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Tahsin Saadi Sedik and Rui Xu
In this paper we analyze the dynamics among past major pandemics, economic growth, inequality, and social unrest. We provide evidence that past major pandemics, even though much smaller in scale than COVID-19, have led to a significant increase in social unrest by reducing output and increasing inequality. We also find that higher social unrest, in turn, is associated with lower ourput and higher inequality, pointing to a vicious cycle. Our results suggest that without policy measures, the COVID-19 pandemic will likely increase inequality, trigger social unrest, and lower future output in the years to come.
International Monetary Fund. Middle East and Central Asia Dept.
This Selected Issues paper studies the inefficiencies related to the electricity sector and assesses the potential impact of the 2019 reform plan. Electricity shortages are the second constraint to competitiveness reported by businesses in Lebanon, based on the Enterprise Survey conducted by the World Bank. Lebanon’s electricity sector performance is worse than other similar countries in the region. Many businesses must rely on costly private generators. Income inequalities are exacerbated by both the geographical disparities in Electricité du Liban’s (EdL) electricity provision and its tariff structure. The most vulnerable households are the small consumers located in regions with little electricity provision from EdL. A new electricity plan was approved by Cabinet on April 9, 2019 and ratified by Parliament on April 17, 2019. Although it is critical that the plan is decisively implemented, it is also important that it is enhanced further to fully restore EdL’s viability. Introducing well-targeted measures, such as cash transfers, would help protect the most vulnerable households from the tariff increase. As planned in the reform package, consumer tariffs should be indexed on the evolution of input prices to guarantee that it will not be negatively impacted by future developments in fuel or gas prices.
International Monetary Fund. Middle East and Central Asia Dept.
This 2019 Article IV Consultation with Lebanon highlights that Lebanon’s economic position continues to be very difficult, with very low growth, high public debt and large twin deficits. While financial stability has been maintained, deposit inflows, critical to finance the budget and external deficits, slowed down during the past year, reducing the authorities’ room for manoeuvre. The new government has taken some important policy steps to start the needed policy adjustment, which could help raise confidence among investors and donors. The highest priority is the implementation of a sustainable fiscal adjustment that will bend down the path of the public debt-to-gross domestic product ratio through a combination of revenue and expenditure measures. This needs to be complemented by structural reforms and concessionally financed investment to raise Lebanon’s growth potential and help external adjustment, as well as policies to build further buffers in Lebanon’s financial sector. Structural reforms should prioritize reforming the electricity sector, removing impediments to and lowering the cost of doing business, as well as improving governance and reducing corruption.
International Monetary Fund. Middle East and Central Asia Dept.
This 2016 Article IV Consultation highlights that Lebanon’s economic growth remains subdued. Following a sharp drop in 2011, growth edged upward briefly to 2–3 percent, but has now slowed again. The IMF staff estimates that GDP increased by 1 percent in 2015, and a similar growth rate in 2016 is projected. Lebanon’s traditional growth drivers—tourism, real estate, and construction—have received a significant blow and a strong rebound is unlikely based on current trends. In the absence of a turnaround in confidence, or a resolution of the Syrian conflict, growth is unlikely to return to potential (4 percent) soon.
Mr. Bjoern Rother, Ms. Gaelle Pierre, Davide Lombardo, Risto Herrala, Ms. Priscilla Toffano, Mr. Erik Roos, Mr. Allan G Auclair, and Ms. Karina Manasseh
In recent decades, the Middle East and North Africa region (MENA) has experienced more frequent and severe conflicts than in any other region of the world, exacting a devastating human toll. The region now faces unprecedented challenges, including the emergence of violent non-state actors, significant destruction, and a refugee crisis bigger than any since World War II. This paper raises awareness of the economic costs of conflicts on the countries directly involved and on their neighbors. It argues that appropriate macroeconomic policies can help mitigate the impact of conflicts in the short term, and that fostering higher and more inclusive growth can help address some of the root causes of conflicts over the long term. The paper also highlights the crucial role of external partners, including the IMF, in helping MENA countries tackle these challenges.
International Monetary Fund. Middle East and Central Asia Dept.
The Syrian crisis and the associated inflow of refugees continue to dominate Lebanon’s short-term outlook, compounding long-standing policy weaknesses and vulnerabilities. Political paralysis has set in, with virtually no progress on the structural front. Growth has remained modest and insufficient to make a dent in rising poverty and unemployment. A welcome improvement in the primary fiscal position in 2014 was largely due to temporary factors, and will not be sustained absent adjustment efforts—implying that, without additional effort, Lebanon’s already-sizable public debt burden will only worsen. Financial conditions have nonetheless remained stable, as deposit inflows continue to fund the economy and sizeable buffers support the credibility of the exchange rate peg.
International Monetary Fund
The December 2015 IMF Research Bulletin features a sampling of key research from the IMF. The Research Summaries in this issue look at “The Impact of Deflation and Lowflation on Fiscal Aggregates (Nicolas End, Sampawende J.-A. Tapsoba, Gilbert Terrier, and Renaud Duplay); and “Oil Exporters at the Crossroads: It Is High Time to Diversify” (Reda Cherif and Fuad Hasanov). Mahvash Saeed Qureshi provides an overview of the fifth Lindau Meeting in Economics in “Meeting the Nobel Giants.” In the Q&A column on “Seven Questions on Financial Frictions and the Sources of the Business Cycle, Marzie Taheri Sanjani looks at the driving forces of the business cycle and macroeconomic models. The top-viewed articles in 2014 from the IMF Economic Review are highlighted, along with recent IMF Working Papers, Staff Discussion Notes, and IMF publications.
International Monetary Fund. Middle East and Central Asia Dept.
KEY ISSUES Context: The economy is being severely tested by the Syria crisis. The refugee influx has reached one quarter of the population, fueling already high unemployment and poverty. The political impasse from the presidential elections—following months of negotiations over a new government—adds to the uncertainty. The economy is meanwhile suffering from a broad-based deterioration, with subdued growth and widening fiscal imbalances. Public debt is on the rise. Progress on structural reforms has been limited. On the positive side, deposit inflows have held up and foreign exchange reserves are sizeable; and security conditions have significantly improved, lifting tourism prospects. Key challenges: There is an urgent need for fiscal adjustment to achieve a sustainable debt reduction, and structural reforms to boost growth and address social inequities. Key policy recommendations: • Fiscal policy. The immediate priority is to stop the fiscal deterioration and return to primary surpluses, to avoid a possible loss of market confidence and put debt on a sustainable path. The consolidation strategy should minimize the impact of a planned salary increase for the public sector; include broad-based and non- distortionary revenue measures; and rebalance expenditure away from electricity transfers toward capital and social spending, to promote inclusive growth. Passing a budget for 2014 would help anchor confidence. Fiscal management should be strengthened and anchored in a medium-term perspective. • Monetary policy. The Banque du Liban (BdL) should continue to maintain high foreign exchange reserves as a buffer and signal of commitment to macro-financial stability. It should gradually withdraw from T-bill auctions, and adopt a strategy to improve its balance sheet over time. • Financial sector. Capital buffers should be strengthened, and the loan classification and restructuring rules and the AML/CFT regime further enhanced. • Structural reforms. Reforms in the electricity sector and the labor market are imperative to address current competitiveness pressures, lay the foundations for higher-productivity growth, and improve social conditions. • Refugee crisis. Lebanon cannot shoulder the costs of the massive inflow of Syrian refugees alone, and international budget support is needed. Strong government commitment to adjustment and reforms—along with a concerted policy framework to deal with the refugee crisis—would bolster credibility and help mobilize support.
Mr. Yasser Abdih, Mr. Ralph Chami, Mr. Christian H Ebeke, and Mr. Adolfo Barajas
This paper identifies a remittances channel that transmits exogenous shocks, such as business cycles in remittance-sending countries, to the public finances of remittance-receiving countries. Using panel data for remittance-receiving countries in the Middle East, North Africa, and Central Asia, three types of results emerge. First, remittances appear to be strongly procyclical vis-à-vis sending country income. Second, remittances tend to be spent on consumption of both imported and domestically produced goods, rather than on investment. Third, shocks in the sending countries are transmitted via remittances to the public finances - specifically, tax revenues - of receiving countries. In the case of the 2009 global downturn, this impact was particularly strong for several countries in the Caucasus and Central Asia, whereas in the subsequent recovery in 2010 virtually all receiving countries benefitted from an upturn in remittance-driven tax revenues.