Sunday, September 18, 2011

Christine Lagarde's 4 Rs

A recent speech of IMF's Lagarde;
But before talking about solutions, we need to be clear about the problems. I would isolate three distinct, albeit related, issues—balance sheet pressures sapping growth, instability in the core of the global economic system, and social tensions.... I want to propose today four key policy dimensions needed to secure recovery and economic stability—repair, rebalance, reform, rebuild, the “4 R’s”.
First, repair. Before anything else, we must relieve some of the balance sheet pressures that risk smothering the recovery—on sovereigns, on households, on banks.
On sovereigns, advanced countries need credible medium-term plans to stabilize and lower public debt ratios. This must come first. But consolidating too quickly can hurt the recovery and worsen job prospects. So the challenge is to navigate between the twin perils of losing credibility and undermining growth. There is a way to do this. Credible measures that deliver and anchor savings in the medium term will help create space for accommodating growth today—by allowing a slower pace of consolidation.
Of course, the precise path is different for each country. Some have no choice but to cut deficits today, especially if they are under market pressure. Others should stick to their adjustment plans, but be ready to change course if growth falters further. Others still are probably pushing too hard today, and could slow down a bit.
One more point—it’s not just the what of the adjustment, it’s the how. In the short run, policymakers must focus on measures with the biggest bang-for-the-buck, that create jobs and kick-start growth, and that take distributional considerations into account. The how of adjustment is also important in the medium term, where fiscal plans should seek to support growth. I’m thinking of issues like tax reform, including by broadening bases. Equally, entitlement reforms will be essential in establishing long-term debt sustainability in virtually all advanced economies.
Policymakers must also deal with household and bank balance sheets.
In light of the jobs crisis in the United States, I welcome President Obama’s recent proposals to address growth and employment. At the same time, it remains critical for policymakers to clarify in parallel their medium term plans to put public debt on a sustainable path. In tandem with this crucial employment agenda, it is important to relieve overburdened households through actions like more aggressive principal reduction programs, or helping homeowners take advantage of low interest rates.
In Europe, the sovereigns must address firmly their financing problems through credible fiscal consolidation. In addition, to support growth, via private sector lending, all banks must have sufficient capital buffers.
The second “R” is reform. If repair was about getting the economy moving today, reform is about laying the foundations for a more stable economic future tomorrow.
A priority here is financial sector reform. On the plus side, we have broad agreement on higher quality capital and liquidity standards with appropriate phase-in arrangements. But substantial gaps remain in areas like supervision, cross-border resolution, too-important-to-fail, and shadow banking systems. We need international cooperation across all dimensions to avoid regulatory arbitrage. The fact that so many of these issues are still unresolved three years after Lehman should be of concern to us all.
We also need to develop and fine-tune macro-prudential tools to guard against financial risks. I’m thinking here of policies like having banks hold more capital when times are good or implementing maximum loan-to-value ratios to guard against housing price bubbles.
Under the reform banner, I would also include the social dimension. Employment must be central. It not only sustains demand, but supports human dignity. In the words of Dostoevsky, “deprived of meaningful work, men and women lose their reason for existence”. This is especially important among the young, who risk losing the race even before the starting gun has sounded. We should also seek growth that is inclusive, benefiting the whole of society.
The third “R” is rebalance. This has two meanings. First, it means shifting back demand from the public to the private sector, when the private sector is strong enough to carry the load. This hasn’t happened yet.
The second rebalancing involves a global demand switch from external deficit to external surplus counties. The idea here is straightforward—with lower spending and higher savings in the advanced economies, key emerging markets must take up the slack and start providing the demand needed to power the global recovery. But any rebalancing so far is largely due to lower growth. In some countries, rebalancing is being held back by policies that keep domestic demand growth too slow and currency appreciation too modest. Some other emerging markets are dealing with dangers from capital inflows that are too rapid.
This lack of sufficient rebalancing hurts everyone. In our inter-connected world, any thought of decoupling is a mirage. If the advanced economies succumb to recession, the emerging markets will not escape. Nobody will. Rebalancing is in the global interest, but it is also in the national interest.
Woodrow Wilson would have appreciated that, I'm sure.

My fourth—and final—“R” is rebuild. Here I am thinking mainly of the low-income countries that need to rebuild their economic policy buffers—including fiscal positions—that served them so well during the crisis, to protect themselves against future storms. This will also help provide the space for growth-enhancing public investment and social safety nets—for example, allowing countries to deploy well-targeted subsidies to protect the poor from commodity price swings with minimal damage to fiscal sustainability.

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