In his hit My Valentine, former Beatle Sir Paul McCartney sings about a Moroccan vacation where foul weather meant he and his love could not enjoy the vacation and planned sightseeing they had envisioned. Sir Paul was frustrated, until his love said the weather mattered little and they should change their mindset and make the most of it. That advice inspired the opening lyrics of his tune -- What if it rained?/ We didn't care/ She said that someday soon/ The sun was gonna shine/ And she was right/ This love of mine,/ My Valentine -- and taught him a valuable lesson: Complaining about the missing ingredients necessary to achieve any goal is a waste. It is far better to focus on what is already available and make the most of things.
Development Thinking 3.0
Former Soviet Union leader Joseph Stalin and famous Irish writer Oscar Wilde had very little in common. Yet they agreed on one thing: the importance of ideas in human life. The former once said: “Ideas are more powerful than guns. We would not let our enemies have guns, why should we let them have ideas?” The latter boldly wrote that “An idea that is not dangerous is unworthy of being called an idea at all.” My colleagues who serve as regional chief economists at the Bank -- Shanta Devarajan, Kalpana Kochhar, Indermit Gill -- also agree with me that ideas drive various societal transformations. Nevertheless, they disagree with me on several points, as highlighted in their joint post on Africa Can. We all want to generate and channel the best knowledge on development to policymakers around the world who have been struggling for centuries—if not millennia—to lift their people out of poverty.
Reducing poverty and climbing the ladder to prosperity aren’t easy: From 1950-2008, only 28 economies in the world have reduced their gaps with US by 10 percent or more. Among those 28 economies, only 12 are non-European and non-oil exporters. Such a small number is sobering: It means that most countries have been trapped in middle-income or low-income status. As development economists, we must find a way to help them improve their performance so that our dream of “a world free of poverty” can be realized and they can close the gap with the high-income countries.
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.