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Global Economy

Year in Review: Taking On the Toughest Challenges

Donna Barne's picture

Can the world end extreme poverty by 2030? Will it be able to avert the worst effects of climate change or stop Ebola? These challenges are among the biggest we face today. In 2014, the World Bank Group tapped its knowledge, finance, and influence to confront global problems.

1) Taking on economic growth

In the wake of the financial crisis, developing countries were the engine of the global economy. In 2014, they faced new risks: lower growth, less financing, and lower prices for their commodities. In January and again in June, the World Bank urged developing countries to get their houses in order. Countries need blueprints to maintain the kind of growth that helped cut extreme poverty nearly in half globally in the last couple of decades. With the financial crisis fading, now is the time for developing countries to strengthen their economies so they can keep reducing poverty, according to the twice-yearly Global Economic Prospects.

The Decline in Oil Prices: An Opportunity

Ivailo Izvorski's picture

A decade of elevated oil prices brought prosperity to many developing countries. Incomes rose, poverty shrank, macroeconomic buffers were rebuilt. The fiscal space for investing more in education and infrastructure increased, resulting in better sharing of prosperity. At the same time, higher commodity prices and surging global demand resulted in much more concentrated exports in all developing oil-rich countries. "Diversifying exports" became a priority for policy makers and development economists around the world. Historical experience and evidence to the contrary from successful resource rich countries notwithstanding, many widely believe that a more diversified export structure should be an important national goal and may well be a synonym for development, a goal that government can target and achieve.  And a more diversified export structure typically meant a smaller share of commodity exports in total shipments abroad or a reduced concentration – as measured by the Herfindahl-Hirschmann index – of exports.

The Ebenezer Scrooge Economy: The Dickensian Divide Between Concentrated Wealth and Intensifying Poverty

Christopher Colford's picture



Source: Branko Milanovic

If you thought the wealth gap was vast between the miser Ebenezer Scrooge and the oppressed Bob Cratchit in “A Christmas Carol,” then lend a Christmastime thought for the desperate Dickensian divide that’s now afflicting the global economy.

The biggest economic-policy issue of 2014 has certainly been the outpouring of alarm about the chronically intensifying divide between wealth and poverty – an uproar that has had a transformational effect on the worldwide debate on economic policy. As a seminar at the Center for Global Development recently discussed, the precise statistics on inequality (and the perception of inequality) are subtle, with many nuances of measurement (whether data should be derived, for example, from tax-return filings or from household surveys). Yet this year’s irrefutable interpretation among economists and business leaders has been driven by a landmark of economic scholarship: the bombshell book “Capital in the Twenty-First Century” by Thomas Piketty. “Capital” has forced economists, policymakers and scholars to reconsider the inexorable trends that are driving the modern-day economy toward an ever-more-intense concentration of capital in fewer and fewer hands.

No wonder Piketty’s “Capital” was hailed as the Financial Times/McKinsey “Business Book of the Year.” Piketty’s analysis has fundamentally changed the parameters of the public-policy debate, and many of its ideas challenge conventional economic theory.

To explore the implications of the alarming trends in income and wealth inequality, there’s no analyst more insightful than Branko Milanovic, the former World Bank economist who is now a scholar at the LIS Center (working on the authoritative Luxembourg Income Study) at the City University of New York. Milanovic has justly won acclaim for his work, “The Haves and the Have-Nots,” which pioneered the territory now being explored by Piketty.

Confirming the trends that Piketty identified in “Capital” – and taking those insights one significant step further, to measure the wealth gaps both within countries and between countries – Milanovic recently led a compelling CGD seminar on “Winners and Losers of Globalization: Political Implications of Inequality.”

The seminar’s sobering conclusion: If you think the wealth-and-incomes gap is painful now, just wait a decade or two. If allowed to go unattended, the widening economic divide will soon become a dangerous social chasm. That data-driven projection is leading many analysts to dread that inequality (whether between countries or within the same country) threatens topose a stark challenge to social stability, and even to the survival of democracy.

The breakthtaking “a-ha!” moment of Milanovic’s CGD presentation was the chart (see the illustration, above) – praised as "the Chart of the Century" by seminar chairman Michael Clemens of CGD and discussant Laurence Chandy of the Brookings Institution – that plotted-out the pattern of how globalization has exerted relentless downward pressure on the incomes of the global upper-middle class, which roughly corresponds to the Western lower-middle class.

Globalization has helped promote the prosperity of skilled workers in developing nations, Milanovic explained, with the dramatic surge of China’s economy being the greatest driver of global “convergence.” Yet globalization has had an undeniable downward effect on the wealth and incomes of low- and medium-skilled workers in developed, industrialized nations. That certainly helps explain the angry mood among voters in Western Europe and North America, whose overall incomes and wealth have been stagnating for perhaps 40 years.

At the same time – reinforcing the significance of Piketty’s iconic formula that r>g (that the returns on capital are destined to be greater than overall economic growth) – a vast proportion of the world’s wealth has been concentrated in just the very top echelons of society. Milanovic’s meticulous data (see the illustration, below) confirm the extreme concentration of global absolute gains in income, from 1988 to 2008, in the top 5 percent of the world’s income distribution. Rigorous empirical evidence from multiple sources indeed confirms that most of the global gains in wealth have accrued to the already-vastly-wealthy top One Percent. The data on increasing socioeconomic stratification are, by now, so well-established that only the predictable claque of free-market absolutists and dogmatic denierscling (with increasing desperation) to the notion that the inequality gap is merely a myth.




Source: Branko Milanovic

Reinforcing Milanovic’s analysis, yet another well-documented study – this time, by the OECD– asserted this month that economic inequality is intensifying within the world’s developed nations. That within-country trend accompanies the yawning inequality gap between developed and developing economies. The OECD thus joined the chorus that includes the World Bank Group, the International Monetary Fund, the United Nations’ Department of Economic and Social Affairs and the U.S. Federal Reserve System in sounding the alarm about the way that income and wealth disparities are becoming socially explosive. Even on Wall Street, many pragmatists are warning with increasing urgency that “too much inequality can undermine growth.”

Economic inequality – both the perception and the reality of the egregious global gap – has surely been the key economic theme of 2014, and Milanovic’s CGD presentation capped the year with what the seminar-goers recognized as authoritative data distilled into “the Chart of the Century.” Milanovic thus echoed warnings by National Economic Council chairman Jason Furman and Canadian Member of Parliament Chrystia Freeland (both of whom have led recent World Bank seminars), who cautioned Washington policymakers about the potential dangers of runaway inequality.


Energized by Milanovic’s latest calculations and analysis, scholars and development practitioners at the World Bank Group and beyond should approach 2015 with a renewed commitment to building prosperity that is truly shared – and that avoids the potential social explosion that might await many economies if runaway inequality is allowed to continue unchecked.



 

How Well did We Forecast 2014?

Shanta Devarajan's picture

A year ago, we polled Future Development bloggers for predictions on the coming year (2014).  Looking back, we find that many unforeseen (and possibly unforeseeable) events had major economic impact. 

We missed the developments in Ukraine and Russia, the spread of the Islamic State in Iraq, the outbreak of Ebola in West Africa, the collapse in oil prices and their attendant effects on economic growth.  At the same time, we picked the winner of the soccer World Cup, and got many of the technology trends right. Perhaps economists are better at predicting non-economic events.

Here’s the scorecard on the seven predictions made:
 

Debt data: how debt inflows differ among developing countries

Molly Fahey Watts's picture

The World Bank Group’s International Debt Statistics (IDS) 2015 was released today. The Bank’s flagship debt data publication features 2013 data on external debt stocks and flows, as well as other major financial indicators on the 124 developing countries that report to the World Bank’s Group’s Debt Reporting System.

The major news from this year’s IDS is that net external debt flows to developing countries rose 28% in 2013, driven by a sharp 50% increase in short-term debt inflows. Additionally, foreign direct investment in emerging economies proved to be steady and resilient, bringing net capital flows (debt and equity) to $1.2 trillion.

For more detailed analysis and trends on debt statistics, take a look at IDS's debt portal featuring online tables. Here are a few highlights I thought I'd share.

Data Group launches newly revamped Statistical Capacity Indicator website

Annette Kinitz's picture

When a country’s statistical capacity improves and policy makers use accurate statistics to inform their decisions, this results in better development policy design and outcomes. In this regard, the Statistical Capacity Indicator (SCI) serves as an essential monitoring and tracking tool, as well as helps National Statistics Offices (NSOs) worldwide to address a country’s gaps in their capabilities to collect, produce, and use data.
 
The Statistical Capacity Indicator’s Global Reach
Since 2004, the SCI continues to assess the capacity of a developing country’s ability to adhere to international statistical standards and methods, whether or not its activities are in line with internationally recommend periodicity, and whether the data are available in a timely fashion.

To this end, there are 25 indicators that annually monitor and “grade” a country’s statistical capacity progress and thus form the basis for the overall SCI score calculation.
 
While NSOs are the main users of the SCI score, the World Bank Group, international development agencies, and donor countries also refer to the SCI score for their own evaluation and monitoring purposes.

New surveys reveal dynamism, challenges of open data-driven businesses in developing countries

Alla Morrison's picture

Open data for economic growth continues to create buzz in all circles.  We wrote about it ourselves on this blog site earlier in the year.  You can barely utter the phrase without somebody mentioning the McKinsey report and the $3 trillion open data market.  The Economist gave the subject credibility with its talk about a 'new goldmine.' Omidyar published a report a few months ago that made $13 trillion the new $3 trillion.  The wonderful folks at New York University's GovLab launched the OpenData500 to much fanfare.  The World Bank Group got into the act with this study.  The Shakespeare report was among the first to bring attention to open data's many possibilities. Furthermore, governments worldwide now routinely seem to insert economic growth in their policy recommendations about open data – and the list is long and growing.

Map

Geographic distribution of companies we surveyed. Here is the complete list.
 
We hope to publish a detailed report shortly but here meanwhile are a few of the regional findings in greater detail.

Campaign Art: Prince William Calls for End to Corruption and Illegal Wildlife Trade

Roxanne Bauer's picture

People, Spaces, Deliberation bloggers present exceptional campaign art from all over the world. These examples are meant to inspire.

Prince William of the United Kingdom gave a speech at the World Bank's International Corruption Hunters Alliance Conference on Monday in which he announced the establishment of a royal task force to work with the transportation industry to examine its part in illegal wildlife trade. 

The task force is a part of the royal conservation organization, United for Wildlife, and "will call on companies to implement a 'zero tolerance' policy towards the trade," the Prince said. He went on to say, "Criminals are able to exploit weak and corrupt standards, so we must raise those standards, collectively."

The prince also linked wildlife poaching to terrorism and organized crime: “Criminal gangs turn vast profits from the illegal killing or capture of wildlife; armed groups and terrorists swap poached ivory for guns; and middle-men oil the wheels of the trade in return for reward.”

The speech was delivered one day before International Anti-Corruption Day, which is observed annually on December 9.  This year’s theme, “Break the Corruption Chain”, urges people to avoid taking part in everyday acts of corruption that undermine education, health, justice, democracy and sustainable development in communities around the world. 

In accordance with the Prince’s speech, the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime previously published a video calling for an end to illegal trade in wildlife products.
 

Wildlife Crime: Don't be part of it!

Follow the Money: Corruption and Graft Punish the Poor, Undermine Development, and Corrode Honest Governance

Christopher Colford's picture



Follow the money, and you’ll find out how and why corruption has become "Public Enemy Number Onefor those who are promoting global development – as crony capitalists in the private sector connive with corrupt officials in the public sector to short-circuit sound business practices, reward self-interested insiders, subvert the broad public interest, and undermine the ideals of good governance.

This week’s gathering of the third-ever conference of the International Corruption Hunters Alliance (ICHA) – a global network of prosecutors, lawyers, detectives, forensic accountants and policymakers who track down illegal and unethical financial practices – will underscore the continuing drain on development imposed by public-sector graft, private-sector lawbreaking, and the worldwide flow of illicit funds from sinister financial transactions.

Monday morning’s opening plenary session at the World Bank Group’s headquarters in Washington – headlined by Prince William, the Duke of Cambridge and heir to the British throne, along with Bank Group President Jim Yong Kim – began a week that should help focus worldwide attention on the way that systematic corruption enriches lawbreakers, undermines respect for the rule of law, thwarts good-governance efforts and drains scarce resources from effective development.

The three-day conference should also raise public awareness of the vigorous international action that has been mobilized in recent years, as corruption-related concerns have risen to a leading position on the global diplomatic agenda.

Inspired by then-World Bank President James D. Wolfensohn’s landmark “cancer of corruption” speech at the 1996 Annual Meetings, global action has been steadily gaining momentum – through such channels as the G20 leaders’ working group to tighten policies and procedures; the Financial Action Task Force’s standard-setting vigilance; the OECD’s Anti-Bribery Convention and its continuing monitoring of corruption’s toll; and civil-society organizations’ diligent watchdog efforts to ensure that development dollars will go, not toward graft, but toward the places where aid is desperately needed.

This week’s events at the Bank Group – focusing on the theme of “Ending Impunity,” and pivoting around International Anti-Corruption Day, which the United Nations has designated as this Tuesday – are timed to coincide with the launch of the OECD’s latest Foreign Bribery Report

The World Bank Group continues to champion the anticorruption ideal and good-governance standards: by enforcing a “zero tolerance” policy for corruption, closely tracking furtive patterns of suspicious financial flows, and working with law-enforcement officials worldwide to track down assets that have been looted and hidden by kleptocratic regimes. This week’s conference is organized by the Integrity Vice Presidency – which coordinates the Bank Group-wide effort to expunge all corrupt or unethical practices – with the support of such Bank Group units as the Governance Global Practice and the Stolen Assets Recovery Initiative.

There is No Middle Income Trap

Ha Minh Nguyen's picture

Concerns about the so-called “middle-income trap” have recently emerged among many middle-income countries, particularly after the term was coined in 2007 by two World Bank economists.  Worried that they may become “trapped” at the middle-income level, these countries are seeking a set of policies that can help them achieve strong and sustained growth and eventually help them join the league of high-income countries.

 In our recent paper, we try to shed some light on both issues. First, we do not find that countries are trapped at middle income. “Escapees” – countries that escaped the middle-income trap and obtained a per capita income higher than 50% of the U.S. level – tend to grow fast and consistently to high income, and do not stagnate at any point as a middle-income trap theory would suggest. In contrast, “non-escapees” tend to have low growth at all levels of income. In other words, while the existence of a middle income trap implies that growth rates systematically slow down as countries reach middle-income status, no such systematic slowdown is apparent in the data. Second, we provide some descriptive and econometric evidence for a different set of “fundamentals” that enable middle-income countries to grow faster than their peers. We find that faster transformation to industry, low inflation, stronger exports, and reduced inequality are associated with stronger growth.


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