Public finances have had a rough year. A new reality is emerging. Against this backdrop, countries need to act now to boost growth and build resilience. They must also be prepared to act together to fend off global risks.
Populations are getting older around the world—that’s no surprise in light of declining fertility and improvements in health care. But in many countries, something more dramatic is going on—the population is actually shrinking. These demographic developments portend stark fiscal challenges. What should countries—whatever their degree of economic development—do to respond to these challenges?
By Vitor Gaspar
Does fiscal policy respond systematically to economic activity? Can fiscal policy promote macroeconomic stability? Does greater stability support stronger growth? The answer is yes on all counts. This finding, while seemingly obvious, is now backed by numbers to match each question. The April 2015 Fiscal Monitor explores how.
Fortune, wrote Machiavelli five hundred years ago in The Prince, is like a violent river. She “shows her power where virtue has not been put in order to resist her and therefore turns her impetus where she knows that dams and dikes have not been made to contain her.” Managing the ebb and flow of government’s fiscal fortunes poses similar challenges today. We need a risk-based approach to fiscal policymaking that applies a systematic analysis of potential sources of fiscal vulnerabilities. This method would help countries detect potential problems early, and would allow for institutional changes to build resilience.
(Version in Français)
Once again, the latest review of growth prospects for sub-Saharan Africa shows that the region’s economy is in strong health. Growth in the region is set to pick up to 5½ percent in 2014 compared to 4.9 percent last year (see Chart 1). My view is that this growth momentum will continue over the medium term if countries rise to new challenges and manage their economies as dexterously as they have over the past decade or so.
So what explains this continued strong growth performance? Apart from good macroeconomic policies in the region, the growth has been underpinned by investment in infrastructure, mining, and strong agricultural output. And favorable global tailwinds—high demand for commodities and low interest rates—have played a major supporting role.
The global financial crisis brought to the fore the question of sustainability of public finances. But it merely exacerbated a situation that was bound to attract attention sooner or later—governments all over the world have been spending more and more in recent decades. Here at the IMF, we’ve been looking into the factors behind this increase in public spending, particularly social spending, and our latest Fiscal Monitor report discusses some of the options for spending reform.
Public finances in most Latin American countries strengthened significantly before the global financial crisis. Since 2009, countries have generally increased public deficits, drawing down on their fiscal coffers.
These expansionary policies continue and are yet to be reversed. With further pressures likely to build over the period ahead—as economic growth has slowed, commodity prices have softened, and external funding costs are bound to rise—now is the right time to rethink fiscal policies across the region.
By Nemat Shafik
Europe faces a stark choice: risk stagnation or pursue integration. It can continue to muddle through, and hope that growth in the world economy will eventually pick up enough steam to pull its economy out of the doldrums. Or it can make a decisive push to revitalize its economy and complete the reforms needed to achieve a fully integrated economic and monetary union
Five years into the crisis, recovery in the euro area remains fragile. Important actions at both the national and euro-wide levels have tackled the immediate threats to the single currency. These include the European Central Bank’s announcement in 2012 that it stands ready to undertake outright monetary transactions in secondary sovereign bond markets, the completion of the European Stability Mechanism, which created a financial firewall around the euro area, and efforts to restore the health of public finances and implement structural reforms.
By Min Zhu
In the last two decades, countries have come a long way in shedding greater light on their public finances. The global economic crisis has reminded us, however, that we need to do more to ensure fiscal policymaking is based on reliable data on fiscal outcomes, credible forecasts of fiscal prospects, and a comprehensive assessment of fiscal risks. Working with civil society, governments, and others, the IMF has just presented a revised draft of its Fiscal Transparency Code, and we would like to know what you think of it so we can improve it further. You can comment here.
By Bas Bakker
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.