The importance of capital flows to the operation of the international financial system has increased dramatically during recent decades. In particular, capital inflows have helped many developing economies to grow rapidly, but have also exacerbated the risks associated with existing distortions and weaknesses and have exposed some of these economies to financial crises triggered by sudden reversals of capital inflows. The use of controls to manage trade in assets, the effectiveness of capital controls, and their overall macroeconomic implications have been subjects of intense debate in both policy and academic circles. IMF staff have contributed extensively to the economic literature on capital controls; this survey focuses on the most recent of these contributions.
Capital controls prevailed during much of the twentieth century. By limiting capital outflows, controls were used to facilitate the financing of the two world wars. Controls were also seen as a means to achieve greater monetary policy independence during the Great Depression and to support the functioning of the Bretton Woods system of fixed exchange rates.
Beginning in the 1970s, the developed countries gradually phased out capital controls and, in the 1990s, even the developing countries started to liberalize their capital accounts. This trend reflected a growing acceptance that capital controls (with the exception of prudential ones) tend to be inefficient and costly. Controls are also hard to sustain when domestic financial transactions are liberalized, and they run counter to the aims of a macroeconomic management framework that is designed to work through market forces. The easing of capital controls, along with the revolutions in information and communication technologies, led to a dramatic increase in international capital flows in the 1990s.1
Capital flows provide substantial benefits to individual countries and the international economy as a whole, but these benefits may not be fully realized if serious imperfections exist in capital markets (Eichengreen and others, 1998).2 These imperfections have never been more obvious than during financial crises in emerging markets in the late 1990s, when questions about the role of capital controls were once again brought to the forefront of policy debates.
Capital control regulations are multifaceted, and quantifying them for comparisons across countries and over time is a challenge. Most studies have relied on the use of dummy variables from the IMF’s Annual Report on Exchange Arrangements and Exchange Restrictions (following Grilli and Milesi-Ferretti, 1995).3 Using new and more disaggregated information in this report, Johnston and others (1999) construct indices that take into account the diversity of capital controls.4 Edison and Warnock (forthcoming) propose a new measure of the intensity of capital controls for emerging market economies—the ratio of the market capitalizations underlying a country’s International Financial Corporation Investable and Global indices (IFCI and IFCG).5
Countries set up capital controls for a variety of reasons. Controls are often associated with fixed or managed exchange rate regimes, lower per capita incomes, larger shares of government consumption in GDP, less independent central banks, and larger current account deficits (Alesina, Grilli and Milesi-Ferretti, 1994; Grilli and Milesi-Ferretti, 1995).6 Generally, different types of controls serve different purposes. Macroeconomic reasons appear to motivate controls on capital inflows, balance of payments management usually motivates controls on capital outflows, while institutional and market structures typically motivate financial regulations related to the operation of banks and institutional investors (Johnston and Tamirisa, 1998).7
Evidence on the effectiveness of capital controls is mixed. Country experiences suggest that capital controls may be useful in dealing with volatile capital flows and may provide some “breathing room” for implementing economic reforms, but they are difficult to administer and cannot substitute for proper macroeconomic policies (Ariyoshi and others, 2000; Ishii, Ötker-Robe, and Cui, 2001).8 Not surprisingly, more effective controls tend to be more distortionary as well.
IMF Staff Papers Volume 48, Issue 3
Northwest of Suez: The 1956 Crisis and the IMF
Redistribution Through Public Employment: The Case of Italy
Alberto Alesina, Stephan Danninger, and Massimo Rostagno
How Does U.S. Monetary Policy Influence Economic Conditions in Emerging Markets?
Vivek Arora and Martin Cerisola
Modeling the IMF’s Statistical Discrepancy in the Global Current Account
Jaime Marquez and Lisa Workman
Reform and Growth in Latin America: All Pain, No Gain?
Eduardo Fernandez-Arias and Peter Montiel
Risk, Resources, and Education: Public Versus Private Financing of Higher Education
Berthold U. Wigger and Robert K.von Weizsacker
Social Fractionalization, Political Instability, and the Size of the Government
Deposit-Refund on Labor: A Solution to Equilibrium Unemployment?
Ben J. Heijdra and Jenny E. Ligthart
IMF Staff Papers, the IMF’s scholarly journal, edited by Robert Flood, publishes selected high-quality research produced by IMF staff and invited guests on a variety of topics of interest to a broad audience, including academics and policymakers in IMF member countries. The papers selected for publication in the journal are subject to a rigorous review process using both internal and external referees. The journal and its contents (including an archive of articles from past issues) are available online at the Research at the IMF website at http://www.imf.org/research.
Temporary controls on capital inflows, for example, appear to be effective only when they are highly punitive, and may even lower welfare if the government procrastinates in removing them (Smith and Reinhart, 2001).9 The effectiveness of Chile’s encaje (a one-year, mandatory reserve requirement which was imposed on selective, mostly short-term capital inflows during 1991-98) also appears to have been limited. A review of empirical studies on the topic by Nadal-De Simone and Sorsa (1999) concludes that, while there is some evidence that the encaje increased interest rates and altered the composition of capital inflows, it had only a temporary impact in reducing specific inflows.10
With regard to the use of controls on outflows in times of financial crises, Edison and Reinhart (forthcoming) conclude that only in Malaysia in 1998 did controls lead to greater interest rate and exchange rate stability and more policy autonomy. This was not the case in Brazil in 1999 or in Thailand in 1997, possibly owing to differences in leakage and arbitrage opportunities and in the types of controls.11 Controls on bank operations and on foreign exchange and equity market transactions appear to have been particularly effective in Malaysia in terms of their impact on capital flows (Meesook and others, 2001).12
The macroeconomic effects of capital controls remain a subject of intensive research. Alesina, Grilli, and Milesi-Ferretti (1994) and Grilli and Milesi-Ferretti (1995) find that countries imposing controls tend to have higher inflation rates but lower real interest rates. Such countries apparently enjoy a smaller output loss for a given reduction in the inflation rate (Loungani, Razin, and Yuen, 2000).13 It has also been shown that capital controls can reduce the informational efficiency of financial markets (Habermeier and Kirilenko, 2001) as well as hinder trade (Tamirisa, 1999).14 Controls also appear to be important in affecting financial fragility and economic performance (Rossi, 1999).15 A recent study for the IMF’s World Economic Outlook estimates that the liberalization of capital controls is likely to promote investment and financial development and could thus increase growth by half a percent a year or more.16
Removing capital controls, when macroeconomic policies and the financial system have not been adapted appropriately, raises a risk of external or financial sector instability. Capital account liberalization therefore needs to be coordinated with other policies, and should take into account a country’s macroeconomic position, the development of its financial system, and the effectiveness of existing controls (Ishii and others, forthcoming).17 While there are no simple rules for sequencing, country experiences point to some general principles and methodological approaches. Fundamentally, the removal of capital controls appears to be an important step on the path to development, and no country can isolate itself from the market (at least for very long) without hurting its economic prospects. The challenge is to manage risks in crossborder capital movements, and sound macroeconomic and prudential policies are crucial in this regard.18
Books from the IMF
West Bank and Gaza: Economic Performance, Prospects, and Policies—Achieving Prosperity and Confronting Demographic Challenges
Rosa A. Valdivieso, Ulric Erickson von Allmen, Geoffrey J. Bannister, Hamid R. Davoodi, Felix Fischer, Eva Jenkner, and Mona Said
The Palestinian economy has undergone severe dislocations as a result of the recent resurgence (beginning in October 2000) of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. While this book also discusses the economic consequences of the conflict and associated border closures that restrict the movements of labor and goods, the primary focus is on the challenges and opportunities that the Palestinian economy will face over the medium term, especially ones arising from important demographic changes. The West Bank and Gaza has the highest rate of population growth in the world, but this growth is slowing down. Consequently, the share of the working-age population is set to rise markedly over the medium term. This demographic transition can provide an important boost to per capita income growth, but it could also lead to a period of high unemployment or declining real wages, or both. The outcome will largely depend on the policy choices and reforms of various restrictions that currently hamper trade and investment. This volume provides a summary of recent IMF research on these and related issues.
Full-text versions (or, in some cases, detailed summaries) of books published by the IMF are available online at the Research at the IMF website at http://www.imf.org/research. Follow the link to IMF Publications.
IMF Occasional Paper No. 206
The Dominican Republic: Stabilization, Structural Reform and Economic Growth
Alessandro Giustiniani, Werner C. Keller, and Randa E. Sab
This publication analyzes the remarkable economic performance of the Dominican Republic economy in the 1990s. During this period, the country achieved one of the highest rates of output growth among Latin American and Caribbean countries, combined with low inflation and an improved external debt profile. These results were achieved through an impressive and wide-ranging stabilization and structural adjustment effort carried out during the decade, albeit with periodic setbacks. Domestic imbalances were addressed through measures aimed at strengthening public finances, improving monetary control, and reducing distortions in financial markets. Many restrictions plaguing the exchange and trade regimes were removed, thus fostering the integration of the Dominican Republic into the world economy. This study also examines the challenges that lie ahead; the important priorities are to strengthen the financial sector and to reinforce the benefits of previous reforms, with redoubled efforts aimed at enhancing economic policy transparency and governance, among other things.
Detailed contents of IMF Occasional Papers are available at the Research at the IMF website at http://www.imf.org/research.