next, it’s all too easy to think there’s not much to worry about. Even as Diwali celebrations begin across India, the outlook for the world economy is fairly uneven and uncertain. More worrisome than the subdued global growth outlook, risks are building up especially in Europe—and these include an extreme scenario with financial disruption. Although India’s economy has generally been less prone to external forces than many others, we still need to contend with the larger than typical risks in the global economy. These risks harken the need for a new wave of reforms. What does the more somber darker global outlook mean for India? And exactly what policies are needed?
By Bas Bakker
As the crisis in Europe deepens, it is worth asking how it all went wrong in the first place. In the past decade there have been stark differences in per capita GDP growth in Europe. Growth rates have ranged from close to zero in Italy and Portugal to more than 4 percent in the best performers. Why do some countries in Europe grow much faster than others? And how can those falling behind catch up before it is too late?
In part, these differences reflect “convergence”. It is much easier for poor countries to grow faster than it is for rich countries because they can import technology they do not already have. It is much more difficult to grow fast if you are already rich and at the technology frontier—now you can only get richer by innovation.
As the European crisis lingers and advanced economies stall, the next six to eighteen months will be challenging for Latin America. Increased global uncertainties may create headwinds for the region—greater stress in the global economy and markets—tailwinds, if the advanced countries’ problems are tackled and economies spring back to life, or volatile gusts—weak growth and continued uncertainty—like we are seeing now. But it’s not easy to forecast the future of Latin America in these uncertain times, as we discuss in our just-published Regional Economic Outlook for Western Hemisphere. (Here I focus on Latin America, but our report covers the whole region, including North America, Central America, and the Caribbean.)
In the midst of jittery financial markets, and global economic doom and gloom, it’s easy to become pessimistic. Public debt and fiscal deficits in many advanced economies remain very high. Nevertheless, important progress has been made in fiscal adjustment—the fiscal outlook in most countries is stronger than we expected two years ago. So to the pessimists I say, don’t lose sight of what’s been achieved. But, to the optimists (if there are any) I say, don’t underestimate what still needs to be done. The task that policymakers face is complicated. They need to ensure the public sector is not a source of instability by committing to a plan that will stabilize and then bring down public debt. At the same time, they need to make sure that fiscal tightening itself does not undermine the recovery.
The global economy has entered a dangerous new phase. The recovery has weakened considerably, and downside risks have increased sharply. Strong policies are urgently needed to improve the outlook and to reduce the risks. Growth, which had been strong in 2010, decreased in 2011. What was going on was the stalling of the two rebalancing acts—internal and external—which, as we have argued in many previous reports, are needed to deliver “strong, balanced, and sustainable growth.” This has been compounded by a sharp increase in financial volatility since the middle of the summer. These developments have, not surprisingly, led us to revise our forecasts down. In light of the low baseline and the high risks, strong policy action is of the essence. It has to rely on three main legs.
Asia’s vigorous pace of growth has seen the region play a leading role in the global recovery. But there are signs that higher commodity prices are spilling over to a more generalized increase in inflation. Expectations of future inflation have picked up. And accommodative macroeconomic policy stances, coupled with limited slack in some economies, have added to inflation pressures. Against this backdrop, the need for policy tightening in Asia has become more pressing than it was six months ago, especially in economies that face generalized inflation pressures. How should policymakers address these challenges?
As the economic recovery has matured across much of Asia, the region has continued to be a driving force in the strengthening global recovery. Yet, recent tragic events—around the globe, and the earthquake and tsunami in Japan—are an all too poignant reminder of the fragility of our economic circumstances and, indeed, life. Much of this weighs on my mind as I am here in Hong Kong to launch our April 2011 Regional Economic Outlook: Asia and Pacific. While the outlook is by no means gloomy, policies will need to tackle new downside risks that have emerged and how to manage the next phase of Asia’s growth.
Undertaking a sizable fiscal adjustment is a lot like driving up a tall mountain: it’s hard work, it can take a long time, and you don’t want to run out of fuel partway up the incline. Countries are starting the climb, cutting back government deficits and debt levels, but according to our analysis often current plans aren’t enough to get countries where they need and want to go. The plans in place are large by historical standards, which brings with it difficult choices, and particular risks and uncertainties. Let me fill you in on what these are.