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November 2010

Did Yesterday’s Patterns of Colonial Exploitation Determine Today’s Patterns of Poverty?

Miriam Bruhn's picture

Several economists have argued that cross-country differences in economic development today have their roots in the colonial era. For example, Engerman and Sokoloff (1997, 2002)—henceforth referred to as ES—argue that different types of economic activities that the colonizers engaged in led to different growth paths. They claim that the link between colonial activities and current-day levels of economic development is as follows. In many areas, colonial society was very unequal, giving political rights only to a few landowners, while repressing most of the population through slavery or forced labor. Consequently, institutions that developed during colonial times were designed to protect the rights of only a few. These institutions persist until today and constrain economic development. To give one example, many Latin American banking systems developed primarily to serve a wealthy elite, restricting access to finance for the rest of the population.

In a paper I recently co-authored with Francisco Gallego, we test empirically whether areas with different types of colonial activities do indeed have different levels of economic development today. We use within-country data for 345 regions in seventeen countries in the Americas to do this. We rely on within-country data because colonial activities varied considerably even within countries (for example, the northeast of Brazil grew sugar, while many states in central and southern Brazil had large cattle ranches). Moreover, in our sample, levels of development vary almost as widely within countries (between regions) as they do between countries.

The Global Financial Inclusion Indicators: An Important Step towards Measuring Access to Finance

Asli Demirgüç-Kunt's picture

How inclusive are financial systems around the world? What proportion of the population uses which financial services? Despite all the work we have done so far, most of the figures cited by experts in this field are still just estimates (see, for example, here and here). But this is about to change—in a big way.

To help us understand the scope and breadth of financial activity by individuals around the world, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation today announced an $11 million, 10-year grant to the World Bank’s Development Research Group to build a new publicly accessible database of Global Financial Inclusion Indicators. The ultimate goal of the project is to improve access to finance; achieving this goal requires reliably measuring financial inclusion in a consistent manner over a broad range of countries and over time to provide a solid foundation of data for researchers and policymakers. We will carry out three rounds of data collection, starting with Gallup, Inc’s 2011 Gallup World Poll, which will survey at least 1,000 people per country in 150 countries about their access and use of financial services.

Islamic Banking: Can it Save Us from Crises?

Asli Demirgüç-Kunt's picture

Pundits in the financial press have been asking an intriguing question: if too much debt and insufficient equity was partly responsible for the financial crisis, might Islamic banking be part of the solution? After all, Islamic principles require that financial transactions cannot include interest rate payments on debt, but rather have to rely on profit-loss risk-sharing arrangements (as in equity). For example, demand deposits that do not pay interest are fine, but savings deposits generally participate in the profits of the bank since these cannot accrue interest. Lending also generally follows a partnership model where the bank provides the resources and the client provides effort and expertise, and profits are shared at some agreed ratio. So can the heightened risk-sharing required by Sharia curb excess risk-taking by banks?

In practice Islamic scholars have also developed products that resemble those offered by conventional banks, replacing interest rate payments and discounting with fees and contingent payment structures. Nevertheless, Islamic banking still retains a strong element of equity participation. How does this affect bank risk-taking? Conceptually, the answer is not immediately clear. On the one hand, the equity-like nature of savings instruments may increase depositors’ incentives to monitor and discipline banks. On the other hand, if deposit instruments are equity-like, banks’ incentives to monitor and discipline borrowers may also be reduced since banks no longer face the threat of immediate withdrawal. Similarly, the equity-like nature of partnership loans can reduce the important discipline imposed on entrepreneurs by debt contracts.

The Challenges of Bankruptcy Reform

Leora Klapper's picture

The 2008 financial crisis precipitated a global economic downturn, credit crunch, and reduction in cross-border lending, trade finance, remittances, and foreign direct investment, which all adversely affected businesses around the world. The increase in the number of distressed firms has made policymakers more concerned about the effectiveness of existing bankruptcy regimes, including both the laws that address reorganization and liquidation, as well as improved enforcement of laws in court.

In a recent paper with Elena Cirmizi and Mahesh Uttamchandani, my co-authors and I summarize the theoretical and empirical literature on designing bankruptcy laws; discuss the challenges of introducing and implementing bankruptcy reforms; and present examples of the most recent reforms in this area from around the world. As policymakers use the current recession as an opportunity to engage in meaningful reform of the bankruptcy process, it is important to assess experiences from previous crises.

Reforming Global Finance: What is the G20 Missing?

Franklin Allen's picture

Editor's Note: Professor Franklin Allen came to the World Bank on October 27 to give an FPD Chief Economist Talk on the topic of Reforming Global Finance: What is the G20 Missing? Please see the FPD Chief Economist Talk page to download a copy of his presentation and watch a video of his Talk.

The recent financial crisis clearly had more than one cause. My view is that the most important one was a bubble in real estate prices, not only in the US but also in a number of other countries such as Spain and Ireland. It was the bursting of this bubble that has led to so many problems in the world economy. A significant part of this is a direct effect on the real economy rather than an effect transmitted through the financial system. For example, Spain had one of the best regulated banking systems and its banks did much better than in other countries. Yet with a doubling of its unemployment rate to 20 percent, its real economy has been devastated. In contrast countries like Germany that did not have a real estate bubble but had much larger drops in GDP have not suffered nearly as much. Germany's unemployment rate is now lower than at the start of the crisis.