Governments in the Arab world have long subsidized the price of energy. This gives citizens throughout the region access to cheap petrol and diesel, and electricity supplied at below-market rates. But what has been the real impact of subsidies, and do they justify the huge financial burden they place on national budgets? This is a critical question in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA), as the region represents a disproportionate share of the world’s energy subsidies.
West Bank and Gaza
If you think the summers in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region are hot—think again. Summers are likely to become much warmer. Global temperatures are rising; the question now is by how much and what the impact of them will be. People in the region already face very high summer temperatures—and these could get worse. Compared to the rest of the world, the MENA region will suffer disproportionally from extreme heat.
This is the third in our series of posts by students on the job market this year.
Economists tend to believe that travel and trade costs reduce welfare. Trade papers like Irwin (2005), Redding & Sturm (2008), Storeygard (2014), and Etkes & Zimring (2014) draw on evidence from the United States, West Germany, sub-Saharan Africa, and the Gaza Strip to support this idea. One might reasonably expect, therefore, that the welfare of Palestinian commuters declined during the Second Palestinian Uprising (2000-2007), when the Israeli army deployed hundreds of roadblocks and checkpoints along the West Bank’s internal road network in order to defend Israeli civilian settlements. Although these obstacles were intended to deter and intercept militants, they had the unintended consequence of delaying Palestinian civilian travel between Palestinian towns, and from Palestinian towns to Israel (B’Tselem (2007), World Bank (2007)). Two World Bank working papers (Cali & Miaari (2014), van der Weide et al (2014)) take advantage of this ‘natural experiment’ to study the effects of travel costs on commuters’ welfare, finding that economic outcomes of Palestinians declined in the face of obstacle deployment. My job market paper, however, finds a very different result: while obstacles reduced the welfare of laborers in some towns, laborers from other towns actually benefited from obstacles. The salient outcome of obstacle deployment was not welfare reduction, but rather welfare inequality.
While he is undoubtedly a great player, Lionel Messi may not be the best person to learn from when working on your soccer game. This is not because his team lost to Germany in this year’s World Cup, but that his playing style is likely very different from yours. The next steps on your path to improvement may be closer to a better player on your own team than that of the super-star.
One of the targets of the Millennium Development Goals for poverty and hunger is monitored in part through a measure called Prevalence of Undernourishment. This is defined in the World Development Indicators (WDI) database as the proportion of the population whose food intake is insufficient to meet minimum dietary energy requirements continuously.
Comparative data (see figure below) show two, somewhat contradictory, aspects of undernourishment in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region. During 1991-2012, the MENA region has had very low levels of undernourishment; among developing regions, it is tied for lowest average with Europe and Central Asia. But the average level of undernourishment in the region appears to have worsened over time. The latter is surprising because the MENA region is made up of middle and high income countries (with the exception of Djibouti and Yemen) and has not been subject to any prolonged negative food or income shocks in the past two decades. Indeed, all other regions have experienced a steady decline in undernourishment since 1991.
The Middle East and North Africa region has a large diaspora. According to the latest United Nations estimates, 11 million citizens from the MENA countries lived abroad in 2013. Many of the members of this group hold prominent positions in their adopted countries. They have the potential to contribute to the development of industries in their countries of origin. Executives in multinationals can influence the choice of locations abroad in increasingly defragmented supply-chains. This is especially relevant for members of the diaspora. Seddik Belyamani, originally from Morocco, was Boeing's top airplane salesman, and was instrumental in converting an initial push-back by Boeing’s executives into an interest and a first mover investment in Morocco.
A former hotel owner in one of the region’s major cities, who wants to remain anonymous, tells a story that should have had a happy ending. Her 40-room hotel was doing well. It had built a reputation for excellent service. She decided to capitalize on her success and expand the business by adding a restaurant. This would have provided her with another revenue steam and allowed her to attract more customers, especially foreign tourists. Apart from expanding her business, the need for new kitchen and wait staff would have meant jobs for the local community. It would also have meant more business for local suppliers of everything from food to tablecloths.
With such a long list of potential benefits, who would want to stand in the way?
What makes smart politicians? Jeffrey Frankel has an idea. His recent blog examines the allure, and trap, of universal subsidies. For one thing, they know that pulling the plug on bad policies should be done sooner rather than later. The same can be said of other policies related to investment and labor legislation. Economic democracy is a great thing. However, beware of misguided routes to achieving it.
- Egypt, Arab Republic of
- Iran, Islamic Republic of
- Saudi Arabia
- Syrian Arab Republic
- United Arab Emirates
- West Bank and Gaza
- Yemen, Republic of
- Middle East and North Africa
- Global Economy
- Labor and Social Protection
- Public Sector and Governance
What is Mrs. Abla’s secret? How has one principal managed to mobilize teachers and parents into becoming one harmonious unit with a common goal— to give students the best education they could. Is it just her incredible passion for education? What else has helped her overcome the challenges of daily life in the West Bank to create an environment around her so conducive to learning?
In Tunis this month, the Arab Regional Agenda for Improving Education Quality (ARAIEQ) held its second annual meetings of representatives from institutions from across the region. The idea for this network is simple enough: Arab countries face a now well-recognized challenge—the need to improve the quality and relevance of their education systems. It therefore stands to reason that they should share solutions. They met to review the progress made in the past year and discuss how to work more closely together in the future. What have they accomplished?