Food prices in international markets have spiked three times in the past five years: in mid-2008, early 2011 and mid-2012 (Figure 1). The first of those spikes – when rice prices more than doubled – prompted urban riots in dozens of developing countries. It may have contributed even to the unrest that led to the Arab Spring. The most common government response was to alter trade restrictions so as to insulate the domestic market from the international price rise. And the most common justification for that action (tighter export restrictions or lower import barriers on food staples) was that it would reduce the number of people who would fall into poverty. Not only are food prices politically sensitive, but many poor people are vulnerable to higher food prices, because the poorest people spend a large fraction of their incomes on food.
Earlier this year, I attended a first-rate workshop on the Post-2015 Development Goals, hosted by Barry Carin (Centre for International Governance Innovation) and Wonhyuk Lim (Korean Development Institute). The event took place in the Rockefeller Foundation’s Bellagio Center on the shores of Lake Como in Italy, a truly idyllic place for productive brainstorms. The groundwork for the workshop was flawless. CIGI and KDI had prepared an excellent report that outlined 11 goals, ranging from inclusive growth and environmental sustainability to security and political rights. The report put flesh on the bones of that skeleton by specifying multiple targets per goal and numerous indicators per target. It is difficult to find something on the post-2015 development agenda that is more comprehensive, more convincing, or more operational.
An Egypt blog in The Economist on 'the battle of fictitious facts' talks about the wildly disparate narratives coming out of Cairo as the streets seeth and the death toll mounts.
Natsuko Waki writes in Reuters about a recovery in developed markets, the 'Great Rotation' out of bonds and flight from emerging markets.
Is China fudging vital macreconomic data? Business Insider Australia covers new research by Christopher Balding of HSBC School of Business at Peking University about how China added $1 trillion to its economy by fudging data.
Incomes in the poorest two quintiles on average increase at the same rate as overall average incomes, according to a new working paper by David Dollar (Brookings Institution), Tatjana Kleineberg and Aart Kraay. In a global dataset spanning 118 countries over the past four decades, changes in the share of income of the poorest quintiles are generally small and uncorrelated with changes in average income. The variation in changes in quintile shares is also small relative to the variation in growth in average incomes, implying that the latter accounts for most of the variation in income growth in the poorest quintiles. These findings hold across most regions and time periods, as well as conditional on a variety of country-level factors that may matter for growth and inequality changes. This evidence confirms the central importance of economic growth for poverty reduction and illustrates the difficulty of identifying specific macroeconomic policies that are significantly associated with the relative growth rates of those in the poorest quintiles. This reprise of Dollar and Kraay's earlier work also looks at the World Bank's new "shared prosperity" goal by considering the income growth rates of the poorest 40% of the population in each country in addition to looking at the poorest 20%.
With Aaron Flaeen and Saurabh Mishra
Many developing countries have successfully made the transition from low-income to middle-income status, thanks to rapid economic growth, but have subsequently got stuck in a middle income trap. A great deal of research has been done on what explains much faster growth in the developing world than in the developed world (Acemoglu et al 2011; Baldwin 2011; Commission on Growth and Development 2008; Rodrik 2013; UNIDO 2011). But little is known about why so few countries succeed in making the transition from middle-income to high-income status (The Economist, 2013). This is a worrying trend and an issue of major concern, especially because the majority of poor people now live not in low-income but in middle-income countries (Chandy and Gertz, 2011; Sumner and Kanbur, 2011). So what is a middle income trap? What should policy makers do?
We have examined these questions in the context of Malaysia, whose structural transformation from low to middle income has made it one of the most prominent manufacturing exporters’ in the world. However, in a competitive global economy, like many other middle-income economies, it is sandwiched between low-wage economies on one side and more innovative advanced economies on the other.
In the last five years, higher food prices have provoked government interventions in agricultural markets across the globe, often in the name of protecting the poor. But do higher food prices actually hurt the rural poor?
Raghuram Rajan is appointed as India’s next RBI Governor. His appointment comes as the country faces critical challenges in stabilizing its plunging currency and narrowing its current account deficit. Read the Financial Times article here to know more.
The economic liberalization during the last couple of decades led to impressive economic growth and poverty reduction in many developing countries. This period has also witnessed worsening of income inequality and widening of spatial disparity (World Development Report (2009); Kanbur and Venables (2005); Kim (2008)). There is considerable worry among policy makers about the extent to which this rise in spatial inequality is due to increasing disparity in opportunities in terms of provision of basic infrastructure and services. The recent growth and poverty reduction experience places Bangladesh as an exception to this trend of increasing spatial inequality. Bangladesh made significant strides in poverty reduction between 2000 and 2010 with incidence of poverty falling from 48.9 percent to 31.5 percent. During the same period, the incidence of poverty declined more than proportionately in traditionally poorer regions, reducing welfare gaps across regions. There is also no evidence of significant change in overall inequality over the same period. What made spatial disparity in Bangladesh to decline while its economic growth accelerated substantially? What were the sources of decline in spatial disparity in welfare?
In the past decade, economists such as Daron Acemoglu, Abhijit Banerjee, Nathan Nunn, and James Robinson have empirically validated the primacy of ‘good’ institutions in driving beneficial political and economic outcomes. While this has been a great leap for academic economics, the applicability to policy is debatable. Specifically, as the empirical techniques employed generally exclude components of institutional variation that change over the short- to medium-run (see Rohini Pande and Christopher Udry), the respective findings potentially don't have much to say about what can be expected from deliberate attempts to generate 'good' institutions.
Serious empirical investigation of the effects of institutional reform remains scant, and for good reason. Rigorously identifying the effects of democratization – or any other specific reform – is extremely difficult, particularly at the national-level. When and where societies enact democratic reforms (such as in Eastern Europe in 1989), such reforms go part in parcel with sweeping changes in economic policy, institutional frameworks, and political actors (in the technical lexicon, such reforms are ‘endogenous’). This makes it almost impossible to isolate the effects of the reform itself from the effects of the multitude of other contemporaneous changes.
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