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.”
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.
Lessons from the recent history of Central Europe and the Baltics
Economic growth has returned to Central Europe and the Baltics. With the exception of Slovenia, all countries are expected to see positive growth in 2014 - ranging from a tepid 0.8% in Croatia, to more respectable growth rates of 2.2% in Romania and 2.8% in Poland, to highs of 3-4.5% percent in the Baltic Republics. Europe, more broadly, is also turning the corner and is expected to grow at around 1.5%.
Amidst this much welcome growth, however, one question remains: will economic growth be good for the bottom 40 percent and can they expect to see their incomes grow?
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.
As many across the world entered the New Year in a celebratory mood, others are still struggling to recover from the effect of the recent economic downturn. Five years ago began the worst economic recession the world has experienced in generations. With life support by Governments and Central Banks, the global economy seems to have stabilized, but the ‘patient’ is still weak. In 2013, the global economy is estimated to have expanded at a modest 2.2 percent rate (despite a contraction in the Euro zone) and for 2014 the World Bank and IMF project a slight uptick to 3.0 percent.
But what do these numbers actually tell us about the well-being of people? Does economic growth capture what really makes a difference in peoples’ lives?
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).
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.
تتصدى دول التحول العربي التي تضم تونس ومصر واليمن وليبيا حاليا لقضايا معقدة تتعلق بالقيم الفردية، ومدى حرية التعبير، والحقوق الشخصية، والأمور العائلية التي تدور جميعا حول القضايا الجوهرية المتمثلة في الهوية والأدوار التي يلعبها الفرد والدولة والمجتمع. وهذه الحوارات الاجتماعية بناءة من حيث إنها تعكس ثراء الرؤى وتعددها في مجتمعات كانت مسايرة الموجة هي السمة السائدة في كنف النظم الديكتاتورية. لكن للأسف، تؤدي هذه الحوارات إلى الاستقطاب في المجتمع بما يؤدي إلى العنف والتهديد بالفوضى واحتمال العودة إلى الاستبداد. في الحقيقة، يعكس الاستقطاب الاجتماعي الحالي إلى حد بعيد محاولات السياسيين استغلال الانقسامات الاجتماعية، بل وتأجيجها، بطريقة تذكي حماس أنصارهم المحتملين لملء الفراغ السياسي الذي نجم عن رحيل طغاة العصر. وتختلف حالات الحراك التي يشهدها المغرب والأردن والجزائر ولبنان بعض الشيء، إلا أنه في هذه الحالة أيضا يؤدي التركيز المكثف والاستثنائي على الهوية إلى تزاحم التحديات الاجتماعية والاقتصادية بطريقة أكثر أهمية وأكثر سرعة.
The Arab transition countries, Tunisia, Egypt, Yemen, and Libya, are grappling with complex issues relating to personal values, the extent of freedom of speech, individual rights, family matters, that all orbit around deep issues of identity and the respective roles of the individual, the state and society. These social conversations are constructive in that they reflect a rich pluralism of views in societies where conformity was the rule under dictatorship. But unfortunately, these dialogues are polarizing society, leading to violence and threatening chaos and a possible return to authoritarianism. In fact, the current social polarization to a large extent reflects attempts by political entrepreneurs to use existing social fault lines, and even exacerbate them, in ways that mobilize passions among possible supporters, driven to over-reach by the political vacuum created by the departure of the historical autocrats. The dynamics in Morocco, Jordan, Algeria, and Lebanon are slightly different, but here too, the intense and exclusive focus on identity is crowding out more important and immediate social and economic challenges.
The US and European economies are showing some signs of recovery from the global financial crisis that began in 2008. As a result, the US Federal Reserve Bank is considering phasing out, or “tapering”, the extraordinary monetary policy measures through which it responded to the crisis. On May 22, Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke testified before Congress that the Fed may begin to reduce the size of its bond buying program. There was an immediate withdrawal by investors from stocks and bonds in emerging markets. The World Bank's East Asia and Pacific regional update estimated that in East Asia alone $24 billion was withdrawn from equities and $35.2 billion from bonds. Share prices fell by 24 percent in Indonesia, 21 percent in Thailand, and 20 percent in the Philippines. Yields on 10 year local currency bonds increased by 273 basis points in Indonesia, 86 basis points in Thailand and 76 basis points in Malaysia. The exchange rate depreciated by 18 percent in Indonesia, and about 5 percent in the Philippines and Thailand. Financial markets largely recovered once the Fed decided to postpone tapering in September, but there is still nervousness. The Indonesian Rupiah and Indian Rupee both fell significantly in November, till Fed Chair nominee Janet Yellen signaled that she saw a continued need for the bond buying program.
At some point the Fed will indeed begin to taper. Investors should clearly be concerned as there is a risk of sudden and dramatic falls in asset prices. Should policy makers be concerned? Will there be an impact on growth, inflation or macroeconomic risk that requires a response from policy makers?