The United States
In the United States, policymakers must strike the right balance between reducing public debt and sustaining the recovery—especially by making a serious dent in long-term unemployment. A fair amount has been done to restore financial sector health, but house price declines continue to weaken household balance sheets. With falling house prices still holding down consumption and creating economic uncertainty, there is simply no room for half-measures or delay.
So the United States needs to move on two specific fronts.
First—the nexus of fiscal consolidation and growth. At first blush, these challenges seem contradictory. But they are actually mutually reinforcing. Credible decisions on future consolidation—involving both revenue and expenditure—create space for policies that support growth and jobs today. At the same time, growth is necessary for fiscal credibility—after all, who will believe that commitments to cut spending can survive a lengthy stagnation with prolonged high unemployment and social dissatisfaction?
Second—halting the downward spiral of foreclosures, falling house prices and deteriorating household spending. This could involve more aggressive principal reduction programs for homeowners, stronger intervention by the government housing finance agencies, or steps to help homeowners take advantage of the low interest rate environment.
The global dimension
Stepping back to a global perspective, as I said at the outset, rebalancing has not advanced sufficiently, despite the slow growth in deficit countries. In some key emerging economies, policies keep domestic demand growth too slow and currency appreciation too modest, if not blocked outright—even if this is not in their own or the global interest. Some other emerging markets—including those that have allowed their exchange rates to appreciate—are dealing with threats to economic and financial stability from capital inflows.
So the lack of rebalancing hurts everyone, while at the same time, everyone should recognize that decoupling is a myth. If the advanced countries succumb to recession, the emerging markets will not escape.
As we take a global perspective, we should not—and cannot—forget the low-income countries, where populations are especially vulnerable to economic dislocation in the rest of the world. These countries need to focus on protecting themselves from future storms—including by rebuilding policy buffers and investing in social safety nets. The international community, of course, must stand ready to help.
Conclusion—Risks rising, but path to recovery
In sum, risks to the global economy are rising, but there remains a path to recovery. The policy options are narrower than before but there is a way through. There are lingering uncertainties, but resolute action will help to dispel doubts.
I am confident that with the right actions, strong, sustainable, and balanced growth can and will be restored.
As in the first phase of the crisis, we have reached a point where actions by all countries, doing what they can, will add up to much more than actions by a few.
There is a clear implication: we must act now, act boldly, and act together.
I can assure you that for its part, the IMF will continue to do everything in its power to advocate for this outcome, and to lend its material support wherever it is requested and relevant.
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