«Public Debts: Nuts, Bolts and Worries Barry Eichengreen, Robert Feldman, Jeffrey Liebman, Jürgen von Hagen and Charles Wyplosz ICMB INTERNATIONAL ...»
David Ramsden, Chief Economic Advisor, Head of Government Economic Service, HM Treasury David Ramsden emphasised that he did not see fiscal councils as a ‘magic bullet’ that solves everything. He would like the report to go further in assessing fiscal councils, especially when dealing with forecasts. He suggests that fiscal councils should do scenario analysis in addition to looking at central forecasts.
He underlined again the importance of independence of these councils. His last comment was that the report should try to push into normative space and outline applicable concepts more concretely.
Discussion 131 Jean Pisani-Ferry, Director, Bruegel, Brussels Jean Pisani-Ferry introduced the distinction between economic and fiscal forecasts.
For economic forecasts the private sector does well and these forecasts can be useful. However, for fiscal forecasts, the government has a huge informational advantage, which should not be forgotten.
Mark Carey, Senior Adviser, Federal Reserve Board Mark Carey also commented on the question of how incentives could be integrated explicitly in the report. He states that in the common pool problem, the problem comes from the voters. How to change their incentives? He went on to ask whether it could be envisaged that pension payments would be linked to some measure of debt sustainability over a defined period of time in the past? Working out how to define debt sustainability is another question, but he mentioned looking at interest rate spreads and the debt-to-GDP ratio as two crude examples of what he had in mind.
Daniele Franco, Head of Department, Structural Economic Analysis, Banca d’Italia Daniele Franco asked if the German constitutional rule, should it fail, could not only be useless but also harmful because it would be focusing attention on the wrong solution. He also added a note of caution to the idea of fiscal councils. He said that in problematic countries with high debt, one needs a lot of information on the debt itself, which might not even be available to the government. How could this problem be addressed?
Jeffrey Liebman, Professor of Public Policy, Harvard University Jeffrey Liebman did not see it as necessary to use forecasts from private sources.
Private budget forecasts typically do not cover a period of more than 18 months ahead. While the consensus forecast from the private sector is a good idea for the short term, for the long term other forecasts are needed.
Jürgen Von Hagen, Professor of Economics, Bonn University Responding to Daniele Franco’s question, Jürgen Von Hagen said that German state governments will not comply as the largest state does not comply. The reason is that state incentives to balance budgets are very small. The federal government, Jürgen Von Hagen added, will comply, but for the wrong reasons. Due to the new rule, all governments are required to have balanced budgets after 2019, except for the federal government. However, the federal government can borrow in the name of state governments, which he believes is likely to happen. He added that the federal government already shares a lot of responsibility related to social policies with state and even municipal governments, effectively mandating local governments to increase spending on its behalf. This contributed to balanced federal budgets over the past years. It has also created more pressure on the states.
In his view, this leads state governments to ask the federal government to borrow on their behalf, which would then defeat the purpose of the debt break.
132 Public Debts: Nuts, Bolts and Worries Charles Wyplosz, Professor of International Economics, the Graduate Institute of International and Development Studies and Director, ICMB, CEPR Charles Wyplosz responded to Mark Carey’s suggestion of focusing on voters.
He wondered whether this idea might be extended, possibly generalised. Why should pensions only be made contingent on debt sustainability, why not roads or anything else? The logic is that the whole budgetary process be linked to public indebtedness.
Mark Carey, Senior Adviser, Federal Reserve Board Mark Carey answered by saying that the key could be indexing fiscal policy to something long term. Ideally to something that concerns people over their whole life.
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