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South Asia

Multiple Pathways – How "Why" Matters

Brian Levy's picture

Once upon a time, development seemed straightforward. Sound technical analysis identified what to do– and the rest followed. But experience has taught us that it is harder than that. As Shanta’s recent post signals, there are three competing camps – the ‘whats’, the ‘hows’ and the ‘whys’. I wonder, though, whether in clarifying the differences, we might be missing the chance to learn across these different perspectives?
 
Certainly, the differences are large. At one end are the old-time-religion ‘whats’, who confidently prescribe ‘best practices’ to help countries stay on the right path – and who sometimes turn to the ‘whys’  to identify  the political and institutional blockages to good policies.  At the other end, the ‘hows’ argue that every country is unique, that the crucial knowledge for shaping and implementing policy is local, and tend to be dismissive of  efforts (especially by outsiders) to analyze political and institutional obstacles.
 
My new book, Working with the Grain  tries to steer a middle ground.  The book explores a small number of alternative development pathways that are very different from  each other – with each characterized by a distinctive set of political and institutional incentives and constraints, and thus distinctive options for policymaking and implementation.

Can Changing the School Calendar Reduce Drop-outs?

Hassan Zaman's picture

School lets out About twenty years ago, while working for BRAC in Bangladesh, I was accompanying some visitors to one of BRAC’s non-formal education schools in a village about two hours out of the capital city Dhaka. To my surprise, instead of the usual sight of a classroom full of children, we found that only about 10 out of the 30 enrolled had showed up. Upon enquiry the teacher pointed out what seemed obvious to her: it was December and many children were in the fields helping harvest the rice crop or doing household chores. To be honest I didn’t think much more of the issue at the time.

Why Just the Why?

Germano Mwabu's picture

Some Thoughts on Shanta's Anniversary Blog

I have extracted what I find to be the key points in Shanta’s blog post “It’s not the How; It’s the Why” and have commented on them:
 
1. “Bad policies or institutions exist and persist because politically powerful people benefit from them.” 

Bad policies or institutions are bad for those who are excluded from their benefits in the short-run, but they also harm the supposed beneficiaries in the long run. Further careful analysis can corroborate this, and show the long-term harm caused by bad policies to virtually everyone in a particular country.

لا يتعلق الأمر بالكيفية، بل بالسبب

Shanta Devarajan's picture
Also available in: English | Español | Français

انقضى أسبوع تقريبا دون أن أسمع عبارة "لا يتعلق الأمر بالكيفية بل بالسبب."  ففي مجال إصلاح دعم الطاقة في الشرق الأوسط وشمال أفريقيا، على سبيل المثال، لا يتركز النقاش على ما إذا كان ينبغي إصلاح الدعم (يتفق الجميع على ضرورة ذلك) بل على كيفية إجراء الإصلاح.  وتثار نقاط مماثلة بشأن تنظيم ممارسة الأعمال أو التعليم أو الزراعة أو الصحة. واعترف بأني أنا نفسي كتبت أمورا مشابهة.  ولا يوجد نقص في مثل هذه المقترحات على هذه المدونة.
 
فالإصلاحات مطلوبة لأنه توجد سياسات أو ترتيبات مؤسسية قائمة باتت معوقة.  لكن قبل أن نقترح كيفية إصلاحها ينبغي أن نسأل لماذا وُجدت هذه السياسة من الأصل، ولماذا استمرت فترة طويلة، ولماذا لم يتم إصلاحها حتى اليوم.  فهذه السياسات لم تأت مصادفة.  ولم تستمر لأن شخصا ما نسي تغييرها.  ولن يتم إصلاحها على الأرجح لمجرد أن أحد صانعي السياسات قرأ كتابا أو مقالا أو مدونة بعنوان "كيف تصلح..."

It’s not the How; It’s the Why

Shanta Devarajan's picture
Also available in: Español | Français | العربية

Hardly a week goes by without my hearing the statement, “It’s not the What; it’s the How.”  On the reform of energy subsidies in the Middle East and North Africa, for instance, the discussion is focused not on whether subsidies should be reformed (everyone agrees they should be), but on how the reform should be carried out.  Similar points are made about business regulations, education, agriculture, or health. I confess to having written similar things myself.  And there is no shortage of such proposals on this blog
 
Reforms are needed because there is a policy or institutional arrangement in place that has become counterproductive.  But before suggesting how to reform it, we should ask why that policy exists at all, why it has persisted for so long, and why it hasn’t been reformed until now.  For these policies didn’t come about by accident.  Nor have they remained because somebody forgot to change them.  And they are unlikely to be reformed just because a policymaker happens to read a book, article or blog post entitled “How to reform…”

Beware the Middle Income Trap – Says Who?

Borko Handjiski's picture

Fishing in the Hai River Economic development theorists and practitioners are increasingly using the term “middle-income trap” to describe the situation where developing economies’ convergence to the development frontier comes to a halt once their income per capita reaches a middle-income level. The term is ambiguous: is it a halt in convergence or slowdown in growth, and what exactly is the definition of middle-income? Nevertheless, the concept has been successfully used to create a scare that developing countries are more likely to run out of breath or even give up the race in the middle of the track than to continue catching up with the leading economies. Eichengreen et al. and several IMF economists are among those who provide empirical evidence that the “middle-income trap” is real and that developing countries do get stuck at some low-level equilibrium.

The Rapid Slowdown of Population Growth

Wolfgang Fengler's picture

We are living in a paradoxical time of population growth. In the media, there have been alarming reports asking how the world will be able to deal with a much larger population in years to come. The challenges are real, especially in Sub-Saharan Africa, whose population is expected to double by 2050 and possibly quadruple by 2100. At the same time, we have been experiencing the most rapid decline in global population growth ever.

But how can we reconcile those two facts: a rapid expansion of total population numbers with a fast slowdown of population growth? Here is an analogy from the world of cars: imagine you are driving on a German motorway, where speed limits are notoriously non-existent. You are cruising at 160km/h (100m/h) but soon you cross the border into France, where 130 km/h is the limit. You are still driving very fast, though substantially slower than before. Now you switch to a regional road, driving at 80km/h, and now you slow down further to 50 km/h as you enter into a town. Meanwhile, someone else is still driving at 160 km/h on that Autobahn.

More and Better Financing for Development

Homi Kharas's picture

One of the major issues in the Open Working Group’s outcome report on the shape of the post-2015 agenda is the availability and access to financing to allow the goals to be met. There is a great temptation to simply try and calculate the financing needs for each goal and add them up to get the total financing need. Because this approach seems simple, it is appealing to many. The problem is that it is conceptually wrong.
 

Tariffs for Standards?

Hassan Zaman's picture

Bangladesh Duty- and quota-free access for exports to global markets is something developing country trade negotiators have demanded for years.  Few other “stroke-of-the-pen” measures could boost employment and reduce poverty in low income countries in such large numbers. For instance  if the US removed tariffs on Bangladeshi garments – which average around 13%, but for some items are as high as 33% – then exports to the US could rise by  $1.5 billion from the FY13 level of $5 billion, in turn generating employment for at least an additional half a million, primarily female, workers.[1]  Examples of other countries facing US tariffs include Cambodia (12.8% average tariff rate on its exports to the US), India (4.01%), Indonesia (5.73%), and Vietnam (7.41%). Progress in trade facilitation would likely have even greater pay-offs to growth and employment, but these require structural reforms and investments, while the decision to remove tariffs is a simpler, “stroke-of-the-pen” measure.

Education as if Economics Mattered

Shanta Devarajan's picture

Children outside school. Bangladesh Education in developing countries is facing problems at all levels:

At the primary level, despite gains in enrollment, the quality is appallingly low.  In Tanzania and India, some 20-30 percent of students in 6th grade could not read at the 2nd grade level. Not surprising since in these countries, teachers in public primary schools are absent 25 percent of the time.  When present, they are in-class teaching only 20 percent of the time.

At the secondary level, the performance of students from the Middle East and North Africa  in international tests such as TIMS is significantly below the developing country average.

At the tertiary level, universities are chronically underfunded and not training students for jobs that the market is demanding - reminiscent of the Woody Allen line, "The food in this restaurant is terrible and the portions are too small."

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