Former Soviet Union leader Joseph Stalin and famous Irish writer Oscar Wilde had very little in common. Yet they agreed on one thing: the importance of ideas in human life. The former once said: “Ideas are more powerful than guns. We would not let our enemies have guns, why should we let them have ideas?” The latter boldly wrote that “An idea that is not dangerous is unworthy of being called an idea at all.” My colleagues who serve as regional chief economists at the Bank -- Shanta Devarajan, Kalpana Kochhar, Indermit Gill -- also agree with me that ideas drive various societal transformations. Nevertheless, they disagree with me on several points, as highlighted in their joint post on Africa Can. We all want to generate and channel the best knowledge on development to policymakers around the world who have been struggling for centuries—if not millennia—to lift their people out of poverty.
Reducing poverty and climbing the ladder to prosperity aren’t easy: From 1950-2008, only 28 economies in the world have reduced their gaps with US by 10 percent or more. Among those 28 economies, only 12 are non-European and non-oil exporters. Such a small number is sobering: It means that most countries have been trapped in middle-income or low-income status. As development economists, we must find a way to help them improve their performance so that our dream of “a world free of poverty” can be realized and they can close the gap with the high-income countries.