Bangladesh was born on December 16 1971, following a devastating war that cost the lives of 3,000,000 people. They were victorious in their fight for independence, yet the prospects of the Bangladeshi people living in the 70’s were disheartening, earning it the now rather infamous connotation of a basket case, as Henry Kissinger called it back in 1971. Emerging from the rubbles left by the war, the resilient Bangladeshis began the rebuilding of their newly established nation. Economic growth was slow to take off, and it rebounded to the pre-war level about twenty years later, in the 90’s. Yet, it was after the 90’s that the country began to attain palpable progress and only over the 2000-2010 decade that the country achieved great poverty reduction. The depth-of-poverty MDG target of 8 percent was attained five years ahead of schedule, and Bangladesh was set in the right path for achieving the first MDG goal of halving the poverty headcount to 28.5 percent by 2015.
Bangladesh has turned the political business cycle phenomenon upside down.
Political business cycles are cycles in macroeconomic variables – output, unemployment, inflation – induced by the electoral cycle. This type of business cycle results primarily from the manipulation of policy tools by incumbent politicians hoping to stimulate the economy just prior to an election and thereby improve their reelection chances.
Expansionary monetary and fiscal policies have politically palatable consequences in the short run. When pursued to excess, these very policies can also have very unpleasant consequences in the longer term in the form of accelerating inflation, decreasing savings, worsening foreign trade balance, and long-term expansion of government's share of the GDP at the expense of private consumption and investment. So immediately after the election, politicians tend to “bite the bullet” and reverse course by raising taxes, cutting spending, slowing the growth of the money supply, and allowing interest rates to rise. As a result, the regular holding of elections tends to produce a boom-and-bust pattern in the economy because of the on-again-off-again pattern of government stimulus and restraint to induce an artificial boom at every election time.
Bangladesh’s experience also shows the existence of a political business cycle in GDP growth, albeit with exactly the opposite pattern of boom and bust. GDP growth has consistently declined in each of the last five election years. It happened in 1991, 1996, 2002, 2007 (an election year without election) and 2009 (Figure 1). From the perspective of Western political business cycle theory these growth tendencies appear suicidal for the incumbent. Instead of expanding the economy faster to gain votes, the incumbents appear to be shooting themselves in the foot by allowing the pace of expansion to slow in the election year!
Is this another case of the Bangladesh paradox?
South Asia is the least integrated region in the world. Intra-regional trade in South Asia is less than 2% of GDP compared to over 20% in East Asia. Labor mobility and regional travel is minimal, with few exceptions. Even remote communication is low – only 7% of international telephone calls in South Asia are to countries within the region, compared to 71% for East Asia. The case for closer integration has remained strong for a while now, and it is refreshing to see that some movement, albeit watchful, in addressing some of the region's deep rooted political economy issues, particularly between India and Pakistan.
The discussions around closer integration have centered on energy, trade, connectivity and stability. All of these offer strong potential to enhance growth in the region. However, financial sector integration overall, and access to finance in particular, hardly ever make it to the agenda of regional integration forums and deliberations. This is unfortunate, because the region has a long way to go in providing adequate access to financial services and insurance products, especially to the vulnerable segments of the population. Given that South Asia is home to more than half a billion of the world’s poor, this becomes a poverty reduction goal as much as a financial inclusion goal.
Losses due to disasters to human and physical capital are on the rise across the world. Over the past 30 years, total losses have tripled, amounting to $3.5 trillion. While the majority of these losses were experienced in OECD countries, the trend is increasingly moving towards losses in rapidly growing states.
In a sense, increasing risk and losses caused by disaster are the byproduct of a positive trend - strong development gains and economic growth. This is because disaster loss is a function of the amount of human and physical assets exposed to seismic or hydrometeorological hazards, and the level of vulnerability of the assets. The richer a country gets, the more assets it builds or acquires, and therefore the more losses it potentially faces.
Rapid development across South Asia signals the need to commit greater efforts to increase resilience to disaster and climate risk. It also requires governments to develop a strategy to both protect against events today and to develop strategies to address the losses of the future. This is a challenge somewhat unique to South Asia. The losses of today, predominantly rural flooding that impacts wide swaths of vulnerable populations, will begin to diminish in relative importance to the losses of the future.
Mussarat Farida Begum runs a small teahouse in Garjon Bunia Bazaar, a rural community in Bangladesh. As part of a program which has helped Bangladesh reach more than 2 million low-income rural households and shops with electricity, she bought a solar home system for $457, initially paying $57, and borrowing the rest. She repays the loan in weekly installments with money she earns by keeping her now-lighted chai shop open after dark. Her business is booming and her family lives much more comfortably with their increased income. They now have electricity at home and their children can study at night.
Women like Mussarat are at the forefront of our efforts to secure development by tackling climate change. On the one hand, they are disproportionately vulnerable to the impacts of extreme events. But it is also women who can make a difference to change entrenched behaviors. It is their decisions as entrepreneurs, investors, consumers, farmers, and heads of households that can put our planet on a greener, more inclusive development trajectory.
For Somali girl Halima Mohmoud, 11, a dream came true recently. She is now enrolled in school despite the hardships she and her family go through every day.
The progress in achieving the target set for the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) continues to be diverse across goals and regions. The goals aim at actualizing a universal standard of being free from grinding poverty, being educated and healthy and having ready access to clean water and sanitation. While progress has lagged for education and health related MDGs, the proportion of people living in extreme poverty has indeed fallen. To accelerate further progress in the latter, development strategies have to attempt to increase not only the rate of growth but also the share of income going to the poorest section of the population along the rural-urban continuum.
Economic projections for developing countries prepared by the World Bank state that approximately 970 million people will continue in 2015 to live below $1.25 a day. This would be equivalent to 15.5% of the population in the developing world. Herein, the pertinent challenge of reducing extreme poverty through creation of new income opportunities and better delivery of basic services largely remains in rural areas. In addition, such poverty is concentrated more in Asia (East and South) and Sub Saharan Africa with 38% and 46% of their poor residing in rural areas respectively. Thus, the task of effective rural development remains daunting. But the latter has to be operationalized and implemented holistically, and more importantly, in context of the complexities posed by the rural -urban continuum.
During the past few years, interest in high-frequency price data has grown steadily. Recent major economic events - including the food crisis and the energy price surge – have increased the need for timely high-frequency data, openly available to all users. Standard survey methods lag behind in meeting this demand, due to the high cost of collecting detailed sub-national data, the time delay usually associated with publishing the results, and the limitations to publishing detailed data. For example, although national consumer price indices (CPIs) are published on a monthly basis in most countries, national statistical offices do not release the underlying price data.
Leading newspapers in Bangladesh on July 10, 2013 sensationally headlined the survey findings from Transparency International (TI)'s Global Corruption Barometer 2013. Approximately 1,000 people from each of 107 countries were surveyed between September 2012 and March 2013. In Bangladesh, 1822 people participated in the survey conducted from February 10 - March 15, 2013. Of the total sample, 61 % were from rural and 39 % from urban areas. Based on Transparency International Bangladesh (TIB) presentation of the TI report to the media on July 9, the media coverage gave the clear impression that most of the important institutional pillars of Bangladesh are perceived to be extremely corrupt. Corruption undoubtedly is a major problem here. However, the way TIB constructed the survey results led to predictably excessive perception bias in favor of corruption.
The economic liberalization during the last couple of decades led to impressive economic growth and poverty reduction in many developing countries. This period has also witnessed worsening of income inequality and widening of spatial disparity (World Development Report (2009); Kanbur and Venables (2005); Kim (2008)). There is considerable worry among policy makers about the extent to which this rise in spatial inequality is due to increasing disparity in opportunities in terms of provision of basic infrastructure and services. The recent growth and poverty reduction experience places Bangladesh as an exception to this trend of increasing spatial inequality. Bangladesh made significant strides in poverty reduction between 2000 and 2010 with incidence of poverty falling from 48.9 percent to 31.5 percent. During the same period, the incidence of poverty declined more than proportionately in traditionally poorer regions, reducing welfare gaps across regions. There is also no evidence of significant change in overall inequality over the same period. What made spatial disparity in Bangladesh to decline while its economic growth accelerated substantially? What were the sources of decline in spatial disparity in welfare?