A new book by Puja Dutta, Rinku Murgai, Martin Ravallion, and Dominique van de Walle looks at how successful India’s 2005 National Rural Employment Guarantee Act has been in creating 100 days of wage employment per year to all rural households whose adult members volunteer to do unskilled manual work in public works projects at a stipulated minimum wage. The bulk of the study focuses on the scheme’s performance in one of India’s poorest states, Bihar. There the scheme seems to be falling well short of its potential impact on poverty. Workers are not getting all the work they want and they are not getting the full wages due. Many report that they had to give up some other income-earning activity when they took up work. The unmet demand for work is the single most important policy-relevant factor in accounting for the gap between actual performance and the scheme’s potential impact on poverty. The book suggests that supply-side constraints must be addressed in addition to raising public awareness, and identifies a number of specific supply-side constraints to work, including poor implementation capacity, weak financial management and monitoring systems.
Public knowledge about India's ambitious Employment Guarantee Scheme is low in one of India's poorest states, Bihar, where participation is also unusually low. Is the solution simply to tell people their rights? Or does their lack of knowledge reflect deeper problems of poor people's agency and an unresponsive supply side?
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.
When my team and I started working on the World Development Report 2013, slightly more than a year ago, we were puzzled. We had been asked to write about jobs, and there was no doubt that they were a major concern around the world. Events such as the global crisis or the Arab spring had put jobs center stage. In developing countries, finding employment opportunities for massive numbers of youth entering the labor force was urgent. Middle-income countries were struggling to move up the value-added ladder in production and to extend the coverage of social protection. Technology and globalization were changing the nature of work worldwide. In all cases, jobs were at stake. And they were clearly one of the main preoccupations of policy makers everywhere.
“People want to work, not fight,” said Nadir Ali, a male shopkeeper in Kabul, Afghanistan, in one of the discussion groups of the Moving out of Poverty: Rising from the Ashes of Conflict report. For many, like Nadir, work is a crucial part of their existence. However, in many parts of the world conflicts and violence prevent citizens from working as they destroy communities, institutions, infrastructure and human capital. Not surprisingly, they represent a major challenge to job creation, as highlighted by the 2011 World Development Report (WDR) and the forthcoming 2013 WDR.
South Asia has experienced high levels of conflict over the past decade. More than 58,000 people were killed in armed conflict worldwide in 2009; at least a third of them were in South Asia.1 Ongoing conflicts in the region include the conflicts in Afghanistan and Pakistan, insurgent movements in India’s northeastern regions, and the violent activities of left-leaning groups in the eastern and central parts of India. Nepal and Sri Lanka are recovering from long-lasting civil wars. In a recent paper prepared for South Asia’s first regional flagship report "More and Better Jobs," we examine the key challenges to job creation in conflict-affected environments, using household and firm level surveys from South Asian countries.
Work is central to people’s lives and identity. For many, participating in the labor market is important beyond its obvious economic rewards as it also provides a sense of purpose and fulfillment. Conversely, labor deprivation impedes economic growth and leads to a feeling of emptiness and exclusion.
Yet, it is not uncommon to see large differences in attitudes towards employment across social groups. Urban residents, for example, are typically louder in voicing their labor market complaints than rural residents, even though living conditions in rural areas are known to be worse.
Remember the famous joke about an economist who believes so much in rational expectation theory that he would not pick up a $100 dollar bill off the sidewalk under the pretense that if it were actually there someone would have already picked it up? A similar excuse may be invoked to justify why low-income countries that are currently facing high underemployment are not organizing themselves to seize the extraordinary bonanza of the 85 million manufacturing jobs that China will have to shed in the coming years because of fast rising wages for unskilled workers.
Economic development is a process of continuous industrial and technological upgrading in which each country, regardless of its level of development, can succeed if it develops industries that are consistent with its comparative advantage, determined by its endowment structure. As I explained in an earlier blog post for China to maintain GDP growth of nearly 10 percent a year in the coming decades, it must keep moving up the value chain and relocate many of its existing labor-intensive manufacturing industries to countries where wage differentials are large enough to ensure competitiveness in global production networks.
Countries of the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) are a cauldron of wrenching social change. For years pundits have attributed the region's tense social fabric to relatively high population growth rates, a lack of economic diversity, autocratic governments, and, in many countries, on an over-reliance on oil.
Howard Pack, eminent business and public policy Professor at the Wharton School, came to the World Bank earlier this week to share his views on the question of why MENA countries never came close to the equivalent of an East Asian miracle and how they might get on a more successful economic path.