Some observers caution that the reforms proposed by the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) after the Third Plenary meeting of its Central Committee may fall short of promise because of resistance from vested interests or a lack of political will. My view is that it will bring about fundamental changes in China for one simple reason - politics. First, the CCP leadership fully understands that the party has lost the trust of the people because of rising corruption and cronyism, increasingly offensive income inequality, huge question marks over food safety, and worsening pollution. Second, they realize that the current economic model cannot sustainably deliver the economic progress that citizens expect in return for their allegiance to the CCP. The CCP leaders know that fundamental changes are needed to this economic model to regain the trust of the people. Since survival demands big changes, the leadership will pull out all the stops.
Suppose that one were to divide the countries included in the latest Doing Business report into two groups. Call the first group (made up of some 44 countries) the “worst quartile”—that is, the countries with the costliest and most complex procedures and the weakest institutions. Call the other group the “best three quartiles.” Then let’s ask ourselves: how many days did it take to establish a business in both groups in 2005? The answer is 113 days in the worst quartile and 29 days in the best three quartile countries, meaning that in 2005 there was a gap of 84 days between the two sets. Now, let’s repeat the exercise for 2013. The worst quartile is down to 49 days and the best three quartiles is down to 16; the gap between the two has narrowed to 33 days, which is still sizable but a lot less than 84. Repeat the same exercise for time to register property and time to export a container. For property registration, the gap in 2005 was 192 days and by 2013 it has narrowed to 63. For time to export, the gap in 2005 was 32 days and in 2013 it was down to 23. (The figures are presented in the charts below. Only a small subset of the indicators has been included here, for illustrative purposes).
Imagine you lived in a world where night lights from satellite images tell you instantly about the distribution and growth in economic activity and the extent and evolution in poverty. While such a world is probably still far off, night lights as observed from space are increasingly being used as a proxy of human economic activity to measure economic growth and poverty. In a fascinating 2012 paper in the American Economic Review, Henderson and colleagues found a strong correlation between growth in night lights as observed from space and growth in GDP, basedon data on 188 countries spanning 17 years. They use their estimates for two main purposes: (i) to improve estimates of “true” GDP growth in countries with weak statistical capacity and (ii) to estimate GDP growth at levels where national accounts are typically non-existent (sub-national or regional levels; coastal areas;,…).
The added value of such an approach for Africa is obvious. Most African countries rank low on the World Bank’s Statistical Capacity Indicators, with some countries lacking national accounts altogether. Some African countries are huge (in size), and having sub-national estimates of GDP growth would help identifying leading and lagging areas, and why. For a country such as Kenya, which is starting an ambitious decentralization project, the approach could estimate GDP growth for its 47 newly formed counties to help in their economic planning. Nightlights can even be used to show where the Pirates of Somalia are spending their ransom money.
One of my first assignments in the World Bank, some 13 years ago, was in a small and complicated country, better known for coups and mercenaries than for statistical capacity. Before I set off to the Comoro Islands, my then manager (now an established World Bank Vice-president) gave me the following priceless advice: “When you get there, make sure to get a lot of data. It may be difficult to get and sometimes even flawed, but data has one great advantage: It cuts through a lot of crap.”
Numbers are indeed beautiful. They can help bring clarity to our lives and save us time as well as resources. But raw data can be messy and you also need a good system for deciding which numbers to use and how to interpret them. Last week’s launch of the 2014 Doing Business rankings reminded me of the advice my then boss had given me. Doing Business started from the premise that companies are the backbone of any economy but that investors often lacked knowledge of the conditions in “frontier economies”. With the benefit of an annual assessment of the business environment in each country, investors could make more informed decisions. As for policy makers, they could more easily attract investors, provided they made a genuine effort in cutting red tape and supporting businesses.
There are many ways to think about income inequality. One can, for instance, look at it within the boundaries of a particular country and ask how is income distributed today among Brazil’s 198 million citizens? It is also possible to look at the average income per capita of all the countries in the world (or a region of the world) and ask: how unequal are income differences across countries at a particular moment in time? We can think of this as international inequality. One can also abstract from national boundaries and concepts of citizenship, view the world as one human family, and ask: how is income distributed among its 7 billion people? Call this global income inequality.
Russia’s fortune and growth prospects remain tied to its most important economic partners in the Euro area and its main export products: oil and gas. In the last decade Russia grew at around 6 percent (if we exclude the crisis year of 2009 - 4.7 percent on average otherwise).
In the past, given the buoyant oil revenues, Russia followed a pro-cyclical growth model of stimulating domestic demand, partly through public investment projects and partly through increasing public wages and other public income sources such as pensions.
If the prices of oil and gas were to drop in the near future, Russia’s growth model might be in need of urgent adjustment.
Have you ever wondered what the world will look like when today’s children will have grown up to adulthood? What opportunities will be theirs to grab and what new challenges they will have to face? What will the global balance of power look like? Will the old North/South dichotomy still make any sense?
Sadly, the future -especially technological and scientific advances- remains largely unpredictable. In the 1960s, our grandparents would have discarded as pure science fiction the possibility that we would soon be making video calls around the word from anywhere and without a cable almost for free! Nonetheless, some fundamental shifts can be predicted, especially as many are already underway and unlikely to reverse. In fact, the UN’s high-level panel (“post MDG”) has just issued a report which takes a long perspective on future development challenges.
As a development practitioner – and father of three children - here are the big trends I am keeping my eyes on: