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In the long run, we all want to be alive, and thrive

Hans Timmer's picture

Ninety years ago, in his A Tract on Monetary Reform Keynes famously wrote “In the long run we are all dead”. That observation recently stirred a lot of debate for all the wrong reasons, after Niall Ferguson obnoxiously claimed that Keynes did not care about the future because he was childless. Whether Keynes cared about the long-term future or not (and whether he had children or not) is completely irrelevant in this context, as many (e.g. Brad DeLong and Paul Krugman) have pointed out.

The actual context in which Keynes wrote this observation was a discussion about the quantity theory of money, which states that doubling the supply of money will only double the prices, but will have no consequences for other parts of the economy. This is the classical dichotomy between real and nominal variables. Keynes argued: “Now in the long run this is probably true”. But “In the long run we are all dead. Economists set themselves too easy, too useless a task if in tempestuous seasons they can only tell us that when the storm is long past the ocean is flat again.”  So, Keynes’ point was obviously not that the future doesn’t matter. His point was that simple theories that might describe long-term relationships are just not good enough to deal with current issues. In the short run, changes in money supply can have all kinds of important consequences beyond the price levels. Economists will have to make their hands dirty and delve into the complicated dynamics of the here and now.

Microcredit Borrowers in Bangladesh Are Not Necessarily Trapped in Poverty and Debt as many contended in recent years

Shahid Khandker's picture

With spectacular growth of microfinance institutions (MFIs) in Bangladesh, there is a growing concern that borrowers might be borrowing from multiple sources and more than they are able to repay, and hence, they are trapped in poverty and debt.  Microfinance programs, operating in Bangladesh for more than two decades, have reached more than 10 million households in 2008, nearly half the rural population, with an annual disbursement close to US$1.8 billion and an outstanding balance of US$1.5 billion.  Multiple program membership has increased over the years: it was nonexistent in 1991/92, 11.9 percent in 1998/99 and 36 percent in 2010/11. 

However, a recent study shows that increased borrowing, even from multiple sources, has not lowered loan recovery rates. 

Also, another recent study observes that microcredit borrowers are not necessarily trapped in poverty and debt. This study analyzes data from a long panel survey over a 20-year period, and finds that although many participants have been with microcredit programs for many years they are not necessarily trapped in debt as the accrued assets due to borrowing outweigh accumulated debt for many borrowers.

Hospital reforms in France: what can we learn?

Helene Barroy's picture

Hospitals in France deliver services for acute care. Except for surgery, the consumption of hospital care is predominantly public. The sector accounts for half of the national consumption of medical goods and services and is mostly funded through the Health Insurance system.

The public hospital sector has been facing recurrent deficits over the last three decades, associated with weak managerial print and uneven performance. Since the 80s, global budget was the norm, leading to rent seeking within and across public Hospitals in the absence of incentives for quality and efficiency. Thus, the French Government launched a massive reform initiative starting 2004 to strengthen hospital efficiency and quality of care in a resource-constrained environment.

Two Goals for Fighting Poverty

Martin Ravallion's picture

It is widely agreed that eliminating extreme poverty in the world should take priority in thinking about our development goals going forward. The '$1 a day' poverty line is a simple metric for monitoring progress toward that goal. It was chosen in 1990 as a typical line for low-income countries (as explained in Dollar a day revisited). By this measure, poverty in the world as a whole is judged by a common standard anchored to the national lines found in the poorest countries. On updated data, the current value of this international line is $1.25 a day at 2005 purchasing-power parity. Today about 1.2 billion people in the world live in households with consumption per person below this frugal line. Thankfully, the world has made progress in bringing this count down; 1.9 billion people lived below $1.25 a day in 1990.

Notice that I say 'consumption' not income. A standard measure of household consumption is preferable as a measure of current economic welfare than income, and is typically measured more accurately than income. Fortunately, two-thirds of developing countries now have consumption-based poverty measures, although some regions, such as Latin America, are lagging in this respect.

Urbanization? Of course! But how?

Luc Christiaensen's picture

The world reached 50 percent urbanization some years ago. By 2020, the less-developed world will have followed suit. Harvard economist Edward Glaeser’s vivid 2011 paperback “The Triumph of the City: How Our Greatest Invention Makes Us Richer, Smarter, Greener, Healthier and Happier” leaves no doubt about it. Cities set in motion a virtuous machinery of agglomeration economies, with economic growth and happiness following suit.

Not so fast, argue equally many learned scholars! Didn’t Vernon Henderson, another acclaimed urban economist, report in the Journal of Economic Growth that higher levels of urbanization are not necessarily associated with higher rates of economic growth. And, hasn’t Africa been urbanizing rapidly over the past 15 years without much poverty reduction?

As the world turns to ending extreme poverty and fostering shared prosperity, the impact of urbanization, and different urbanization patterns, on poverty and inequality, clearly requires more attention. Can urbanization, for example, occurgo too quickly, inducing poverty to urbanize, instead of to declininge?  Or can it be too concentrated geographically, generating faster growth (from larger agglomeration economies and economies of scale), but also higher inequality? Or is maximizing poverty reduction from urbanization simply a matter of smart urban management?

Danger of a pandemic

Olga Jonas's picture

The following post is a part of a series that discusses 'managing risk for development,' the theme of the World Bank’s upcoming World Development Report 2014.

On February 15, 2013, an asteroid 45 meters across sailed past the Earth at 4.9 miles a second.  This was the closest encounter on record with an asteroid this big. Such rare events trigger fear because people overestimate the risk of unusual events – at least for a while. The odds of other rare events are often underestimated. People have a hard time understanding frequencies that are longer than a human lifetime; politicians discount probabilities of disasters that are unlikely to hit while they are in office and so they underinvest in prevention. In sum, we have trouble assessing low-probability, high-impact risks – the kind of events dubbed as Black Swan by Nassim Taleb. 

Responding to concerns about the asteroid, The Economist (Danger of death! Feb. 14, 2013) created a graphic to illustrate how we are unlikely to die from asteroid impact (odds of one in 75,000,000). The chart showed that more prosaic, but still rare, dangers were worse.  For instance, 27 people died in 2008 in America from contact with dogs (a one in 11,000,000 chance of death).  The ranking also showed the odds of death in any given year from a range of causes, such as heart disease, choking, falling down stairs, cycling, and bee stings.

Risk-taking by the enterprise sector can support people’s resilience

Xubei Luo's picture

The following post is a part of a series that discusses 'managing risk for development,' the theme of the World Bank’s upcoming World Development Report 2014.

Live in a poor country in Africa but get an ultrasound analysis by one of the top medical experts in the world? Sound like a dream? A tech firm, iMedcare Technologies Co., showcased a process at the 13th Infopoverty World Conference held in New York on March 25–26 by which using data transmitted like a mobile phone call, doctors thousands of miles away can analyze ultrasound results at low cost and prescribe treatment in real time

Is this innovation good? Clearly, yes. Long-distance medical treatments in India and several countries have shown the great potential that technology has in helping people manage risks, starting with  day-to-day health issues. Are all these innovations bound to succeed? Clearly, no. Taking risks to innovate is an integral part of pursuing opportunities. For an individual enterprise, the results are seldom guaranteed; in fact, a large share of innovative firms fail.  But for the enterprise sector as a whole, innovation is a risk worth taking. The small share of innovative firms that survive often push the frontier of productivity in the economy and produce great gains and improvements in well-being.

Make MDGs about the HOW, not just the WHAT

Jody Zall Kusek's picture
As the old Japanese proverb goes: Vision without action is a daydream, while Action without vision is a nightmare. This could not be more prophetic as we turn our attention to what’s next for the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs). Now, after more than ten long years since the launch of the eight United Nations MDGs, we have real targets that move toward ending hunger and, for example, improving maternal health.

Cost-effectiveness vs. universal health coverage. Is the future random?

Adam Wagstaff's picture

I've been blogging a bit about Universal Health Coverage (UHC) recently. In my "old wine in a new bottle" post, I argued that UHC is ultimately about ensuring that rich and poor alike get the care they need, and that nobody suffers undue financial hardship from getting the care they need. In my "Mrs Gauri" post, I used my colleague Varun Gauri's mother as a guinea pig to see whether the general public feels that UHC is a morally powerful concept and whether it could be expressed in a way that the general public would find accessible.

My sense from Ms Gauri's comment on the post, is that the answer to both questions could well be Yes. So far so good.

Some bad news—resources are finite

But before we place orders for colorful placards and huge banners with my suggested slogans "Everyone should get the care they need!" and "End impoverishment due to health spending!", we should break some bad news to Ms Gauri and the rest of the general public: resources are finite, and especially in poor countries the available resources won't allow us to get to UHC anytime soon.

Lifting people out of poverty through ‘managed’ urbanization

Jos Verbeek's picture
The Global Monitoring Report (GMR) is the World Bank’s and the International Monetary Fund’s vehicle to not only report on progress toward the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) but, equally importantly, to analyze a theme relevant for development in general and the MDGs in particular.