These “Project Bonds” mostly target institutional investors - including pension funds, and have generated a great deal of interest among investment bankers, lawyers and investors. All this hype raises a number of questions: Are these “Project Bonds” really living up to expectations? Can governments really rely on Pensioners Paying for Projects (a newfound meaning for PPPs!)? What do we need to do to turn these instruments into a significant source of financing and close the infrastructure investment gap?
While we have not been significantly involved with such services thus far, a recently appointed mobility secretary in a big Latin American city has asked us for support on developing an approach to the shared taxi industry, as part of a "Smart Mobility" strategy for the city. In that context, we wanted to start a conversation on optimal strategies for cities to be able to welcome and foster such innovations, while still capitalizing on the opportunity to create value for its citizens.
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.
Many of our aspirations revolve around improving our personal finances—keeping better track of spending, saving towards a goal or perhaps getting out of debt. How can we work towards these goals and follow through on these changes?
The ritual publication by the leading multilateral organizations, think tanks and investment banks on the macroeconomic outlook for Latin America and the Caribbean which, without being too dramatic, puts an end to the era of growth rates above the region’s potential, has inevitably attracted the interest of policymakers, investors and the public in general.
Photo: Sam Kittner / Capital Bikeshare
Recently, I was invited to join a panel on the sharing economy moderated by Prof. Susan Shaheen at UC Berkeley, focusing more specifically on shared mobility.
The panel acknowledged that shared mobility is already transforming the mobility landscape globally, but could go a lot further in increasing the sustainability of urban mobility systems. The panel identified a number of key research gaps that we need to pay close attention to if we want to create a policy environment that is conducive to mobility innovations. Three that I want to highlight are:
- Supporting open data and open-source ecosystems is critical considering the tremendous potential of open-source software and data-sharing for improving transport planning, facilitating management and providing a better experience for transport users (for more detail, please see my previous blog on how the transport sector in Mexico is being transformed by open data)
- Looking into shared-economy solutions for those at the bottom of the pyramid – solutions that don’t require credit cards and smartphones as prerequisites (see this blog on the bike-share system in Buenos Aires for a good example)
- The world of driverless cars is coming – which, depending on how policy responds to it, could spell really good or really bad news for the environment: if such technology is used primarily in shared mobility scenarios, it could greatly reduce the environmental cost of motorized transport; on the other hand, the possibility of “empty trips” with zero-occupancy cars could exacerbate the worst elements of automobility (see Robin Chase’s blog in The Atlantic Cities for a great discussion on this). That is why it is critical to create a policy environment that appropriately prices the ‘bads’ of congestion, accidents and emissions while steering the world of driverless cars towards sharing and resource conservation.
Raul is short, skinny and has an enormous smile. Looking at him, it was hard to believe that this fifteen-year-old had long been feared in his community as a gang leader and had been the author of horrible crimes in Colonia Santa Marta in El Salvador.
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A commuter in Bogotá, Colombia
This situation points to one of the toughest challenges faced by public transport systems: how to reconcile financial sustainability and social inclusion? On the one hand, if fares do not cover operational costs, systems need subsidies to survive, which can pose serious financial and political risks. In some cases, transport systems operating with inadequate financial resources may experience system deterioration, safety problems and service curtailment. On the other hand, if fares are set to reflect the real price of transport services so that operators can recoup their costs without subsidies, then the poor are often priced out. This is exactly the problem that Bogotá is currently struggling with, despite its well-deserved reputation for innovation and excellence in public transport: fares of its state-of-the-art Transmilenio Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) system are pegged at cost-recovery levels that may price out many of the city’s poorest. Recent studies show that the lowest income households in Bogotá (socioeconomic strata 1, 2, 3 according to the local classification) are already devoting 20-30% of their total income to transportation, spending more than US$2 daily. The situation may be even worse when Bogota’s city-wide public transit reform (the Integrated Public Transport System or SITP) is fully implemented, as bus drivers, with the adoption of smart cards, may no longer be able to offer unofficial discounts to passengers at their discretion, a common practice in the traditional system.
Construction of the Quito Metro
The challenge of moving from conflict and fragility to resilience and growth is immense. More than half of the countries counted as low income have experienced conflict in the last decade. Twenty per cent of countries emerging from civil conflict return to violence in one year and 40% in five years.
While the use and production of reliable evidence has become more common in much of the international development debate and in many developing countries, these inroads are less prevalent in fragile and conflict-affected situations (FCS). Programming and policy making in countries affected by conflict and prone to conflict is often void of rigorous evidence or reliable data. It is easy to argue, and many do, that it is impossible to conduct rigorous evaluations of programs in conflict-affected states. However, in spite of the very real challenges in these environments, such evaluations have been conducted and have contributed valuable evidence for future programming, for example in Afghanistan, the DRC, Colombia, northern Nigeria and Liberia.
My unit Center for Conflict Security and Development, (CCSD) is teaming up with the Department of Impact Evaluation (DIME), as well as the International Initiative for Impact Evaluation (3ie), and Innovations for Poverty Action (IPA), in a series of activities to enhance the evidence base on development approaches to peace- and state-building challenges. A first goal is to scope out where our evidence base is thinnest: what are the programs and interventions that remain least tested, but have theories of change suggesting great potential? We are hoping to take stock of what we and other donor institutions have been doing in this area of development, and map this into what we have learnt and what we most need to learn more about. USIP, USAID, IRC as well as leading academics in this field and IEG, are kindly helping in this endeavor, and we hope to be able to share some initial findings at our fragility forum later this year.