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Better Public Sector Projects Which Don't Matter?

Nick Manning's picture

SDM-IN-042 World Bank In last week’s post, I asked whether Governance and Public Sector Management (GPSM) projects are having much large scale impact. It is tempting to reduce this to the question of why don’t development projects which focus on this work more often (although their track record is perhaps not as limited as some reviews of donor assistance might suggest). From this starting point, recent thinking suggests that donor rigidity and project designs which fix the visible form without improving the underlying public management function are the problem.   
 
The remedy, as set out most prominently in “Problem Driven Iterative Adaptation” and in the World Bank’s own Public Sector Management Approach, suggests that we should focus on the de facto rather than the de jure and adapt the nature of our support as project implementation unrolls. Problem-driven iterative adaptation (PDIA) approaches are referred to in recent reforms of Ministries of Finance in the Caribbean and reform approaches in Mozambique and in Burundi. Bank interventions in Sierra Leone and in Punjab have been cited as examples of this approach in practice.

Growth Without Apology

Shanta Devarajan's picture

 Chhor Sokunthea / World BankFrom time to time, countries experience rapid economic growth without a significant decline in poverty. India’s GDP growth rate accelerated in the 1990s and 2000s, but poverty continued to fall at the same pace as before, about one percentage point a year. Despite 6-7 percent GDP growth, Tanzania and Zambia saw only a mild decline in the poverty rate. In the first decade of the 21st century, Egypt’s GDP grew at 5-7 percent a year, but the proportion of people living on $5 a day—and therefore vulnerable to falling into poverty—stagnated at 85 percent.

In light of this evidence, the World Bank has set as its goals the elimination of extreme poverty and promotion of shared prosperity. While the focus on poverty and distribution as targets is appropriate, the public actions required to achieve these goals are not very different from those required to achieve rapid economic growth. This is not trickle-down economics.  Nor does it negate the need for redistributive transfers. Rather, it is due to the fact that economic growth is typically constrained by policies and institutions that have been captured by the non-poor (sometimes called the rich), who have greater political power. Public actions that relax these constraints, therefore, will both accelerate growth and transfer rents from the rich to the poor.

Some examples illustrate the point.

What Does Piketty’s Capital Mean for Developing Countries?

Gabriel Demombynes's picture

The economics book that has launched a thousand blog posts, Thomas Piketty’s Capital in the Twenty-First Country, tells a grand story of inequality past and present. One would expect that a book on global inequality would have much to say about development. However, the book has limited relevance for the developing world, and the empirical data he marshals for developing countries is weak.

Piketty’s central story is that convergence in the developed world and slower population growth will leave us with a permanently modest economic growth rate (g). Coupled with a constant return to wealth (r), concentration of capital ownership, and high rates of savings among the wealthy, the low g leads to rising wealth inequality over a longish run—something like the second half of the 20th century.

A low-g future for the developed world is a mostly uncontroversial assumption. (He assumes future GDP per capita growth of 1.2 percent for the U.S.) But Piketty draws conclusions for the world as a whole, and we are a long way from global convergence. As Branko Milanovic noted in his review, catch-up growth could fend off Piketty’s inequality dystopia for some time.
 

Rights and Welfare Economics

Shanta Devarajan's picture

ML028S19 World Bank Some 135 countries have constitutional provisions for free and nondiscriminatory education for all. Seventy-three countries guarantee the right to medical services. And 41 countries have either enshrined the right to water in their constitutions or have framed the right in national legislation.  All of these actions are aimed at protecting the rights of poor people. 

Yet, it is poor people who are losing out on access to these services.  In Mali, whereas almost everyone has access to a primary school, and 67 percent from the richest quintile complete primary school, only 23 percent from the poorest quintile do.  The percentage completing higher levels of education is in the single digits. In rural India, in the period since the Right to Education act was passed, student learning outcomes in public schools have been declining.  Equatorial Guinea, with a per-capita income of $20,000, has a child mortality rate of 118 per 1,000 births, comparable to that of Togo with a much lower per-capita income.  As a result of intermittent (or nonexistent) water supply through networks, poor people in South Asia and Africa have to buy water from vendors at 5-16 times the meter rate.

Why should Governments Spend on Sanitation?

Shanta Devarajan's picture

A puzzle:  Sanitation is one of the most productive investments a government can make.  There is now rigorous empirical evidence that improved sanitation systems reduce the incidence of diarrhea among children.  Diarrhea, in turn, harms children’s nutritional status  (by affecting their ability to retain nutrients).  And inadequate nutrition (stunting, etc.) affects children’s cognitive skills, lifetime health and earnings.  In short, the benefits of sanitation investment are huge.  Cost-benefit analyses show rates of return of 17-55 percent, or benefit/cost ratios between 2 and 8.

But if the benefits are so high (relative to costs), why aren’t we seeing massive investments in sanitation?  Why are there 470 million people in East Asia, 600 million in Africa and a billion people in South Asia lacking access to sanitation?  Why are there more cellphones than toilets in Africa?

What the 2004 WDR Got Wrong

Shanta Devarajan's picture

The three points made in my previous post—that services particularly fail poor people, money is not the solution, and “the solution” is not the solution—can be explained by failures of accountability in the service delivery chain.  This was the cornerstone of the 2004 World Development Report, Making Services Work for Poor People.  In a private market—when I buy a sandwich, for example—there is a direct or “short route” of accountability between the client (me) and the sandwich provider.  I pay him directly; I know whether I got a sandwich or not; and If I don’t like the sandwich, I can go elsewhere—and the provider knows that. 
 

Three Changes to the Conversation on Service Delivery

Shanta Devarajan's picture

IN054S13 World Bank Back in 2003, when we were writing the 2004 World Development Report, Making Services Work for Poor People, we had no idea that it would spawn so much research, innovation, debate and changes in the delivery of basic services.  Last week, we had a fascinating conference, in collaboration with the Overseas Development Institute, to review this work, and chart the agenda for the coming decade.   Being a blogger, I wanted to speak about what WDR2004 got wrong, but some of my teammates suggested I should start by describing what we got right.  So here are three ways WDR2004 changed the conversation about service delivery (what we got wrong will be the next post).
 

Informality – a Blessing or a Curse?

Megha Mukim's picture

IN134S06 World Bank Governments (and donors alike) don’t like dealing with informality. It’s messy, dirty, essentially unmeasurable, and its character varies dramatically. From one industry to the next. From one city to the next. It’s also beset with fiendishly difficult problems – informal firms are often household enterprises (employing mainly family labour, and not hired labour). Thus, they have to make impossible trade-offs between production and consumption.
 
And yet – the size and the importance of the informal sector in most countries shows no signs of abating. On average the informal share of employment ranges from 24 per cent in transition economies, to 50 per cent in Latin America and over 70 per cent in sub-Saharan Africa. In India, employment within the informal sector is growing, while that in the formal sector remains stagnant. Yet - very little is known about the relationship, whether symbiotic or competitive, between the two sectors.
 
In a new paper, I notice that in India formal firms tend to cluster with informal firms – especially in industries like apparel, furniture and meal-making. The firms coagglomerate not only so that they can buy from and sell to one another – but importantly, also because formal firms tend to share equipment with and transfer technical knowledge to their informal counterparts. Such technical and production spillovers are found in clusters of domestic-foreign, exporter-non-exporter and high-tech-low-tech firms. It is no surprise then that formal and informal activity could be complementary. Informal can also be an outlet for entrepreneurial activity, especially in places with high levels of corruption, or where formal firms are often mired in complex regulations.

Jishnu and Shanta Talk Transfers

Shanta Devarajan's picture

Shanta:  Jishnu, your blog post and mine on cash transfers generated a lot of comments.  Some people argued that giving poor people cash will not “work” because they will spend it on consumption rather than on their children’s education, which is something we care about.  What do you have to say to that?

Jishnu:  I don’t think the question “does giving cash to poor people work?” is well-defined.  It can only be answered in the negative if we (the donors who give the cash) impose our preferences and judge what poor people spend on relative to those preferences.  But if we give poor people cash so they will be better off, then—by definition—they are better off, regardless of how they choose to spend the extra money.

To Maximize the Gains from Trade - Focus on Firms and Cities

Megha Mukim's picture

Trade and growth go hand-in-hand. When the 2008 global financial crisis hit, both collapsed.

Since then both have steadied somewhat. But recovery has been jobless in many countries. The biggest challenge that developing countries will face: sustaining economic growth, while maintaining their focus on reducing poverty and inequality. Trade can be an important weapon in the policy-maker’s arsenal to help tackle these dual objectives.

Broadly, economists agree that declining levels of poverty have been accompanied by sustained periods of rapid growth and openness in all countries. In India, there has been a wealth of econometric work that demonstrates the links through which openness to trade has contributed directly to poverty alleviation – via growth and employment. More recently, Arvind Panagariya and I measured the impact of trade on poverty across different social groups – castes and religions – in India. We found that trade openness lifts all boats, for schedules castes and tribes, and for marginalized communities. Interestingly, the impact was especially strong in urban regions.   Other research finds that states whose workers are on average more exposed to foreign competition tend to have lower rural, urban and overall poverty rates.

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