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Egypt, Arab Republic of

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…”

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..."

Africa's McTipping Point?

Borko Handjiski's picture

Three quarters of a century since the opening of the first McDonald’s, the fast food chain operates around 34,000 outfits in around 120 countries and territories across all continents. In Sub-Saharan Africa (SSA), however, – a region of 48 countries and almost a billion people - only South Africa and Mauritius have been able to attract this global food chain.
 
This peculiarity cannot be explained only by the fact that the region is poor. The company has found a market in about 30 countries with GDP per capita of less than US$ 3,000 (in constant 2005 US$) at the time of their first McDonald’s opening. Hamburgers, Cheeseburgers, and Big Macs are also on offer in a dozen of low-income countries as well. When the first McDonald’s opened in Shenzhen in 1990, China’s GDP per capita was less than US$ 500 per person. Of course, Shenzhen’s per capita income was several times higher, but the company has also found a market in Moldova since 1998 when the GDP per capita of the 3 million person country was less than US$ 600 per capita. There are many cities in SSA today that have higher income, population concentration, and tourists than what Chisinau had in 1998; yet they do not have a McDonald’s. As a matter of fact, 22 SSA countries today have higher income per capita than what Moldova or Pakistan had when the first McDonald’s opened there, and 15 of them have higher income per capita even than what Indonesia or Egypt had at their McDonald’s openings (see chart).

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."

Growth Without Apology

Shanta Devarajan's picture

 Chhor Sokunthea / World BankFrom time to time, countries experience rapid economic growth without a significant decline in poverty. India’s GDP growth rate accelerated in the 1990s and 2000s, but poverty continued to fall at the same pace as before, about one percentage point a year. Despite 6-7 percent GDP growth, Tanzania and Zambia saw only a mild decline in the poverty rate. In the first decade of the 21st century, Egypt’s GDP grew at 5-7 percent a year, but the proportion of people living on $5 a day—and therefore vulnerable to falling into poverty—stagnated at 85 percent.

In light of this evidence, the World Bank has set as its goals the elimination of extreme poverty and promotion of shared prosperity. While the focus on poverty and distribution as targets is appropriate, the public actions required to achieve these goals are not very different from those required to achieve rapid economic growth. This is not trickle-down economics.  Nor does it negate the need for redistributive transfers. Rather, it is due to the fact that economic growth is typically constrained by policies and institutions that have been captured by the non-poor (sometimes called the rich), who have greater political power. Public actions that relax these constraints, therefore, will both accelerate growth and transfer rents from the rich to the poor.

Some examples illustrate the point.

Statistical Earthquakes

Homi Kharas's picture

The New ICP Data and the Global Economic Landscape

The new report of the International Comparison Program published last week promises to invigorate debate about the global economic landscape. In some areas, the report challenges conventional wisdom. In other areas, it reinforces the narrative.

The headline change according to The Economist is the rise of China to potentially become the largest economy in the world by the end of 2014. According to Angus Maddison, the United States’ economy became the largest in the world in 1872, and has remained the largest ever since. The new estimates suggest that China’s economy was less than 14% smaller than that of the US in 2011. Given that the Chinese economy is growing more than 5 percentage points faster than the US (7 percent versus 2 percent), it should overtake the US this year. This is considerably earlier than what most analysts had forecast. It will mark the first time in history that the largest economy in the world ranks so poorly in per capita terms. (China stands at a mere 99th place on this ranking.)

Redistribution and Growth: The MENA Perspective

Elena Ianchovichina's picture

Recently three IMF economists published a paper arguing that redistribution is in general pro-growth (Ostry et al. 2014). The paper caused a stir as it dismisses right-wing beliefs that redistribution hurts growth. However, even people sympathetic to the ideas of inclusive growth and equality of opportunity find this finding problematic. One reason is that the authors rely on a measure of redistribution that misrepresents the true cost of redistribution in an economy. Another has to do with the omission of factors that affect positively the income growth of the poor and vulnerable, such as employment.  This omission would exaggerate the importance of equality through redistribution as a source of growth and underplay the importance of structural transformation and investments directed towards sectors that use unskilled labor more intensively, and therefore have the potential to generate inclusive growth and productive employment for the poor segments of the population.

Achieving Shared Prosperity in the Middle East and North Africa

Elena Ianchovichina's picture

In terms of the World Bank’s twin goals of eliminating extreme poverty and boosting shared prosperity, the Middle East and North Africa Region was making steady progress. The percentage of people living on less than $1.25 a day was 2.4% and declining.  And the incomes of the bottom 40% have been growing at higher rates than average incomes in almost all MENA countries for which we have information.

Yet, there were revolutions in several countries and widespread discontent. Why?

 

الحوار المفقود: كيف يمكن بناء رأسمالية أخلاقية في العالم العربي

Ishac Diwan's picture
Also available in: English

A young Egyptian holding a flag  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 Missing Conversation: How to Build a Moral Capitalism in the Arab Region

Ishac Diwan's picture
Also available in: العربية

A young Egyptian holding a flag 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.