IMF chief warns slowing productivity risks living standards drop

Published: April 4, 2017

WASHINGTON: Living standards around the world could fall unless governments invest more in research and education that can help revive weak productivity growth, International Monetary Fund (IMF) Managing Director Christine Lagarde warned on Monday.

Lagarde, in a speech in Washington, said that the private sector alone will not be able to generate enough innovation to lift productivity to acceptable levels without government’s help. Her remarks were accompanied by the release of an IMF study that found that the 2008-2009 financial crisis and deep recession played a bigger role in slowing productivity than previously thought, stifling global demand and investment.

“Another decade of weak productivity growth would seriously undermine the rise in global living standards,” Lagarde told an audience at the American Enterprise Institute, a pro-business think tank in Washington.

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“Slower growth could also jeopardise the financial and social stability of some countries by making it more difficult to reduce excessive inequality and sustain private debt and public obligations,” she added.

Economists have long viewed productivity gains as essential for sustaining higher wages and living standards, but have struggled to explain a protracted slowdown in productivity growth since the early 2000s. Lagarde said the post-crisis recession has left a “permanent scar” on output per worker and total factor productivity, a broad measure of innovation that includes both labour and capital inputs.

“We estimate that, if total factor productivity growth had followed its pre-crisis trend, overall GDP in advanced economies would be about 5% higher today,” Lagarde said. “That would be the equivalent of adding another Japan – and more – to the global economy.”

She said that all governments should do more to unleash entrepreneurial energy, including cutting barriers to competition, investing in education and providing tax incentives for research and development.

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“One thing is clear: we need more innovation, not less. Market forces alone will not be able to deliver that boost, because innovation and invention are to some degree public goods.”

Lagarde said that smartphone technologies have hugely benefited from large-scale state spending on developing the internet and global positioning satellite system, while defence spending often creates new technologies that have civilian uses.

She cited IMF research last year showing that an increase of private research spending by 40% in advanced economies could increase their GDP by 5% in the long term.

The IMF MD said a critical improvement in education and worker retraining programs was needed to aid those displaced by the effects of technological change, trade and structural reforms.

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Reader Comments (1)

  • Brontosaurus
    Apr 10, 2017 - 7:05PM

    Too much debt is hampering the growth. No amount of productivity can offset excessive government borrowing. $4 of debt creates $1 of GDP growth. It is simply not possible to walk out of the current quagmire nor taxing the citizens is going to make much difference.

    Only a debt jubilee can bring world economy out of the rut.Recommend

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