Inequality is back in the news. In his 2014 State of the Union address, U. S. President Obama lamented that, “after four years of economic growth, corporate profits and stock prices have rarely been higher, and those at the top have never done better. But average wages have barely budged. Inequality has deepened. Upward mobility has stalled.” At the global scale, Oxfam is making the same point, noting in a recent report that the richest 85 people in the world own the same amount of wealth as the 3.5 billion bottom half of the Earth's population. Perhaps more surprising, the rich and powerful CEOs jetting to Davos earlier this year seemed to finally get it: capitalism cannot survive if income and wealth become concentrated in too few hands. Fighting inequality would therefore not only be the morally correct thing to do, it would also be smart economics. And this is what a recent Staff Discussion Note from the IMF suggests: “inequality can undermine progress in health and education, cause investment-reducing political and economic instability, and undercut the social consensus required in the face of shocks, and thus tends to reduce the pace and durability of growth.”
The World Region
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.
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).
When the negotiations for IDA17 were wrapped up in December, there was great relief that IDA deputies were supportive of an IDA expansion despite their own significant budget difficulties. As part of that package, the World Bank Group itself pledged to give IDA $3 billion from profits.
This was a generous gesture by the World Bank (albeit a drop in the bucket of total aid), but how good was it for the global development effort? Consider the following—net disbursements of official grants and concessional loans (the category where IDA flows appear) have expanded from $39 billion per year in the 1980s (in constant 2005 dollars) to $85 billion in 2010 and 2011. In contrast, official non-concessional lending (the category where IBRD and IFC flows appear) has stayed steady. The latter was $15 billion in the 1980s and $22 billion in 2010/11. This picture is even more striking when considering the amounts in terms of recipient GDP. Grants and concessional flows to low income countries have gone from 3% of their GDP in the 1980s to 13% today, while non-concessional flows to lower middle-income countries (excluding India and China) have gone from 0.7% to 0.3% of their GDP. In fact, from 2000 to 2009, non-concessional flows to lower middle- income countries (and to developing countries as a whole) were negative, implying that developing countries repaid more to official development agencies than they received in gross disbursements.
There is a fine line between legitimate caution and needless un-decisiveness. At work it’s easy and tempting to get frustrated when you feel that colleagues (or worse your boss) simply can’t make up their mind. You feel your work is being delayed for no good reason and there can come a point when a clear-cut “no go” seems better than more waiting and uncertainty.
In his best-selling book, “7 habits of highly successful people”, Stephen Covey identifies the ability to make decisions on time as a key driver of success. Poor performing and unaccountable leaders enjoy living in ambiguity. They don’t disclose the parameters of their decisions either. By contrast, strong performers are those who recognize that there is no such thing as a perfect decision (otherwise there would be nothing to decide about). Michael Joseph, the former CEO of Kenya’s Telecom giant Safaricom, clearly belongs to the latter group. He is a decider. When asked about the secrets of Safaricom’s spectacular success at a meeting with World Bank staff in Nairobi he explained: “You need to make decisions. Even if you only get 7 out of 10 right, you are fine.”
For those of us who have had an interest in corruption for much of our careers, there is little doubt that sometime in the late 1980s and early 1990s there was a shift in thinking within the development community about the role of corruption in the development process. The shift was tentative at first; continued reluctance to touch upon a subject that was seen to have a large political dimension coexisted for a while with increasing references to the importance of “good governance” in encouraging successful development. What were the factors that contributed to this shift? One that quickly comes to mind is linked to the falling of the Berlin Wall and the associated collapse of central planning as a supposedly viable alternative to the free market. It was obvious that it was not inappropriate monetary policies that led to the collapse of central planning but rather widespread institutional failings, including a lethal mix of authoritarianism (i.e., lack of accountability) and corruption.
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.
We asked our bloggers and guest bloggers for their predictions for 2014. Here is a summary of seven main themes, which we will re-visit in late 2014 to see how well we did.
1. Global growth will remain robust and tapering by the U.S. Fed will be less consequential to emerging markets than expected (Bhaskaran, Zaman, Raiser). China will do better than markets predict (Huang), and East Asia will continue to grow with relative stability (Quah). At the same time, the economic policies of some Latin American countries will bring their economies to a breaking point, causing political chaos as well (Gonzalez). Political turmoil and conflict in the Middle East and North Africa will continue to weigh heavily on these economies, with average growth for the region below 3 percent (Devarajan).
2. For Europe, 2014 will be a better year. 100 years after the beginning of the First World War, the Balkans will again be the focus of attention but for better reasons. A more pro-European outlook in Germany and a successful launch of negotiations with Serbia will bode well for the EU. Bosnia and Herzegovina, the scene of the assassination of heir apparent Franz Ferdinand which triggered the beginning first world war, will do surprisingly well at the World Cup in Brazil, for which it qualified for the first time ever. The joy, however, will only be short-lived because political infighting will continue to make it one of the least governable states in Europe (Fengler).
As we enter the holiday season, it is worth reflecting on one of the most pernicious slow-moving crises of our time: the continued presence of hunger in a world of plenty. Ending hunger by 2030 and protecting the right of everyone to have access to sufficient, safe, affordable and nutritious food is one of the targets proposed for the post-2015 agenda by the High-Level Panel on the Post-2015 Development Agenda, and many others are also promoting the same message. Pope Francis is the latest entrant into this debate with his announcement of a global campaign of prayer and action to end to hunger and malnutrition, “One Human Family, Food For All”. The campaign includes encouragement for local, national or global level action against food waste and the promotion of food access and security worldwide. The Pope prompts us all to ask ourselves, what will it take to end hunger?
When a poor person moves from a low-productivity job to a higher-productivity one, we usually celebrate. The worker is clearly better off; the hiring firm is no worse off; and it’s good for the economy as a whole. Indeed, development is often described as the process of structural transformation, where low-productivity workers (typically in agriculture) move to higher-productivity jobs in manufacturing or services.
But when that same worker happens to cross a national border, we call it “migration” and, instead of celebrating, we start investigating the effects on workers, firms and public finances in the new environment; and on those left behind (the so-called “brain drain”). Instead of promoting structural transformation, we look for policies to manage it.