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What will it take for Bangladesh to become a Middle Income Country?

Zahid Hussain's picture

This is the fifth in a series of six posts about the recent report, Bangladesh: Towards Accelerated, Inclusive and Sustainable Growth. The previous post looked at the numbers behind Bangladesh’s goal of middle income status by 2021. The next and last post will look at the way forward.

For Bangladesh, achieving its goal of middle income status by 2021 will require more than business-as-usual: the average annual GDP growth rate will have to rise from the current 6 percent to 7.5-8 percent, while sustaining remittance growth at 8 plus percent. Faster growth in turn will depend on four main factors: (i) increased investment, (ii) faster human capital accumulation, (iii) enhanced productivity growth, and (iv) increased outward orientation.

Increase investment by at least 5 percentage points of GDP. Investment is constrained by infrastructure, business environment, land, and skills. Analysis based on Investment Climate Assessment surveys highlights the role of infrastructure in triggering a virtuous cycle of growth: better infrastructure will improve productivity which in turn will make exports more competitive and attract FDI, thus leading to further increase in productivity. Expanded provision of infrastructure has to come with easing difficulties in doing business, increasing access to serviced land, and meeting skill shortages.

Build on achievements in human capital formation. Bangladesh has done well in increasing the stock of human capital, topping the list of Asian countries along with Vietnam by improving average years of schooling by 1.3 during 2000-10. Our analysis indicates that achieving the needed GDP growth rate will require further increases from the current 5.8 to 7.3 average years of schooling. In addition, relatively low returns to schooling point to the importance of improving quality of education. These will require addressing external and internal inefficiency as well as weaknesses in education management and finance.

The Numbers Behind Bangladesh’s Goal of Middle Income Status by 2021

Zahid Hussain's picture

This is the fourth in a series of six posts about the recent report, Bangladesh: Towards Accelerated, Inclusive and Sustainable Growth. The last post, Be Happy Yet Do Worry: Explaining Resilience in Bangladesh's Economy, explained how the economy has withstood recent shocks. The next post will look at what sort of policies it will take to achieve the goal of middle income status by 2021.

Bangladesh’s economic growth has followed a path both theory and international experience would expect. Starting from a low income level, growth initially tends to accelerate through capital accumulation in a market economy. This is what happened in Bangladesh during the four decades since independence in 1971. A recent article in The Economist rightly said, “Bangladesh has become a model of what can be done”. Progress achieved so far provides a credible basis for aspiring to be a middle income nation by 2021, as observed in the World Bank’s recent report “Bangladesh: Towards Accelerated, Inclusive and Sustainable Growth—Opportunities and Challenges”.

Would it take more than just maintaining recent growth rates to achieve middle-income country (MIC) status? It is important to be clear about how middle-income status is defined. It is based on nominal Gross National Income (GNI) measured in Atlas dollars, not real Gross Domestic Product (GDP). Economies are divided according to 2012 GNI per capita, calculated using the World Bank Atlas method. The income thresholds are: low income—$1,025 or less; lower middle income—$1,026 to $4035; upper middle income—$4036 to $12,475; and high income—$12,476 or more.

At current prices, Bangladesh’s per capita GNI would have to exceed US$1,025 to reach the lower end of “low middle income” status. Nominal Atlas GNI per capita, currently $851, will need to grow at a sustained 2.1% and nominal Atlas total GDP will need to grow at 3.5% per annum from now onwards for Bangladesh to reach the middle-income threshold by 2021, when Bangladesh will celebrate its 50th year of independence.

Be Happy Yet Do Worry: Explaining Resilience in Bangladesh's Economy

Zahid Hussain's picture

This is the third in a series of six posts about the recent report, Bangladesh: Towards Accelerated, Inclusive and Sustainable Growth. The last post, The Paradox That Bangladesh Isn’t, explained the sources of GDP growth over the past two decades. Next week's post will look at how the country can achieve its goal of middle income status by 2021.

The World Bank’s report “Bangladesh: Towards Accelerated, Inclusive and Sustainable Growth—Opportunities and Challenges” observes that growth in Bangladesh has been resilient at above 6 percent in recent years, despite several external shocks that slowed exports, remittance and investment growth. Since 2006, Bangladesh has faced political uncertainty (2006-2007); two major floods, the disastrous cyclone Sidr, and Avian Flu (last half of 2007); food and energy price crises (first half of 2008); global financial meltdown and recession (2008-2009); political transition followed by mutiny (first half of 2009); and rapid deterioration of the power and gas supply situation (first half of 2010). Currently, it is braving the impact of Euro area crisis and internal uncertainties surrounding the expected political transition in early 2014. These exogenous shocks resulted in a decline in the efficiency of investment, but the private investment rate itself managed to grow at a rate faster than the growth of GDP while the public investment rate declined. The economy has demonstrated resilience time and again.

The Paradox That Bangladesh Isn’t

Zahid Hussain's picture

This is the second in a series of six posts about the recent report, “Bangladesh: Towards Accelerated, Inclusive and Sustainable Growth”. The first post was Better Jobs Can Outweigh a Secure Life. Next week’s post will look at how Bangladesh’s economy has remained resilient despite global and local shocks over the past few years.

Bangladesh lacks natural resources and good governance. It is beset by natural calamities. Corruption and self-destructive political non-cooperation are common. Yet Bangladesh’s GNI per capita more than tripled in the past two-and-a-half decades, from an average of US$251 in the 1980s to US$851 by 2012. This growth was accompanied by impressive progress in human development. Growth in GNI came almost entirely from growth in GDP in the 1980s and 1990s, but this changed in the last decade due to a surge in remittances from Bangladeshi workers abroad. GDP growth has accelerated by a percentage point and per capita GDP growth has accelerated by 1.7 percentage points in each of the last four decades. A recently published World Bank report, “Bangladesh: Towards Accelerated, Inclusive and Sustainable Growth—Opportunities and Challenges” explains how Bangladesh managed to beat the odds.

Where did GDP growth come from? 

Quote of the Week: Jean-Claude Trichet

Sina Odugbemi's picture

“My own working assumption is that the Europeans are learning the hard way that to run a single currency, you have to have not only a monetary union but also effective governance of the economic union."

--Jean-Claude Trichet. As quoted in the Financial Times, July 6, 2012. Lunch with the FT: Jean-Claude Trichet, by Martin Wolf.

A Shout-Out for Ostrom

Maya Brahmam's picture

Elinor Ostrom, the only woman to be awarded the Nobel Prize for Economics died on June 12 in Indiana. According to various press reports, Ostrom shocked her peers when she was catapulted to fame, because, in a field mostly dominated by men, she reached well beyond the usual mathematical modeling of economists.

Ostrom’s best-known research was on the management of the commons. As noted in Slate, “Standard economic thinking about commons focuses on the idea of a ‘tragedy of the commons’…” According to many economists, individuals acting in their own self-interest, would ultimately deplete a resource like a common pasture, which is open to everyone. This idea was used to demonstrate the need for government regulation or control by private industry. 

What Can Political Economists Tell Us about Africa, Aid and Development?

Duncan Green's picture

There’s a clutch of different research initiatives trying to understand Africa’s political economy and its impact on development and aid. Often, the tone of the political economists can be quite discouraging – Alex Duncan gives a tongue-in-cheek definition of a political economist as ‘someone coming to explain why your aid programme doesn’t work’. There are few practical ‘take aways’ either for large bilateral aid agencies, or NGOs other than ‘give up and become a researcher’.

And that’s pretty much the tone of a logotastic ‘joint statement’ from 5 research programmes based (loosely) in the UK, Denmark, and the Netherlands (The Africa Power and Politics Programme, Developmental Leadership Programme, Elites, Production and Poverty: A Comparative Analysis, Political Economy of Agricultural Policy in Africa, Tracking Development). Here’s some highlights:

The Economists are Coming…

Sina Odugbemi's picture

The Annual Bank Conference on Development Economists (ABCDE) took place last week here at the World Bank (May 7-8, 2012). I registered and attended key sessions because of the unusual focus of the conference: Accountability and Transparency for Development.  I say unusual because it is still unusual for economists focusing on international development to take those topics seriously. The impression one had was that topics of that kind were not ‘hard’ enough, and were on the ‘soft’, touchy-feely, tree-hugging side of development. The impression was confirmed in the course of the conference itself as speaker after speaker referred to research being done on these topics as part of the ‘cutting edge’ of development economics. 


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