Public sector assets and public wealth matter, the IMF’s Fiscal Monitor report concludes. While releasing the report in Bali in the lead-up to the Annual Meetings of the IMF and World Bank Group, IMF officials urged countries to take advantage of the expansion to be ready for the next slowdown.
“Risks are looming closer and some of the risks have already materialized. It is time to build fiscal space against the next downturn,” said Vitor Gaspar, Director of the IMF’s Fiscal Affairs Department.
The Fiscal Monitor report explores public wealth—the difference between assets and liabilities—using public sector balance sheets. Public sector balance sheets account for everything that the state owns and owes, providing a more complete picture than the traditional fiscal focus on debt and deficits.
Gaspar noted that China and the U.S. account for almost two-thirds of the debt built up in the last decade. He said that China’s leaders are tackling the difficult task of rebalancing of its economy.
“We believe that China should be emphasizing the quality of growth more than the quantity of growth. As I said in the introductory remarks, it is very important that the pace of leveraging in China eases, which is something that has already happened in 2016 and 2017, and it is visible in any chart that you may consider. So, the rebalancing of China from investment to consumption, from exports to domestic demand, from credit‑fueled growth to a sounder basis to growth, more compatible with financial stability. All these elements are crucial,” said Gaspar.
Most public sector assets yield very low returns – suggesting untapped potential to increase revenue. Revenue gains from improving how public assets are managed could be in the range of 3 percent of GDP annually – equivalent to average corporate tax collections across advanced economies. And he said countries should use their public wealth to help their citizens.
“Our recommendation is that countries be transparent about their public wealth, that they report that transparently to their citizens, and that they put the public wealth squarely at the service of society's economic and social goals,” Gaspar said.
A full copy of the report including data on specific countries and regions may be found at https://www.imf.org