Debt is central to the functioning of a modern economy. Firms can use it to finance investments in future productivity. Households can use it to finance lumpy purchases, such as big consumer durables, or a home. Sometimes, however, firms’ investments do not pan out or a household’s main earner loses his or her job. Countries’ legal systems generally recognize that in these cases, debtors and creditors alike—along with society at large—may be better off if there is an orderly procedure for reorganizing debts. […]
Greece is once again in the headlines as discussions for the second review of its European Stability Mechanism (ESM) program are gaining pace. Unfortunately, the discussions have also spurred some misinformation about the role and the views of the IMF. Above all, the IMF is being criticized for demanding more fiscal austerity, in particular for making this a condition for urgently needed debt relief. This is not true, and clarifications are in order. […]
Having successfully pulled Greece from the brink last summer and subsequently stabilized the economy, the government of Alexis Tsipras is now discussing with its European partners and the IMF a comprehensive multi-year program that can secure a lasting recovery and make debt sustainable. While discussions continue, there have been some misperceptions about the International Monetary Fund’s views and role in the process. I thought it would be useful to clarify issues.
(Version in Español)
Budgets can be full of surprises. And not always good ones. Often times, debt increases significantly because an unforeseen obligation materializes. These contingent liabilities, as they are known in the economist’s jargon, can have significant economic and fiscal costs. In fact, on many occasions, large and unexpected increases in debt across the world were due to the materialization of contingent liabilities. That is why they are often called hidden deficits.
2015 was a bold year for blogs at the IMF. Boldness grows less common in the higher ranks, according to Prussian general and military theorist Carl von Clausewitz, but he couldn’t be more wrong when it comes to these blogs: the list includes work by the IMF’s former chief economist Olivier Blanchard and Vitor Gaspar, head of the Fiscal Affairs Department.
For a man who declared on his arrival at the IMF “I do not blog,” Olivier Blanchard, our soon-to-be former Chief Economist, is one hell of a blogger.
Prolific and popular. A demi-god: half economist, half artist. Blanchard writes the way he thinks: sharp, frank, and intellectual, while pushing against the edges of his métier with the creativity and honesty of a singular economist.
All eyes are on Greece, as the parties involved continue to strive for a lasting deal, spurring vigorous debate and some sharp criticisms, including of the IMF.
In this context, I thought some reflections on the main critiques could help clarify some key points of contention as well as shine a light on a possible way forward.
The main critiques, as I see them, fall under the following four categories:
- The 2010 program only served to raise debt and demanded excessive fiscal adjustment.
- The financing to Greece was used to repay foreign banks.
- Growth-killing structural reforms, together with fiscal austerity, have led to an economic depression.
- Creditors have learned nothing and keep repeating the same mistakes.
Today we published the World Economic Outlook Update.
But first, let me talk about the elephant in the room, namely Greece.
The word elephant may not be right: As dramatic as the events in Greece are, Greece accounts for less than two percent of the Eurozone GDP, and less than one half of one percent of world GDP.
The status of negotiations between Greece and its official creditors – the European Commission, the ECB and the IMF – dominated headlines last week. At the core of the negotiations is a simple question: How much of an adjustment has to be made by Greece, how much has to be made by its official creditors?
In the program agreed in 2012 by Greece with its European partners, the answer was: Greece was to generate enough of a primary surplus to limit its indebtedness. It also agreed to a number of reforms which should lead to higher growth. In consideration, and subject to Greek implementation of the program, European creditors were to provide the needed financing, and provide debt relief if debt exceeded 120% by the end of the decade.
By José Viñals
The three main messages from this Global Financial Stability Report are:
- Risks to the global financial system have risen since October and have rotated to parts of the financial system where they are harder to assess and harder to address.
- Advanced economies need to enhance the traction of monetary policies to achieve their goals, while managing undesirable financial side effects of low interest rates.
- To withstand the global crosscurrents of lower oil prices, rising U.S. policy rates, and a stronger dollar, emerging markets must increase the resilience of their financial systems by addressing domestic vulnerabilities.
Let me now discuss these findings in detail.