Does open data have economic value beyond the benefits of transparency and accountability? Does it have the power to fuel new businesses and create new jobs? Does it have the potential to improve people's lives by powering new services and products? If so, what should the World Bank be doing to help this along? These were questions we had in mind as we set out to bring together open data entrepreneurs from across Latin America for an Open Data Business Models workshop in Montevideo, Uruguay.
Latin America and Caribbean
As David Francis pointed out in a recent blog, the private sector in Latin America and the Caribbean (LAC) region showed some resilience to the heavy distortions of the recent financial crisis. Latin America’s market economy is working in a way where more productive businesses are able to survive, while less productive firms are exiting the market.
But how does this fit into the larger picture of the region’s private sector?
A partial answer to this question is that the region’s private sector is adding jobs. Especially in a period where the developed world faced severe challenges on job creation, the region succeeded in creating new jobs by almost five percent in both manufacturing and service sectors. This trend is widespread: service sector firms in all countries – as we covered in a recent note on firm performance – added jobs. And in only 5 of the region’s countries did manufacturers decrease the number of employees on their books.
Broadly taken, Latin America and the Caribbean (LAC) weathered the turmoil of the global economic crisis fairly well. After the region’s GDP growth slowed notably in 2008, and fell to negative levels in 2009, growth returned to relatively robust, positive rates by 2010. What’s more, this bounce-back in GDP aligned closely with trends in the private sector.
Value added, as a percentage of GDP, in both manufacturing and services, returned quickly from negative levels in 2009 to positive growth by 2010; over the same period, government consumption remained comparatively flat.
In other words, if you want to understand LAC’s recent pattern of economic growth, look at the private sector.
Data from the World Bank Group’s Enterprise Surveys put together a wealth of information, gathered directly from private sector firms’ experiences, to create a picture of the business environment around the world. For our recent work in LAC, the project surveyed nearly 15,000 business owners and top managers in 31 countries, including interviews conducted by re-visiting thousands of businesses in 15 countries, where the surveys were also conducted in 2006.
The devastating impact of the global financial crisis, which consequently turned into a global economic crisis, created a consensus that pre-crisis financial regulation didn’t take the “Big Picture” of the system as a whole sufficiently into account. As a result, according to the views of many, supervisors in many markets “missed the forest for the tress”.
In a series of earlier posts, I discussed a number of findings about informal (unregistered) firms in 6 African countries, including Burkina Faso, Cote d’Ivoire, Cape Verde, Cameroon, Madagascar and Mauritius. These findings were based on Informality Surveys collected by the Enterprise Analysis Unit to better understand the functioning of the informal sector—a large sector for which we have virtually no systematic data.
One can reasonably expect that frequent and unpredictable changes in economic policy might adversely affect investment by the private sector and the overall growth of the economy. For all practical purposes, uncertainty about future economic policies is a step towards economic anarchy. But precisely what causes firms in some countries to have higher uncertainty about future economic policies than others? Does the underlying political structure matter? What elements of the political structure, if any, matter for the level of policy uncertainty as perceived by private agents?
Survey data suggest it might not be that easy for manufacturing multinationals to find information on suitable industrial investment sites in many countries around the world.
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