The recent, precipitous decline in oil prices (35 percent so far this year) has revived the question of how oil-exporting countries should manage their budgets. These countries’ governments rely on oil revenues for 60-90 percent of their spending. In light of the price drop, should governments cut expenditures, including growth-promoting investment expenditures? Or should they dip into the money they saved when oil prices were high, and keep expenditures on an even keel? Since oil prices fluctuate up and down, governments are looking for rules that guide expenditure decisions, rather than leaving it to the politicians in power at the time to decide whenever there is a price shock. The successful experience of Norway and Chile, which used strict fiscal rules to make sure that resource windfalls are saved and not subject to the irresistible temptation to spend, is often contrasted with countries such as Nigeria and Cameroon, which didn’t.
I’ve lived in cities famed for their gridlock: 1990s Bangkok (gridlock was as bad as it could be); Los Angeles (gridlock + pollution); New Delhi (gridlock + pollution + honking galore); Nairobi’s gridlock is surely up there.
But is traffic “bad”? What sort of question is that you ask? Surely, the answer is 'yes', you say: time wasted stuck in traffic, the frustration, the needless idling of vehicles which creates both local (and global) pollution and so on. But let me suggest this: traffic congestion is also a sign of development. In fact, the more vibrant and dynamic the city as Nairobi surely is, the more traffic congestion you might expect...to paraphrase Gordon Gekko from the movie Wall Street, “Traffic is…good”!
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.