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Where are the ‘Digital Dividends’ from the ICT revolution? The new World Development Report

Duncan Green's picture

© John Stanmeyer/National Geographic Creative. Used with the permission of John Stanmeyer/National Geographic Creative. Further permission required for reuse.Earlier this month I headed off for the London launch of the 2016 World Development Report, ‘Digital Dividends’. The World Bank’s annual flagship is always a big moment in wonkland, and there has been a lot of positive buzz around this one.

Here’s how the Bank summarizes its content (Frequently Asked Questions, pg. 5):

"What is the Report about? It explores the impact of the internet, mobile phones, and related technologies on economic development.

What are the digital dividends? Growth, jobs, and services are the most important returns to digital investments." (pg. 5)

How do digital technologies promote development and generate digital dividends? By reducing information costs, digital technologies greatly lower the cost of economic and social transactions for firms, individuals, and the public sector. They promote innovation when transaction costs fall to essentially zero. They boost efficiency as existing activities and services become cheaper, quicker, or more convenient. And they increase inclusion as people get access to services that previously were out of reach.

Why does the Report argue that digital dividends are not spreading rapidly enough? For two reasons. First, nearly 60 percent of the world’s people are still offline and can’t fully participate in the digital economy. There also are persistent digital divides across gender, geography, age, and income dimensions within each country. Second, some of the perceived benefits of the internet are being neutralized by new risks. Vested business interests, regulatory uncertainty, and limited contestation across digital platforms could lead to harmful concentration in many sectors. Quickly expanding automation, even of mid-level office jobs, could contribute to a hollowing out of labor markets and to rising inequality. And the poor record of many e-government initiatives points to high failure of ICT projects and the risk that states and corporations could use digital technologies to control citizens, not to empower them.

Digital IDs: A powerful platform for enhanced service delivery across all sectors

Mariana Dahan's picture
Lack of personal official identification (ID) prevents people from fully exercising their rights and isolates them socially and economically — voting, legal action, receipt of government benefits, banking, and borrowing are all virtually closed off. The widespread lack of ID in developing countries is a critical stumbling block to national growth.
 
Digital IDs can help provide access to
critical services, including health care.

Digital IDs, combined with the already extensive use of mobile devices in the developing world, offers a transformative solution to the problem — a simple means for capturing personal ID that can reach far more people, as well as and new, more efficient ways for government and business to reach and serve the population.
 
Given the importance of the topic, the 2016 World Development Report (WDR) includes a Spotlight on Digital Identity, which has been developed by the authors in collaboration with various stakeholders within and outside the World Bank Group.

The 2016 WDR — the World Bank's major analytical publication — aims to advance our understanding of how economic growth, equity of opportunity and public service delivery are being affected by rapid diffusion of digital technologies. This section in 2016 WDR focuses on critical aspects, such as benefits to developing countries and implementation arrangements for Digital ID programs.

​The Story of the 2015 World Development Report: Mind, Society, and Behavior

Varun Gauri's picture

English settlers to the New World believed that the climate of Newfoundland would be moderate, New England would be warm, and Virginia would be like southern Spain. These beliefs were based on the seemingly common sense view that climate is much the same at any given latitude around the globe.
 
What is striking is that these views persisted despite mounting evidence to the contrary. As late as 1620, after 13 years in the settlement, residents in Jamestown, Virginia, were still trying to import olive trees and other tropical plants, perhaps inspired by Father Andrew White, who had assured them that it was “probable that the soil will prove to be adapted to all the fruits of Italy, figs, pomegranates, oranges, olives, etc.” Eventually, the English settlers did adjust their mental models about North American climate. The accumulation of scientific data, combined with personal experience, was undeniable. But the adjustment was slow and costly, in terms of both money and lives lost.

How does risk affect your life? – Join us for a Live Chat on the World Development Report 2014

Norman Loayza's picture

Adverse events coming from systemic or idiosyncratic risks may destroy lives, assets, trust, and social stability. While risks in some areas have diminished in recent years (notably health, and economic crises in developing countries), risk has become more pronounced in other areas, including natural hazards, crime, the environment, and food prices. Especially when risk is mismanaged, the consequences can be severe, turning into crises with often unpredictable consequences.

We need to move from arbitrary crisis response to systematic risk management: A perspective from WDR 2014

Norman Loayza's picture

An old proverb cautions that “an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.” There is a lot of truth to this: interventions to prevent infectious disease and infant malnutrition have repeatedly been estimated to have very high returns, with benefit-cost ratios as high as 15 to 1.

The proverb also applies outside health. Time and again, failure to prevent and prepare has tragic and costly consequences—economic and financial crises, natural disasters, ruinous health outcomes, social unrest—that often could have been avoided at moderate cost. In 2010, an earthquake in Haiti cost more than 220,000 lives, while one of much larger magnitude in Chile produced about 500 fatalities. Chile’s enforcement of building codes appears to account for much of the difference.

It’s Jobs, Stupid!

Otaviano Canuto's picture

The World Bank has been tracking the world's progress against poverty since the late eighties, but the release of 2008 data was the first time in which all regions of the developing world showed a decline in the number of people living below poverty lines!

Jobs, plateaus, dividends, skills and data (cross-posted)

Kaushik Basu's picture

Using a silkscreen to dye Fabric _8825, hkoons, 2011

Jobs have been at the center of my life since I took up my own new job as World Bank Chief Economist on October 1. This began within hours of my joining the Bank, when I participated in the press launch of the World Development Report 2013 on Jobs. I have a longstanding interest in labor-related issues, the role of labor laws, and on the impact of privatization on jobs. So I was pleased by the clairvoyance of the World Bank in choosing jobs as the topic for the 2013 World Development Report, much before the Bank knew that it would choose me to be the Chief Economist.

Jobs, plateaus, dividends, skills and data

Kaushik Basu's picture

Jobs have been at the center of my life since I took up my own new job as World Bank Chief Economist on October 1. This began within hours of my joining the Bank, when I participated in the press launch of the World Development Report 2013 on Jobs. Following that, my interactions at the Tokyo Annual Meetings of the World Bank and IMF also brought the jobs issue into high relief, with ministers and policymakers from around the world reacting to the WDR, especially in some of my corridor conversations with them.
 
I have a longstanding interest in labor-related issues, the role of labor laws, and on the impact of privatization on jobs. So I was pleased by the clairvoyance of the World Bank in choosing jobs as the topic for the 2013 World Development Report, much before the Bank knew that it would choose me to be the Chief Economist.


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