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Europe and Central Asia

Why Just the Why?

Germano Mwabu's picture

Some Thoughts on Shanta's Anniversary Blog

I have extracted what I find to be the key points in Shanta’s blog post “It’s not the How; It’s the Why” and have commented on them:
 
1. “Bad policies or institutions exist and persist because politically powerful people benefit from them.” 

Bad policies or institutions are bad for those who are excluded from their benefits in the short-run, but they also harm the supposed beneficiaries in the long run. Further careful analysis can corroborate this, and show the long-term harm caused by bad policies to virtually everyone in a particular country.

It’s Not the How; It’s the Why

Shanta Devarajan's picture

Hardly a week goes by without my hearing the statement, “It’s not the What; it’s the How.”  On the reform of energy subsidies in the Middle East and North Africa, for instance, the discussion is focused not on whether subsidies should be reformed (everyone agrees they should be), but on how the reform should be carried out.  Similar points are made about business regulations,educationagriculture, or health. I confess to having written similar things myself.  And there is no shortage of such proposals on this blog
 
Reforms are needed because there is a policy or institutional arrangement in place that has become counterproductive.  But before suggesting how to reform it, we should ask why that policy exists at all, why it has persisted for so long, and why it hasn’t been reformed until now.  For these policies didn’t come about by accident.  Nor have they remained because somebody forgot to change them.  And they are unlikely to be reformed just because a policymaker happens to read a book, article or blog post entitled “How to reform…”

Global child mortality rate dropped 49% since 1990

Emi Suzuki's picture

The under-5 mortality rate worldwide has fallen by 49% since 1990, according to new child mortality estimates and press release launched today. This information is also summarized in the report Levels and Trends in Child Mortality 2014 by the United Nations Inter-Agency Group for Child Mortality Estimation (UN IGME).  Put another way, about 17,000 fewer children under-5 died each day in 2013 than in 1990.

These rates are falling faster than at any other time during the past two decades: from a 1.2% annual reduction during 1990-1995 to a 4% reduction during 2005-2013. 

More children making it to their fifth birthday
The major improvements in under-5 child survival since 1990 are attributable to better access to affordable, quality health care, as well as the expansion of health programs that reach the most vulnerable newborns and children.

The 49% drop – from 90 deaths per 1,000 live births in 1990, to 46 deaths in 2013 – means that a baby born today has a dramatically better chance of survival to age 5 compared with a baby born in 1990.   

More progress needed to achieve the global Millennium Development Goal 4 target
Four out of 6 World Bank Group regions are on track to achieve Millennium Development Goal 4 (MDG 4), which is to reduce the under-5 mortality rate by two-thirds by 2015.  Sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia are two regions where the rates of decline remain insufficient to reach MDG 4 on a global scale.  In 2013, the highest under-5 mortality rate was in Sub-Saharan Africa, where there were 92 deaths per 1,000 live births or where 1 in 11 children die before reaching the age of 5.

Chart 1

It’s not the How; It’s the Why

Shanta Devarajan's picture

Hardly a week goes by without my hearing the statement, “It’s not the What; it’s the How.”  On the reform of energy subsidies in the Middle East and North Africa, for instance, the discussion is focused not on whether subsidies should be reformed (everyone agrees they should be), but on how the reform should be carried out.  Similar points are made about business regulations, education, agriculture, or health. I confess to having written similar things myself.  And there is no shortage of such proposals on this blog
 
Reforms are needed because there is a policy or institutional arrangement in place that has become counterproductive.  But before suggesting how to reform it, we should ask why that policy exists at all, why it has persisted for so long, and why it hasn’t been reformed until now.  For these policies didn’t come about by accident.  Nor have they remained because somebody forgot to change them.  And they are unlikely to be reformed just because a policymaker happens to read a book, article or blog post entitled “How to reform…”

Beware the Middle Income Trap – Says Who?

Borko Handjiski's picture

Fishing in the Hai River Economic development theorists and practitioners are increasingly using the term “middle-income trap” to describe the situation where developing economies’ convergence to the development frontier comes to a halt once their income per capita reaches a middle-income level. The term is ambiguous: is it a halt in convergence or slowdown in growth, and what exactly is the definition of middle-income? Nevertheless, the concept has been successfully used to create a scare that developing countries are more likely to run out of breath or even give up the race in the middle of the track than to continue catching up with the leading economies. Eichengreen et al. and several IMF economists are among those who provide empirical evidence that the “middle-income trap” is real and that developing countries do get stuck at some low-level equilibrium.

The Rapid Slowdown of Population Growth

Wolfgang Fengler's picture

We are living in a paradoxical time of population growth. In the media, there have been alarming reports asking how the world will be able to deal with a much larger population in years to come. The challenges are real, especially in Sub-Saharan Africa, whose population is expected to double by 2050 and possibly quadruple by 2100. At the same time, we have been experiencing the most rapid decline in global population growth ever.

But how can we reconcile those two facts: a rapid expansion of total population numbers with a fast slowdown of population growth? Here is an analogy from the world of cars: imagine you are driving on a German motorway, where speed limits are notoriously non-existent. You are cruising at 160km/h (100m/h) but soon you cross the border into France, where 130 km/h is the limit. You are still driving very fast, though substantially slower than before. Now you switch to a regional road, driving at 80km/h, and now you slow down further to 50 km/h as you enter into a town. Meanwhile, someone else is still driving at 160 km/h on that Autobahn.

What can we learn from public-private partnerships in the transport sector in Europe and Central Asia?

Vickram Cuttaree's picture
Private sector investment in Europe and Central Asia (ECA) is quite small, even accounting for the size of the individual countries’ economies. Despite integration within the European Union (EU), ECA countries have not attracted much private sector investment in the transport sector compared to other regions, such as Latin America or South Asia (four times more during 2009-13).
 
Mid-day traffic in Istanbul, Turkey
Mid-day traffic in Istanbul, Turkey

While public-private partnership (PPP) transport investment has been initially driven by countries (such as Poland, Croatia and Hungary) that implemented reforms to join the EU, most of them have not been able to close on transport PPP transactions in the past five years. Now Russia and Turkey are the leaders in the region, as explained below.

What can explain this situation?
A focus on off-balance sheet accounting of PPP projects has dominated transport PPP in EU-member ECA countries in recent years. Off-balance sheet accounting means PPP projects are structured in a way that only annual government payments are accounted for, instead of the total commitment (the assets and liabilities associated with the project). This means that PPP projects end up being large and greenfield (multi-billion dollar investment, typically in new highways), and tend to follow a separate path than for budget-financed projects, based on the assumption that the associated liabilities won’t be accounted for.

Risk allocation between the public and private sectors is driven by accounting treatment. This also results in limited support from governments and very rigid negotiations. It also means that projects are often not able to close or, as a former Minister of Transport said, “We do PPP to build off-balance sheet assets but, in order to reach financial close, assets has to be on our books.”

Extending a helping hand during the Great Recession

Mohamed Ihsan Ajwad's picture

The impact of the Great Recession on Latvia was severe. Between 2008 and 2010, GDP fell by 21 percent, 11 percent of the workforce lost their jobs, and poverty nearly doubled, to 18 percent. This was no ordinary recession, it was a deep crisis.

This is the story of how Latvia successfully cushioned the inevitable blow--to at least some workers--through a World Bank-supported public works program.

From Paper to Practice: How Easy Is It to Ease Doing Business

Borko Handjiski's picture

A storefront that specializes in nuts The stroke of the pen is powerful indeed; it has led to wars, peace, and lots of other things in between, including changes in a country’s business environment. A large part of what defines the environment for doing business in a country is set in legislation. In many countries around the world, business regulations are more difficult than necessary, and some have taken great efforts to remove unneeded impediments with the aim of stimulating entrepreneurship and investment.

2014: 25 Years After 1989 or 100 Years After 1914?

Martin Raiser's picture

A couple of weeks ago, I was in Warsaw to attend a conference jointly organized by the Polish and Turkish Central Banks (“Polish and Turkish Transitions: Achievements and Challenges Ahead”) on the occasion of 600 years of diplomatic relations between Poland and Turkey. Six centuries of (predominantly friendly) relations is indeed worthy of commemoration, but for our Polish hosts another anniversary was of even greater importance: 25 years ago, Poland was the first country from the former Communist Block to embark on the transition towards democracy and market economy. For Poland and other Central and Eastern European countries that joined it as new members of the European Union 10 years ago, this transition laid the foundation for a remarkable economic, cultural and political revival as Indermit Gill and I have argued in Golden Growth. Indeed, many in Poland would agree with the Economist  that Poland has not had it as good as today ever since it was the preeminent Central European power some 500 years ago.


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