Public Sector and Governance
In recent weeks, fiscal policy – once the domain of policy wonks – has become part of dinner-table conversations. As Washington attempts to put its fiscal house in order, catchy metaphors from "fiscal cliff" to "fiscal calamity" to "austerity bomb" (and even "hostage crisis") permeate the media. Amidst the media spin and misnomers however, there lies a crucial debate.
In practice, theory is something else. I've already heard variants of this expression in several countries and languages. Very often from people referring to the gap between abstract, generic principles and the implementation of projects and policies.
Whether it is in the U.S. presidential election campaign or as a result of the debt crisis in Europe, people on both sides of the Atlantic are debating the role of the state. Do we need more government or less of it? Do we want more public services provided by the state and funded with taxpayers’ money? Or are we better off with the private sector and nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) doing the job?
Increased cross-learning and cooperation among developing countries has been a remarkable feature of the global economy in recent decades. It's been some time now since knowledge and technology flowed only from advanced economies ("North") to developing ones ("South").
Gross Domestic Product, better known as GDP, is the market value of all final goods and services produced within a country in a given period. That's why GDP per capita is widely used as a summary indicator of living standards in a country. No wonder we keep our eyes closely on its evolution and compare its levels among countries.
Imagine a low-income country in the developing world suddenly discovering a large endowment of natural resources within its borders. Perhaps a large oil reserve is found just offshore, or a deposit of valuable natural minerals is uncovered just below the earth’s surface. Surely, such a discovery would be a blessing, as it would expand the country’s total stock of capital.
In a world in economic turmoil, calls for greater fiscal austerity, leaner social entitlements, and smaller government expenditures are seemingly ubiquitous. From the United States to the Euro Zone, the size and role of government are being questioned. Yet, at the same time, the recent financial crisis has highlighted the importance of the state as a regulator of the financial system.
For the 600 million people living in fragile and conflict affected economies, the threat of relapsing into violence and slipping into deeper poverty is a reality they must face every day. Believe it or not, poverty rates average 54% in fragile and postconflict economies, compared with 22% for low-income countries as a whole. Weak institutions and a lack of local capacity further undermine the delivery of core services, such as security, rule of law, and other public goods.
So what happens when the fighting stops and the reconstruction begins? What happens to local capacity in countries where qualified civil servants have either fled to escape the conflict or were killed during it? A new study on public financial management reforms, produced by the World Bank’s fragile states and public sector governance units, shows that progress is possible even in such difficult circumstances.
Greedy speculators in housing and private bankers, financial innovation and failure of risk models, regulators and credit rating agencies were all deservedly blamed for the recent financial crisis. Behind this all is public policy that worsened the problems.