The IMF global economic review, published today, is a curious mix that still reflects its confusion on what government deficits represent, meaning that some of its recommendations look to be of limited value, at best. But what I was interested by, and thought worth sharing, as their commentary on why, despite strong signs of growth, this is very incomplete. They say:
Why do we say that the recovery is incomplete? It is incomplete in three important ways.
First, the recovery is incomplete within countries. Even as output nears potential in advanced economies, nominal and real wage growth have remained low. This wage sluggishness follows many years during which median real incomes grew much more slowly than incomes at the top, or even stagnated. Drivers of growth including technological advances and trade have had uneven effects, lifting some up but leaving others behind in the face of structural transformation. The resulting higher income and wealth inequalities have helped fuel political disenchantment and skepticism about the gains from globalization, putting recovery at risk.
Second, the recovery is incomplete across countries. While most of the world is sharing in the current upswing, emerging market and low-income commodity exporters, especially energy exporters, continue to face challenges, as do several countries experiencing civil or political unrest, mostly in the Middle East, North and sub-Saharan Africa, and Latin America. Many small states have been struggling. About a quarter of all countries saw negative per capita income growth in 2016, and despite the current upswing, nearly a fifth of them are projected to do the same in 2017.
Finally, the recovery is incomplete over time. The cyclical upswing masks much more subdued longer-run trends of productivity and demographics, even correcting for the arithmetical effect of more slowly growing populations. For advanced economies, per capita output growth is now projected to average only 1.4 percent a year during 2017–22 compared with 2.2 percent a year during 1996–2005. Moreover, we project that fully 43 emerging market and developing economies will grow even less in per capita terms than the advanced economies over the coming five years. These economies are diverging rather than converging, going against the more benign trend of declining inequality between countries due to rapid growth in dynamic emerging markets such as China and India.
To put it another way, the benefits of growth are desperately unequally shared, with potentially massive impacts arising.
Read between the lines and even the IMF is realising that growth is not a goal in itself because it simply cannot deliver by itself. That, at least, is encouraging.