Construction of the Quito Metro
Like seismic waves rippling outward after a tectonic shift, reverberations are roiling the economic-policy landscape after the U.S. launch of the groundbreaking new analysis by Thomas Piketty, the scholar from the Paris School of Economics whose landmark tome – “Capital in the Twenty-First Century” – has newly jolted the economics profession.
Any Washingtonian or World Bank Group staffer who somehow missed the news of Piketty’s celebrated series of speeches and seminars last week – in Washington, New York and Boston – received an unmistakable signal this week about what an important intellectual breakthrough Piketty has achieved. President Jim Yong Kim on Tuesday cited Piketty while putting the issue of economic inequality at the top of his list of priorities during his review of the Spring Meetings of the Bank and the International Monetary Fund. Noting that he was already about halfway through reading Piketty’s “Capital,” President Kim sent a clear message that the skewed global distribution of wealth, as analyzed by Piketty and emphasized by many officials at the Bank and Fund's semiannual conference, should be top-of-mind for policy-watchers at the Bank and beyond – indeed, at every institution that hopes to promote shared prosperity.
Piketty’s scholarship is now receiving widespread acclaim as a landmark in economic analysis, and is being recognized both for its “exhaustive fact-based research” and its sweeping historical perspective. More of a patient dissection of hard data than a political roadmap, Piketty’s book has quickly become the subject of multiple praiseworthy reviews, notably in the New York Times and the Financial Times. One usually level-headed Bloomberg View analyst, recoiling from the “rapturous reception” accorded to the book, may have gone slightly overboard this week in asserting that Piketty's insights had been greeted by American liberals with “erotic intensity.”
Predictably, Piketty's book has also quickly become the target – “Piketty Revives [Karl] Marx,” blared a Wall Street Journal headline; “Marx Rises Again,” warned the New York Times’ lonely conservative scold – of the whack-a-mole ideological purists in laissez-faire Op-Ed columns, who forever seem tempted to equate modern-day liberalism with long-gone Leninism. Eager to publish denunciations of any idea, however modest, that might justify (heaven forfend) tax increases on stratospheric income-earners and the top-fraction-of-the-One Percent, the free-market fundamentalists on the Wall Street Journal’s editorial board – unabashed cheerleaders for plutocracy – have opened up one of their trademark barrages via their Op-Ed columns (“This book is less a work of economic analysis than a bizarre ideological screed”; “The professor ought to read ‘Animal Farm’ and ‘Darkness at Noon’ ”). The Journal's jihad clearly aims to demean or discredit anyone who might flirt with such Piketty-style notions as restoring greater progressivity to the tax code. (Egad: Progressive taxation? Next stop: Bolshevism.)
The proliferation of new financial products and services continues to outpace the capacity of individuals and families to make informed financial choices. Financial education geared toward adults has shown low uptake, so the focus has shifted to introducing financial literacy during the schooling years. This research looks at a comprehensive financial education program spanning six states, 868 schools, and approximately 20,000 high school students in Brazil through a randomized control trial. The program increased student financial knowledge by a quarter of a standard deviation and led to a 1.4 percentage point increase in saving for purchases, better likelihood of financial planning, and greater participation in household financial decisions. “Trickle-up” impacts showed improvements in parental financial knowledge, savings, and spending behavior. The evidence suggests the program affected students’ preferences and attitudes about financial decisions well beyond the schooling years. Read the entire paper here.
Nepal needs to fix its budget process, remove hurdles to infrastructure development and cut down excess liquidiity.
At first glance Nepal’s economic fundamentals appear sound. Economic growth this year is expected to recover to 4.5%, after a lackluster FY13. On the fiscal and external fronts, indicators are well in the green. This year again, Nepal is likely to be the only country in South Asia to post a budget surplus (0.3% of GDP). Continued growth in revenue mobilization and higher grants will more than make up for the increase in government spending. In FY14, public debt is expected to fall below 30% of GDP, and Nepal’s risk of debt distress may fall from a “moderate” rating to “low”.
Unlike other South Asian countries, Nepal has remained largely unscathed by global monetary tightening, reflecting its limited integration into global financial markets as well as its healthy external balances. Nepali analysts often highlight the growing trade deficit as a cause for concern, but remittances (projected at over 30% of GDP) should push the current account to a comfortable surplus position of 2.4% of GDP.
The only apparent dark spot is inflation, which remains stubbornly high. With inflation close to double digits in January (year-over-year), it appears unlikely that the NRB’s target of 8.5% will be reached.
In short, Nepal appears to be doing well. Many European countries today can only dream of posting similar growth, fiscal or debt numbers. So what is the problem?
These are some of the views and reports relevant to our readers that caught our attention this week.
The Transformative Impact of Data and Communication on Governance: Part 3
How do digital technologies affect governance in areas of limited statehood – places and circumstances characterized by the absence of state provisioning of public goods and the enforcement of binding rules with a monopoly of legitimate force? In the first post in this series I introduced the limited statehood concept and then described the tremendous growth in mobile telephony, GIS, and other technologies in the developing world. In the second post I offered examples of the use of ICT in initiatives intended to fill at least some of the governance vacuum created by limited statehood. With mobile phones, for example, farmers are informed of market conditions, have access to liquidity through M-Pesa and similar mobile money platforms.
Cashing in: why mobile banking is good for people and profit
Using digital finance to tackle development problems can improves lives, and offer innovative companies handsome rewards. Whether it is lack of access to water, energy or education, development professionals are well versed in the plethora of challenges facing billions of people. The traditional approach to solving these problems has been to think big – in terms of the millennium development goals, government aid programmes, or huge fundraising campaigns. But there are dozens of startups and larger companies with innovative ideas who are approaching these challenges in new ways using digital finance.
It seems it does. During 2008-2012, post-crisis, launching under English law increased spreads by more than a third on average. In other words, by choosing the UK law, a nation rated B+ (for example, Ecuador, Ghana, Greece, Pakistan and Zambia) apparently paid 7.7% interest rate per annum instead of 6 percent, and a nation rated BB (for example, Bangladesh, Nigeria, Serbia or Vietnam) paid nearly 5.7% instead of 4.5% (figure 1). Such an increase in spread is equivalent to a rating downgrade of 3 notches or more.
The price of sending international remittances has reached a new record low in the first quarter of 2014. The global average cost of sending money across borders was recorded at 8.36 percent. This figure is used as a reference point for measuring progress toward achieving the so-called “5x5” objective – a goal endorsed by the G8 and G20 countries – to reduce the cost of sending remittances by five percentage points, to 5 percent, by the end of 2014.
Most indexes of international remittance costs – published by the World Bank in the new, ninth issue of the Remittance Prices Worldwide report, which was released on March 31 – indicate good progress in the market for remittances.
The global average cost is significantly lower when weighted by the volume of money that flows in each of the report’s country-to-country pairs. The weighted average cost is now down to 5.91 percent, following a further decline in the last quarter. For the first time, the weighted average has fallen below 6 percent.
Nearly one-third of the remittance-sending countries included in Remittance Prices Worldwide have now achieved a reduction of at least 3 percentage points. Those countries include such major sources of remittances as Australia, Canada, Germany, Italy and Japan. This is also the case for 39 out of 89 of the remittance-receiving countries.
“A sound banker is not one who foresees danger and avoids it, but one who, when he is ruined, is ruined in a conventional way along with his fellows, so that no one can really blame him.”
- John Maynard Keynes, a British economist whose ideas have fundamentally affected the theory and practice of modern macroeconomics, and informed the economic policies of governments. He built on and greatly refined earlier work on the causes of business cycles, and is widely considered to be one of the founders of modern macroeconomics and the most influential economist of the 20th century. His ideas are the basis for the school of thought known as Keynesian economics, and its various offshoots.