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How to Seize the 85 million Jobs Bonanza

Justin Yifu Lin's picture

Remember the famous joke about an economist who believes so much in rational expectation theory that he would not pick up a $100 dollar bill off the sidewalk under the pretense that if it were actually there someone would have already picked it up? A similar excuse may be invoked to justify why low-income countries that are currently facing high underemployment are not organizing themselves to seize the extraordinary bonanza of the 85 million manufacturing jobs that China will have to shed in the coming years because of fast rising wages for unskilled workers.

Economic development is a process of continuous industrial and technological upgrading in which each country, regardless of its level of development, can succeed if it develops industries that are consistent with its comparative advantage, determined by its endowment structure. As I explained in an earlier blog post for China to maintain GDP growth of nearly 10 percent a year in the coming decades, it must keep moving up the value chain and relocate many of its existing labor-intensive manufacturing industries to countries where wage differentials are large enough to ensure competitiveness in global production networks.

Uzbekistan explores a path to growth

Justin Yifu Lin's picture

Does a remote double-landlocked Commonwealth of Independent States country have the potential to grow at 8 percent a year for the next 20 years? Call me an optimist, but I have just been to the country and I am convinced it’s true. My lecture to a packed audience in Tashkent on ‘Uzbekistan: New Strategies and Opportunities for Structural Transformation’ was well received. Perhaps they were just being extraordinarily polite hosts, but officials there thought my visit marked a transformation point and at the end of my visit, they said they’d start working on a long-term development vision report together with the World Bank and their think tanks.

The recipe for dynamic growth in a developing country is to tap into latecomer’s advantages by developing industries in accordance with its comparative advantages in a well-functioning market economy with the state playing a facilitating role. In the case of Uzbekistan, the potential of late comer advantages have been enormous in many sectors including the traditional ones, such as carpet, garment and horticulture, and modern ones, such as consumer electronics and cars. I visited a carpet factory in Samarkand. Impressed by the owner’s entrepreneurship and the abundant supply of well-educated, disciplined, wage-competitive workers, I am convinced Uzbekistan can out compete Turkey as the world’s production center of synthetic carpets in the coming years.

Sectoral upgrading a half century later – 2010 is not 1960

Howard Pack's picture

There is an increasing consensus about the need of poorer economies to shift away from low technology, low productivity areas into new product areas, particularly to generate non-commodity exports. The figure below shows the low level of manufactured exports from the poorest region, sub-Saharan Africa (SSF) as well as from Southeast Asia (SAS) compared to other regions. It is this disparity that many have in mind in urging a sectoral transformation. In the 1950s and early ‘60s there was an argument for a “big push” in development premised on export pessimism.

*lcn- Latin America & Caribbean, mea- Middle East & Africa, SAS - Southest Asia, ssf- Sub-Saharan Africa, eap- East Asia & Pacific, and eca- Europe & Central Asia

The emphasis on the big push and balanced growth continued until the 1970s when the success of export oriented countries in Asia such as Korea and Taiwan (China) demonstrated that it was possible to escape  the need to have balanced  internal growth. Annual export growth of 15 percent or more helped to effect a major transformation in many of the newly industrialized Asian nations.  A critical question is whether five decades later this option is still open.