After all the gloom, there’s a glimmer of hope on the horizon.
Front-loading the impact of its double-barreled motto, “Global Challenges, Global Solutions,” the Annual Meetings season may have finally gotten the grim “challenges” part over and done with. This week – starting at 9 a.m. on Tuesday, livestreaming via “World Bank Live” from the Bank’s Preston Auditorium – we’re about to explore one of the most promising solutions now inspiring the development community: the pro-growth, pro-jobs Competitive Industries and Innovation Program (CIIP).
The competitiveness conference will brighten the mood after last week’s barrage of bad news, which seemed relentless throughout the week as downbeat economic and geopolitical forecasts dominated the debate at the Annual Meetings of the World Bank Group and the International Monetary Fund. From Jim Kim’s exhortation that the world’s inadequate response to the ebola crisis must be strengthened, to Christine Lagarde’s stern warning of an “uneven and brittle” era of “prolonged subpar growth [with] excessive and rising inequality,” there was plenty of disheartening data. Lagarde offered a deflating new coinage: "the New Mediocre."
The sobering numbers within the IMF’s new World Economic Outlook underscored the sense that the global economy (and especially its wealthier countries) may indeed be stuck in an era of “secular stagnation.” So did the conclusion by Financial Times economic scholar Martin Wolf that the once-buoyant, now-humbled leaders of the global economy are in “an extraordinary state” of not just a gnawing malaise but a ‘managed depression’.”
As if all that weren’t dispiriting enough, the news late in the week that the world’s leading financial regulators were holding an unprecedented “stress test” of their crisis-response system – to analyze whether its newly strengthened safeguards can indeed protect against the risk of another cross-border crash of the financial system – made some skeptics wonder, “What do those guys know that we don’t know?”
Amid all the dreary news about the futile quest for elusive growth and the imbalanced rewards in a class-skewed society, one could be forgiven for feeling downcast. Yet Largarde’s rallying cry – “With the risk of mediocrity, we cannot afford complacency” – should remind optimists that we mustn’t let momentary doubts induce a drift toward the do-nothing paralysis of laissez-faire. An array of nuanced, pro-active strategies can help revive growth and jump-start job creation – and the World Bank Group conference this week will bring together some of the world’s leading economic-policy scholars to explore those strategies.
The “New Growth Strategies” conference – on Tuesday, October 14 and Wednesday, October 15 – will explain and expand upon the pro-growth thinking that undergirds the Competitive Industries approach. Targeting investment at the sector and industry levels to strengthen productivity and unlock new job creation, a wide range of analytical, investment and advisory projects are already under way – in both low-income and middle-income countries – through the Competitive Industries and Innovation Program (CIIP), which is convening the conference.
Despite tremendous progress in poverty reduction over the last two decades, poverty still persists. Along with South Asia, Africa is a region where large numbers of people continue to live in extreme poverty. It is also a region where there is clearly room for higher foreign trade levels (see Chart). Given that trade can generate growth – and thus poverty reduction – focus on trade-related reforms (e.g. lower tariffs, better logistics, and trade facilitation) deserves to be a high priority of the region.
It’s not every day that jumping monkeys and George Clooney are discussed in the context of a framework for development economics. But that’s exactly what happened on March 6 when Justin Yifu Lin presented his book, ‘New Structural Economics: A framework for Rethinking Development Policy’, with Regional Chief Economist for Africa Shanta Devarajan moderating and Harvard Professor Ricardo Hausmann providing a lively counterpoint as discussant. Justin made an impassioned case for how industrial structure is endogenous to endowment structure, arguing that following comparative advantage and involving the state as a facilitator can be the ticket to income growth and poverty reduction. Hausmann argued that comparative advantage is not determined by an economy’s broad endowment of factors, but by what you know how to do. He also argued that imitation (for example, if George Clooney wears a brand of cologne, other men would wear it too) and moving preferentially towards nearby goods (the jumping monkey analogy) are powerful drivers of innovation and success in industry. Watch the video to get the full narrative or download the Powerpoints here.
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Hans Timmer, director of the World Bank Prospects Group which analyses the world's economic outlook, described recently a scenario in which only high-income countries would limit the emission of CO2 while developing countries would seize on energy-intensive manufacturing as a comparative advantage to rekindle medium-term growth.
"That is not a position a developing economy wants to be in," cautions Timmer. "Scarcity of energy supply had become one of the binding factors at the end of the boom that was suddenly interrupted by the global financial crisis. When you try to rekindle strong medium-term growth, you don’t want to be pushed into an artificial comparative advantage in energy-intensive production."