As the world economy continues to struggle, people are taking to the streets by the thousands to protest painful cuts in public spending designed to reduce government debt and deficits. This fiscal fury is understandable. People want to regain the confidence they once had about the future when the economy was booming and more of us had jobs. But after a protracted economic crisis, this will take planning, fair burden-sharing, and time itself.
The IMF blog has helped stimulate considerable debate about economic policy in the current crisis, on events in Europe and around the world, on fiscal adjustment, on regulating the financial sector, and the future of macroeconomics, as economists learn lessons from the Great Recession. As readers struggled to understand the implications of the crisis, our most popular post by far was IMF Chief Economist Olivier Blanchard's Four Hard Truths, a look back at 2011 and the economic lessons for the future.
Faced with a jobs crisis, policymakers the world over are digging deep into their policy toolkits to generate more employment. A recent study by the IMF’s Fiscal Affairs Department argues that reforms of tax and expenditure policies offer great promise in helping countries confront the jobs crisis, including in the short term.
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.
In our work at the IMF, we sometimes discover that governments choose to employ accounting devices—or stratagems that make the deficit smaller without actually causing any pain, and without actually improving public finances. In ideal accounting, this would not be possible. In real accounting, it sometimes is.
Indiana Jones, the fictional character of the namesake movies, once said “It’s not the years, it’s the mileage.” The quote comes to mind as many advanced economies wrestle with the best way for pension reform to ensure both retirees and governments don’t go broke. Our view, explained in a new study, is that in fact the years do matter. Our analysis shows that gradually raising retirement ages could help countries contain pension spending increases and boost economic growth.
We all hope to retire one day. Our pensions hold the promise of that. Good fiscal policy means thinking about ho w policy decisions—involving long-term promises, such as pensions—affect government finances both today and in the future. With pension reform a priority for so many countries, it is a problem that traditional deficit and debt indicators focus on the health of public finances today, but fail to capture the future impact of pension promises. We propose a new indicator—the “pension-adjusted” budget balance—that can help measure when changes in pension policies are improving or worsening long-term fiscal health. Used as a complement to traditional indicators, this new indicator could help avoid incentives to delay or even reverse pension reforms.