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.
(Version in Español)
With the expected move by the Federal Reserve to raise interest rates before the end of the year, many are asking about the effects on emerging market countries. Will outflows increase, and how will this affect economic activity in emerging markets? To answer that, we need to know if capital inflows are in general expansionary or contractionary.
One would think that the question was settled long ago. But, in fact, it is not. It is a case where theory suggests one thing and practice another. The workhorse model of international macro (the Mundell-Fleming model), for example, suggests that, for a given monetary policy rate, inflows lead to an appreciation, and thus to a contraction in net exports—and a decrease in output. Only if the policy rate is decreased sufficiently can capital inflows be expansionary. Symmetrically, using a model along these lines, Paul Krugman argued in his 2013 Mundell-Fleming lecture that capital outflows are expansionary.
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.
On April 15-16, the IMF organized the third conference on “Rethinking Macro Policy.“
Here are my personal take aways.
1. What will be the “new normal”?
I had asked the panelists to concentrate not on current policy challenges, but on challenges in the “new normal.” I had implicitly assumed that this new normal would be very much like the old normal, one of decent growth and positive equilibrium interest rates. The assumption was challenged at the conference.
On the one hand, Ken Rogoff argued that what we were in the adjustment phase of the “debt supercycle.” Such financial cycles, he argued, end up with debt overhang, which in turn slows down the recovery and requires low interest rates for some time to maintain sufficient demand. Under that view, while it may take a while for the overhang to go away, more so in the Euro zone than in the United States, we should eventually return to something like the old normal.
In our April 2015 World Economic Outlook, we forecast global growth to be roughly the same this year than last year, 3.5% versus 3.4%. This global number reflects an increase in growth in advanced economies, 2.4% versus 1.8%, offset by a decrease in growth in emerging market and developing economies, 4.3% versus 4.6% last year. In short, to repeat the words used by the IMF Managing Director last week, we see growth as “moderate and uneven”.
Behind these numbers lies an unusually complex set of forces shaping the world economy. Some, such as the decline in the price of oil and the evolution of exchange rates, are highly visible. Some, from crisis legacies to lower potential growth, play more of a role behind the scene but are important nevertheless. Let me briefly review them.
Seven years since the onset of the global financial crisis, we are still assessing how the crisis should change our views about macroeconomic policy. To take stock, the IMF organized two conferences, the first in 2011, the second in 2013, and published the proceedings in two books, titled “In the Wake of the Crisis” and “What Have We Learned?“.
The time seems right for a third assessment. Research has continued, policies have been tried, and the debates have been intense. But have we truly made much progress? Are we closer to a new framework? To address these questions, Raghuram Rajan, Ken Rogoff, Larry Summers and I are organizing a third conference, “Rethinking Macro Policy III: Progress or Confusion?” that will take place on April 15-16 at the IMF.