Thursday, 3 July 2014

Why Indonesia needs to borrow (a little) more, not less

Renan Raimundus
The Jakarta Post
3 July 2014

Available at:

Most news stories about public debt in Indonesia are quite negative in tone, portraying that increasing government debt is taboo. Critics attacked the rise in public debt from Rp 1.6 quadrillion (US$134.31 billion) to Rp 2.4 quadrillion from 2009 to 2013, creating the impression that public debt is getting worse every year. On the contrary, Indonesia’s public debt to gross domestic product (GDP) ratio has significantly decreased to 24 percent of GDP as of April 2014 from more than 150 percent almost one decade ago.

The ratio is far lower than most developing countries, such as Vietnam (54.9 percent), Thailand (45.27 percent), the Philippines (49.2 percent), India (67.7 percent) and most Latin American countries. The government even plans to further reduce the public debt ratio to 16.9 percent by 2020. It is not too much to say that Indonesian public debt discipline is among the strongest in the world. The steady decrease in the public debt as a percentage of GDP ratio suggests that Indonesian public debt is on a sustainable path, giving big room for more fiscal stimulus.

On the other side, many perceive Indonesian economic growth as unsustainable. Relatively high growth above 6 percent has already caused the economy to overheat, with imports rising steeply to meet domestic demand for consumer goods, basic materials and capital goods, while export revenues depend mainly on primary commodities whose prices tend to fluctuate. The economy has been driven mostly by strong domestic consumption, but production capacity cannot keep up with the strong demand. 

At the heart of these problems is poor infrastructure development. Average travel time in Indonesia is 2.6 hours/100 km, compared to only 1.1 and 1.35 hours/100 km in Malaysia and Thailand, respectively. Average dwelling time in an Indonesian seaport is eight days, far longer than Hong Kong (two days) and Singapore (1.1 days). Indonesian rural electrification ratio is only 32 percent, compared to 65 percent in the Philippines, 85 percent in Vietnam and 99 percent in Thailand. Other infrastructure indicators also suggest poor conditions in Indonesia, compared to regional neighbors.

One might question why Indonesia has two contradictory stories — the story of a healthy fiscal condition and the story of poor economic and infrastructure development? One of the fundamental impediments to infrastructure development is a lack of funding for projects. The government identified the need for infrastructure investment of up to Rp 1.9 quadrillion between 2010 and 2014. However, state and regional budgets could cover only Rp 914.6 trillion of the total investment needed. 

There are two reasons why Indonesia needs to raise public debt for the necessary funding. First is that many necessary infrastructure projects to develop the country simply are not attractive to the private sector. These projects, such as non-toll roads, public transportation networks, water treatment facilities and public hospitals, are called public goods. 

As public goods, they do not give sufficient investment return to private investors, because the cost of provision is very high and the payback period is quite long. Hence, the government should step in to finance infrastructure to provide such public goods. If the government budget is not sufficient for such investment, it can borrow from domestic or foreign markets.

Second is that public debt, both domestically and internationally, is the cheapest way to raise the necessary funding for development. As government obligations are perceived as risk free, the cost of borrowing is far lower than that of commercial banks and equity investors. Foreign currency denominated loans from foreign government agencies are much cheaper. 

The MRT Jakarta project is financed with a loan from the Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA) at an interest rate well below 1 percent and with a much longer maturity period than a typical commercial loan. If the government chose to finance the MRT project with private investment or borrowing from financial markets, the cost could be 10 times higher or more, and Jakarta might not be able to afford the project. 

Given the importance of public debt for economic development, why does raising the debt considered taboo?

One reason is that after the Asian Financial Crisis 1997, Indonesia has been struggling to increase its credit rating, and the rating indeed has improved. Fitch Ratings finally upgraded Indonesia from Junk to BBB- in 2011. Moody’s also upgraded the rating from Ba1 to Baa3, and S&P increased the rating from BB to BB+. 

It is, however, interesting to observe that given Indonesia’s significant improvement in the level of its public debt, its credit rating improvement has not been significant. The investment grade is still lower than that of Thailand, the Philippines, India, Malaysia and many other developing countries with significantly higher debt to GDP ratios. This is because even though we improve significantly in public debt discipline, we fail miserably in many other aspects of the economy, such as infrastructure development, fuel subsidies, bureaucratic reform and corruption eradication. 

Another reason is the public perception that increasing public debt, especially internationally, equals selling the country’s freedom and control to foreign interests. It is therefore politically costly to reach a political consensus on new public debt from foreign countries. 

In reality, every country borrows internationally, and there is hardly any serious issue regarding national integrity arising from those borrowings. China has been borrowing heavily from the World Bank to finance its phenomenal growth, and so are other developing and developed countries around the world. The United States borrows internationally as well, and China is the US’ largest creditor. 

Indonesia is no different from the rest of the world. If loans can be negotiated fairly for Indonesia, it is a win-win solution. Foreign countries might benefit by providing loans to Indonesia in one form or another. But in the end, if the debt is used properly, the biggest beneficiaries are Indonesians themselves, through better infrastructure provision and economic growth.

No country in the world runs without debt, and raising debt is not necessarily a bad policy. It is important to differentiate the purpose of debt, whether it is for consumption or investment. Borrowing for the purpose of consumption will create a burden for the country. 

Therefore, borrowing to finance the fuel subsidy, for example, cannot be justified. On the other hand, borrowing for investment will generate a multiplier effect for the economy, stimulate growth, create employment, increase income, generate more tax revenue in the future and finally pay off the debt itself. 

Thus, what Indonesia needs is not less debt, but a better allocation of debt, shifting away from consumption toward investment. That way, more public debt can be justified for the sake of development and prosperity.

The writer is a graduate from the University of Tokyo Graduate School of Public Policy. He is currently an associate at PT Tusk Advisory, an advisory firm specializing in infrastructure delivery.

Wednesday, 4 June 2014

Is the middle-income trap real?

Arisyi Fariza Raz
The Jakarta Post
4 June 2014

Available at:

In the first quarter of this year, Indonesia’s economy grew annually by 5.2 percent, much lower compared to 5.7 percent in the previous quarter. Given the current economic situation, the government became less optimistic by aiming this year’s growth at 5.5 percent. 

Bank Indonesia (BI), the central bank, gave an even more conservative opinion by predicting this year’s growth to be around 5.1-5.5 percent.

In the short run, this slowing growth rate may be partially caused by contractionary monetary and fiscal policies implemented by the central bank and the government in anticipating several internal and external short-run economic shocks. 

On top of that, however, there are some structural factors, such as productivity, competitiveness and knowledge that may affect economic performance in the longer term.

These structural factors may not have an immediate impact, but they have long-run implications for the economy, risking it to become a victim of the middle-income trap.

According to development economics theory, the middle-income trap is referred to as a phenomenon in which rapidly growing economies stagnate at middle-income levels for many years, thus falling to reach the high-income level.

When discussing Indonesia’s risk of becoming trapped as a middle-income country, an International Monetary Fund (IMF) working paper written by Sehkhar Aiyar et al. (2013) provides some quite revealing facts. The study shows that Indonesia’s growth trajectory has performed relatively poorly compared to its regional peers.

In fact, even though on regional average East Asian economies have performed better than Latin American economies, Indonesia’s trajectory was below its Latin American counterparts.

The paper also points out that inadequate transportation and communication infrastructure are among the main variables that put Indonesia at higher risk of facing a growth slowdown. 

It further suggests that Indonesia’s trade category, even though still lagging behind other East Asian middle-income economies, still could serve as a buffer against growth slowdowns.

Despite this growth buffer, this issue still may pose a serious threat to the economy. As mentioned above, the middle-income trap is a structural economic issue that can have long-term implications for the economy. Therefore, immediate policy actions have to be undertaken to address this issue.

Apparently, infrastructure investment should become one of the primary focuses of the government’s policy. However, on top of infrastructure investment, the government should also improve the quality of education at all levels.

According to endogenous growth theorists such as Lucas (1988) and Romer (1986; 1990), education or knowledge is one of the essential inputs for long-term economic growth since it provides positive externalities that can offset the diminishing returns effect of other inputs, i.e. capital and labor.

Practically, the availability of education or knowledge provides more resourceful human capital with better productivity. As productivity increases, the cost of producing an additional unit becomes relatively cheaper, thus improving competitiveness in the market.

In other words, the availability of capable human capital will make Indonesia’s market more competitive. Accordingly, it will also attract investment, including in infrastructure, which can help the economy to avoid the middle-income trap.

Regarding the importance of education, the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) has raised the argument regarding improvements in elementary and secondary education in Indonesia. Through its country note published in 2013, the OECD points out that Indonesia should focus its policy on widening access to education, particularly for low-income households.

Indeed, the government is doing something to deal with this issue. The School Operational Assistance (BOS) and the Social Safety Net (JPS) are among the policies that are being implemented to enhance elementary and secondary education participation rates in the country.

However, these policy actions are still insufficient. The government needs to be more aggressive to promote the country’s educational development since its performance is still very poor even by regional standards. This is reflected in data published by the OECD that show that in 2008 the lowest quintile of the population aged 5 years and upward did not even have elementary education.

In addition to elementary and secondary education, tertiary education is also important because it helps economic development through innovation. A report by Asian Development Bank Institute (ADBI) in 2013 argues that the role of innovation on economic development can be two-fold. First, it contributes economic development through product innovation as the result of research and development activities. 

Second, it also creates process innovation that improves the process production of existing products.

In other words, this suggests that tertiary education in Indonesia needs to be promoted because it can trigger innovations that can be beneficial to economic development.

Unfortunately, this ADBI report also shows some unsatisfactory data by revealing that Indonesian graduates in industrial fields (such as engineering, manufacturing and physics) accounted for only 16 percent of all graduates.

This figure is in stark contrast to South Korea, a country that succeeded in escaping the middle-income trap and the joining high-income group in the 1990s. During that time, graduates in industry fields accounted for 35 percent of all university graduates.

Concretely, tertiary education in Indonesia can be improved by giving more scholarships to university students, encouraging high quality research through incentives and coordinating cooperation between researchers and the private sector and industries. 

Through these actions, education is expected to be able to deliver in its role as the source of innovation, which, eventually, creates economic growth.

In short, the availability of education or knowledge will create qualified human capital, which emphasizes product and process innovations as well as increased industrial capability. Then, positive externalities, which are the by-product of education and knowledge, will act as a more sustainable growth engine that will help the economy escape the middle-income trap.

The writer is an economist and is a graduate of the University of Manchester, the UK.

Monday, 2 June 2014


Kemarin saya iseng-iseng membaca mengenai model GARCH (Generalised Autoregressive Conditional Heteroscedasticity) dan tidak sengaja menemukan learning video menarik di youtube dari channel "Sayed Hossain Academy".

Secara umum, GARCH adalah model yang menjelaskan seberapa besar volatilitas dari satu variabel dapat dijelaskan oleh lag dari informasi internal (error term) dan/atau lag dari volatilitas sebuah model.

Sebagai contoh, model GARCH(1,1) dapat dijelaskan sebagai berikut:

Dimana sigma kuadrat adalah volatilitas dari satu variabel, lag sigma kuadrat adalah lag volatilitas dari satu variabel, dan lag u adalah lag error term.

Untuk penjelasan mengenai teori bisa membaca buku Ben Vogelvang yang berjudul "Econometrics: Theory and Applications with eViews" halaman 192-197 cetakan tahun 2005.

Baiklah, tanpa menunda, berikut video tersebut:

Dan bila ingin mengetahui penjelasan lebih lanjut mengenai penentuan term GARCH(p,q), dapat melihat ke link ini.

Monday, 5 May 2014

Indonesia's Election and Economic Prospects

Arisyi Fariza Raz
The Jakarta Post
5 May 2014

Available at:

The unofficial quick count results of the April 9 election showed that the Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle (PDI-P) led with 19 percent of the vote, below the initial predictions of 25 percent or higher in various polls prior to the election.

The failure of the “Jokowi-effect” (the announcement of Jakarta Governor Joko “Jokowi” Widodo as the PDI-P’s presidential candidate) to boost the party’s vote means the party may need to form a coalition. 

As a consequence, the presidential election that will be held on July 9, will be much more competitive and less predictable than initially expected. Political bargaining is expected to occur and thus the new government may lack solidity if too much give and take occurs.

Whoever wins the election, the new president must be aware of the country’s economic potential and the challenges it faces. 

He, with his new government, must be visionary in terms of the implementation of economic policies and addressing economic challenges.

As suggested by a report published by McKinsey in 2012, Indonesia has the potential to be one of the biggest economies in the world by 2030, surpassing Germany and the UK. However, Indonesia also faces internal and external challenges that may affect its economic development and growth sustainability.

One of the challenges is related to the establishment of the ASEAN Economic Community (AEC) later in 2015 or early 2016. The objective of the AEC is to create an ASEAN single market and production base, which consists of the freer flow of goods and services, investment, capital and skilled labor.

When the AEC becomes effective, Indonesia must fully open its market to other ASEAN economies and thus intra-regional competition will become fiercer. 

The inability to compete in this free market atmosphere may harm the existence of local businesses, since more competitive overseas businesses might be able to replace them easily.

Another challenge comes from uncertainty in the global economy. The US Federal Reserve has been constantly reducing its quantitative easing in line with economic improvements in the US. 

Even though the Fed’s chief, Janet Yellen, has signaled to the market that the US interest rate will remain unchanged in the short term, in the longer term, it may increase the interest rate if the unemployment rate has already hit the Fed’s appropriate level (between 5.2 and 5.6 percent).

When this happens, global liquidity will once again tighten and Indonesia may face another external shock like the one that happened in 2013. 

Hence, the government must be prepared to anticipate this shock by preventing it from spreading to the real sector.

Fiscal sustainability is another issue that will be faced by the new government. Even though the government has reduced its fuel subsidy by raising the subsidized fuel price from Rp 4,500 (39 US cents)to Rp 6,500 per liter last June, this is still not sufficient to maintain its fiscal sustainability.

Indonesia’s strengthened purchasing power and increased consumption has caused the demand for fuel to be relatively less elastic to price changes. If this trend continues, the fuel subsidy is expected to surpass the government’s budget allocation this year, threatening a widening fiscal deficit.

To address these challenges, the new government has to be alert to these issues and needs to implement clear policy stances to deal with them. 

One of the most important policies is to improve Indonesia’s export competitiveness. Export competitiveness can be improved by promoting the manufacturing sectors that have been experienced a downturn in recent years. 

Potential export-oriented industries have to be closely supported by the government through policy incentives.

It also has to spend more on infrastructure. Adequate infrastructure will improve export competitiveness through the reduction of business costs and an increase in production efficiency.

As suggested by Gustav Papanek, an economist, during an interview with Tempo magazine in March 2014, the government should spend at least around 5 percent of its revenues on infrastructure projects to have an effective impact on the economy. This figure is far above current spending, which is only 1 percent of total revenues.

Human capital improvement is also necessary to support Indonesia’s competitiveness in international trade. Capable human capital will attract more technologically advanced investments from overseas. This will create huge employment and ameliorate industry competitiveness through knowledge transfer.

In addition, sufficient human capital capability will provide positive externalities to the economy through the creation of accumulated knowledge, thus creating more rapid economic growth.

The new government will also need to review its fuel subsidy policy. As mentioned earlier, spiking fuel consumption undermines Indonesia’s fiscal and trade balances. 

One method to deal with this issue is by introducing a fixed fuel subsidy instead of a price-based fuel subsidy.

Through this scheme, the subsidized oil price will fluctuate according to the market mechanism, and the government will not need to incur additional costs when subsidized fuel consumption surges.

Another method, suggested by Papanek during his interview, is to convert fuel consumption from oil to gas. He further argues that this could be done effectively by providing incentives to every stakeholder, including banks and infrastructure providers.

In short, political power should not interfere too much in Indonesia’s economic development process. Despite the political bargaining for power among the parties, the new government must be fully aware of the challenges facing the economy. 

By addressing these challenges effectively, Indonesia will be better able to improve its export competitiveness and reduce its energy imports. As a consequence, its trade and fiscal balances will become more sustainable. 

Indonesia’s economy will be more resilient to external shocks and will able to grow more rapidly and sustainably.


The writer is an economist and is a graduate of the University of Manchester, the UK.

Wednesday, 26 March 2014

New Prudential Authorities

Arisyi Fariza Raz
The Jakarta Post
27 March 2014
Available at:

The year 2014 has been an important one for Indonesia’s financial system. On Jan. 1 Bank Indonesia (BI), the central bank, transferred its banking supervisory role to the Financial Services Authority (OJK).

Both of these institutions have been given new mandates: To maintain the country’s financial system stability through the implementation of prudential policies, which consist of macro-prudential and micro-prudential policies. After the hand over, Bank Indonesia, which is already charged with price stability, has been given a mandate to take charge of macro-prudential policy. The OJK, meanwhile, is in charge of micro-prudential policy and will focus on individual financial institutions.

According to the Bank for International Settlements, the distinction between macro- and micro-prudential regimes is best drawn in terms of the policy objective and of the conception of the processes influencing economic outcomes.

Simply put, macro-prudential policy aims at limiting the “systemic risk” or the costs to the economy from financial distress. On the other hand, micro-prudential policy works toward minimizing the possibility of failure of individual institutions, which is often referred to as limiting “idiosyncratic risk”.

In terms of conceptions of the mechanisms affecting the economy, a macro-prudential regime is viewed as “endogenous” since it views the system outcome to be determined by the collective behavior of individual institutions. Meanwhile, a micro-prudential regime views those outcomes as related to individual firms and is “exogenous”.

In terms of policy applications, theoretically, macro-prudential and micro-prudential policies should be complimentary and reinforce each other in achieving their respective policy objectives.

For instance, sound individual institutions contribute to system-wide financial stability, while a stable system with minimized systemic risk influences the soundness of individual institutions.

However, a paper by the International Monetary Fund (IMF) in 2013 also notes that conflicts may occur in certain situations due to different policy applications and overlapping policy mandates. By nature, macro-prudential policies are usually counter-cyclical, while micro-prudential policies are pro-cyclical.

Hence, when the financial system is under pressure, micro-prudential policy usually raises its standards to anticipate the shock, while macro-prudential policy tends to loosen its policy, thus increasing the tensions between the two policy regimes.

Even though tensions may arise during a downturn phase or at crucial turning points, the IMF suggests that these can be prevented or, at least, minimized, by conducting information sharing, inter-institution dialogue and joint-risk analysis between macro- and micro-prudential authorities.

In addition, the IMF also recommends both authorities form a jointly coordinated strategy that can be communicated to the market and the public to enhance understanding and policy transparency.

Fortunately, prudential authorities, i.e. BI and the OJK, and the government have realized the importance of establishing close communications to reduce the possibility of differences of opinion between the two institutions.

One notable example is the establishment of the Financial System Stability Coordination Forum (FKSSK). This forum consists of the Finance Ministry, BI, the OJK and the Deposit Insurance Corporation (LPS), which are in charge of fiscal policy; monetary and macro-prudential policy; micro-prudential policy; and deposit insurance respectively. 

This forum consists of multi-level meetings held regularly, whether monthly or quarterly and discusses the country’s economic resilience, including financial-system stability.

In addition, both authorities also have data and information sharing that is easily accessible to avoid data lags and to support the efficiency of policy implementation.

These examples show that appropriate measures have been taken by macro- and micro-prudential authorities in Indonesia in order to minimize the tensions between the authorities and, accordingly, achieve their respective policy objectives.

However, numerous challenges still exist, particularly due to the dynamics and the transforming financial system. Therefore, tensions between the two authorities can be kept to a minimum if they take a flexible approach toward institutional arrangements. In addition, both authorities should exploit policy complementarities through arrangements in order to create productive collaboration between them.

In short, BI and the OJK have followed contemporary global financial policy trends through the establishment of prudential regimes in order to capture the dynamics of the latest financial system characteristics. In addition, in terms of implementation and policy coordination, both authorities have also followed the available standards in order to optimize policy efficiency.

Nevertheless, since prudential policies are relatively new, there is still a lot to learn and thus many challenges have to be overcome. Therefore, policy flexibility is necessary to keep up with the evolving characteristics of the financial system.

The writer is a graduate of the University of Manchester, UK.

Monday, 6 January 2014

Will US economic recovery harm Indonesia?

Arisyi Fariza Raz
The Jakarta Post
6 January 2014
Available at:
Despite the “dovish” reputation of Janet Yellen, nominated to take over as the US Federal Reserve chair in 2014, the central bank is already committed to reducing its bond-buying program by US$10 billion starting in January this year.

This decision was primarily motivated by the central bank’s confidence in the stability of the US economy. This decision will have a significant impact on the global economy, particularly emerging economies including Indonesia.

Even though the Fed eventually delayed the tapering from its original schedule last September due to less than expected macroeconomic improvements, this signal had led to a global portfolio rebalancing that affected most emerging economies.

In particular, emerging economies that experienced fiscal and current-account deficits, such as Indonesia, were more prone to this shock and thus were affected more severely. As a huge amount of capital was withdrawn from Indonesia, its currency depreciated sharply, resulting in short-term financial instability in August through October.

Hence, considering its existing twin deficits issue, Indonesia will face another wave of threats when the QE tapering really happens next year. From an external balances perspective, the prolonged current-account deficit that has been plaguing Indonesia for five successive quarters will still make the rupiah prone to further undergoing currency

This is exacerbated further by the huge share of foreign funds invested in Indonesian capital markets.

As dollar liquidity tightens, vast funds withdrawal from capital markets will occur, resulting in the plummeting stock index and soaring bond yields.

Then, this fund withdrawal will drain the Indonesian capital account and reduce its ability to finance its current-account deficit. As a consequence, its balance of payment will deteriorate and the rupiah will suffer.
When the tapering occurs, it is also very likely to raise interest rates again to dampen consumption and reduce imports.

Meanwhile, from a fiscal policy perspective, Indonesia will experience another fiscal deficit in the proposed 2014 state budget, which is estimated to reach 2 percent of next year’s gross domestic product (GDP). When QE tapering occurs, the weakening rupiah will cause energy subsidies to swell further and widen the fiscal deficit.

Accordingly, oil and gas imports will increase and undermine the current-account deficit further. Higher oil and gas imports, coupled by rupiah depreciation, will result in higher imported inflation. With more inflationary pressures, consumption will be hampered and economic growth may slow. Therefore, if no concrete actions are taken, this issue could result in a downward spiral, thus adding more pressure to economic stability.

Fortunately, some of Indonesia’s other macroeconomic variables are still relatively strong enough to anticipate QE tapering. From a public finance perspective, government debt as a percentage of the GDP is only around 23 percent. This low government debt, accompanied by sufficient foreign reserves, may minimize additional shock to rupiah’s volatility.

Moreover, Indonesia’s financial sector is still firm enough in facing external shock, such as that caused by QE tapering. Thanks to the adoption of BASEL II and the implementation of macro-prudential policies to preserve financial stability, Indonesian banks have healthy liquidity position and good capital management. When the tapering occurs, this prudent financial sector will prevent, or at least, minimize the magnitude of adverse shock transmission from the financial sector to the real sector.

In addition, the delay of QE tapering also gave Indonesia more time to improve its macroeconomic fundamentals. To reduce financial volatility, the central bank has made some attempts to narrow Indonesia’s current deficits by tightening its monetary policy, i.e. rising its benchmark policy rate. When the tapering occurs, it is also very likely to raise interest rates again to dampen consumption and reduce imports, thus minimizing the impact of additional inflationary pressures and improving the trade balance.

Furthermore, it has been sustaining its foreign reserves amount to maintain rupiah liquidity. It also established and increased bilateral swap agreements with Japan, China and South Korea to maintain its foreign reserves. To some extent, these central bank policies are expected to be able to narrow Indonesia’s current-account deficit and reduce the impact of QE tapering on financial stability.

Bank Indonesia also cooperates with the government in facing QE tapering, which is mainly aimed at managing its twin deficits issue. For instance, the government launched the first and second rescue packages, increased the investment limits in certain industries, eased investment regulations and announced tax incentives for investments in agriculture and metal to promote exports. It will also reduce luxury car imports, control the subsidized oil usage and mandate higher biodiesel usage to cut oil imports.

Ultimately, QE tapering will still have adverse effects on the Indonesian economy, particularly considering its unsolved twin deficits issue. Once the tapering starts, dollar liquidity will tighten and Indonesian economy will face huge funds withdrawals. This will lead to currency depreciation and financial instability, thus undermining overall macroeconomic performance.

However, the exact severity of the impact is very difficult to measure since such phenomenon has never happened before. In addition, different timing and bond-buying reduction amount may result in different impacts on the Indonesian economy.

To conclude, even though QE tapering is expected to undermine the Indonesian economy severely, its impact is expected to be less significant than the 1997-scale financial crisis vis-à-vis macroeconomic performance and financial stability.
The writer, a graduate of the University of Manchester, is a research analyst at a multinational bank. The views expressed are his own.

Tuesday, 17 September 2013

Will the fiscal stimulus work?

Arisyi Fariza Raz
The Jakarta Post
17 September 2013

Available at:

The government recently announced a fiscal stimulus through four packages to deal with the deteriorating economy.

The first package deals with the current deficit account. This will be achieved by: promoting exports through tax deductions for value-added goods, reducing fuel imports and levying luxury taxes on imported brand-name goods. The second stimulus aims to nurture domestic purchasing power and economic growth through maintaining budget deficit and providing incentives for value-added industries. The third stimulus is to maintain price stability. This stimulus will be carried out through close cooperation with Bank Indonesia (the central bank) by prioritizing food prices.

The government also intends on improving bureaucracy efficiency to promote investment and business.

Unfortunately, analysts and industry players reacted to the announcement of these packages with scepticism. Supposedly, these policies are needed to boost economic growth. However, many believe that these policies should have been implemented when market conditions were better to improve structural conditions and not when the country is facing economic turbulence.

The main reservation behind these packages is their long-term orientation; they cannot solve Indonesia’s economic issues immediately. Theoretically, assuming Indonesia has an efficient bureaucracy, good infrastructure and negligible corruption issues, these packages may help boost the economy significantly after at least six months of being implemented.

However, considering today’s rampant corruption, perplexed bureaucracy and poor infrastructure, it might take years for these stimulus packages to have positive effects.

Therefore, instead of poorly applying textbook-oriented fiscal policy, the government should make bolder moves that could improve the economy immediately.

One of the most feasible policies is by promoting public spending through infrastructure investment. According to Keynesian economics, an economic school of thought, a government should boost its spending when its economy is facing a crisis. When a government does not have enough money to spend, then it can fund spending by obtaining debts. The logic is, at the onset of the crisis, the government should solve problems in the short run rather than waiting for market forces to do it in the long-run.

Admittedly, this policy may sound too risky since it involves public debts in promoting economic growth. Meanwhile, public debt has become a sensitive issue since the 1997 Asian Financial Crisis as it brought our country to the brink of bankruptcy.

However, it is necessary to understand that debt is not always bad, as long as it is not excessive. Indeed, over financing may result in fragile economic conditions, leaving it inflexible and exposed too many risks. However, debt is still necessary to finance an economy, particularly during a crisis.

As an example, fiscal austerity in Europe, which resulted in economic contraction, has become clear evidence of how sometimes debt is necessary to boost economic growth.

Looking at Indonesia’s case, currently the share of debt in terms of total gross domestic product (GDP) is still relatively low compared to its regional peers. Statistically speaking, data released by the International Monetary Fund (IMF) shows that Indonesia’s public debts only accounted for 24 percent of its GDP in 2012. Meanwhile, Thailand’s, Malaysia’s and Singapore’s figures were 46 percent, 56 percent and 108 percent, respectively.

In short, Indonesia’s low public debts position gives a lot of fiscal space for the government to manoeuvre. If the government obtains more public debts and invests in the right sector, i.e. infrastructure, then it will not harm the economy. In fact, infrastructure spending is very much needed in a country such as Indonesia where poor infrastructure has left the country with expensive production costs.

In the short-run, it will create new jobs and projects that will stimulate the economy through increased demand and higher purchasing power. Consequently, economic growth can be created. In addition, the impact of infrastructure spending will last in the long-run as completed infrastructure projects will lower production costs and increase the competitiveness of local products.

As for the debts, if infrastructure spending can foster economic growth faster than debt growth, then the size of public debts in terms of total GDP will shrink by itself in the long-run, even if the government does not pay it off. This method is suggested by Paul Krugman in his book End This Depression Now!

In conclusion, debt-financed infrastructure investments will create sustainable economic growth since the impact of the investments will last in the long-run and create multiplier effects in the economy.

The writer, a graduate of the University of Manchester, UK, is a research analyst at a multinational bank. The opinions expressed are his own.