Over the past decade, Africa has been experiencing tremendous economic dynamism and growth: seven of the world’s ten fastest-growing countries are in Africa; the continent’s economic output has more than tripled; and average economic growth is expected to be 4.8 percent in 2013.
This post was originally written for the Collective Solutions 2025 blog, a forward-looking study and collaboration platform to explore how the World Bank and similar multilateral institutions can best support developing countries to meet long-term sustainable development challenges in a post-2025 world. Read more about the study and join the collaboration site here.
I don’t particularly like cities. I’m a country boy. But I have lived in cities for the last 35 years; 10 in Bangkok, 15 in Manila, and 10 in Washington, DC (though DC might be called a town if it were in India or China). In the 1990s, I led work on environmental investments in east and south Asian cities. Most of the cities I worked in were severely “under-infrastructured and under-serviced,” and because many of them are built on coastal zones, this was particularly pronounced when it came to low-lying slums, drainage and sanitation. The heaviest price tag was often for drainage and flood control. During those years, I often wondered if and how the city and country leaders would ever catch up on infrastructure needs with the growing urban populations. Many have done well—while others are in worse shape now because they haven’t been able to meet the human tide.
The world has become relatively less poor in the last few decades. People under conditions of extreme poverty -- that is, living on less than $1.25 per day -- have declined as a proportion of the world population, from 52 percent in 1981 to 22 percent in 2008. Thirty years ago almost 75 percent of the developing world lived with $2 a day or less, this number is down to 43 percent today.
Spare a thought for the economist.
While in the past, people might have resorted to reading tea leaves to figure out what their future has in store for them, these days, at least on economic matters, people turn to the next available economist. But while economists are great at analyzing the past, predicting the future is still a complicated task.
In order to come up with projections, economists look at data. Now, it turns out that economists are often making long-term assessments based on the latest news. Take a look at these growth projections for ten years ahead for Russia, based on polls of economists conducted by Consensus Economics, along with actual growth in the year of the projections (Figure 1). Clearly, while long-term projections are less volatile, the two are correlated – the better the present the better the future, and vice versa. In particular, long-term projections have noticeably nudged down since the crisis.
Figure 1: Actual Growth and 10-Years Ahead Growth
Projections for Russia (percent), 2004 to 2012
This past week, I attended a couple of interesting seminars at the World Bank’s Human Development Forum on how some mineral-rich countries have been able to translate their newfound riches into sustained economic growth, improved living conditions, and better nutrition, health and education levels for their populations.
Around 5000 years ago, the first cities emerged in Mesopotamia and the fertile valleys of the Tigris and Euphrates Rivers. Agricultural surpluses enabled a few people to start specializing in something other than agriculture. The farmer who now had extra grain could trade for a better spear or a winter fur coat. This specialization and the ability to trade goods and services is the basis of urbanization. And, there was enough food that the starving artist didn’t starve completely, so along with trade, culture emerged.
Cities grew at a modest pace until about 1800 when the Industrial Revolution took off in the UK and cities developed at staggering rates. Manchester, for example experienced a six-fold population increase from 1771 to 1831. London went from about one-fifth of Britain’s population at the start of the 19th Century to about half the country’s population in 1851. This rate of urbanization has not let up for the last two hundred years; in fact it is still accelerating. The growth of cities seen over the last two hundred years will now be repeated, but this time in just forty years.
In practice, theory is something else. I've already heard variants of this expression in several countries and languages. Very often from people referring to the gap between abstract, generic principles and the implementation of projects and policies.
Financial Markets… The euro rose to a six-week high against the dollar, appreciating to $1.3077, and Europe’s benchmark stock index (Stoxx Europe 600) gained for a second day, as growing optimism over a successful Greek buyback program boosted investor sentiment. Greece started the €10 billion ($13 billion) repurchase of government bonds maturing between 2023 and 2042 on Monday.
Italian and Spanish bonds advanced on Tuesday, with their 10-year yield dropping 4 basis points to 4.41% and 2 bps to 5.22%, respectively, as Greek optimism boosted demand for high-yielding region’s government debt into year-end. Meanwhile, Greek bonds turned slightly lower after Monday’s surge with results of the debt buyback due on December 7.
Gold for February settlement fell 0.9% to $1,705 an ounce on Tuesday, after falling a four-week low of $1,698.50 earlier, as concern over U.S. economy amid stalled budget talks weighed negatively on commodity prices. Copper for delivery in three months also dropped as much as 0.5% to $7,963.50 a metric ton, after reaching a six-week high of $8,045 yesterday.
High-income Economies…The Reserve Bank of Australia cut its benchmark interest rate by a quarter percentage point to 3%, the lowest in three years. The sixth rate cut in the past 14 months reflects Australia’s contained wage pressure, lower projected mining spending, and an unemployment rate at a 2½-year high—as well as concerns that the Australian dollar remains “higher than might have been expected” given lower export prices and a weaker global outlook, according to the central bank.
Producer prices in the Euro Area rose 0.1% (m/m) in October from the previous month, but producer price inflation edged down to 2.6% (y/y) in October from 2.7% in September due to base effects. A deceleration in energy-cost growth to 5.9% (y/y) in October from 6.9% in September was offset by acceleration in price increases for intermediate and non-durable consumer goods, partly reflecting strengthening demand.
Canada’s central bank kept its benchmark overnight rate at 1%. In explaining its decision, the central bank said that although economic activity in the third quarter was weak, global economic conditions remain stimulative (though vulnerable to major shocks from the U.S. or Europe) and the pace of Canada’s economic growth is expected to pick up through 2013, while inflation is expected to increase and reach the targeted 2 percent rate over the course of the next 12 months.
The number of people registering for unemployment benefits in Spain rose for the fourth month in November, rising by 74,296 from October to reach 4.91 million, as some firms used newly introduced labor rules to reduce the size of their workforce.
Developing Economies…Brazil’s industrial production increased by 2.3% (y/y) in October compared to a one percent decline in September. On a monthly basis, industrial production rose by 0.9% in October reversing a one percent decline in September.
China and South Korea agreed to use proceeds of existing currency swap deals to settle bilateral trade between two countries.
Malawi continues to be an outlier from the global policy easing cycle, as it continues to tighten monetary policy to achieve macroeconomic stability, raising the policy rate by 400 basis points to 25.0%. Foreign exchange reserves have been falling since July, to an alarming level equivalent to 0.8 months of import cover as of end-October. Inflation rate rose to 30.6% (y/y) in October, up from 28.3% in September, with food price increases accounting for the bulk of the increase in inflation.
Uganda's central bank cut its Central Bank Rate (CBR) by 50 basis points to 12.0% as subdued inflationary pressure allows the bank to stimulate economic growth. November headline inflation rose to 4.9% from 4.5% in October, but remains within the central bank’s 5% medium-term inflation target.
In the face of budgetary limitations, constrained international aid, and competitive demands from different sectors, how can those of us working in the health sector make a strong case to finance ministers that public investments in health are as productive as public investments in, say, infrastructure or agriculture?
When my team and I started working on the World Development Report 2013, slightly more than a year ago, we were puzzled. We had been asked to write about jobs, and there was no doubt that they were a major concern around the world. Events such as the global crisis or the Arab spring had put jobs center stage. In developing countries, finding employment opportunities for massive numbers of youth entering the labor force was urgent. Middle-income countries were struggling to move up the value-added ladder in production and to extend the coverage of social protection. Technology and globalization were changing the nature of work worldwide. In all cases, jobs were at stake. And they were clearly one of the main preoccupations of policy makers everywhere.
India experienced sustained economic growth for more than two decades following the economic liberalization in 1991. While economic growth reduced poverty significantly, it was also associated with an increase in inequality. Jean Dreze and Amartya Sen (2011) argue that Indian economic reform has been “unprecedented success” in terms of economic growth, but an “extraordinary failure” when it comes to improvements in the living standard of general population and social indicators. The contrasting news reports on billion dollar house (Mukesh Ambani’s house at Mumbai) and farmers’ suicides have brought the issue of income inequality to the spotlight for many people. Does the increase in inequality in post-reform India reflect deep-seated inequality of opportunity or efficient incentive structure in a market oriented economy?
A few weeks ago, John O’Brien, the chief strategist for Ireland’s Industrial Development Agency, was at The World Bank, Washington DC to address an event on the role of cultural heritage and historic cities in Local Economic Development. The theme of the event was creating jobs by supporting historic cities and cultural heritage. Urban Sector Manager Abha Joshi-Ghani began the day’s session by underlining the significance of cultural heritage in city development: “We have started to look at cities as drivers of entrepreneurship and innovation. It is important to understand how cities attract skilled people and industries to create jobs and what role they play in economic growth. Therefore it is very helpful to find linkages between cultural heritage assets and job creation.”
In 2009, an EU-based chemical manufacturer opened a plant inside one of FYR Macedonia’s recently-established special economic zones. The plant began production of catalysts, a type of emissions-control component used in automobiles. Two years later, this investment drove chemical products to the third-highest spot on Macedonia’s export list, lessening the country’s reliance on metals and textiles.
In Nicaragua, low labor costs and high security compared to its neighbors have led zonas francas to expand dramatically, attracting producers of electronic wires and medical devices and expanding the country’s exports beyond an already-strong apparel sector. Between 2006 and 2008, for example, ignition wiring sets for vehicles were the country’s fourth biggest export.
These two examples demonstrate a new trend in small economies. Increasingly, as global value chains grow in importance,