Undertaking a sizable fiscal adjustment is a lot like driving up a tall mountain: it’s hard work, it can take a long time, and you don’t want to run out of fuel partway up the incline. Countries are starting the climb, cutting back government deficits and debt levels, but according to our analysis often current plans aren’t enough to get countries where they need and want to go. The plans in place are large by historical standards, which brings with it difficult choices, and particular risks and uncertainties. Let me fill you in on what these are.
Today, fiscal problems are a key concern of policy makers in many industrial countries, and a reassessment of sovereign risk is a palpable threat to global recovery. At the heart of the issue is the extent to which governments have room for fiscal maneuver—“fiscal space”—before markets force them to tighten policies sharply and, relatedly, the size of adjustments needed to restore or maintain public debt sustainability. Yet, much of the talk about fiscal space—how to measure it and the policy implications—has so far been rather fuzzy. In this blog, Jonathan Ostry discusses a new staff position note that he co-authored with several IMF colleagues, which aims to remedy this by providing an operational definition of the fiscal space concept as well as estimates of fiscal space for 23 advanced economies.