Monday, January 27, 2014

Challenges to growth

Michael Spence lays out the steps to overcome the challenges to growth (mostly in developed countries):

  • First, expectations are or have been out of line with reality. It takes time for the full impact of deleveraging, structural rebalancing, and restoring shortfalls in tangible and intangible assets via investment to manifest itself. In the meantime, those who are bearing the brunt of the transition costs – the unemployed and the young – need support, and those of us who are more fortunate should bear the costs. Otherwise, the stated intention of restoring inclusive growth patterns will lack credibility, undercutting the ability to make difficult but important choices.
  • Second, achieving full potential growth requires that the widespread pattern of public-sector underinvestment be reversed. A shift from consumption-led to investment-led growth is crucial, and it has to start with the public sector. The best way to use the advanced countries’ remaining fiscal capacity is to restore public investment in the context of a credible multi-year stabilization plan. This is a much better path than one that relies on leverage, low interest rates, and elevated asset prices to stimulate domestic demand beyond its natural recovery level. Not all demand is created equal. We need to get the level up and the composition right.
  • Third, in flexible economies like that of the US, an important structural shift toward external demand is already underway. Exports are growing rapidly (outpacing import growth), owing to lower energy costs, new technologies that favor re-localization, and a declining real effective exchange rate (nominal dollar deprecation combined with muted domestic wage and income growth and higher inflation in major developing-country trading partners). Eventually, these structural shifts will offset a lower (and more sustainable) level of consumption relative to income, unless inappropriate increases in domestic demand short-circuit the process.
  • Fourth, economies with structural rigidities need to take steps to remove them. All economies must be adaptable to structural change in order to support growth, and flexibility becomes more important in altering defective growth patterns, because it affects the speed of recovery.
  • Finally, leadership is required to build a consensus around a new growth model and the burden-sharing needed to implement it successfully. Many developing countries spend a lot of time in a stable, no-growth equilibrium, and then shift to a more positive one. There is nothing automatic about that. In all of the cases with which I am familiar, effective leadership was the catalyst.