Political leaders have so frequently cried wolf over budgetary spending that voters are skeptical about talk of budgetary crises. This is unfortunate, since deficits should arouse genuine concern, particularly as their size in some industrial countries is daunting. Yet, the absolute size of deficits is not their most alarming aspect. In fact, most countries now run much smaller deficits (as a ratio of GDP) than they did during wartime. Rather, the persistence of budgetary shortfalls during a long period of peace, when governments traditionally pay off debts and save for the future, should set the alarm bells ringing. Furthermore, projected increases in the cost of government programs, as populations age and economic growth lags, give cause for further concern.
The phenomenon of substantial peacetime budget deficits over the past20 years has been traced to the burden of entitlements, a slowdown ineconomic productivity, and demographic and macroeconomic shifts in theindustrial countries. Though smaller and structurally different, deficitsin developing countries have also become worrisome. Most economists agreethat measures to reduce government spending are imperative, particularlythrough restructuring entitlement programs.
International Monetary Fund. External Relations Dept.
This paper discusses quantitative indicators that measure such macroeconomic variables as the growth of national product, inflation. The importance of considering several indicators in a dynamic context becomes particularly relevant during periods when needed economic and financial adjustment measures are undertaken. Rationales given for maintaining negative real interest rates in developing countries range from keeping down the cost of servicing the public sector’s debt, or of investment, to avoiding the consequences of other policies.
This paper briefly describes the factors constraining the social protection policies in the Baltics, Russia, and other countries of the former Soviet Union (BRO). The analysis considers public spending in social programs, including generalized subsidies for goods and consumer services, pensions, unemployment-related and social benefits, and education and health care. The paper then lists policies that can help mitigate the worsening living standards of the poor and the vulnerable in a fiscally sustainable manner.
Pursuant to the Treaty of Maastricht, members of the European Union (EU) intend to participate in the Economic and Monetary Union (EMU), in part through convergence toward specified limits on the overall deficit and gross debt of general government. The paper argues that in several EU members, the financial imbalance of social security institutions may constitute an impediment to meeting these requirements. Given a constraint on further payroll tax increases, most countries will need to undertake major reform of public pension and health-care systems, to ensure adherence to the EMU fiscal criteria in the medium to long run.
Belgium has effected a remarkable fiscal adjustment, best illustrated by the decline in its public debt. While benefiting from an appreciable decline in interest rates, most of the underlying consolidation reflected a considerable increase in the tax burden, one of the highest in the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development. This paper analyzes the social transfer system in Belgium. Belgium has a very accessible and equitable health care system. The system is characterized by high input levels and service volumes.
This Selected Issues paper reviews developments in health care spending in France and discusses the recent measures to improve the functioning of the system and contain costs. It argues that by addressing many of the issues that had bedeviled past reforms, the new measures offer a reasonable hope of containing France’s health expenditures. The paper presents a brief review of the institutional background and of past trends in health care spending and also offers an analysis of the major forces behind the recent and projected growth in expenditure.
This Selected Issues paper examines Germany’s growth record in 1992–2001 and analyzes how future performance might be enhanced. The paper focuses on the longer-term strains on the public finances. It reviews Germany’s external competitiveness, which deteriorated substantially in the wake of unification, and concludes that, by the beginning of the current decade, competitiveness had been largely restored. The paper also examines the recent slowdown in credit, which has gone beyond what might be expected on cyclical grounds.