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Development economics

March Madness or Spring Awakening?

John Wilson's picture

APEC and New Beginnings in Trade

The first Senior Officials’ Meeting (SOM I) of Asia-Pacific Economics Cooperation (APEC) concluded earlier this month in Washington D.C. The APEC 2011 agenda now swings into full action. The member economies in the region are looking for ways to reaffirm APEC’s reputation for innovative economic integration initiatives – and the means by which to stave off new hiccups in the region’s economic recovery.  In particular, the new APEC Supply Chain Connectivity Initiative (SCI) holds real promise as a dynamic successor to APEC’s successful Trade Facilitation Action Plans, which resulted in significant trade cost reductions across the region. 
 

As a testament to the dynamism and ambition behind the trade-related policy goals of APEC – the United States, as APEC 2011 Chair, and the World Bank are working with APEC to build a platform to expand trade through research, data, and capacity building – with direct participation of private sector firms. Fedex is with us in this new venture. Is this March madness – yet another attempt to forge alliances where goals are shared but sustaining momentum proves tough?  Or is it a spring awakening that data, research, and direct partnerships with firms to build in this area provides the real anchor for taking action to assist developing countries tackle trade costs at their source?  I suggest it is the latter.

The (gradual) democratization of development economics

Adam Wagstaff's picture

We’ve read a good deal recently about the democratization of research. UNESCO’s Science Report 2010 showed a growth in the developing-country share of science research. As UNESCO Director General Irina Bokovo put it in her Foreword:

 Photo: istockphoto.com

“The distribution of research and development (R&D) efforts between North and South has changed with the emergence of new players in the global economy. A bipolar world in which science and technology (S&T) were dominated by the Triad made up of the European Union, Japan and the USA is gradually giving way to a multi-polar world, with an increasing number of public and private research hubs spreading across North and South.”

Talking development in two hundred years of books

Martin Ravallion's picture

  Photo: istockphoto.com
How long have we been talking about “economic development”? And what about concepts like “economic growth,” “poverty” and “inequality”? How old are they in the literature, and how has the frequency of their use changed over time?

We can now answer such questions thanks to a new software tool, the Google Books Ngram Viewer, introduced in a research paper by Jean-Baptiste Michel and others (13 authors are listed, plus the Google Books Team); the paper has just been published in the journal Science, and was picked up in the New York Times. The authors have formed a corpus of over 500 billion words (360 billion in English) from over 5 million books spanning 1800-2000.

Views from the Economic Research Forum in Egypt

Ahmed Galal's picture

Ahmed Galal is currently Managing Director of the Economic Research Forum, a regional research institution covering the Arab countries, Iran and Turkey.

As someone who values the role of knowledge and strong endogenous research capacity in advancing the cause of development, I was very impressed by the speech Robert Zoellick, World Bank President, gave on September 29 at Georgetown University. The speech, on development economics research and the role of the World Bank, stimulated an interesting debate, with Dani Rodrick being favorable, Bill Easterly critical and Nancy Birdsall somewhere in between.

Photo: www.istockphoto.com

From my perspective, the speech is refreshingly critical of the “one size fits all” approach to reform, honest about the evolution of thinking within the Bank, and open-minded about the new research agenda for development. It hits target by advocating research that is policy relevant. And it calls for “Democratization of Research” and a new role for the Bank as a knowledge broker and facilitator. All these are in line with the views of many researchers in the developing world, myself included.

Taking Stock of the Role of Statistics in Economic Development

Vamsee Kanchi's picture

In today’s data-saturated, highly visual and networked world, statistics are used by policymakers, researchers and journalists for just about everything. However, a veritable mix of government officials, economists and statisticians work – often against overwhelming odds - to produce data sets that are, paradoxically, often taken for granted, but also used as gospel in policy discussions.

Earlier this week, the World Bank celebrated the first ‘World Statistics Day,’ where the successes, challenges and future directions for collecting and analyzing economic development-related data were discussed.

The statistics discipline in the economic development field has seen some breakthroughs in the recent past.

Princeton University's Angus Deaton, a panelist at the event, pointed to the 2005 round of the largest international data collection exercise in the world, called the International Comparison Program, which collects internationally comparable price levels. This data set is critical for comparing living standards between countries.

World Statistics Day – Realizing Dreams

Justin Yifu Lin's picture

As Vice President of Development Economics, I am responsible for a large part of the World Bank's work on statistics: data generated by research, a large set of development indicators and specialized sectoral databases, and projections based upon statistical analysis. And that is why I will be joining in the World Bank’s events celebrating the first World Statistics Day – 20.10.2010 – designated by the United Nations General Assembly to acknowledge the many achievements of official statistics.

For more than five decades the World Bank has contributed to the international statistical system, through its research, its publications, and investments in the statistical capacity of developing countries.

Fighting Poverty at Each Stage of Development

Martin Ravallion's picture

One size does not fit all in development policy, as World Bank President, Robert B. Zoellick, emphasized in a recent speech, “Democratizing Development Economics.” The right policies depend on the stage of economic development (amongst other things). What does that mean for the Bank’s overarching objective, a world free of poverty?

Three construction workers return from a day of work as part of the Rural Roads project to improve access to markets in Rajasthan, India. Photo: Michael Foley

The Bank’s policy dialogues in poor countries have long emphasized policies to promote economic growth as the main means of fighting income poverty. These include efforts to ensure “pro-poor growth,” such as by avoiding policy biases against labor-intensive production.  However, direct redistributive policies in favor of the poor typically get far less attention.

It is not obvious why. Even some very poor countries have high inequality—in fact, some of the highest levels of income inequality in the world are found in poor countries (see the 2006 World Development Report: Equity and Development). And developing countries have redistributive policy options through tax and spending instruments (including cash transfers). There are concerns about trade-offs between equity and efficiency, though it can also be argued that high inequality is an impediment to economic growth. So should direct redistributive interventions play a bigger role?

Checking up on the assets of the knowledge bank

Adam Wagstaff's picture



Bhanwar Gopal, an artist from the Barefoot College, prepares traditional Rajasthani masks for plays and puppet shows with material from recycled World Bank reports. "We keep getting these reports that no one reads, so we decided to put them to some use," founder Bunker Roy says. [Source and image: BBC]

Regardless of its veracity (we’ll come to that in a moment), the BBC’s story raises a couple of serious questions. Exactly how much does the Bank publish? And does it have any impact?

The second question is, of course, hard to answer. But as Martin Ravallion and I found out when we tried to answer both questions, even the first isn’t easily answered.

Why ‘Securing Transformation’ matters in development economics

Justin Yifu Lin's picture

In his September 29 speech at Georgetown on ‘Democratizing Development Economics’, World Bank Group President Robert B. Zoellick insisted on the importance of ‘securing transformation’. The new structural economics approach to development, which I have proposed, aims exactly at that objective.

 Photo: © Simone D. McCourtie / World Bank
As I see it, ‘securing transformation’ highlights certain key features in the economic development process: the importance of endowments; different industrial structures atvarious stages of development and various distortions stemming from past, misguided interventions by policymakers whose belief in old structural economics led them to over-estimate governments’ ability to correct market failures.

Wholesaling Research for Development

Martin Ravallion's picture

“Give a man a fish and he will eat for a day. Teach a man to fish and he will eat for a lifetime.” K’ung Fu-tzu (Confucius) , circa 500 BC.

   Photo: istockphoto.com
The World Bank’s analytic work can lack transparency to users—not least for those who would be affected most by the policies derived from that work. Civil society groups often suspect that the Bank dresses up advocacy as analytics. This perception stems in no small measure from the large entry costs users face in replicating and understanding the analysis. 

This concern about how we do research at the Bank—and elsewhere—can be thought of as the outcome of a traditional “retailing model.” That means researchers investigate a specific issue over a period of time and produce a research product—a paper or volume—on their findings. This is then disseminated to the public, including other researchers and policy makers. 

Much has changed since this retailing model first emerged. Dramatic changes in information technology have expanded the use of data, which makes more openness in research feasible.

It is time, then, to think about a new “wholesaling model,” under which the emphasis switches to producing the tools for others to do the research and providing open access to those tools.

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