Chart of the Week: Seeking Solutions to Growing Inequality

By IMFblog

As finance ministers and central banks gather in Washington this week for the spring meetings of the IMF and World Bank, income inequality will be among the topics of discussion.

While global economic integration has brought enormous benefits in the form of rising living standards, it has also contributed to widening inequality within some countries. In advanced economies, the incomes of the top 1 percent have grown three times faster than those of the rest of the population over the past three decades.

Why should this be a concern to policy makers? To put it simply, when the benefits of growth are shared more broadly, growth is stronger, more durable, and more resilient.

In a speech on April 12, IMF Managing Director Christine Lagarde outlined steps governments can take to help workers who have been affected by labor-market dislocations, including greater emphasis on retraining and vocational training, job search assistance, and relocation support.

The IMF’s Fiscal Monitor, to be released on April 19, also explains how governments can use taxation and spending to ensure that growth is more equitable.

The IMF’s Work on Inequality: Bridging Research and Reality

By Prakash Loungani and Jonathan D. Ostry

Versions in عربي (Arabic),  中文 (Chinese), Français (French), and Español (Spanish)

Over the past three decades, income inequality has gone up in most advanced economies and in many developing ones as well. Why? Much of the research on inequality has focused on advances in technology and liberalization of trade as the main drivers. While technology and trade are global trends that are difficult to resist, IMF studies have shown that the design of government policies matters and can help limit increases in inequality. (more…)

Can Raising Japan’s Minimum Wage Accelerate Wage Growth?

By Luc Everaert and Giovanni Ganelli

Version in 日本語 (Japanese)

Japan’s minimum wage is 798 JPY ($6.52) per hour, lower than many other advanced countries, including the United States, and among the lowest relative to the average wage (see chart). For a country that needs consumers to boost spending to pull the economy out of 15 years of deflation and reinvigorate growth, a hike in wages across the board can go a long way. (more…)

Subdued Growth, Diminished Prospects, Action Needed

By Maurice Obstfeld

(Versions in عربي, , 中文Français, 日本語, Русский, and Español)

At the start of 2016, turbulence in financial markets has returned amid renewed concern about risks to global economic growth. The fundamental forces that underlay our October World Economic Outlook projections have not dissipated, and in some respects have intensified, leading us to trim our expectations for future medium-term growth of the world economy.

In the World Economic Outlook Update released today, we still, however, expect growth to pick up this year in most countries.

Despite the modesty of the reduction we see in general growth prospects and the promise of improvement in coming years, downside risks to our central scenario have intensified. In our view, a focus on these risks is the main factor driving recent developments in financial markets.

We may be in for a bumpy ride this year, especially in the emerging and developing world.

(more…)

Growing Pains: Europe’s Dilemma

By Bas Bakker

(Versions in Español and Français )

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.

(more…)

Between a Rock and a Hard Place: U.S. Fiscal Policy

The United States faces two pressing challenges to fiscal policy: raise the debt ceiling, and begin the arduous process of reducing deficits and debt. And, right now, this leaves U.S. fiscal policy between a rock and a hard place. How much savings should be found and in what form are crucial questions. So is when to put those savings in effect.

South Africa’s Unemployment Puzzle

The big blemish on South Africa’s otherwise strong economic performance since the mid-1990s is stubbornly high unemployment. Of course this is an important exception, especially as it has exacerbated income inequality. Unemployment in South Africa was already very high before the crisis, but the enormous job losses during 2008-09 made the already dire situation much worse. It now stands at some 24 percent—more than double the unemployment rate in the United States—and youth unemployment is phenomenally higher still at some 50 percent. Reducing unemployment is the foremost economic challenge facing South Africa. Here’s my take on what is needed.

Raising Competitiveness: Recipe for Tapping into the Middle East’s Growth Potential

With the global economy on the mend, countries in the Middle East and North Africa are witnessing a pickup in trade and economic growth. But, within the region, the picture is mixed. Indeed, for the region’s oil-importing countries, we are likely to see growth nudge up from 4½ percent in 2009 to around 5 percent this year. However, that is well below the growth rate required to create the 18 million jobs needed over the next decade. For these countries, greater competitiveness will be the crucial ingredient to boosting economic growth and employment. In this blog post, Masood Ahmed explores what we mean by ‘competitiveness’ and what are the policy actions governments need to take to raise it.

Saving the Lost Generation

Oslo was the scene this week of a remarkable event that brought together global leaders from government, business, trade unions, and academia to discuss what many of them said is the biggest issue facing the world today: the jobs crisis. In this blog, IMF Managing Director Dominique Strauss-Kahn reflects on unemployment today—the highest level in history—and, importantly, about what can be done to save the potentially "lost generation" of unemployed young people.

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