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Sustaining structural reforms in Africa in good and tough times

Sudharshan Canagarajah's picture

The recently-published
Regional Economic Outlook for Sub-Saharan Africa (SSA) by the International Monetary Fund underscores the enduring view of  international financial institutions that the depth, pace and perfecting of structural reforms needs to continue, not only for competitiveness and growth but also for resilience should external headwinds emerge. The report also presents an important opportunity to further develop this agenda, by the additional treatment of the underlying causes, particularly non-price based ones, and thereby generate a more actionable view of the growth, competitiveness and equality trends so incisively presented in the report.

The things we do: Why work does not depend on demand

Roxanne Bauer's picture
Bureaucracy - MagritteWhen was the last time you finished a job in less time than was allocated to it?  Have you ever moved from a smaller to a larger home and discovered that your big, new home is somehow filled with stuff after a while? How about car parks or real estate developments that start out small, enlarge, and end up just as packed as before?

It’s human nature to fill the time and space available to us. This phenomenon, known as Parkinson’s Law, states that, “Work expands so as to fill the time available for its completion.” 

Other variations of the principle includeThe more money you earn the more money you spend,” or “The bigger the available space, the more junk it can hold.”

This principle comes from the opening line of a humorous essay by Professor Cyril Northcote Parkinson published in The Economist in 1955.  

The essay explains the results of a study he conducted of the British Civil Service. The British Civil Service grew between 1914-1928, with a noticeable rise in administrative positions and a concurrent decline in ‘fighting’ positions. In 1914 there were 2,000 Admiralty officials with this number growing to 3,569 in 1928, creating “a magnificent Navy on land.” The interesting part of this shift, however, is that this growth was unrelated to any possible increase in their work.  The British Navy during that period had diminished by a third in men and two-thirds in ships. From 1922 onwards it was limited by the Washington Naval Agreement, signed among the major nations that had won World War I, which limited naval construction to prevent an arms race. Thus, the number of people employed in the bureaucracy increased even as the British Empire collapsed — an event that decreased the amount of work available.

Agenda for lifting growth: macro, structural, or macro-structural?

Zia Qureshi's picture
Global growth has repeatedly disappointed in the past few years. Successive forecasts of an acceleration of global growth have failed to materialize, with outcomes consistently falling short of projections. In what has become a familiar pattern of late, forecasts for global growth were lowered again in the latest editions of the World Economic Outlook, the OECD Economic Outlook, and the Global Economic Prospects recently released by the IMF, the OECD, and the World Bank, respectively.

How significant could Africa’s demographic dividend be for growth and poverty reduction?

S. Amer Ahmed's picture
Total dependency ratio, 1950-2030
Total dependency ratio, 1950-2030 *

Africa’s population grew at an average annual rate of 2.6 percent between 1950 and 2014, much faster than the global average of 1.7 percent as estimated from UN population projection data. During this time, the region experienced a demographic transition, moving from a period of high mortality and fertility rates to one of lower mortality, yet still high fertility rates. Other regions, most notably East Asia, took advantage of their transitions to accelerate growth, and reap a so-called ‘demographic dividend’. Africa is now being presented a similar opportunity.

Philippines: Traffic woes and the road ahead

louielimkin's picture
Traffic congestion results in an estimated productivity loss of around PHP2.4 billion ($54 million) a day or more than PHP800 billion ($18 billion) a year.

From my house in northern Quezon City, I drive more than two hours every day to get to the office in Bonifacio Global City, which is about three cities away where I come from, and two cities away from the capital Manila. It’s a journey that should only take around half an hour under light traffic. That is a total of four hours on the road a day, if there is no road accident or bad weather. It takes me an hour longer whenever I use the public transport system. Along with hundreds of thousands of Metro Rail Transit (MRT) commuters, I have to contend with extremely long lines, slow trains, and frequent delays due to malfunctions. This has been my experience for several years. Many of us might be wondering: why have these problems persisted?

There is No Middle Income Trap

Ha Minh Nguyen's picture

Concerns about the so-called “middle-income trap” have recently emerged among many middle-income countries, particularly after the term was coined in 2007 by two World Bank economists.  Worried that they may become “trapped” at the middle-income level, these countries are seeking a set of policies that can help them achieve strong and sustained growth and eventually help them join the league of high-income countries.

 In our recent paper, we try to shed some light on both issues. First, we do not find that countries are trapped at middle income. “Escapees” – countries that escaped the middle-income trap and obtained a per capita income higher than 50% of the U.S. level – tend to grow fast and consistently to high income, and do not stagnate at any point as a middle-income trap theory would suggest. In contrast, “non-escapees” tend to have low growth at all levels of income. In other words, while the existence of a middle income trap implies that growth rates systematically slow down as countries reach middle-income status, no such systematic slowdown is apparent in the data. Second, we provide some descriptive and econometric evidence for a different set of “fundamentals” that enable middle-income countries to grow faster than their peers. We find that faster transformation to industry, low inflation, stronger exports, and reduced inequality are associated with stronger growth.

G20 Growth Strategies

Zia Qureshi's picture

G20 Leaders concluded their summit over the weekend in Brisbane, Australia. G20 summits represent the culmination of a process of preparatory work and discussion that lasts a whole year. Concerns about weak prospects for global growth and job creation took center stage in the G20 agenda this year. Economic recovery in advanced economies has been slow and uneven and growth in the faster-growing emerging economies also has slowed. There is a growing recognition that restoring more robust global growth requires not only addressing the legacies of the global financial crisis but also implementing deeper, structural reforms to raise potential growth.

Against this background, all G20 countries were asked to prepare medium-term growth strategies to provide a systematic framework for addressing policies and priorities in the growth agenda. The strategies that have been prepared are comprehensive in scope, spanning macroeconomic policies and structural reforms to promote strong, sustainable, and balanced growth. They have a particular focus on four policy areas that the Australian G20 Presidency emphasized as key elements of the growth agenda, namely, investment and infrastructure, employment, competition and business environment, and trade. The emphasis in the strategies on investment and structural reforms is appropriate: while the proper calibration of macroeconomic policies is important to support aggregate demand in the short term, in the medium term it is the productivity-enhancing structural reforms and investments that will drive strong and sustainable growth. The strategies have benefited from an extensive process of discussion and peer review within the G20, supported by technical assessments prepared by international organizations. Final versions of these strategies were released yesterday together with the Leaders’ Communiqué and the Brisbane Action Plan (which provides an overview of these strategies).

Corrosive Subsidies in MENA

Shanta Devarajan's picture

Air pollution in Cairo Half the world’s energy subsidies are in the Middle East and North Africa Region.  These subsidies have been criticized on grounds that they crowd out public spending on valuable items such as health, education and capital investment.  Egypt for instance spends seven times more on fuel subsidies than on health.  Furthermore, the allocation of these subsidies is heavily skewed towards the rich, who consume more fuel and energy than the poor.  In Yemen, the portion of fuel subsidies going to the richest quintile was 40 percent; the comparable figure in Jordan was 45 percent and in Egypt, 60 percent.

Chinese Lessons: Singapore’s Epic Regression to the Mean

Danny Quah's picture

Across all recorded history, 99% of humanity has never invented a single thing. Yet, it is a truth universally acknowledged that long-run sustained progress in economic well-being arises from human creativity and innovativeness. In this regard, the average human and indeed the great majority of humanity over the last seven million years provide a completely misleading guide to what is possible.

Misapplied, the Law of Averages misinforms.

Poverty in Sub-Saharan Africa: “A historical perspective on land and labor”

Gareth Austin's picture
A Ghanaian carpenter shapes wood for a coffin in his workshop. ©Jonathan Ernst/World Bank

The inaugural Annual Bank Conference on Africa examined strategies for converting economic growth into poverty reduction. Taking an economic historian’s perspective, the prospects are complicated by long-term shifts in fundamental patterns, specifically from land abundance to land scarcity and, relatedly, from labor repression to landlessness as the principal source of poverty.