Sunday, April 10, 2011

The Demogaphic Challenge Facing Eastern Europe

The Stockholm School of Economics in Riga invites you to an open lecture: Eastern Europe and the Demographic Challenges Facing Economic Recovery delivered by Edward Hugh*. The lecture will take place on the 7th of April, 2011 from 15.00-16.30, SSE Riga, Soros auditorium, Strēlnieku iela 4a.

The issues raised in this guest lecture – ‘demographic challenges’ and ‘economic recovery’ are obviously highly relevant for Latvia, and the Stockholm School of Economics in Riga is very happy to be able to invite Edward Hugh to address these topics.

*Edward Hugh is an independent macro economist who specializes in growth and productivity theory, with particular emphasis on demographic processes and migration flows and the impact of these on macroeconomic performance.

He is a regular contributor to a number of economy-related weblogs, including A Fistful of Euros, Roubini Global Economic Monitor, Global Economy Matters and Demography Matters. He is also actively and widely followed on Facebook.

His many writings, including predictions of problems for the eurozone long before these emerged, have made Edward Hugh a household name in the blogosphere and elsewhere.

Leaving One Crisis Behind Only To Come Face To Face With The Next One? The Demographic Challenge Facing Eastern Europe
Edward Hugh - Riga: April 2011

In this presentation I will argue that • The most recent crisis was not an arbitrary phenomenon • There is an underlying process we need to understand • The worst is undoubtedly over in the last crisis • Unresolved issues may leave a legacy. One which could weigh down any recovery and lead to more serious problems during the next recession In particular: a) The Existence of a Debt Overhang b) The Impact of Ageing and Declining Populations

What Was The Last Crisis All About? It was all about debt, and about how heavily indebted societies were going to be able to claw their way back to growth. The Key Point To Grasp – This Process Is Structural, Not Cyclical So Just Why Was There So Much Debt? • Badly Structured Financial Products? • Poor Regulation? • Or Was There Something Else Going On?

Case Study: The Eurozone Here is a key part of the puzzle. During the first 10 years of the Euro some European countries borrowed heavily, while others lent. As a result Spain’s households contracted a lot of debt. Yet German households didn’t. Why this difference?

One Conventional Account The “one size fits all” monetary policy didn’t work. Spain had negative interest rates during the key years of the housing boom. But that still leaves us with a question: why didn’t it work?

Credit Driven Private Consumption Booms In fact both Spain and Germany have had these. The only real difference is in the Timing. Germany 1992 – 1999 Spain 2000 - 2008 Why do some countries have these while others don’t?

Current Account Blues Germany didn’t always run a current account surplus. All through the 1990s the current account was in deficit. And Spain won’t always run a current account deficit, even if that seems hard to believe right now. The Key 25 to 49 Age Group This group peaked in Germany – as a % of total population around the turn of the century. And in Spain it peaked towards the end of the first decade of this century.

In The BackgroundThose Famous “Global Imbalances” But Just Why Did The Imbalances Build Up? Japan, Germany and China – the usual suspects – had substantial current account surpluses. While that other group – the debtors, countries like the UK, the US and Spain – ran substantial deficits.

Could Something As Simple As Median Population Age Help Us Understand? Ours is an age of rapidly ageing societies. What is so modern about our current situation is not the ageing itself, but its velocity, and its global extension. Population Ageing – A Unique Historical Challenge The economic and social implications of the ageing process are going to be profound. According to a recent report from credit rating agency Standard & Poor’s: • the process is seemingly irreversible. • No other single force is likely to shape the future of national economic health, public finances, and policymaking over the coming decade Strangely, the issue receives only a fraction of the attention that has been devoted to global climate change, even though, arguably, ageing is a problem our social and political systems are, in principle, much better equipped to deal with. As far as we are able to understand the issue at this point, population ageing will have major economic impacts and these can be categorised under four main headings: i) ageing will affect the size of the working age population, and with this the level of trend economic growth in one country after another ii) ageing will affect patterns of national saving and borrowing, and with these the directions and magnitudes of global capital flows iii) through the saving and borrowing path the process can influence values of key assets like housing and equities iv) through changes in the dependency ratio, ageing will influence pressure on global sovereign debt, producing significant changes in ranking as between developed and emerging economies.

While population ageing is universal the short term impact will be much more localised. The pace of aging varies greatly across countries and regions. The effects of the process are expected to be most pronounced in those countries that remained complacent in the face of ultra-low fertility rates (total fertility rates of 1.5 and under), which in effect means Japan, the German speaking countries and much of Southern and Eastern Europe.

Another way of looking at these demographic changes is in terms of the dependency ratio, which can be defined in a number of different ways depending on the problem being addressed.

In In Germany total population is expected to fall from its current level of 82 million reaching anything between 69 and 74 million by 2050, depending on the future course of life expectancy, immigration and fertility. And the proportion of people aged 65 and older is projected to rise from just under 20% today to just over 33% by 2050. At the same time, the number of very elderly (those aged 80 and over) will nearly triple to as much as 15% of the total population.

Eastern Europe Will Be Very Hard Hit Among emerging economies, the East of Europe stands out as by far the worst case in the short term. In 2025, more than one in five Bulgarians will be over 65 - up from just 13 percent in 1990. Ukraine’s population will shrink by a fifth between 2000 and 2025. And the average Slovene will be 47.4 years old in 2025 – one of the oldest populations in the world.

Importance Of The Prime Age Groups Estimates of the exact age extension of the different groups vary, but 25-40 would be a good rule of thumb measure of the borrowing range, 40 to 55 for the peak savers, and 35 to 50 for the prime age workers. Beyond this, the question is an empirical one of measuring and testing to determine more precise boundaries and frontiers. The key groups are prime savers, prime borrowers, and prime productive workers. Where these actual age brackets lie, and the extent to which they may overlap, is still a subject of some controversy, One of the key points to grasp, is that the proportion the population which is to be found in one of the ‘prime’ age groups at a given moment in time, is absolutely critical, and much more important for understanding the processes at work than the mere size of the working age population.

Life Cycle Effects There is a generally accepted wisdom in academic work known as the “life cycle hypothesis” (Modigliani). This suggests that the population’s financial behaviour changes depending on age. In terms of adult life, those in their twenties and early thirties tend to be net borrowers as they are relatively low earners at the same time as they look to buy housing, expensive durables and fund their burgeoning families. At some point around middle- age this group then tends to move from being net borrowers to net investors as they move into their economic prime and accumulate financial assets to hopefully fund their retirement. As they approach retirement this group then start to shed the financial assets they’ve been accumulating to fund their nonworking days.

The Demographics Of Export Dependency As I have been arguing, if economies transit from being consumption driven to export driven, and it would appear that the process is not merely random, then we are not talking about choosing between options or “growth models”. There is not a choice here, since there are deep underlying structural dynamics at work, and these dynamics seems to be intimately associated with the dynamics of the demographic transition.

Dangers of Sovereign Debt Default? According to the recent Standard & Poor's report, the cost of caring for the growing numbers of dependent elderly will both affect growth prospects and dominate public finance policy debates across the globe, and for many years to come. Even if most governments have long been aware of the need to prepare for the looming problem, the rapid build-up of government debt over the past three years has effectively heightened the need to do more to advance reforms aimed at containing the risks to sovereign budgets, especially in countries with high expected future increases in age-related spending.

And The Numbers Are Daunting Assuming no policy change, Standard and Poor’s estimate that developed country deficits could rise from 5.7% of GDP currently to over 7.4% of GDP by the mid-2020s. The interest cost of the growing debt burden may exacerbate the budgetary impact of demographic spending pressure. And if nothing is done deficits will rise inexorably to 10.1% of GDP in 2030 and 24.5% by the middle of the century. This would lead the general government net debt burden to increase to 78% of GDP through to 2020, only to then accelerate thereafter. By 2030, the net debt burden is projected to be at almost 115%, at the same time as being on an explosive path to which would see average developed country sovereigns hitting 329% of GDP by 2050.

A Delicate Balancing Act Reasonable empirical confirmation exists that the recent surge in global imbalances was, in part, an offshoot of slow-moving underlying demographic determinants of global capital flows. The near-term adjustments will mean more emerging market current account deficits and less developed market ones. At a global level, demographic pressures will continue to imply that the increase in desired saving will exceed the increase in desired investment. This has one clear implication: globally interest rates can be expected to remain low.

Longer, Healthier Working Lives In terms of policies to address the pressures of ‘ageing’, the debate in terms of social security and healthcare often focuses on raising retirement ages to reduce dependency rates and alleviate fiscal pressures. Extending working lives relative to the time spent in retirement will not only help address the pension issue, it should also serve to accelerate the tendency towards larger current account surpluses across most developed economies, in particular in those parts of Europe which are in the process of private sector deleveraging as part of their fiscal sustainability programme. Time To Act – What Can Be Done? Short Term: - Continuing and Continuous Structural Reform • Labour Market Reform • Pension Reform • Heath System Reform • Immigration Longer Term • Raise Fertility Rates • Global Rebalancing Initiatives • Acceptance that the Modern Growth Era – like modernity itself – doesn’t last forever.

You can find the presentation to download here.

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