A big idea can be rejected. It might be illegal. It might mean political suicide. In the words of Marcelo Giugale, the World Bank’s director of Economic Policy and Poverty Reduction Programs for Africa, challenging conventional wisdom isn’t always easy. But in the realm of big ideas, the risk is part of the reward.
Is bigger always better? Economists have long debated what size firms are more likely to drive business expansion and job creation. In industrial countries like the United States, small (young) firms contribute up to two-thirds of all net job creation and account for a predominant share of innovation. (Source: McKinsey, Restarting the US small-business growth engine, November 2012). In developing countries, evidence from Ethiopia, Ghana and Madagascar shows that the vast majority of small operators remain small, and so are unlikely to create many decent jobs over time [Source: World Bank, Youth Employment, 2014]. By contrast, ‘big’ enterprises are seen as the best providers of employment opportunities and new technologies.
The difference in role and performance of small firms in developing and industrial countries reflects to a large extent their owners’ characteristics. In the US, small firm owners are generally more educated and wealthier than the average worker, while the opposite is true in most developing countries. This point was emphasized by E. Duflo and A. Banerjee in their famous book ‘Poor Economics: A Radical Rethinking of the Way to Fight Global Poverty’ (Penguin, 2011). Most business owners in developing countries are considered to be ‘reluctant’ entrepreneurs; essentially unskilled workers that are pushed into entrepreneurship for lack of other feasible options for employment.
This is also very much a reality in Tanzania where small business owners have few skills and limited financial and physical assets. Of the three million non-farm businesses operating in the country, almost 90% of business owners are confined in self-employment. Only 3% of business owners possess post-secondary level education. As a result, their businesses are generally small, informal, unspecialized, young and unproductive. They also tend to be extremely fragile with high exit rates, and operate sporadically during the year. Put simply, most small businesses are not well equipped to expand and become competitive.
Over the last few years, Brazil’s growth has significantly decelerated. Accompanying this slowdown, a change in commentary on Brazil’s economic future has emerged, and is reflected in a recent ratings downgrade of Brazilian sovereign paper and an overall much-bleaker growth outlook both for the near and medium term.
In a new 'Economic Premise' note, Philip Schellekens and I examine three contributing factors to this change in sentiment: macroeconomic management, the external environment, and microeconomic fundamentals. Among these, we argue that the relative lack of progress on the microeconomic reform agenda has been far more detrimental to the growth outlook than either the credibility cost of recent macroeconomic management or the negative influence of a less supportive external environment.
Social welfare functions that assign weights to individuals based on their income levels can be used to document the relative importance of growth and inequality changes for changes in social welfare. This method is applied in a new working paper by David Dollar, Tatjana Kleineberg, and Aart Kraay. They find that, in a large panel of industrial and developing countries over the past 40 years, most of the cross-country and over-time variation in changes in social welfare is due to changes in average incomes. In contrast, the changes in inequality observed during this period are on average much smaller than changes in average incomes, are uncorrelated with changes in average incomes, and have contributed relatively little to changes in social welfare.
Philippe Aghion, Harvard economics professor and director of Industrial Organization at the Centre for Economic and Policy Research (CEPR) delivered a lecture at the Bank on April 17 on 'What do we Learn from Shumpeterian Growth Theory?'
It was interesting to hear from the co-founder of the Shumpeterian paradigm about the relationship between economic growth, innovation, creative destruction, and competition. Aghion’s approach is to examine how various factors interact with local entrepreneurs’ incentives to either innovate or to imitate frontier technologies.
Last week the President of the World Bank Group launched at the Spring Meetings the report "Prosperity for All." One of the interesting areas the note reported on was the interrelationship between growth, movements in the income distribution and poverty reduction.
There are various ways of showing the impact of growth on people’s income and its interrelationship with a country’s income distribution. In comparing distributions over time, one of the more useful graphs is a Pen’s Parade (figure 1a), named after another Dutch economist as so many inequality or poverty measures are (other examples are the Theil index and Thorbecke for the Foster-Greer-Thorbecke Poverty Measure).
This paper reviews the empirical evidence on the existence of poverty traps, understood as self-reinforcing mechanisms through which poor individuals or countries remain poor. Poverty traps, understood as self-reinforcing mechanisms through which poor individuals or countries remain poor, have captured the interest of many development policy makers, because poverty traps provide a theoretically coherent explanation for persistent poverty. They also suggest that temporary policy interventions may have long-term effects on poverty. However, a review of the reduced-form empirical evidence suggests that truly stagnant incomes of the sort predicted by standard models of poverty traps are in fact quite rare. Read the entire paper here.
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.