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Use fiscal initiatives to escape low-growth: OECD Global Economic Outlook, November 2016

28 November 2016

OECD Global Economic Outlook, November 2016

Key Issues

  • The global economy remains in a low-growth trap, but more active use of fiscal policy will raise growth modestly. Investment and trade are weak, weighing on drivers of consumption such as productivity and wages.
  • Policy uncertainties and financial risks are high. But low interest rates create a window of opportunity
  • Fiscal, structural, trade policies need to be interwoven for gains. Reducing trade costs raises growth but trade restrictions put jobs at risk. Expansionary fiscal initiatives to boost growth and reduce inequality would not impair fiscal sustainability. The success of fiscal initiatives depends on structural policy ambition.
  • Collective action enables greater gains at lower political cost.

 

 

Extracts from editorial by OECD Chief Economist Catherine Mann

[…] The projections in this Economic Outlook offer the prospect that fiscal initiatives could catalyse private economic activity and push the global economy to the modestly higher growth rate of around 3½ per cent by 2018. Durable exit from the low-growth trap depends on policy choices beyond those of the monetary authorities – that is, of fiscal and structural, including trade policies – as well as on concerted and effective implementation. Collective fiscal action undertaken by all countries, including a more expansionary stance than planned in many countries in Europe, would support domestic and global growth even for those economies, who by virtue of specific circumstances, need to consolidate their fiscal positions or pursue a more neutral stance.

[…] This Economic Outlook argues that the current conjuncture of extraordinarily accommodative monetary policy with very low interest rates opens a window of opportunity to deploy fiscal initiatives. Fiscal space has been created by lower interest payments on rolled-over debt, which also increases gauges of market access and of debt sustainability. On average, OECD economies could deploy deficit- financed fiscal initiatives for three to four years, while still leaving debt-to-GDP ratios unchanged in the long term. A front-loaded effort could allow deficit finance to taper sooner and put the debt-to-GDP ratio sustainably on a downward path.

The key is to deploy the right kind of fiscal initiatives that support demand in the short run and supply in the long run and address not just growth challenges but also inequality concerns. These include soft investments in education and R&D along with hard investment in public infrastructures. Such fiscal initiatives would improve outcomes for demand and supply potential even more for economies suffering from long-term unemployment, when undertaken collectively, and when fiscal initiatives are complemented by country-specific structural policies put together in a coherent package.

[…] Against this backdrop of fiscal initiatives, reviving trade growth through better policies would help to push the global economy out of the low-growth trap, as well as support revived productivity growth. In this Economic Outlook trade growth is projected to increase from a dismal ratio of global trade-to-GDP growth of around 0.8 to be about on par with global output growth – remaining much less than the multiple of 2 enjoyed over the last few decades. This sluggish trade growth compared to historical experience shaves some 0.2 percentage point from total factor productivity growth – which may seem minor – but is meaningful given the slow productivity growth of some 0.5% per year during the post- crisis period.

Some argue that slowing globalization would temper the brunt of adjustments to workers and firms. This Economic Outlook suggests that protectionism and inevitable trade retaliation would offset much of the effects of the fiscal initiatives on domestic and global growth, raise prices, harm living standards, and leave countries in a worsened fiscal position. Trade protectionism shelters some jobs, but worsens prospects and lowers well- being for many others. In many OECD countries, more than 25% of jobs depend on foreign demand. Instead, policymakers need to implement the structural policy packages that create more job opportunities, increase business dynamism, promote successful reallocation and enhance policies to ensure that gains from trade are better shared. Fortunately, the country-specific policy packages that make fiscal initiatives more effective in promoting demand growth and supply potential also help to make growth more inclusive.

The transition path to a more balanced policy set and higher sustainable growth involves financial risks. But so too does the status quo dependence on extraordinary monetary policy. Pricing distortions in financial markets abound. Yield curves are still fairly flat, with negative interest rates. Pricing of credit risk has narrowed even as issuance of riskier bonds has increased. Real estate prices continue to advance in many markets, even in the face of attempted tempering by macro-prudential measures. Expectations in currency markets are on edge as evidenced by high measures of currency volatility. These financial distortions and risks expose vulnerable balance sheets of firms in emerging markets, and challenge bank profitability and the long-term stability of pension schemes in advanced economies.

The fiscal initiatives in conjunction with trade and structural policies, as outlined in the scenarios in this Economic Outlook, should revive expectations for faster and more inclusive growth, thus allowing monetary policy to move toward a more neutral stance in the United States at least, and possibly other countries as well. The risk of a growing divergence in monetary policy stances in the major economies over the next two years could be a new source of financial market tensions even as growth picks up, thus putting a premium on collective action by countries to revive growth in tandem.

In sum, policymakers should closely examine fiscal space; low interest rates enable many countries to boost hard and soft infrastructure and other growth-enhancing initiatives. Avoiding trade pitfalls, coupled with social measures to better share the gains from globalization and technological change, are key policy priorities. Using the window of opportunity created by monetary policy and following through on fiscal and structural measures should raise growth expectations and create the necessary momentum for the global economy to escape the low-growth trap.

Useful links

General assessment of the macroeconomic situation (PDF)

Using the fiscal levers to escape the low-growth trap (PDF)

Projections by country (country notes)

Projections in Excel or OECD.Stat (Database) or PDF

Remarks by OECD Secretary-General Angel Gurría

 

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