In parallel to the aging of the general population, the workforce in the euro area is also growing older. This could cause productivity growth to decline in the years ahead, raising another policy challenge for governments already dealing with legacies from the crisis such as high unemployment and debt. (more…)
Brazil has made remarkable social gains over the past decade and a half. Millions of families have been lifted from extreme poverty, and access to education and health has improved thanks to a series of well-targeted social interventions, such as Bolsa Familia, the conditional cash transfer program. I was privileged to see some of this tangible progress during my visit to Brazil last week.
I met with Tereza Campello, Brazil’s Minister for Social Development, who explained the network of social programs in the country, and guided us on a visit to Complexo do Alemão—a neighborhood and a group of favelas in the North Zone of Rio de Janeiro. We got there after a ride on the recently built cable car, which links several neighborhoods on the hills to the North Zone. This is a great example of infrastructure that has contributed immensely to improving the economic opportunities of people, who now have a quick way to move around and connect to the larger city. The stations themselves are also focal points of the efforts aimed at improving the daily lives of the people of Rio de Janeiro, since they house important services such as the youth center, a social assistance center, a public library, a training center for micro-entrepreneurs, and even a small branch of the bank that distributes the Bolsa Familia monthly grants.
(Version in عربي)
Egypt currently faces what may seem to be conflicting objectives. On the one hand, there’s an urgent need to restore economic stability—by achieving lower budget deficits, public debt and inflation, and adequate foreign exchange reserves. At the same time, there’s a long-standing need to achieve better standards of living—with more jobs, less poverty, and better health and education systems—one of the key reasons why people took to the streets in 2011.
Some might think that those two goals don’t go together—that the actions needed to reduce the budget and external deficits will necessarily take away from jobs and growth. But that’s not true. Some of the same policies that will improve Egypt’s financial situation can also help improve living standards.
India, after witnessing spectacular growth averaging above 9 percent over the past decade, has started to slow in the last few years. The slump in infrastructure and corporate investment has been the single biggest contributor to India’s recent growth slowdown.
India’s investment growth, averaging above 12 percent during the last decade fell to less than one percent in the last two years. What is especially worrisome is that more and more investment projects are getting delayed and shelved, while the pipeline of new projects has become exceptionally thin.
This slowdown has sparked an intense public debate about its causes. Some commentators, including representatives of the business community, argue that high interest rates, which raise financing costs, are the major culprit, dampening investment. Others maintain that interest rates are only partly responsible for the current weak levels of investment, suggesting that a host of other factors, particularly on the supply side, are at play.
Our new Working Paper seeks to shed some light on the reasons behind this investment malaise. Using a novel index of economic policy uncertainty—an innovation in our analysis—we find that heightened uncertainty regarding the future course of broader economic policies and deteriorating business confidence have played a significant role in the recent investment slowdown.
These are difficult times for ministers of finance. Fiscal constraints are tight and raising economic growth a priority. At the same time, income inequality is on the rise, and so is public pressure for governments to do something about it through their tax and spending policies. What’s a minister to do? How can he or she meet these seemingly incompatible demands?
A new IMF paper provides some guidance. Governments, of course, will have their own equity objectives. What the paper aims to do is look at precisely how countries can achieve their distributional goals—whatever they are—at the least possible cost to (and maybe even increasing) economic efficiency. This can help achieve sustainable growth and, in many cases, lead to fiscal savings. An earlier study by IMF researchers found that on average, fiscal redistribution has been associated with higher growth, because it helps reduce inequality.
Having visited Cambodia and Korea on this whirlwind tour of the region, I touched down in my third and last country—Myanmar.
What a place! It is rare to find such a combination of enchanting beauty, warm hospitality, and an unstoppable drive to succeed. Myanmar is undergoing a great awakening to the world and all that it has to offer. And it is engaging on multiple fronts. For example, it has recently taken over the chairmanship of ASEAN, and when I arrived I found the country in the midst of hosting the South East Asian games.
The issue of rising income inequality is now at the forefront of public debate. There is growing concern as to the economic and social consequences of the steady, and often sharp, increase in the share of income captured by higher income groups. While much of the discussion focuses on the factors driving the rise in inequality—including globalization, labor market reforms, and technological changes that favor higher-skilled workers—a more pressing issue is what can be done about it.
The growth versus austerity debate is detracting attention from policy issues that may seem less urgent, but which are nevertheless critical in the medium term. I am referring to what I would call the institutional gaps in fiscal policymaking that still exist in most advanced and emerging economies. These gaps have contributed to a bias in the conduct of fiscal policy in favor of deficits that is behind many of the current problems.
Suddenly it's the thing everyone is talking about. Income inequality. In North Africa and the Middle East, jobless youth sparked the Arab Spring. In the United States, the growing gap between rich and poor is the “meta concern” of the Occupy Wall Street movement. Worldwide, frustrations appear to be on the rise. And, in sub-Saharan Africa, sustained economic growth may have produced tremendous advances, but a large proportion of the population is still living in poverty. Here, the underlying situation is a little more complex. In July, I wrote about the importance of inclusive growth and whether economic growth was a necessary or a sufficient condition for poverty reduction. Our latest Regional Economic Outlook for Sub-Saharan Africa takes that thinking a step further, with new analysis that looks at how living standards for the poorest households have actually been changing in some countries in the region.