A decade of fiscal transition
Transition literature has emphasized stabilization and enterprise restructuring. Both cross-country analyses and country-specific studies have tended to focus on fiscal stabilization and its indicators, highlighting the importance of quantitative fiscal adjustment to stabilization outcomes. Less attention has been paid to the qualitative dimensions of fiscal adjustment in transition. The authors take stock of the extent to which fiscal adjustment has occurred during the first decade of transition in both qualitative and quantitative dimensions. They define quality as the extent to which: (1) pro-growth expenditure essential for creating future economic and social assets are maintained; (2) pro-poor expenditure, such as poverty-targeted transfers, necessary to ensure income for the poor and vulnerable are adequately provided; and (3) fiscal risks, impinging on both expenditure and revenue, are managed through transition. The authors conclude that while the quantitative magnitude of the fiscal adjustment was dramatic, the quality of this adjustment has compromised the social and economic objectives of transition, particularly in the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS). They draw four main conclusions: Investments in public services fell in both absolute and relative terms. Reduced spending on government transfers contributed to a sharp increase in income inequality in the CIS. Fiscal risks increased during the transition. Initial conditions allowed Central European and Baltic countries to maintain higher expenditures, which may have contributed to their faster economic recovery and political support for the reforms. The authors argue that the challenge today for fiscal policy in these countries is to facilitate the transition-particularly in reallocating resources from large state-owned enterprises to new small and medium-size firms, and providing priority public services and targeted transfers to assist those adversely affected by transition and reverse the deterioration in social outcomes. The interplay between fiscal policies and institutional arrangements is increasingly important as transition economies embark on their second decade of reforms. In particular, incentives embedded in the institutional arrangements for fiscal management needs to be strengthened so that policies, resources, and outcomes can be better aligned, and the fiscal adjustment is consistent with qualitative considerations.
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