World Bank Open Forum: On October 7-8, the world's financial leaders will be in Washington, D.C., working together to find solutions to the most pressing issues in the wake of the financial crisis. You're invited to join this online event featuring live-webcasts of expert discussions, special announcements, and a 24-hour global chat forum on three key issues: open data and development solutions, global job creation, and major development challenges.
The World Region
President Robert B. Zoellick discusses the Open Data Initiative available starting today at data.worldbank.org
|Photo Copyright of Jugantor|
Have you ever tried explaining to non-economists what the consequences of resource misallocation can be for the economy?
What will happen if you invest enough in some sectors and too little in others? The answer is likely to be that you have enough production in sectors where you got your investments right and too little in the under-invested sectors. That may be correct in some cases, but it ignores the interdependence between the adequately invested and underinvested sectors. As a result, you may have too little production in the sectors where you have invested enough because you have too little production in the sectors you have neglected to invest.
Imagine if, in 1799 – the year in which Napoleon seized power – a research institute had published its global forecasts for the next 20 years. Its researchers would have known about the tremendous changes that took place over the previous two decades: from the United States’ declaration of independence, through the French Revolution and the execution of Louis XVI, up to Napoleon’s victory over Austria in his Italy Campaign.
Even so, the chances of the researchers accurately predicting the events that came to pass over the subsequent 20 years, including their impact on the 19th century’s world order, would have been infinitesimal. No one could have anticipated that Napoleon would have plunged Europe into non-stop war for a decade until being overcome at Waterloo, or that, by the time of his defeat, he would already have swept away the foundations of traditional structures and initiated an unstoppable wave of reforms.
Because of its industrial might, this Europe would dominate the rest of the world during the 19th century. When European rivalries exploded into World War One, the face of the earth had already changed considerably compared to the previous century. And, having changed the world, Europe set the conditions for the demise of its own empire. Even before World War One, Teddy Roosevelt had heralded the start of the United States’ ascension to its current hegemony.
- The World Region
- South Asia
- Europe and Central Asia
- East Asia and Pacific
- Social Development
- Science and Technology Development
- Macroeconomics and Economic Growth
- Law and Regulation
- Financial Sector
- Culture and Development
- Communities and Human Settlements
- Teddy Roosevelt
- French Revolution
To follow up on my last entry, I'd like to highlight a few more lessions I've learned in my five years at the Bank and share some aspects of the "inner workings" of my job in development. Click here to read the introduction and the first three lessons.
Let me spell out a few more of these lessons that I've learnt as a Health Economist.
4. Don’t be “means” wise and “ends” foolish
No matter where you are along the results chain at any given time, it’s important to keep an overall perspective and stay focused to reap the payoffs at the end. This is necessary so that no input, activity or process blocks or slows down your movement along the chain. The further you go along the chain, the more compelling it becomes to cover the remaining distance. For example, having achieved a policy change for introducing new technology, hired the personnel, provided them training, straightened out logistics and supply issues, it becomes all the more necessary not to hold up supplies for some silly procurement procedure.
In my five years at the Bank, I have learnt a number of lessons. One of the most important is that even though each practitioner brings specialist knowledge, that knowledge must be applied from an overall development perspective, for we’re trying to achieve development in imperfect settings where the gap between the ideal and the reality, between principles and practice, is often wide.
Let me spell out some of these lessons:
1. Anticipate issues but be ready for surprises
Development doesn’t take place by complete fluke nor is it a sure-shot thing that the efforts will succeed. While it is important to plan and plan well, things seldom happen as planned. It is seldom a smooth affair. While an intervention may have been designed keeping the context in mind, the context itself keeps evolving continually. So, it’s best to anticipate how things may evolve and prepare for it, but be ready for surprises as well.
It was in 1714 that Bernard de Mandeville defended his view of the economic world in a long poem with pretensions to uncovering the moral basis of modern society – The Fable of the Bees: Private Vices, Public Benefits. According to him, industrialists, businessmen and politicians are like pimps, quacks, pickpockets and forgers: tireless professionals who, through their cunning, use the work of others for their own purposes. Mandeville claims that it matters little if every trade and place is tainted by trickery and every profession, by chicanery. What does matter is that everyone, whether saint or sinner, contributes to producing the comforts progress provides, by looking after their own interests.
But you and I believe that where people live off ill-gotten gains the community will suffer and, thus, we reject the poem’s cynical view of the world. Yet, the lesson of The Fable of the Bees (that civilization advances in the measure that individuals seek to satisfy their needs and desires) is still alive and kicking.
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.
Paul Krugman’s September 6 article in the New York Times (How Did Economists Get It So Wrong?) is a humbling warning to the economics profession against the pitfalls of intellectual complacence. It challenges the profession to re-examine the validity of its existing knowledge particularly in relation to globalization and the workings of local and global financial markets.
Granted that economists have to face up to the unpalatable fact that our theoretical apparatus falls far short both as descriptions of how economies function and as prescriptions of how they can be made to function better. The crisis has exposed the limits of economic knowledge. According to Krugman: “The vision that emerge as the profession rethinks its foundations may not be all that clear; it certainly won’t be neat; but one can hope that it will have the virtue of being at least partly right.”
In this process of reappraising existing economic knowledge, there is a real risk of going overboard and wrong the right knowledge. Using the global economic crisis as an excuse, there are emerging tendencies to reject tested economic wisdoms in areas such as the role of foreign capital and trade policy in economic development.
One school of thought that is attempting to rise from the ashes is known as (old) Structural Economics.