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Bangladesh: Resilience and Long Term Goals

Lea Gimenez's picture

Bangladesh was born on December 16 1971, following a devastating war that cost the lives of 3,000,000 people. They were victorious in their fight for independence, yet the prospects of the Bangladeshi people living in the 70’s were disheartening, earning it the now rather infamous connotation of a basket case, as Henry Kissinger called it back in 1971. Emerging from the rubbles left by the war, the resilient Bangladeshis began the rebuilding of their newly established nation. Economic growth was slow to take off, and it rebounded to the pre-war level about twenty years later, in the 90’s. Yet, it was after the 90’s that the country began to attain palpable progress and only over the 2000-2010 decade that the country achieved great poverty reduction. The depth-of-poverty MDG target of 8 percent was attained five years ahead of schedule, and Bangladesh was set in the right path for achieving the first MDG goal of halving the poverty headcount to 28.5 percent by 2015.

Inclusion is No Illusion

Zahid Hussain's picture

The World Bank’s recent report Bangladesh: Towards Accelerated, Inclusive and Sustainable Growth—Opportunities and Challenges examines inclusiveness along three dimensions—poverty, inequality, and the distribution of economic opportunities. The findings are summarized in this post.

Economic growth in the last two decades in Bangladesh has been pro-poor. Poverty declined significantly from 58.8 percent in 1991/92 to 31.5 percent in 2010. Bangladesh succeeded in “bending the arc of poverty reduction” in the decade ending 2010, a period in which the number of poor declined by around 15 million, compared with a decline of about 2.3 million in the preceding decade. There has also been regional convergence in poverty patterns during 2005-10. Poverty reduction in the lagging Western divisions (Rajshahi, Khulna, and Barisal) was larger than in the Eastern divisions. A number of other indicators of welfare also show notable improvements between 2000 and 2010 for the general population and the poor alike.

Income distribution stabilized after deteriorating in the 1990s. While comparisons based on consumption data have been used to argue that inequality in Bangladesh is low by international standards, when income rather than HIES consumption data are used, inequality appears to be much higher. The degree of income inequality was reasonably low and stable compared to countries such as Malaysia, Thailand and Philippines during the 1970s and 1980s. But there was a sharp increase between 1991-92 and 1995-96. Gini consumption concentration ratios based on HIES 2000, 2005, and 2010 data were almost unchanged while Gini income concentration ratios increased by 3.5 percent during 2000-05 followed by 1.9 percent decrease during 2005-10. The good news is it has been a race to the top in the past decade with consumption growing for the poor and non-poor alike. However, income inequality in Bangladesh is relatively high. Among Bangladesh’s peer group of countries only Sri Lanka has a higher income Gini and Cambodia is close.

How Remittances Grease the Wheels of Bangladesh’s Economy

Zahid Hussain's picture

What impact do remittances have on stimulating overall economic growth? Remittances can be used for consumption and investment which further stimulates demand for goods and services, as well as contribute to financial development. On the other hand, they can create dependence in recipients and cause real exchange-rate appreciation which adversely affects domestic production.

The answer is an empirical one which we can answer using available data. Our findings echo recent economic research which shows that remittances, even when not invested directly, can have an important multiplier effect.

In our study, we focused only on the magnitude of the impact of remittances on aggregate demand in Bangladesh and calculated the traditional Keynesian multiplier effect, that is how much income is generated from every remittance dollar, following the approach adopted by Nicholas Glytsos by estimating a consumption function, an investment function, and an imports function. To estimate the parameters we used data from the Bangladesh Bureau of Statistics national accounts covering the period 1981-2010. We ran simple Ordinary Least Squares regressions to estimate the structural parameters. Here is a summary of our results:

For Bangladesh, More Migrants Mean More Money

Zahid Hussain's picture

Remittances sent by migrant workers have emerged as a key driver of poverty reduction in many developing countries. Bangladesh has caught up with growing migration trends since the mid-70s when only 6,000 Bangladeshis were working abroad. Today, there are about 8 million. Migration has now become a major source of gainful employment for Bangladesh’s growing number of unemployed and under-employed labor force. The sharpest increase in the level of manpower exports occurred during 2006--2009. Remittances have grown at a rapid pace, particularly since 2004.

So, what are the key correlates of aggregate remittance inflows in Bangladesh? What does the data tell us about Bangladesh? Many researchers have used aggregate data to analyze the macro-economic factors affecting the behavior of remitters. For example, Barua et al (2007) show that income differentials between host and home country and devaluation of home country currency positively and high inflation rate in home country negatively affect workers’ remittances1. Hasan (2008) finds remittances respond positively to home interest rate and incomes in host countries2. Ordinary Least Squares estimation is frequently used to characterize the statistical relationships between aggregate remittance inflows and their proximate macro correlates.

The key finding is that a limited number of macroeconomic factors are important in predicting the behavior of aggregate remittances.

Bangladesh: The Next China?

Zahid Hussain's picture

This is the sixth and last in a series of posts about the recent report, Bangladesh: Towards Accelerated, Inclusive and Sustainable Growth. The previous post looked at what sort of policies it will take to achieve the goal of middle income status by 2021.

Bangladesh, one of Asia’s youngest countries, is poised to exploit the long-awaited “demographic dividend” with a higher share of working-age population. Labor is Bangladesh’s strongest source of comparative advantage, and Bangladesh’s abundant and growing labor force is currently underutilized. Absorbing the growing labor force and utilizing better the existing stock of underemployed people requires expansion of labor-intensive activities. And that means expanding exports, as domestic consumption offers limited opportunities for specializing in labor-intensive production.

What are the potentials for expanding exports? Bangladesh’s competitors are becoming expensive places in which to do business. In the next three to four years, China’s exports of labor-intensive manufactured goods are projected to decline. It will no longer have one-third of the world market in garments, textiles, shoes, furniture, toys, electrical goods, car parts, plastic, and kitchen wares. Capturing just 1% of China’s manufacturing export markets would almost double Bangladesh’s manufactured exports.

What will it take for Bangladesh to become a Middle Income Country?

Zahid Hussain's picture

This is the fifth in a series of six posts about the recent report, Bangladesh: Towards Accelerated, Inclusive and Sustainable Growth. The previous post looked at the numbers behind Bangladesh’s goal of middle income status by 2021. The next and last post will look at the way forward.

For Bangladesh, achieving its goal of middle income status by 2021 will require more than business-as-usual: the average annual GDP growth rate will have to rise from the current 6 percent to 7.5-8 percent, while sustaining remittance growth at 8 plus percent. Faster growth in turn will depend on four main factors: (i) increased investment, (ii) faster human capital accumulation, (iii) enhanced productivity growth, and (iv) increased outward orientation.

Increase investment by at least 5 percentage points of GDP. Investment is constrained by infrastructure, business environment, land, and skills. Analysis based on Investment Climate Assessment surveys highlights the role of infrastructure in triggering a virtuous cycle of growth: better infrastructure will improve productivity which in turn will make exports more competitive and attract FDI, thus leading to further increase in productivity. Expanded provision of infrastructure has to come with easing difficulties in doing business, increasing access to serviced land, and meeting skill shortages.

Build on achievements in human capital formation. Bangladesh has done well in increasing the stock of human capital, topping the list of Asian countries along with Vietnam by improving average years of schooling by 1.3 during 2000-10. Our analysis indicates that achieving the needed GDP growth rate will require further increases from the current 5.8 to 7.3 average years of schooling. In addition, relatively low returns to schooling point to the importance of improving quality of education. These will require addressing external and internal inefficiency as well as weaknesses in education management and finance.

The Numbers Behind Bangladesh’s Goal of Middle Income Status by 2021

Zahid Hussain's picture

This is the fourth in a series of six posts about the recent report, Bangladesh: Towards Accelerated, Inclusive and Sustainable Growth. The last post, Be Happy Yet Do Worry: Explaining Resilience in Bangladesh's Economy, explained how the economy has withstood recent shocks. The next post will look at what sort of policies it will take to achieve the goal of middle income status by 2021.

Bangladesh’s economic growth has followed a path both theory and international experience would expect. Starting from a low income level, growth initially tends to accelerate through capital accumulation in a market economy. This is what happened in Bangladesh during the four decades since independence in 1971. A recent article in The Economist rightly said, “Bangladesh has become a model of what can be done”. Progress achieved so far provides a credible basis for aspiring to be a middle income nation by 2021, as observed in the World Bank’s recent report “Bangladesh: Towards Accelerated, Inclusive and Sustainable Growth—Opportunities and Challenges”.

Would it take more than just maintaining recent growth rates to achieve middle-income country (MIC) status? It is important to be clear about how middle-income status is defined. It is based on nominal Gross National Income (GNI) measured in Atlas dollars, not real Gross Domestic Product (GDP). Economies are divided according to 2012 GNI per capita, calculated using the World Bank Atlas method. The income thresholds are: low income—$1,025 or less; lower middle income—$1,026 to $4035; upper middle income—$4036 to $12,475; and high income—$12,476 or more.

At current prices, Bangladesh’s per capita GNI would have to exceed US$1,025 to reach the lower end of “low middle income” status. Nominal Atlas GNI per capita, currently $851, will need to grow at a sustained 2.1% and nominal Atlas total GDP will need to grow at 3.5% per annum from now onwards for Bangladesh to reach the middle-income threshold by 2021, when Bangladesh will celebrate its 50th year of independence.

Be Happy Yet Do Worry: Explaining Resilience in Bangladesh's Economy

Zahid Hussain's picture

This is the third in a series of six posts about the recent report, Bangladesh: Towards Accelerated, Inclusive and Sustainable Growth. The last post, The Paradox That Bangladesh Isn’t, explained the sources of GDP growth over the past two decades. Next week's post will look at how the country can achieve its goal of middle income status by 2021.

The World Bank’s report “Bangladesh: Towards Accelerated, Inclusive and Sustainable Growth—Opportunities and Challenges” observes that growth in Bangladesh has been resilient at above 6 percent in recent years, despite several external shocks that slowed exports, remittance and investment growth. Since 2006, Bangladesh has faced political uncertainty (2006-2007); two major floods, the disastrous cyclone Sidr, and Avian Flu (last half of 2007); food and energy price crises (first half of 2008); global financial meltdown and recession (2008-2009); political transition followed by mutiny (first half of 2009); and rapid deterioration of the power and gas supply situation (first half of 2010). Currently, it is braving the impact of Euro area crisis and internal uncertainties surrounding the expected political transition in early 2014. These exogenous shocks resulted in a decline in the efficiency of investment, but the private investment rate itself managed to grow at a rate faster than the growth of GDP while the public investment rate declined. The economy has demonstrated resilience time and again.

The Paradox That Bangladesh Isn’t

Zahid Hussain's picture

This is the second in a series of six posts about the recent report, “Bangladesh: Towards Accelerated, Inclusive and Sustainable Growth”. The first post was Better Jobs Can Outweigh a Secure Life. Next week’s post will look at how Bangladesh’s economy has remained resilient despite global and local shocks over the past few years.

Bangladesh lacks natural resources and good governance. It is beset by natural calamities. Corruption and self-destructive political non-cooperation are common. Yet Bangladesh’s GNI per capita more than tripled in the past two-and-a-half decades, from an average of US$251 in the 1980s to US$851 by 2012. This growth was accompanied by impressive progress in human development. Growth in GNI came almost entirely from growth in GDP in the 1980s and 1990s, but this changed in the last decade due to a surge in remittances from Bangladeshi workers abroad. GDP growth has accelerated by a percentage point and per capita GDP growth has accelerated by 1.7 percentage points in each of the last four decades. A recently published World Bank report, “Bangladesh: Towards Accelerated, Inclusive and Sustainable Growth—Opportunities and Challenges” explains how Bangladesh managed to beat the odds.

Where did GDP growth come from? 

Where is India's economy heading?

Ulrich Bartsch's picture

The India Economic Update 2012 will be discussed online.Ulrich Bartsch, the World Bank's outgoing senior country economist for India, will lead a 24-hour live chat on the World Bank India Facebook page. He and other experts will be discussing the Bank's latest India Economic Update. The chat will begin Wednesday, Oct. 10, at 4:30 p.m. India Standard Time (7 a.m. Eastern Daylight Time in the United States). Here, he provides a sneak preview.

India’s economic growth has slowed to a pace not seen since the beginning of the 2000s. At the same time, the current account deficit has reached a record high. We project growth in the current fiscal year to reach around 6%, a slowdown from the already low 6.5% growth in the previous year. This growth projection is predicated on an improving domestic and external environment, but the risks for a worse outcome are high.

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