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Chief Economist Talks

 

The Chief Economist Talks are part of the OECD’s high-level distinguished speaker series in which global economic leaders, top thinkers and decision makers from major organisations are invited to discuss their perspective on the world economy with the OECD Chief Economist.  The talks that aim to foster learning and inspiration and provoke discussions that matter. Participation in these events is by invitation only and aimed at OECD staff and the OECD Ambassadors and delegations. They are not open to the press.


 

Monday, 4 April 2022

Joachim Fels, Òscar Jordà, Moritz Schularick and Alan M. Taylor: Debt: The Eye of the Storm - Geneva reports on the World Economy

The world economy is awash in debt. The debt levels of households, companies and sovereigns are at historical highs relative to output. The 24th Geneva Report on the World Economy explores the geo-economic risks entailed by levels of overall debt not seen in the history of humankind. Debt and credit are closely linked to financial crises, the evolution of the business cycle, and to the likelihood of negative tail events. Financial vulnerability is endemic in a highly leveraged world. In a time of such record-high debt, it is difficult not to be pessimistic about our future economic, financial, social and political stability.

As alarming as this sounds, a deeper understanding of the secular causes that got us here is needed. Taking a longer view, public and private sector debt in advanced and emerging market economies had already surged to unprecedented highs in the past four decades, before rising further in the Covid-19 pandemic. This debt boom is, mechanically, the flip side of the surge in gross savings and the multiplication of financial wealth experienced in recent decades. If we look at the asset side of balance sheets, we find that, relative to their income, households have never been wealthier. The trends behind the oversupply of credit will likely continue for a long time.

Against this background, the report studies the outlook for public, household and corporate debt. Special chapters deal with the outlook for the Chinese economy and inflationary risks. The overall picture that the report paints is not one of doom and gloom. Fears about zombification of corporates in advanced economies are likely overblown. Households in many rich countries have deleveraged after the 2008 crash. With a turn in the global interest rate cycle imminent, the largest risks are concentrated in emerging economies where household and corporate debts have risen sharply. China’s transition from financial boom to bust is a particular risk factor.  Policymakers in Beijing and elsewhere are facing enormous challenges, and mistakes could happen and spill over onto innocent bystanders in a globalised economy.

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Previous speakers

Markus Brunnermeier, Princeton University

The Digital Euro: Report for the European Parliament

15 March 2022

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Massimo Rostagno, ECB

Monetary Policy in Times of Crisis

19 November 2021

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Other previous speakers

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If you have any comments or questions, please do not hesitate to contact us at eco.contact@oecd.org.

 

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