It is hard to overemphasize the role of productivity growth in reducing poverty and raising living standards. Sustained productivity increases have made possible the unprecedented rise in prosperity over the last two centuries. Recent evidence suggests that productivity growth has been on the decline around the world for the last decade, with a few exceptions. Understanding whether this is correct, and, if so, what explains it and what can be done, are now priorities for economists and policymakers.
Much of the G20’s agenda following the global financial crisis has been focused on crisis response—on short-term crisis management and recovery. In the aftermath of a major crisis, economic stabilization of course is the first order of business. And the G20 has done reasonably well in that respect. But economic stabilization alone will not restore strong and sustained growth, as global growth faces deeper structural challenges.
In advanced economies, some of the structural weaknesses have accumulated over time, such as the labor market rigidities in Europe, the deficiencies in tax and expenditure structures and associated fiscal problems in a broad range of advanced economies, including the US, and the challenges arising from ageing populations. The global financial crisis has added to these challenges by causing supply-side disruptions that lower potential growth, including the destruction of capital stock, financial sector dislocations, and increases in structural unemployment—as well as adding to the fiscal woes. Challenges also arise from a changing pattern of competitiveness and comparative advantage as emerging economies increasingly penetrate global production and trade. So future growth in advanced economies will require not just supporting a recovery of demand but also a reallocation of resources to new sources of growth—new products, new services, new jobs.