We know that fiscal policy can be harnessed to reduce inequality in low- and middle-income countries, but until now, we knew less about its ability to reduce poverty. Our recent volume looks at the revenue and spending of governments across eight low and middle income countries (Armenia, Ethiopia, Georgia, Indonesia, Jordan, Russia, South Africa and Sri Lanka), and it reveals that fiscal systems, while nearly always reducing inequality, can often worsen poverty.
In The Godfather II, Vito Corleone chooses his younger son, Michael, instead of his older son, Fredo, as his successor. This decision is based on Michael's intelligence and ability. Fredo, who is considered weak, is dismissed to do more menial tasks for the family. This has huge implications for Michael, Fredo, and the Corleone saga.
CC (The Godfather) Image courtesy of Insomnia Cured Here on Flickr
What makes parents decide to "invest" in one child over another? In economics, a key idea is that parents either reinforce or compensate for children’s endowments, such as health or intelligence. They reinforce by investing more in the human capital of their better-endowed children. Or they compensate by investing more in their worse-endowed children to reduce inequality among siblings. The core notion is : either parents are striving for equity (the compensating strategy) or efficiency (the reinforcing strategy of Vito Corleone).
About 40% of the human population, or about 2.8 billion people, find commercial fuels like electricity and gas inaccessible, too expensive or too irregularly supplied to use for cooking and heating (Smith et al., 2013; IEA, 2012). Instead, they rely on solid fuels like coal, fuelwood, dung and charcoal that are combusted inside their homes (Jeuland and Pattanayak, 2012, Grieshop et al., 2011, Smith et al., 2013). Biomass fuels in particular are often self-collected and easy to use in inexpensive traditional stoves. This leads to severe public health problems, especially for women and children exposed to indoor smoke, and also can lead to forest degradation. Without major policy and/or technology changes, the global number of people depending on such fuels is projected to remain very large at least through 2030 (IEA, 2006, IEA and World Bank 2015).
Improved biomass cookstoves that use less fuel and burn fuel more fully often are recommended as relatively affordable ways to deal with these concerns.
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.
Despite more than 19 episodes of severe food shortage in Ethiopia since 1895, it was the dramatic images of famines in 1972 and 1984 which came to the world’s attention and (wrongly) made Ethiopia synonymous with drought and famine. Despite consistent food shortages in Ethiopia for decades, it only became clear in the run-up to the 2002/3 drought that, while the humanitarian system appeared to be saving lives, it was proving to be ineffective in saving livelihoods and managing risks effectively. In essence, rural Ethiopians had faced chronic food insecurity for decades, but were receiving ‘treatment’ for transitory food insecurity. In part as a result of this misdiagnosis, rural Ethiopians were becoming increasingly less resilient to drought and were unable to manage risks effectively. This realization prompted the birth of the Productive Safety Net Programme (PSNP).
The potentially deleterious effects of gender disparities on growth and poverty reduction have been receiving progressively more policy attention (reflected, for instance, in the inclusion of the promotion of gender parity amongst the Millennium Development Goals and the 2012 World Development Report). Inequities in labor market opportunities are of particular concern since labor earnings are the most important source of income for the poor in the vast majority of developing countries.
Although the vast majority of the poor live in rural areas and rural non-farm enterprises account for about 35-50% of rural income and roughly a third of rural employment in developing countries, relatively little is known about gender inequities in rural non-agricultural labor market outcomes due to data-limitations. This is unfortunate given the proliferation and diversification of rural non-farm activities and their potential to alleviate poverty, especially in countries where the importance of agriculture as an employer is likely to diminish.
I visited three African countries – Ethiopia, Rwanda, and South Africa– during my first week as Chief Economist at the World Bank in June 2008. Many visits to other African countries followed, but Ethiopia holds for me a special interest. I’ve just visited again, for a fourth time. While I am sure I will go back again after I depart the Bank on June 1 this year, this was my final visit to Africa as Chief Economist.
Over four years, I’ve seen Ethiopia gradually embrace structural transformation and its practical application. Leaders there are acutely aware that, if they are to maintain a robust growth rate (GDP growth has been around 10.5% on average over the past few years), they must move away from agriculture, the dominant sector, toward industrial upgrading and technological innovation, often by imitating economies just a few rungs up the economic ladder. Ethiopia’s agriculture sector is important and should not be neglected, but that alone won’t get the country onto a path toward middle income and finally to high income status.
For many African countries, one important way to create productive jobs is to grow the labor-intensive light manufacturing sector, which would accelerate economic progress and lift workers from low-productivity agriculture and informal sectors into higher productivity activities.
Sub-Saharan Africa’s low wage costs and abundant material base have the potential to allow light manufacturing to jump-start the region’s long-delayed structural transformation and over-reliance on low-productivity agriculture. Moreover, as globalization advances and China evolves away from a comparative advantage in labor-intensive manufactured products toward more advanced industrial production, African economies such as Ethiopia and Tanzania are uniquely positioned to take advantage of this opportunity.
We learned that the idea to start a rose farm first came to Ryaz’s (Owner of the farm) father, an Indian- origin head of a successful Ugandan conglomerate, after a visit to Ethiopia, where he scoped out potential business opportunities. Although he considered banking and bottled water, highly favorable soil and climatic conditions (warm days and cold nights), competitive fuel and electricity costs and, above all, competitive air freight costs - which account for more than fifty percent of the export-related production costs - made rose farming an easy choice, despite Ethiopia not having any flower industry to speak of at the time.