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Governance

Stalled productivity, stagnant economy: Chronic stress amid impaired growth

Christopher Colford's picture

Call it “secular stagnation,” or the disappointing “New Mediocre,” or the baffling “New Normal” – or even the back-from-the-brink “contained depression.” Whatever label you put on today’s chronic economic doldrums, it’s clear that a slow-growth stall is afflicting many nation’s economies – and, seven years into a lackluster recovery from the global financial crisis, some fragile economies seem to be lapsing into another slump.

As policymakers struggle to find a plausible prescription for jump-starting growth, a tug-of-war is under way between techno-utopians and techno-dystopians. It’s a struggle between optimists who foresee a world of abundance thanks to innovations like robot-driven industries, and pessimists who anticipate a cash-deprived world where displaced ex-workers have few or no means of earning an income.

To add a bracing dose of academic rigor to the tech-focused tug-of-war, along comes a data-focused realist who adds a welcome if sobering historical perspective to the debate. Robert J. Gordon, a macroeconomist and economic historian at Northwestern University, takes a longue durée perspective of technology’s impact on growth, wealth and incomes.

Gordon’s blunt-spoken viewpoint has caused a sensation since his newest book, “The Rise and Fall of American Growth,” was launched at this winter’s meetings of the American Economic Association. His analysis injects a new urgency into policymakers’ debates about how (or even whether) today’s growth rate can be strengthened.

When Gordon speaks at the World Bank on Thursday, March 31 – at 11 a.m. in J B1-080, as part of the Macrofiscal Seminar Series – economy-watchers can look forward to hearing some ideas that challenge the orthodoxies of recent macroeconomic thinking. His topic – “Secular Stagnation on the Supply Side: Slow Growth in U. S. Productivity and Potential Output” – seems likely to spark some new thinking among techno-utopians and techo-dystopians alike.

To watch Gordon’s speech live via Webex – at 11 a.m. on Thursday, March 31 – click here. To dial in to listen to the audio, dial (in the United States and Canada) 1-650-479-3207, using the passcode 735 669 472. For those telephoning from outside the United States and Canada, the appropriate numbers can be found on this page.

Farmers on the frontline: Change and transformation in Ethiopia’s watersheds

Alan Nicol's picture
Two women in Sidama Zone, Ethiopia. Photo credit: Alan Nicol

Selilah stares out over a landscape she has inhabited for 70 years. In the valley below, deep gullies scar the slopes where rains have carried away the soil. Living with three of her four sons, she is struggling to make ends meet in this part of Sidama Zone, Ethiopia, where, she says, there used to be a forest more than 40 years ago.

Now most trees have been felled and water is scarce. Selilah spends two hours a day collecting her two jerrycans (50 liters) from a neighboring kebele (neighborhood), but when that source fails she has to buy water from a vendor at ETB 6 (30 US Cents) per a jerrycan, a huge cut into her income.
 
In the last 10 years, she says, the rains have changed – they are lighter than before and more infrequent. As a result, production from her meager plot – just 0.25 ha – is declining. After her husband died more than a decade ago, she now only makes ends meet through the daily wage-labor income of her sons. Like many others, Selilah is on the frontline of climate change in a landscape under increasing pressure.

What can Chinese cities learn from Singapore?

Wanli Fang's picture
One of Singapore’s latest redevelopment projects included the construction of a freshwater reservoir. Photo: 10 FACE/Shutterstock

Last week, I had the opportunity to attend the Singapore Urban Week along with other colleagues from the World Bank Beijing office, as well as delegates from China’s national government and participating cities. For all of us, this trip to Singapore was an eye-opening experience that highlighted the essential role of integrated urban planning in building sustainable cities, and provided practical solutions that can be readily adapted to help achieve each city’s own development vision. A couple of key lessons learned:

Putting people at the center of development strategies

This is only possible when planners always keep in mind people’s daily experience of urban space and invite them as part of decision-making process through citizen engagement.

For instance, in many cities, public transit has been perceived as a low-end, unattractive option of travel, causing ridership to stagnate despite severe traffic congestion. But in Singapore, public transit accounts for 2/3 of the total travel modal share in 2014. Moving around the city by metro is comfortable and efficient because transfers between different modes and lines are easy, with clear signage of directions, air-conditioned connecting corridors, and considerate spatial designs and facilities for the elderly and physically-challenged users. In addition, metro stations are co-located with major retail and commercial activities and other urban amenities, significantly reducing last-mile connectivity issues.

Doing Problem Driven Work, great new guide for governance reformers and activists

Duncan Green's picture

One of the criticisms of the big picture discussion on governance that’s been going on in networks such as Doing Development Differently and Thinking and Working Politically is that it’s all very helicopter-ish. ‘What do I do differently on Monday morning?’, comes the frustrated cry of the practitioner. Now some really useful answers are starting to come onstream, and I’ll review a few of them.

First up is ‘Doing Problem Driven Work’, a paper by Matt Andrews, Lant Pritchett and Michael Woolcock. It turns previous work on PDIA – ‘problem-driven iterative adaptation’ – into a toolkit, aimed primarily at those involved in reforming governance from the inside, whether government reformers, or big bilateral and World Bank donors with access to the corridors of power. However, there are clear parallels with and lessons for the work of more ‘outsider’ NGOs and campaigners.

It starts by noting that while many reform projects have failed in the past, those that succeeded often involved a ‘problem focus’. Problems ‘force policymakers and would-be reformers to ask questions about the incumbent ways of doing things’ and ‘provide a rallying point for coordinating distributed agents who might otherwise clash in the change process’. ‘Good’ problems are urgent and can be easily addressed by those in the room. They often spring from crises or other ‘critical junctures’.

Reforming the Centre of Government? It’s the basics, silly

Zubair Bhatti's picture
Riding the Lahore Rapid Transit -   photo: Asian Development Bank

Successful leaders —presidents of countries, chief executives of corporations, or middle managers of counties — focus on a few priorities by deploying the right resources, reviewing progress, and unblocking constraints.  
 
Shahbaz Sharif, the chief minister of the Pakistani province of Punjab (population 100 million) and a tireless, hard driving manager, built a 27 km mass transit system in Lahore in less than a year in 2012-13.  This visible show of results, according to many observers, helped his landslide victory in the 2013 election.
 
Did a specialized unit deliver for the chief minister? No. Just a group of well-chosen, motivated civil servants and, of course, the impending election deadline. 
 
What is therefore fundamentally new or useful about the current ferment in the “science of delivery”? The “delivery unit” approach can work wonders, according to Sir Michael Barber, who headed the Delivery Unit in the United Kingdom from 2001 to 20015 and has distilled his advice into 57 rules in a recent book.  

Supporting land rights helps us build stronger, more prosperous communities

Ede Ijjasz-Vasquez's picture
Land is an incredibly valuable asset that represents many different things. Land is, first and foremost, a place to call home. For many, it also serves as a critical means of production that they depend on for their livelihoods. Finally, land is inextricably linked to a community's history and culture.
 
Yet, as important as land ownership may be, 70% of the world's population still lacks access to proper land titling or demarcation. This carries a host of negative consequences: when people have to live with the constant threat of potential eviction, they are more likely to remain or become poor, and cannot invest in their land with confidence.
 
Conversely, stronger land rights can be a powerful tool for economic development and poverty reduction. That is why the World Bank is working with client countries to build legal and institutional frameworks that effectively protect land tenure - including for vulnerable groups such as women and indigenous peoples.
 
In this video, World Bank Practice Manager Jorge Muñoz describes in greater depth how the institution is bolstering land tenure around the world as part of its mission to eliminate poverty and boost shared prosperity.

Increasing data literacy to improve policy-making in Sudan

Sandra Moscoso's picture
Participants of data literacy program in Sudan. Photo: Sandra Moscoso

What do you do when facing a tough decision, like buying a home or selecting the right location for your new business? What about decisions that affect entire communities, or countries? How are those decisions made?
 
If you’re like most people, you rely on facts and advice from experts. You might look for data in studies, reports, or seek the advice of people you trust. You may also conduct a bit of critical analysis of the data you collect and the advice you receive. Ideally, policy-makers responsible for making decisions which impact our communities and our lives are collecting reliable data and conducting critical analysis, as well.

Now's the time to make value-based property taxation happen in Europe and Central Asia

Mika-Petteri Torhonen's picture
Photo: Kyrgyz Republic – Mika Torhonen
The World Bank has supported land reform, land administration, and land management projects in 24 countries in the Europe and Central Asia region (ECA) since the 1991 dissolution of the Soviet Union and Central European socialist countries. This has been a period of catalyzed, unprecedented political, economic, and social changes and also a remarkable success story in creating private property rights, and developing land registration and cadastre systems. The results are becoming visible. According to the 2016 Doing Business Index, 7 of the 10 best- performing property registers are found in ECA countries. It is time to think next steps and how to best utilize these data repositories for development.

Determined to deliver: Private-sector ingenuity boosts public-sector results, through executive 'delivery units'

Christopher Colford's picture

Innovation is the Holy Grail of governance practitioners worldwide – but, when it comes to public-sector management, is there truly a “science of delivery”? Politics is “the art of the possible,” and governing often seems to be more a skilled craft than a predictable science – requiring an ad hoc alchemy of persuasion, pressure, guile and gumption.

Yet beyond its operational finesse or its scientific rigor, strong governance also requires something more practical – and perhaps more painstaking: diligent management. Improving government agencies’ performance is a key priority for policymakers, and private-sector-style thinking – especially about delivering cost-effective results, on time and on budget – can make a constructive contribution to public-sector management.

Public-sector leaders must always design finely tailored solutions that suit ever-shifting political moods, but they can also adapt the most deft techniques – many of them tested in the private sector – that emphasize achieving tangible results. With a blend of the private sector's can-do drive and the public sector's focus on accountability, an imaginative crosscurrent of ideas enlivened a recent “deep dive” conference at the World Bank that explored a relatively new management mechanism: the results-focused executive “delivery unit.”

The World Bank Group’s Governance Global Practice (GGP) teamed up with a global nonprofit foundation, the Centre for Public Impact (CPI), to convene an expert group exploring this recent innovation in public-sector management. The gathering – “The Future of Delivery Units: Accomplishments, Challenges and New Directions for Reforms at the Center of Government” – was co-sponsored by the President’s Delivery Unit within the Bank Group.

The forum heard various perspectives from governance practitioners, political theorists and academic scholars, along with both practicing and former civil servants. Much of the conference-goers’ thinking also seemed to have been influenced by private-sector logic. The conference’s pragmatism was reassuring amid this year’s primal-scream spectacle, in all too many countries, of political dysfunction. For many good-government idealists, it’s been alarming to see the tumult in many once-stable, now-volatile developed economies where an advanced capacity for governing had seemed well-established.



Bob Beschel, the Global Lead of the Center of Government Global Solutions Group – part of the World Bank's Governance Global Practice – convenes the conference's opening session. Photo by Lana Wong.

The use of delivery units should be evaluated “in the context of management innovation,” as the conference chairmen – Bob Beschel, the Global Lead of the GGP’s Center of Government Global Solutions Group, and Adrian Brown, the Executive Director of CPI – told the participants. Indeed, such consulting firms as the Boston Consulting Group (which funds CPI) and McKinsey & Company have long aimed to bring private-sector-minded efficiencies to public-sector institutions. Having labored in those vineyards awhile, some years ago, I came to see how creatively cross-pollinating ideas can transfer knowledge about best practices among the public, private, social and academic sectors.

Uruguay’s award-winning innovations for social protection

Till Johannes Hartmann's picture
Photo credit: Jimmy Baikovicius

Uruguay stands out in Latin America and the Caribbean for the significant and early progress it achieved in terms of social protection.

Now gaining global attention, Uruguay is pioneering an award-winning information system to reduce poverty and vulnerability. The system addresses challenges faced by many governments in targeting and coordinating social assistance and, with reduced costs from license-free software, it could soon be replicated in other countries.

Uruguay spends more on social programs than any government in the region (about 25% of its GDP, and over 80% of total public spending). While these resources have enabled great advances, the wide array of institutions responsible for deploying them creates coordination challenges.


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