Improving Countries’ Standards of Living: Introduction
Jobs are created in economies that grow. Where does economic growth come from? According to most economists who believe in the growth consensus, economic growth (as discussed in Economic Growth) is built on a foundation of productivity improvements. In turn, productivity increases are the result of greater human and physical capital and technology, all interacting in a market-driven economy. In the pursuit of economic growth, however, some countries and regions start from different levels, as illustrated by the differences in per capita GDP presented earlier in this table.
Growth Policies for the High-Income Countries
For the high-income countries, the challenge of economic growth is to push continually for a more educated workforce that can create, invest in, and apply new technologies. In effect, the goal of their growth-oriented public policy is to shift their aggregate supply curves to the right (refer to The Aggregate Demand/Aggregate Supply Model). The main public policies targeted at achieving this goal are fiscal policies focused on investment, including investment in human capital, in technology, and in physical plant and equipment. These countries also recognize that economic growth works best in a stable and market-oriented economic climate. For this reason, they use monetary policy to keep inflation low and stable, and to minimize the risk of exchange rate fluctuations, while also encouraging domestic and international competition.
However, early in the second decade of the 2000s, many high-income countries found themselves more focused on the short term than on the long term. The United States, Western Europe, and Japan all experienced a combination of financial crisis and deep recession, and the after-effects of the recession—like high unemployment rates—seemed likely to linger for several years. Most of these governments took aggressive, and in some cases controversial, steps to jump-start their economies by running very large budget deficits as part of expansionary fiscal policy. These countries must adopt a course that combines lower government spending and higher taxes.
Similarly, many central banks ran highly expansionary monetary policies, with both near-zero interest rates and unconventional loans and investments. For example, in 2012, Shinzo Abe (see this figure), then newly-elected Prime Minister of Japan, unveiled a plan to get his country out of its two-decade-long slump in economic growth. It included both fiscal stimulus and an increase in the money supply. The plan was quite successful in the short run. However, according to the Economist, with public debt “expected to approach 240% of GDP,” (as of 2012 it was 226% of GDP) printing money and public-works spending were only short-term solutions.
Japan’s Prime Minister, Shinzo Abe
As other tutorials discuss, macroeconomics needs to have both a short-run and a long-run focus. The challenge for many of the developed countries in the next few years will be to exit from the short-term policies that were used to correct the 2008–2009 recession. Since the return to growth has been sluggish, it has been politically challenging for these governments to refocus their efforts on new technology, education, and physical capital investment.