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How Can South Asia Overcome its Infrastructure Deficit?

Ejaz Ghani's picture

Last week, I discussed the two very different South Asias and the need for regional cooperation to bring the lagging regions up to the standards of thriving regions. However, increased market integration by itself will not be sufficient to accelerate growth and benefit the lagging regions. South Asia suffers from a massive infrastructure deficit. Infrastructure is like second-nature geography, which can reduce the time and monetary costs to reach markets and thus overcome the limitations of physical geography.

Improved infrastructure that enhances connectivity and contributes to market integration is the best solution to promoting growth as well addressing rising inequality between regions. The Ganga Bridge in Bihar in India is a good example of second-nature geography. The bridge has reduced the time and monetary costs of farmers in the rural areas in north Bihar to reach markets in Patna, the largest city in Bihar. The Jamuna Bridge in Bangladesh is another good example of spatially connective infrastructure. The bridge has opened market access for producers in the lagging Northwest areas around the Rajshahi division. Better market access has helped farmers diversify into high value crops and reduced input prices.

South Asia suffers from three infrastructure deficits. First, there is a service deficit, as the region’s infrastructure has not been able to keep pace with a growing economy and population.

Integrating the Two South Asias

Ejaz Ghani's picture

Regional Cooperation can be the key instrument to promote increased market integration in South Asia through greater flow of goods, services, capital, and ideas. This is appropriate for a region which is the least integrated region in the world, although many countries share analogous cultures and histories, as well as a passion for cricket and curry.

It is also very timely given the global downturn and the slowdown in global trade. Increased regional trade could more than compensate for the potential loss in global trade. It is estimated that increased intra-regional trade could add two percentage points to South Asia's GDP growth. This could raise South Asia's real GDP growth from 6% to 8% in 2010. Unlike fiscal stimulus, increased market integration and regional trade could add to GDP growth, without increasing public debt. It is the most efficient and cost effective instrument for South Asia to cope with the global downturn.

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.

Does South Asia Run the Risk of Rising Inflation?

Eliana Cardoso's picture

I am old enough to remember the days when Latin America was the land of inflation. Hyperinflation in Bolivia, Brazil and Argentina made the news in the 1980s and early 1990s. At that time, Asia was seen as immune to the Latin disease. Since then, much water has gone under the bridge. Inflation came under control in the majority of Latin American countries. Today the median inflation rate in South Asia is more than twice the size of the median inflation rate in Latin America and the Caribbean. (See chart below)

Should South Asia’s policymakers look at this information and wonder whether they are doing something wrong?

In general, the recipe for hyperinflation is the monetization of budget deficits in countries afflicted by political instability or conflict. Even if the threat of mega inflation is far removed from the South Asia scenarios, the combination of big budget deficits and loose monetary policy seems to be present in some countries of the region.

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.

Don’t Throw the Baby with the Bathwater!

Zahid Hussain's picture

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.

Full Speed Ahead: Internet Traffic Growth Unaffected by Financial Crisis

Joe Qian's picture

Reading about the financial crisis and the effects that have rippled around the world, it’s always heartening to find something positive in the midst of piles of red ink and pessimistic expectations.

Although the majority of industries and economies around the world have suffered due to the downturn, Internet traffic growth accelerated at an increasing rate in 2009 compared to 2008 with no discernible slowdown due to the crisis. According to data released by Telegeography, every single region around the globe registered growth in internet traffic, or flow of data. South Asia has registered over a 100% increase, higher than the 79% posted worldwide, although it must be noted that South Asia had a lower baseline capacity.

Doing Business Report 2010: South Asia

Joe Qian's picture

The World Bank released its annual Doing Business report (pdf) last week which tracks regulatory reforms for conducting business and ranks countries based on their ease of doing business.

Countries are evaluated and ranked by indicators such as starting a business, employing workers, getting credit, paying taxes, etc.

In South Asia, seven out of eight (75%) of the countries instituted reforms that were conducive to business, higher than any previous year of the study.

Pakistan was the highest ranked country in the region at number 85 while Afghanistan and Bangladesh were the most dynamic reformers with three reforms each. Afghanistan’s rank in the study also increased the most in the region, climbing eight spots.

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