Labour markets, human capital and inequality

Economic Policy Reforms: Going for Growth 2012


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Structural reform in a crisis environment, and Incorporating green growth within structural reforms, two notes by OECD to the G20 Finance and Central Bank Deputies Meeting of February 24-25 February, 2012

Structural reforms can make the difference, Remarks by Angel Gurría, OECD Secretary-General

Executive Summary

Struggling with the crisis: structural reforms can make the difference, Editorial by Pier Carlo Padoan, Deputy Secretary-General and Chief Economist, OECD

Press release

Part 1: Taking stock of structural policies in OECD countries and the BRIICS

Chapter 1. Structural reforms in times of crisis

The crisis has raised new policy challenges, but it has also made the necessity of structural reforms more apparent. This initial chapter of Going for Growth assesses progress that countries have made in structural reforms since the start of the crisis, covering the whole period 2007-11.

The key political economy lesson emerging from the analysis is that the crisis and ensuing recession have acted as a catalyst for structural reforms, especially in OECD countries where reforms were most needed. In particular, the depth of the labour market crisis has provided an impetus for structural reforms aimed at raising labour utilisation. The need to consolidate public finances and the financial pressure arising from mushrooming sovereign debt have given another impetus to reform, with a clear acceleration of politically sensitive reforms designed to help lift potential growth, regain price competitiveness and restore fiscal sustainability, especially in some euro area countries.


The need to consolidate public finances has given an impetus to reform over the past two years:
Overall responsiveness to Going for Growth priorities and fiscal consolidation effort


Data in excel

Going forward, priority should be given to boosting jobs in the context of ongoing fiscal consolidation. For now, there is a clear case for sheltering activation policies aimed at retraining displaced workers and encouraging return to work from fiscal consolidation efforts. And in countries that experience renewed economic set-backs it will be important to build on the lessons from the financial crisis in terms of policies that can help cushion the labour market and social impact of weak activity, such as making use of short-time working schemes. Tax reforms, not least a reduction in tax expenditures and a shift in the tax burden away from labour, could help kick-start the jobs recovery and assist fiscal consolidation. Product market reforms could also boost short-term growth, especially if implemented in sheltered sectors where the potential to quickly create jobs is relatively high, such as retail trade and professional services.

Chapter 2: Country Notes















    Slovak Republic






    South Africa

    Czech Republic









    European Union





    United Kingdom



    United States


    New Zealand



Chapter 3: Structural policy indicators

 Part II: Thematic Studies

Chapter 4: Can structural reforms kick-start the recovery? Lessons from 30 years of OECD reform

Not much is known about the short-term effects of structural reforms whose benefits are expected in the long term. It has been argued that some reforms could be detrimental at the current juncture, for instance if they further weakened aggregate demand. This chapter presents new empirical analysis drawn from 30 years of reform data from OECD countries. It shows that, while their benefits usually take time to fully materialise, structural reforms seldom involve significant losses and often deliver gains already in the short run. At the same time, though, some of them, such as unemployment benefit and job protection reforms, have smaller or even negative effects in depressed economies. Current conditions of wide remaining spare capacity, constrained macroeconomic policies and impaired fiscal positions in most OECD countries would put a premium on reforms that offer comparatively strong short-term gains in terms of facilitating the jobs recovery:

  • In all countries, there is a case for sheltering resources devoted to active labour market policies from ongoing fiscal consolidation efforts. Strengthening job-search assistance and training can help job seekers find new jobs more quickly and ensure that those at risk of discouragement remain attached to the labour market.
  • Growth-friendly tax reforms that shift the tax burden away from labour taxes could help strengthen the jobs content of a recovery, while also helping fiscal consolidation insofar as they are implemented in a way that raises tax revenue.
  • A well-designed package of labour and product market reforms could help alleviate the potential transition costs of certain individual reforms. Supporting reforms with a well-functioning financial system and an effective communication strategy is another key for maximising short-term gains.

Related Economics Department Working Papers

Short-Term Gain or Pain? A DSGE Model-Based Analysis of the Short-Term Effects of Structural Reforms in Labour and Product Markets

(No. 948)

by Matteo Cacciatore, Romain Duval and Giuseppe Fiori

The Short-Term Effects of Structural Reforms: an Empirical Analysis

(No. 949)

by Romain Bouis, Orsetta Causa, Lilas Demmou, Romain Duval and Aleksandra Zdzienicka


Chapter 5: Reducing income inequality while boosting economic growth: Can it be done?

This chapter identifies inequality patterns across OECD countries and provides new analysis of their policy and non-policy drivers. One key finding is that education and anti-discrimination policies, well-designed labour market institutions and large and/or progressive tax and transfer systems can all reduce income inequality. On this basis, the chapter identifies several policy reforms that could yield a double dividend in terms of boosting GDP per capita and reducing income inequality, and also flags other policy areas where reforms would entail a trade-off between both objectives.

In depth focus: Less income inequality and more growth - Are they compatible?

Chapter 6: Under shock: How to spread macroeconomic risks more fairly

Macroeconomic crises and shocks often cause large and unforeseen income and employment losses. Such losses tend to be unevenly spread across the population, often with the greatest impact on the poor and the most vulnerable in society. This chapter presents new OECD analysis of the types of policies that have helped to protect the most vulnerable from these losses in a wide group of OECD and emerging countries. These policies include pro-competitive product markets, openness to trade and foreign direct investment (FDI), low tax wedges on labour, a strong fiscal situation, generous unemployment benefits, strong unions, minimum wages and job protection. Some of these policies and institutions also benefit growth and jobs, thereby providing obvious avenues for reform. But others may involve trade-offs between short-term protection and other longer-term economic objectives. Finally, the chapter classifies OECD and emerging economies into four broad groups according to whether their institutional arrangements facilitate risk sharing through strong social protection or swift reallocation of labour and capital.

In depth focus: Risk sharing

How to obtain this publication

For further reading, and background to this current edition, see the Going for growth homepage


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