Secretary-General

Launch of the OECD Economic Outlook, June 2016

 

Remarks by Angel Gurría

Secretary-General, OECD

Paris, 1 June 2016

(As prepared for delivery)

 

Ministers, Ambassadors, Ladies and Gentlemen, 

 

Let’s now move to the next session of our joint OECD Forum and Ministerial Council Meeting: the launch of the 2016 OECD Economic Outlook. Before handing over to our Chief Economist Catherine Mann, who will walk you through our projections and the key findings of the Outlook, let me put the main messages of the report in a somewhat broader context.

 

We see the world economy stuck in a low-growth trap. Global growth is projected to continue to limp along at around 3% this year, and to pick up only modestly in 2017. Moreover, this pick-up hinges on avoiding significant downside risks, such as Brexit and financial disruptions in emerging markets linked to high corporate debt and exchange rate risks.

 

This low-growth trap involves a cycle in which diminished expectations become self-fulfilling. Firms witnessing low demand growth are naturally cautious about expanding investment. Weak investment holds back capital deepening and hinders the pace at which innovation is embodied in plant and equipment. The result is slow productivity growth, which makes households pessimistic about the pace at which living standards are increasing and restrains the growth of consumption. This slow growth of consumption feeds back onto firms’ expectations about demand growth, resulting in weak investment. The vicious cycle repeats itself.

 

Of course, this story does not fit exactly for all economies and there are additional shocks and factors at play. Overall, however, something like this dynamic appears to have been affecting the world economy over the past five years. It is a dynamic in which chronically weak demand interacts with a lack of structural dynamism to produce slower growth, scarred labour markets and dangerously low inflation.

 

The Economic Outlook charts a way out of this trap. As the Outlook emphasises, governments need to use all the policy tools they have at hand in a concerted and coherent way. There is now clear evidence about the limits of what monetary stimulus can achieve on its own. Thus, fiscal and structural policies have to be deployed more forcefully to complement monetary policy.

 

In this respect, three messages in the Outlook are particularly important:

  • First, in many countries fiscal spending can be expanded or reallocated to more growth-enhancing items.  An increase in public investment of half a per cent of GDP in all OECD countries would boost GDP by about 0.6 percentage points on average across the OECD region in the first year, while the public debt-to-GDP ratio would decline in most OECD countries.
     
  • Second, collective action is key. For example, an increase in public investment involving all OECD countries would on average boost growth in a given country in the first year by 0.2 percentage points more than an increase in that country on its own.
     
  • Finally, actions across a broad range of reform objectives, such as investment, innovation, product market competition, market regulations, better skills, labour mobility and financial market robustness are essential in order to help reverse the widespread slowdown in productivity.

 

Another possible aspect of the dynamic which is at the centre of this year’s MCM is the interaction between productivity and inequalities, the NEXUS, as we call it.

 

The sluggish recovery in advanced economies is increasing inequality. The long-term unemployed not only experience extended periods with low income, but also see a deterioration of skills that hurts their longer-term earnings prospects.

 

But it may also be that high and rising inequality has contributed to the productivity slowdown. If the young have greater difficulty entering the labour market – and especially getting good full-time jobs – their development, and the growth potential of the economy, may be permanently impaired. A concentration of rents in some firms, whether because of technology, lack of competition, or bad regulation, can result in both more concentrated income and wealth in the economy and a weaker diffusion of innovation across firms, hindering productivity growth.

 

If we fail to reverse the productivity slowdown and if we fail to stop inequalities from rising further, we will be putting at risk the living standards of a large part of our societies. This is why "Enhancing Productivity for Inclusive Growth" is the theme of our MCM, why it is the topic of a special chapter in this year’s Economic Outlook and why the OECD will continue its work in this area in the years ahead. In fact we are already at it: our work on education, skills, innovation, taxes, anti-corruption, inclusive growth, development, regulation, justice are all integral components of the NEXUS. They are all crucial to enhance productivity and generate inclusiveness.

 

Ministers, Ambassadors, Ladies and Gentlemen,

We can enhance both productivity and inclusive growth; they are mutually reinforcing. We can; we must; we will.

I now give the floor to our Chief Economist, Catherine Mann.

Thank you.