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Toward an Understanding of Crises Episodes in Latin America

Conventional wisdom about the business cycle in Latin America assumes that monetary shocks cause deviations from the optimal path, and that the triggering factor in the cycle is excess credit and liquidity. Further, in this view the origin of the contraction is ultimately related to the excesses during the expansion. For that reason, it follows that avoiding the worst conditions during the bust entails applying restrictive economic policies during the expansion, including restrictive fiscal and monetary policies. In this paper we develop an alternative approach that suggests that fiscal restraint may not have a significant impact in reducing the risks of a crisis, and that excessive fiscal conservatism might actually exacerbate problems. In the case of Central America, the efforts to reduce fiscal imbalances, in conjunction with the persistent current account deficits, implied that financial inflows, with remittances being particularly important in some cases, allowed for an expansion of a private spending boom that proved unsustainable once the Great Recession led to a sharp fall in external funds. In the case of South America, the commodity boom created conditions for growth without hitting the external constraint. Fiscal restraint in the South American context has resulted, in some cases, in lower rates of growth than what otherwise would have been possible as a result of the absence of an external constraint. Yet the lower reliance on external funds made South American countries less vulnerable to the external shock waves of the Great Recession than Central American economies.

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