Some Skills should Come Before Jobs, Others Develop with the Job
To be clear from the onset: I will not oversimplify the unemployment (or inactivity) problem in the Western Balkan countries as solely due to a lack of skills in the population. Low employment rates result from both insufficient creation of jobs by enterprises and too-high a fraction of the workforce that is ill-equipped to take on the jobs that a modern economy creates. Both issues are intertwined. Solutions, therefore, require efforts on several fronts to enable a more vibrant private sector –including improvements in the business environment, enterprise restructuring, integration in global markets and promoting entrepreneurship— as well as to prepare workers for new job opportunities.
Some Skills should Come Before Jobs, Others Develop with the Job
The Western Balkans Case
When I travel to the Balkans for work, the journey typically begins with a cab ride to the airport from my home in Vienna. The taxi company I use is run and operated by Serbs living in Austria. It’s a great company: very reliable, clean cars and friendly drivers who are always keen to discuss the politics and economics of the Balkans. When I arrive in Belgrade, I’m picked up by drivers who have very similar skills to those of their compatriots in Vienna. However, the former have better salaries and opportunities simply because the company they work for operates in an environment that is much more conducive to nurturing and growing a business. In Austria, unlike in Serbia, a company can operate efficiently, is subject to a relatively fair tax treatment and knows the industry standards it needs to comply with. In turn, this explains to a large extent why workers, at any given levels of skills, are more productive in Austria – a basic intuition which William Lewis develops in his book The Power of Productivity, projecting the gains that Mexican construction workers make when moving to the USA.
Half the world’s energy subsidies are in the Middle East and North Africa Region. These subsidies have been criticized on grounds that they crowd out public spending on valuable items such as health, education and capital investment. Egypt for instance spends seven times more on fuel subsidies than on health. Furthermore, the allocation of these subsidies is heavily skewed towards the rich, who consume more fuel and energy than the poor. In Yemen, the portion of fuel subsidies going to the richest quintile was 40 percent; the comparable figure in Jordan was 45 percent and in Egypt, 60 percent.
Across all recorded history, 99% of humanity has never invented a single thing. Yet, it is a truth universally acknowledged that long-run sustained progress in economic well-being arises from human creativity and innovativeness. In this regard, the average human and indeed the great majority of humanity over the last seven million years provide a completely misleading guide to what is possible.
Misapplied, the Law of Averages misinforms.
Hopes are high for Tunisia’s economy to improve after Tunisians voted for a new parliament in October. Pre-election polls consistently highlighted that the economy was the foremost preoccupation of Tunisians. Yet, political debates in the run up to the elections largely ignored longstanding economic problems.
Absurdly complex regulations divide the Tunisian economy between a protected “onshore” sector that sells to Tunisian consumers and a competitive “offshore” sector that exports, mostly to Europe. "It's pointless trying to understand the logic of it - there is no logic," says Belhassen Gherab, head of Aramys, one of Tunisia's largest textile and clothing groups. He gives an example: "Suppose I have a machine that breaks down because one small circuit board needs replacing. If I'm an offshore company, I call up DHL and have it delivered within 24 hours. If I'm an onshore business, I'll have to bring it in through customs. I may be waiting 30 days, with my entire production halted, just for that one circuit board."
One of my favorite books about the World Bank is Michael Holman’s Last Orders at Harrods. It’s a satirical novel about trouble brewing in a fictional Kenya during the visit of the World Bank President Hardwick Hardwicke (and his sidekick speechwriter, Jim “Fingers” Adams). What’s great about Holman’s book is that the author, a former Africa editor at the Financial Times, shows in a humorous manner how the Bank interacts with clients and how the view from Washington can sometimes be oblivious to what’s really going on in the country.
I’ve tried to follow in Holman’s footsteps with The Golden Hour, my new thriller about a State Department crisis manager fighting chaos in West Africa and bureaucracy in Washington DC. The hero Judd Ryker has just 100 hours to reverse a coup in Mali, rescue a kidnapped Peace Corps volunteer, and save the U.S. embassy from a terrorist attack. In the novel, shifting forces in Bamako and competing interests at headquarters conspire to shield the truth and complicate resolution. Ryker’s first task is simply to figure out what’s really going on.
If you’re not already interested in livelihoods, you should be. Because livelihoods are the bottom line of development. Millions are spent on trying to build more effective states around the world, but development isn’t really about state capacity. At the end of those long causal chains and theories of change, there’s a person – an average Jo (sephine), a ‘little guy’. Making things work a little better for that person, making it easier for them to make their own choices and carve out a decent living…that is the why of development.
- Jobs and Development
- Social Development
- Public Sector and Governance
- Private Sector Development
- Law and Regulation
- Labor and Social Protection
- The World Region
- South Asia
- Middle East and North Africa
- Latin America & Caribbean
- Europe and Central Asia
- East Asia and Pacific
- United Kingdom
- United States
- Congo, Democratic Republic of
For 2014, we project that Russia’s economy will grow at an estimated 0.3-0.5 percent. This is the lowest growth rate since the global financial crisis but higher than the high-risk case scenario which was expected since the geopolitical tension started and the sanctions of the EU and the US took hold. This means that Russia’s expected economic performance in 2014 will be similar to that of the Euro-zone, even though Russia is much more dependent on the European market than the EU is on Russia.
A Ukrainian paradox
When Ukrainians took the streets in the winter of 2013/14, protests – sparked by the then Government’s decision to suspend the signing of the association agreement with the EU – reflected widespread discontent over deep-seated corruption. From its independence over two decades ago, Ukraine has struggled with corruption and state capture. So-called oligarchs dominate large sectors of the Ukrainian economy, extracting rents and controlling the state through direct representation in the Parliament. This allowed oligarchs to tap into rich sources of corruption, including energy subsidies, discretionary public procurement, privatization of state assets and wide spread tax fraud and evasion. These governance failures created an economy largely built around redistribution of rents. Arguably, this accounts for much Ukraine’s dismal economic performance despite an abundance of natural resources, qualified human capital and a strategic location in the center of Europe.
One of the targets of the Millennium Development Goals for poverty and hunger is monitored in part through a measure called Prevalence of Undernourishment. This is defined in the World Development Indicators (WDI) database as the proportion of the population whose food intake is insufficient to meet minimum dietary energy requirements continuously.
Comparative data (see figure below) show two, somewhat contradictory, aspects of undernourishment in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region. During 1991-2012, the MENA region has had very low levels of undernourishment; among developing regions, it is tied for lowest average with Europe and Central Asia. But the average level of undernourishment in the region appears to have worsened over time. The latter is surprising because the MENA region is made up of middle and high income countries (with the exception of Djibouti and Yemen) and has not been subject to any prolonged negative food or income shocks in the past two decades. Indeed, all other regions have experienced a steady decline in undernourishment since 1991.