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Corrosive Subsidies in MENA

Shanta Devarajan's picture

Air pollution in Cairo 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.

Is MENA’s Undernourishment Getting Worse?

Farrukh Iqbal's picture

Vendor and his vegetable stand 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.

Why are Direct Dividend Payments so Difficult in MENA?

Kevin Carey's picture

As a wave of newly resource-rich countries, especially in sub-Saharan Africa, looks to the best means of managing resource wealth, one compelling recommendation has come to the fore: to distribute at least some portion of resource revenues to the public through direct dividend payments (DDPs). The case is laid out in papers published at the Center for Global Development by Todd Moss and the World Bank’s Shanta Devarajan and Marcelo Giugale. The DDP proposal has several foundations. Payment technology has increased the feasibility of large-scale transfers, as Alan Gelb and Caroline Decker explain. There are already cases of developing countries scaling up identity card systems associated with cash transfers quite quickly. As for rationale, given the poor track record of public expenditure efficiency, especially in resource-rich countries, it seems clear that general welfare could be targeted more effectively through DDPs, and without any of the distortionary effects or distributional flaws of price subsidies. Finally, from a political economy perspective, DDPs coupled with taxation could restore the accountability of a government to its citizens, which is otherwise weakened by its ability to draw on revenues directly from the source.

Redistribution and Growth: The MENA Perspective

Elena Ianchovichina's picture

Recently three IMF economists published a paper arguing that redistribution is in general pro-growth (Ostry et al. 2014). The paper caused a stir as it dismisses right-wing beliefs that redistribution hurts growth. However, even people sympathetic to the ideas of inclusive growth and equality of opportunity find this finding problematic. One reason is that the authors rely on a measure of redistribution that misrepresents the true cost of redistribution in an economy. Another has to do with the omission of factors that affect positively the income growth of the poor and vulnerable, such as employment.  This omission would exaggerate the importance of equality through redistribution as a source of growth and underplay the importance of structural transformation and investments directed towards sectors that use unskilled labor more intensively, and therefore have the potential to generate inclusive growth and productive employment for the poor segments of the population.