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Life and Death in South Asia

Eliana Cardoso's picture

In the film, Venus, an old and frail Peter O’Toole discovers the Greek goddess in the guise of his best friend’s niece. The ironic and good humored story explores the theme of the games played in a mutual seduction between the older man with experience, money and a nostalgic yearning for carnal desire and the young woman who soon finds out the power she wields and negotiates three kisses in return for a pair of earrings. In the final scene, wearing only one of his boots on a cold beach, O’Toole feels the caress of the sea’s salty foam with the sole of his foot and smiles. His face expresses the happiness of someone who knows the joys of being alive.

It is impossible to weigh up Peter O’Toole’s smile, measuring the degree of his happiness or comparing it to what you would feel if walking barefoot in the sand. But, the idea that his feelings can be measured as a metric has become fashionable, ever since the King of Bhutan decided that GDP fails to portray the well-being of his subjects and summoned a team to create the Gross National Happiness index.

How Will Changes in Globalization Impact South Asia?

Ejaz Ghani's picture

Globalization has accelerated global growth and global poverty reduction. But it has also raised concerns. The current global crisis may change globalization itself, as both developed and developing countries adjust to global imbalances that contributed to the crisis. Will these changes help or hinder economic recovery and growth in South Asia?

There are three models of globalization. These include (a) trade flows (exchange of goods), (b) capital flows (exchange of money), and (c) macroeconomic management. These three models of globalization may not be the same in the future. Changes in globalization could change the composition of trade flows, capital flows, and economic management, which in turn, could accelerate or restrain growth. So how will changes in these three models of globalization impact economic recovery and growth in South Asia?

South Asia as a region is peculiar. Its trade, capital flows, and economic management differ from other regions in how the region has globalized, although it must be mentioned that there is a lot of diversity within the region.

World Bank Teams up with Google to Share Development Information

Joe Qian's picture

What’s the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) of India? If you type the inquiry into Google now, a graph will immediately display the data ranging from 1960 to 2008 and a figure showing that it is currently $1.22 trillion. If you click on the graph, it will immediately expand and allow you to compare historical figures as well as with that of other countries. I noticed, for instance, that India had a GDP of $36.6 billion in 1960; a 33 fold increase over the last 48 years!

The popular search engine has joined forces with the World Bank in sharing development data through the Data Finder, featuring 17 development indicators based on information provided by the World Bank to make the easy to understand information accessible to a broader audience. The public data tool is exceptionally easy to use and is excellent for comparative research or exploration of data over time. The indicators are as diverse as carbon dioxide emissions, fertility rates, GDP growth, and number of internet users.

South Asia Rebounds

Eliana Cardoso's picture

The future is unpredictable and yet, from time to time, we must take stock of what we accomplished and where we are heading. Over the past decade, better policies and rising integration with the global economy have pushed growth in South Asia upwards. By 2007, the peak year just before the global financial crisis, the region’s GDP growth had reached nearly 9 percent a year (just slightly behind East Asia’s). This growth acceleration extended to all the countries of the region.

The global financial crisis took South Asia’s growth down by about 3 percentage points (from 8.6% in 2007 to 5.6% in 2009). This was the smallest growth decline among all regions of the world and the prospective recovery is already underway. The World Bank expects GDP growth to recover to nearly 7 percent per annum on average in 2010-2011.

Dipak Dasgupta, a Lead Economist at the World Bank, points to four key factors that have cushioned South Asia’s growth decline during the crisis and are helping in the strong recovery.

(1) Remittances held up much stronger in South Asia than in other regions. In Nepal, the reliance on remittances is the highest, and without these flows, growth in consumption would have collapsed.

(2) The resilience of some key export-oriented sectors also helped. Garments in Bangladesh and IT software exports from India, for instance, have held up relatively well.

Gross Domestic Product Not Sole Indicator of Progress

Joe Qian's picture

What is Happiness? Many of us equate it with money. However, since 1972, the kingdom of Bhutan under the leadership of its former King, Jigme Singye Wangchuck has measured its developmental success not solely through the economic lens of Gross Domestic Product (GDP) but also through a more complete approach known as Gross National Happiness (GNH). Its laurels were based upon the original four pillars of sustainable development, preservation and promotion of cultural values, conservation of the natural environment, and good governance.

These indicators have become increasingly important over the last three decades as it became apparent that blindly pursuing economic expansion has created growing pains in a number of countries. GNH has appeared to be very successful in Bhutan, a nation the size of Switzerland with a population of around 700,000. With initiatives such as maintaining at least 60% (currently 72%) of the land for forests and conservation, while maintaining 165 indigenous mammal species such as the rare snow leopard, Bhutan also has a fast growing economy.

Government spending on health and education is the highest in the region at 18% and Bhutan boasts a GDP growth rate of 21.4% and a per capita income level that is almost twice as much as much as India’s, although it was much poorer as recently as the 1980’s. Independent sources also seem to echo these sentiments as Business Week magazine rated Bhutan the world’s 8th happiest country.

Incentives and Values in Conflict-Prone Countries

Eliana Cardoso's picture

One of the most extraordinary examples of the use of economic principles comes from the beginning of the 19th century, when England used to send a huge number of prisoners to Australia. The government originally paid the ship captain a pre-determined amount for each prisoner that boarded the ship, but half of them would die during the journey. In 1862, Edwin Chadwik, knowing that people respond to incentives, told the U.K. government to pay captains according to the number of prisoners that actually disembarked in Australia. With this adjustment, the survival rate increased from 50% to 98.5%.

This example illustrates how incentives can do wonders in some circumstances. Yet, human actions are not always guided by the same calculations made by a profit maximizing ship captain. Behavioral economists have emphasized that we respond to a deep ingrained sense of fairness. Culture and values are crucial in understanding human behavior and promoting healthy and stable societies.

How Should We Best Accelerate Growth and Job Creation in South Asia?

Ejaz Ghani's picture

“South Asia continues to grow rapidly and its largest economy, India, is close to becoming a Tiger.”

Sadiq Ahmed and I were inspired to author Accelerating Growth and Job Creation in South Asia when we were asked by the South Asia Chamber of Commerce, SAARC Business Conclave, FICCI, and a number of policy makers, local research institutes, and CEOs to come up with a strategy on what can be done by South Asian countries to accelerate growth and job creation. So we invited the world’s leading scholars to apply their talents to understanding the economies of South Asia. This gave birth to the book.

It is organized along three themes—an overview of South Asia’s growth opportunities and challenges; sources of growth and policies for the future; and the significance of regional cooperation in promoting growth. The essays combine quantitative data with analytical rigor to provide innovative suggestions in terms of policies and institutions that can propel South Asia towards higher growth, while promoting inclusiveness.

South Asia Advances on Visual Tool Comparing Development over Time

Joe Qian's picture

The World Bank released its Data Visualizer tool last week, which compares 209 countries through the lens of 49 development indicators utilizing data ranging from 1960 to 2007. Using three dimensional bubbles whose sizes are proportional to populations and are color coded to the different regions (purple represents South Asia), they move horizontally or vertically based on their achievements on a number of indicators that range from GDP per capita to the percentage of children that are inoculated against measles.

Users will find similarities with the groundbreaking Gapminder World tool that Swedish Health Professor Hans Rosling first presented to the TED Conference in 2006. He concluded that the world is converging and that old notions of contrasting developed country (generally small families and long lives) with developing country (large families and short lives) to be grossly out of date.

Ladies Specials

Darshana Patel's picture

The “Ladies Specials” are women-only commuter train recently launched in four Indian cities (New Delhi, Mumbai, Chennai and Calcutta). While not a new practice, public transport exclusively for women is becoming popular. (Mexico City introduced women-only buses in January 2008 and commuters on Japanese trains know a thing or two about this too.)

Harassment on the train or bus is not just an annoying nuisance for women. It influences whether or not a woman chooses to enter the workforce in the first place. (Or maybe whether her family or husband will allow her.)

Changes in economic landscape of a country have led to shifting roles for women, who are increasingly moving outside of the household and into the workplace. These new women workers, often of a younger generation, are now re-shaping what it means to be women in their societies.

Got a Question? I've Got an Answer!

Joe Qian's picture

There’s an exceptional amount of ingenuity within the development community. Each day, brilliant minds devise elegant solutions to seemingly insurmountable challenges that are multiplied with limited resources and complex realities on the ground.

An example of this creativity can be found in the Questionbox, devised by the non-profit organization, Open Box, which brings global intelligence into a small solar powered audio box that works to empower residents with knowledge even if the area lacks reliable access to electricity or if the user is illiterate.

Residents use the device by pushing a green button and asking their question through a solar powered microphone, the question is transmitted to an operator who searches for the information on the internet and then relays it back to the client.

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