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Macro hype, micro hope: Optimists champion ‘Community-Led Development’

Christopher Colford's picture

Now there’s a guy who really puts the full-scale dismal into “the dismal science” of economics – spurring optimists to quickly seek out more hopeful visions of the future.

Those seeking a glimmer of hope about the economic future were well-advised to keep their expectations low as they awaited the gloomy analysis by Prof. Robert J. Gordon, the esteemed economic historian from Northwestern University, who spoke at the World Bank Group’s Macrofiscal Seminar Series on March 31. As anticipated, Gordon’s expertly documented but relentlessly downbeat scenario, based on his latest book, “The Rise and Fall of American Growth,” persuasively made the case for a future of chronically sluggish growth in the world’s advanced economies.

Gordon’s chilling projections combine some of the darkest aspects of Lawrence Summers’ worries about “secular stagnation,” Christine Lagarde’s lamentations of a “New Mediocre” and private-sector leaders’ struggle to strategize for the “New Normal.” Gordon’s bleak thesis foresees “little growth” – although, significantly, not zero growth – as the developed world’s weary economies endure perhaps decades of drift.

Policymakers in the world’s largest economies are surely exasperated by the painstaking crawl out of the global financial crisis – yet they don’t have much positive news to look forward to, asserts Gordon. With “declining potential productivity growth” compounding the impact of declining population growth and a declining labor-force participation rate, there’s probably no technological deus ex machina that can soon propel the world’s advanced economies toward restored prosperity.

That viewpoint defies the techno-utopian visions that have been so eagerly peddled to anxious Western voters, who can only dream of a return to brisk late-1990s-style growth. Quipped the Macrofiscal seminar’s discussant, Deepak Mishra: Gordon “has made a career of busting the technology hype.”

Yet Gordon’s logic need not trigger total despair among the Bank’s poverty-fighting professionals and their counterparts at other development institutions. Gordon emphasized that his analysis is about the American economy, and, to some extent, about the mature economies of Western Europe. His book’s foreboding predictions, he said, do not extend to developing economies, which enjoy “great potential for growth.”

For can-do pragmatists who strive for stronger growth and sustained progress in developing economies, there’s a ready antidote to Gordon-style macroeconomic gloom. By happenstance, immediately after Gordon delivered his grim analysis in the Bank’s J Building auditorium, optimists seeking inspiration needed only to cross the street to the Bank’s Main Complex to hear an energetic appeal for greater hands-on activism.

With an update on the movement for Community-Led Development (CLD), a seminar sponsored by the Bank’s Community-Driven Development Global Solutions Group learned of the promise that CLD offers for inspiring inclusive, sustainable solutions that enlist citizens’ engagement and build community-level confidence in strong governance standards.

Moving from macro to micro – dispelling the dread of inexorable global forces and embracing positive citizen-centric action – the CLD leaders leapfrogged Gordon’s macro-level angst to highlight micro-level opportunity.


Stirred, not shaken: blended finance for climate action

Kruskaia Sierra-Escalante's picture
 Ivelina Taushanova / World Bank Group
Photo: Ivelina Taushanova / World Bank Group


Today, over 80 million tons of CO2 will be emitted from economies around the world. Tomorrow will be the same, as will the day after that. The emitted amounts of CO2 will likely stay in the atmosphere for hundreds, if not thousands of years, further compounding the challenges in reversing the current and expected effects of climate change.

This past December, in Paris, leaders of 195 nations of the world agreed that this trend must be reversed, signaling a historic turning point in the global fight against climate change. The Paris Agreement ratified a global consensus to limit the global average temperature rise to ‘well below 2°C above pre-industrial levels and to pursue efforts to limit the temperature increase to 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels.’ Developing nations were at the forefront of this agreement, with almost every one of them setting carbon reduction goals. While the public sector will play a major role in helping achieve the ambitious targets, the sheer volume of investment required to support low-carbon energy, transportation, and agriculture projects throughout the developing world leaves a gap of hundreds of billions of dollars that only the private sector is in a position to fill.

Kenyan firms benefit from increased use of financial services and lower crime-related losses

Silvia Muzi's picture

The private sector continues to be a critical driver of job creation and economic growth. However, several factors can undermine the private sector and, if left unaddressed, may impede development.  Through rigorous face-to-face interviews with managers and owners of firms, the World Bank Group’s Enterprise Surveys benchmark the business environment based on actual experiences of firms.

This blog focuses on surveys conducted of 781 Kenyan firms across five regions (including Nairobi and Mombasa) and six business sectors—i) food, ii) textiles and garments, iii) chemicals, plastics and rubber, iv) other manufacturing, v) retail, and vi) other services.

Under Kenya’s new constitution, the country recently embarked on several major business reforms that promoted a more market-friendly environment. Some examples of positive benefits include boosts in public investment in infrastructure, increased interest from foreign investors, and lowered transaction costs from information technology improvements. The Kenya Enterprise Surveys sheds light on how the country’s private sector fared amidst these reforms.

More firms use financial services than before

According to the Kenya Enterprise Surveys (ES) data, the use of financial services has improved since 2007.  On average, 44% and 41% of Kenyan firms use banks to finance investment and working capital, respectively. The corresponding figures in 2007 were much lower at 23% and 26%. Moreover, the percentage of Kenyan firms with a bank loan is 36%, which is on par with the global average yet higher than the average of countries in the same income group (do note that when this survey was conducted, Kenya was classified as a low income country, having since graduated to a lower middle income country).

PAF first auction named carbon deal of the year

Scott Cantor's picture
Results of the first auction of the Pilot Auction Facility. Photo: PAF


When you think of online auctions, what products come to mind? Perhaps electronics, collectibles or concert tickets, but it’s unlikely that you think of climate finance. However, the Pilot Auction Facility for Methane and Climate Change Mitigation (PAF) recently combined the two, and for this, we are thrilled to be awarded Environmental Finance’s Carbon Deal of the Year 2016.

So what can be done to contain volatility and spur growth in these countries?

Francisco G. Carneiro's picture
Understanding Macroeconomic Volatility: Part 5. Read parts 1-4 here

Stalled productivity, stagnant economy: Chronic stress amid impaired growth

Christopher Colford's picture

Call it “secular stagnation,” or the disappointing “New Mediocre,” or the baffling “New Normal” – or even the back-from-the-brink “contained depression.” Whatever label you put on today’s chronic economic doldrums, it’s clear that a slow-growth stall is afflicting many nation’s economies – and, seven years into a lackluster recovery from the global financial crisis, some fragile economies seem to be lapsing into another slump.

As policymakers struggle to find a plausible prescription for jump-starting growth, a tug-of-war is under way between techno-utopians and techno-dystopians. It’s a struggle between optimists who foresee a world of abundance thanks to innovations like robot-driven industries, and pessimists who anticipate a cash-deprived world where displaced ex-workers have few or no means of earning an income.

To add a bracing dose of academic rigor to the tech-focused tug-of-war, along comes a data-focused realist who adds a welcome if sobering historical perspective to the debate. Robert J. Gordon, a macroeconomist and economic historian at Northwestern University, takes a longue durée perspective of technology’s impact on growth, wealth and incomes.

Gordon’s blunt-spoken viewpoint has caused a sensation since his newest book, “The Rise and Fall of American Growth,” was launched at this winter’s meetings of the American Economic Association. His analysis injects a new urgency into policymakers’ debates about how (or even whether) today’s growth rate can be strengthened.

When Gordon speaks at the World Bank on Thursday, March 31 – at 11 a.m. in J B1-080, as part of the Macrofiscal Seminar Series – economy-watchers can look forward to hearing some ideas that challenge the orthodoxies of recent macroeconomic thinking. His topic – “Secular Stagnation on the Supply Side: Slow Growth in U. S. Productivity and Potential Output” – seems likely to spark some new thinking among techno-utopians and techo-dystopians alike.

To watch Gordon’s speech live via Webex – at 11 a.m. on Thursday, March 31 – click here. To dial in to listen to the audio, dial (in the United States and Canada) 1-650-479-3207, using the passcode 735 669 472. For those telephoning from outside the United States and Canada, the appropriate numbers can be found on this page.

Psychometrics as a tool to improve screening and access to credit

Miriam Bruhn's picture

Small and medium enterprises (SMEs) often face financial constraints because they lack audited statements and other information about their operations, and as a result, financial institutions have difficulties assessing the risk of lending to them. Studies have shown that information sharing, credit bureaus, and credit scoring can increasing credit to SMEs, but not all countries have well-developed credit bureaus that gather the level of information needed to build a reliable credit-scoring model. For example, the average credit bureau in Latin America and the Caribbean complies with only half of best practices and covers only 40.5 percent of the adult population (Doing Business Report 2016).

Helping Mongolians become savvier in managing their personal finances

Siegfried Zottel's picture



Did you know that low-income Mongolians are better at managing daily finances than higher income earners, although those with better incomes are more likely to make provisions for the future?

These were the findings of a comprehensive demand-side assessment on financial capability in Mongolia which the World Bank Group carried out in 2013.

These findings make sense.  Poor people – those with low and irregular incomes – devote a lot of time to thinking about how to stretch their money to put food on the table while being able to cover other daily spending needs.  They tend to have surprisingly sophisticated financial lives despite having limited income, the Portfolios of the Poor found. 


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