Last week I attended the Gaidar Forum in Moscow. Yegor Gaidar was an economist who became the architect of the Russian market economy as deputy prime minister of the Russian Federation in 1992. Like Leszek Balcerowitz in Poland and Vaclav Klaus in Czechoslovakia, Gaidar was a pioneer of the shock therapy: rapid liberalization of prices; opening up of borders to allow free international trade; and privatization of capital. Gaidar died in 2009 at an age of 53. In his memory the Gaidar Forum was organized for the first time in 2010. This was the fifth time the Russian Presidential Academy of National Economy and Public Administration organized this annual conference that brings together ministers, academics, and business people.
Europe and Central Asia
The global economy is finally emerging from the financial crisis. Worldwide, growth came in at an estimated 2.4 percent in 2013, and is expected to rise to 3.2 percent this year. This improvement is due in no small part to better performance by high-income countries. Advanced economies are expected to record 1.3 percent growth for the year just finished, and then expand by 2.2 percent in 2014. Meanwhile, developing countries will likely grow by 5.3 percent this year, an increase from estimated growth of 4.8 percent in 2013.
The world economy can be seen as a two-engine plane that was flying for close to six years on one engine: the developing world. Finally, another engine – high-income countries – has gone from stalled to shifting into gear. This turnaround, detailed in the World Bank’s Global Economic Prospects 2014 launched last Tuesday, means that developing countries no longer serve as the main engine driving the world economy. While the boom days of the mid-2000s may have passed, growth in the emerging world remains well above historical averages.
High-income countries continue to face significant challenges, but the outlook has brightened. Several advanced economies still have large deficits, but a number of them have adopted long-term strategies to bring them under control without choking off growth.
For those of you who are not interested in soccer and for our young colleagues who are growing up with Messi and Ronaldo: Johan Cruijff was the best soccer player ever. At least according to his Dutch fans; skeptics can convince themselves here. As a player and coach he has won every conceivable prize for club teams, but he has become even more famous as an analyst. His judgments are so inscrutable for mere earthlings that his utterings are considered without exception as deep philosophical wisdoms. One of his more transparent quotes might give you already an impression: Soccer is simple, but it is difficult to play simple soccer. There must be deep insight also in Italians can't win the game against you, but you can lose the game against the Italians. People have collected over the years many more examples, but I want to discuss one of his more recent observations.
If you love books as much as I do, perhaps you too cherish the sensation of holding a new book in your hands for the first time. Or the way your nose twitches when dust lifts off the pages of an old paperback you just discovered on a bookstore shelf. Books are real treasures – they appeal to many different senses and can create memories that stay with us from childhood.
Today, more and more books take a very different form to when I was a kid. The Internet now provides us access to a vast electronic library where billions of books are available digitally rather than in the old-fashioned paper form. But there are many of us who still prefer the real thing. With this in mind, my colleagues and I at the World Bank office in Astana, Kazakhstan, held a book donation on the threshold of the New Year at the National Academic Library - one of the four depositary libraries in different regions of Kazakhstan (Almaty, Astana, Ust-Kamenogorsk, and Pavlodar) back in 2005 as an effective channel for sharing of knowledge and information.
For the event, we brought a ton of World Bank publications from the country office, inviting people to walk in and take any books that appealed to them. It took just one hour to clear the shelves! As people selected multiple books from the shelves, I asked, “Are you really going to read all of those books?” Their responses surprised me pleasantly.
When the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) launched the results from the most recent assessment of mathematics, reading, and science competencies of 15 year-olds (the Program for international Student Assessment, PISA) last December, it held encouraging news for the European Union’s newest members. Estonia, Poland, Slovenia, and the Czech Republic scored above the OECD average and ahead of many richer European Union neighbors. Compared to previous assessments, the 2012 scores of most countries in Central Europe and the Baltics were up (as they were in Turkey, as Wiseman et al highlighted in this blog recently). Improvements were particularly marked in Bulgaria and Romania, traditionally the weakest PISA achievers in the EU, as well as well-performing Poland and Estonia. Only Slovakia and Hungary saw declines (see chart with PISA mathematics scores).
These are some of the views and reports relevant to our readers that caught our attention this week.
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"Gallup's self-reported household income data across 131 countries indicate that more than one in five residents (22%) live on $1.25 per day or less -- the World Bank's definition of "extreme poverty." About one in three (34%) live on no more than $2 per day. The World Bank Group recently set a new goal of reducing the worldwide rate of extreme poverty to no more than 3% by 2030, but Gallup's data suggest meeting that goal will require substantial growth and job creation in many countries. In 86 countries, more than 3% of the population lives on $1.25 per day or less." READ MORE
A New Year traditionally comes with upbeat thoughts. New resolutions will make life better. Past mistakes will not be repeated. And calamities are seldom predicted. These positive thoughts are not always justified, but they provide necessary energy during the first cold months of the year all the same.
At the beginning of 2014 some economic optimism actually seems defensible. Five years after the start of the global financial crisis, Europe is finally exiting their recession, albeit slowly and hesitantly. The U.S. economy is accelerating and so is growth of global production and trade. True, the BRICs are no longer as vibrant as they have been for a long time, but growth in China (a key concern of markets in recent days) is still expected to be three and a half times growth in high income countries.
Given the tradition of New Year’s optimism it is salient that the EBRD starts the New Year on a rather gloomy note with their new Transition Report. The title of this year’s report is "Stuck in transition?." But in the text they change the question mark into a firm exclamation mark, even as the report contains some suggestions of ways to escape the current impasse.
As many across the world entered the New Year in a celebratory mood, others are still struggling to recover from the effect of the recent economic downturn. Five years ago began the worst economic recession the world has experienced in generations. With life support by Governments and Central Banks, the global economy seems to have stabilized, but the ‘patient’ is still weak. In 2013, the global economy is estimated to have expanded at a modest 2.2 percent rate (despite a contraction in the Euro zone) and for 2014 the World Bank and IMF project a slight uptick to 3.0 percent.
But what do these numbers actually tell us about the well-being of people? Does economic growth capture what really makes a difference in peoples’ lives?
Most experts agree that energy efficiency is a critical building block for sustainable development. This is because improvements in energy efficiency strengthen a country’s energy security, increase competitiveness, ease shortages in energy supply, and lower environmental impacts including local and greenhouse gas emissions.
Why doesn’t it happen then?
“A picture says a thousand words.” This old adage came to mind the other day when we presented poverty maps on Central and Eastern Europe to the European Commission. Technically speaking what we presented are small area poverty maps which give a more reliable estimate of poverty at county or local administrative unit level than would have been possible using national household surveys alone.
So what’s new? The World Bank has been drawing poverty maps for some years now, as have some governments. What’s new is that the European Union, which redistributes resources from richer countries to poorer ones, is in the process of finalizing its programs for the next financing period, 2014 to 2020. These programs are aimed at reducing disparities in standards of living. Being poorer on average than the rest of Europe, countries in Central and Eastern Europe will receive significant resources for investments to raise their standard of living.