Monday, January 23, 2012

The Challenge of Public Pension Reform in Advanced and Emerging Economies

IMF. This paper reviews past trends in public pension spending and provides projections for 27 advanced and 25 emerging economies  over 2011–2050. In constructing these projections, the paper incorporates the impact of recent pension reforms and highlights the key assumptions underlying these projections and associated risks. The paper also presents reform options to address future pension 

Public pension reform will be a key policy challenge in both advanced and emerging economies over coming decades. Many economies will need to achieve significant fiscal consolidation over the next two decades. Given high levels of taxation, particularly in advanced economies, fiscal consolidation will often need to focus on the expenditure side. As public pension spending comprises a significant share of total spending, and is projected to rise further, efforts to contain these increases will in most cases be a necessary part of fiscal consolidation packages. Pension reforms can also help avoid the need for even larger cuts in pro-growth spending, such as public investment, and help prevent the worsening of intergenerational equity caused by rising life expectancies (at a pace faster than expected) and longer periods of retirement. Finally, some pension reforms, such as increases in retirement ages, can raise potential growth. Thus, while the appropriate level of pension spending and the design of the pension system are ultimately matters of public preference, there are several potential benefits for countries that choose to undertake pension reform. Against this background, this paper provides: (i) an assessment of the main drivers underlying spending trends over recent decades; (ii) new projections for public pension spending in advanced and emerging economies over the next 20 to 40 years; (iii) an assessment of the sensitivity of the country projections to demographic and macroeconomic factors, and risks of reform reversal; and (iv) country-specific policy recommendations to respond to pension spending pressures.

Pension spending is projected to rise in advanced and emerging economies by an average of 1 and 2½ percentage points of GDP over the next two and four decades, respectively, and is subject to a number of risks. During 2010–2030, increases in spending in excess of 2 percentage points of GDP are projected in nine advanced and six emerging economies. There is considerable uncertainty with respect to these projections, but risks are on the upside for a number of countries. Under a scenario where life expectancy is higher than anticipated—life expectancy projections have in the past underestimated actual increases—pension spending would be over 1 percentage point of GDP higher than projected in 2030 in five economies. Under a low labor productivity scenario, pension spending would be over ½ percentage point of GDP higher in three economies. Sizable risks are also associated with implementing enacted reforms as well as contingent fiscal risks if governments have to supplement private pensions should these fail to  eliver adequate benefits.

The appropriate reform mix depends on country circumstances and preferences, although increasing retirement ages has many advantages. It is important that pension reforms do not undermine the ability of public pensions to alleviate poverty among the elderly. Raising retirement ages avoids the need for further cuts in replacement rates on top of those already legislated, and in many countries the scope for raising contributions may be limited in light of high payroll tax burdens. Longer working lives also raise potential output over time. In many advanced economies there is room for more ambitious increases in statutory retirement ages in light of continued gains in life expectancy, but this should be accompanied by measures that protect the incomes of those who cannot continue to work. In emerging Europe, one possible strategy would be to equalize retirement ages of men and women. In other emerging economies, where pension coverage is low, expansion of non-contributory “social pensions” could be considered, combined with reforms that place pension systems on sound financial footing, including raising the statutory age of retirement. Where average pensions are high relative to average wages, efforts to increase statutory ages could be complemented by reductions in the generosity of pensions. Where taxes on labor income are relatively low, increasing revenues could be considered, and all countries should strive to improve the efficiency of payroll contribution collections.

INTERNATIONAL MONETARY FUND. Prepared by the Fiscal Affairs Department.Approved by Carlo Cottarelli.December 28, 2011. 

The Challenge of Public Pension Reform in Advanced and Emerging Economies x

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