The I.M.F. has recommended more action from the European Central Bank, and the People’s Bank of China is expected to cut its bank reserve requirements this year to underpin growth.
But can all this money restore growth to robust levels anytime soon? Government officials and economists point to the same problem: There is too much debt. Rescue funds and central bank stimulus measures are just keeping the world economy afloat until the hard and painful work of repairing balance sheets is done.
“The real solution has to do with the fiscal and structural reforms that address the real causes of this crisis, particularly in Europe, but also elsewhere,” said Tharman Shanmugaratnam, Singapore’s finance minister and head of the I.M.F.’s steering committee. “The firewall is absolutely essential, but by itself it is not sufficient, and the real solutions require attention.”
In 2009, the I.M.F. calculated that official rescue efforts had totaled nearly $12 trillion, and since then the Fed and the E.C.B. have pumped more cash into the economies they oversee.
This money — almost equivalent to the annual output of the U.S. economy — cushioned the effects of the collapse of home prices in the United States and parts of Europe, as well as those of bank failures and the steep contraction in business and household spending.
Almost four years after the beginning of the crisis, the world economy is expanding at a moderate annual pace of 3.5 percent, the I.M.F. has estimated, in line with an average rate of 3.4 percent between 1994 and 2009.
The U.S. Commerce Department will report its initial estimate of first-quarter economic growth Friday, and economists surveyed by Reuters forecast, on average, G.D.P. growth of 2.5 percent, down from 3 percent in the previous quarter.
The message finance ministers and central bankers attending the recent I.M.F. and Group of 20 meetings in Washington was: Get on with the job of paying down debt.
It can be a daunting task. In the United States, the epicenter of the credit crisis, $8.3 trillion in household wealth evaporated in the collapse of housing prices. While U.S. households are now doing better, adding to hopes for a rebound in consumer spending this year, David Resler, the chief economist at Nomura Securities International, is less optimistic.
Mr. Resler has studied U.S. consumer debt and concluded a long and arduous climb still lies ahead. “The lessons of history suggest that the remaining process of healing will likely be measured in years, rather than quarters or months,” he said.
The Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development has said that debt loads have swollen to an average of 100 percent of G.D.P. in advanced economies.
Reducing public debt to 50 percent of G.D.P. by 2050, which is considered a manageable level, would require immediate fiscal tightening equivalent to 12 percent of G.D.P. in Japan, and 8 percent in the United States and Britain, it said.
“In many countries, just stabilizing debt, let alone bringing it down to a sustainable level, will be a major challenge,” the organization said.
Governments already face huge political problems in deciding between spending cuts, tax increases and structural overhauls when defining a route to fiscal probity, as seen in a near-stalemate in the United States and in recent riots in Greece. Austerity programs have won out so far, but they may be reaching a limit.