The wild tiger population of tropical Asia has plummeted drastically in the last century, from about 100,000 to 3,500, with the Bali, Javan and South China subspecies believed to be extinct in the wild. An estimated 2,380 Bengal tigers survive, along with 340 Indochinese, 500 Malayan and 325 Sumatran tigers, with their remaining habitat being mostly the upland areas arcing from southwest India to northwest Indonesia. Long term survival of the tiger is dependent on conservation of these tiger habitats, which has prompted the World Bank to join the Global Tiger Initiative (GTI), along with the governments of the various tiger habitat countries and many civil society and private sector organizations.
The first week as World Bank Chief Economist has left me excited, on the trot, (not to mention, slightly exhausted) and more convinced than ever that John Maynard Keynes was right when he wrote in the General Theory that the course of history, for good or for bad, is determined more by ideas and opinions than vested interests. I assert this with some confidence because of my somewhat unusual career experience, beginning with academic research, writing and teaching to being thrown into the deep end of the policymaking pool, when, in 2009, I was appointed India’s 14th Chief Economic Adviser and the first with no taint of prior experience in government.
I feel privileged to have this new challenging job and hope to engage with readers of this blog as I become more conversant with the Bank's work and also with writing a blog, which I have never done before, my social interaction on the web thus far being restricted to the 140-character tweet.
During the course of many G20 and other high level meetings with policymakers when I was still wearing my India hat, I was struck time and again by the fact that having a critical mass of people who are well-intentioned and susceptible to good ideas can do so much to break the toughest of impasses, whether in trying to decide on monetary and fiscal policies or in targeting welfare benefits or in battling poverty.
An organization with ‘motor company’ in its name might produce several types of vehicle (cars, trucks, etc.) in several variations (models) at several different plants, and might sell these vehicles in several different regions of the world. The company wouldn’t last long if it didn’t know how many of each model – and at what cost – it was producing in each plant, and how many – and at what price – it was selling in each region. In the World Bank – where we like to think of ourselves as the ‘knowledge bank’ – we produce several types of document in several vice presidencies (VPUs) and we make them available in hard copy and in electronic format in all regions of the world. Yet as far as I know we don’t systematically track how many of each document type each VPU produces, let alone how successful each is in terms of sales and downloads. We have these data for World Bank books, but they’re a small fraction of our overall document output.
The lack of data ought to make it hard to think about how the institution might do things differently in its knowledge work to serve developing countries better. What type of Bank documents are produced most? And which are used most? Which VPUs are the big producers of knowledge? Which document types are downloaded most? Which VPUs produce the most downloaded documents?
When my team and I started working on the World Development Report 2013, slightly more than a year ago, we were puzzled. We had been asked to write about jobs, and there was no doubt that they were a major concern around the world. Events such as the global crisis or the Arab spring had put jobs center stage. In developing countries, finding employment opportunities for massive numbers of youth entering the labor force was urgent. Middle-income countries were struggling to move up the value-added ladder in production and to extend the coverage of social protection. Technology and globalization were changing the nature of work worldwide. In all cases, jobs were at stake. And they were clearly one of the main preoccupations of policy makers everywhere.
As the 2015 deadline to meet all the MDGS draws near, many are asking what comes next, including a recently appointed 26 member panel of development and political big-shots. The high-level panel, which met last Tuesday for the first time, faces huge pressure working on a post-2015 “development vision.” 'Stakes are high,' says Paige McClanahan in an insightful post on the Poverty Matters blog.&
While we non-physicians may feel a bit peeved when we hear “Trust me, I’m a doctor”, our medical friends do seem to have evidence on their side. GfK, apparently one of the world’s leading market research companies, have developed a GfK Trust Index, and yes they found that doctors are one of the most trusted professions, behind postal workers, teachers and the fire service. World Bank managers might like to know that bankers and (top) managers come close to the bottom, just above advertising professionals and politicians.
Given the trust doctors enjoy, the recent brouhaha over allegations of low quality among some of the social science articles published in medical journals must be a trifle embarrassing to the profession. Here’s the tale so far, plus a cautionary note about a recent ‘systematic review’.
As I reported in my last post, Jim Kim’s arrival as World Bank President has reinvigorated the debate about the idea of the World Bank being a ‘knowledge bank’. In the post, I argued that the knowledge produced by the Bank – whether gleaned from its lending operations, or from its research and other analytic work – is a global public good, and that we should therefore assess the success of the institution in its knowledge work not in terms of how specific ‘client’ governments value the outputs of its knowledge work but rather in terms of how people around the world use and value them.
“People want to work, not fight,” said Nadir Ali, a male shopkeeper in Kabul, Afghanistan, in one of the discussion groups of the Moving out of Poverty: Rising from the Ashes of Conflict report. For many, like Nadir, work is a crucial part of their existence. However, in many parts of the world conflicts and violence prevent citizens from working as they destroy communities, institutions, infrastructure and human capital. Not surprisingly, they represent a major challenge to job creation, as highlighted by the 2011 World Development Report (WDR) and the forthcoming 2013 WDR.
South Asia has experienced high levels of conflict over the past decade. More than 58,000 people were killed in armed conflict worldwide in 2009; at least a third of them were in South Asia.1 Ongoing conflicts in the region include the conflicts in Afghanistan and Pakistan, insurgent movements in India’s northeastern regions, and the violent activities of left-leaning groups in the eastern and central parts of India. Nepal and Sri Lanka are recovering from long-lasting civil wars. In a recent paper prepared for South Asia’s first regional flagship report "More and Better Jobs," we examine the key challenges to job creation in conflict-affected environments, using household and firm level surveys from South Asian countries.
While education is one of the cornerstones of development and is enshrined in the Millennium Development Goals, the pay-offs from a Bachelor’s degree or higher do not enjoy the same confidence. In the wake of the global financial crisis, for some, a college degree is a “lousy investment.” (Read the Daily Beast article to know why). But new data prove otherwise. Adam Looney and Michael Greenstone at the Hamilton Project, through chart illustration, show that “the more income you earn, the more likely you are to have gone to college.” To find out more, read the post “College, still worth it” on the Economix blog here. While we are still discussing education, here’s another interesting finding from the OECD “Education at a Glance 2012” report. According to the report, a college education not only makes you wise and wealthy, it also makes you healthy. Curious? Read this Economist article to know how.
Unsurprisingly, with the recent arrival of a new president fresh from the groves of academia, the halls and meeting rooms of the World Bank are buzzing once again with talk of the “Knowledge Bank” or KB for short. But what exactly is a “knowledge bank”?
To my mind the paper that pins the idea down best is “Positioning the World Bank” by Chris Gilbert, Andrew Powell and David Vines in the Economic Journal in 1999.
Knowledge as a public good
Gilbert & Co argue that knowledge about best-practice development is a global public good – the entire world stands to benefit from it, even though some may benefit from it more than others. Given the public good character of global knowledge on development, too little of it would appear if production were left to the free market.