Syndicate content

Public Sector and Governance

Activist strategies to sharpen economies' competitive edge: When Bernanke & Company speaks, policymakers listen

Christopher Colford's picture

So much for the myth that Washington empties out during the month of August. A standing-room-only throng flocked to a Monday-morning Brookings Institution seminar this week featuring a relative newcomer to the think-tank communityBen S. Bernanke, the former chairman of the U.S. Federal Reserve System. His wide-ranging and nuanced analysis – with all the gravitas that he once brought to his graduate economics seminars at Princeton – explored not just Brookings’ main topic of the day (“The Defense Economy and American Prosperity”) but also such subjects as macroeconomic management, the gradual recovery from the Great Recession, and lawmakers’ need to avoid hasty budget-cutting that would damage vital investment in long-term priorities. Offering some of the wit of his new blog for Brookings, Bernanke’s whirlwind analysis whetted Washingtonians’ appetite for the October 4 publication of his latest book, “The Courage To Act.”

The economic impact of U.S. military spending was the focus of Monday’s seminar, chaired by Brookings defense-policy scholar Michael O’Hanlon – but an additional, broader theme was unmistakable throughout the discussion. The competitiveness of every economy is shaped by its ability to make sustained investments in productivity-enhancing technologies – and, as the panelists explored within the context of the U.S. economy, R&D-intensive industries (whether military or civilian) have been on the leading edge of innovation, patenting, productivity growth and job creation.

Competitiveness is the holy grail of economic policymakers everywhere – and activist strategies can help every economy hone its competitive edge. For both theorists and practitioners in development, working with economies large or small, the Brookings panel’s focus on pursuing far-sighted and pro-active investment strategies holds implications for every country’s competitive positioning.

Cecil the lion: Is there a golden lining?

Hermione Nevill's picture



Cecil the Lion at Hwange National Park in Zimbabwe.

We all know about the story that broke the Internet: the story of Cecil the lion and the Minnesota dentist who killed him. What you may not know is that you can now buy a gold-plated iPhone case with Cecil etched on the back for about US$1,000.

The world has reacted in different ways to the news of this black-maned martyr. For various reasons, the media has gone into overdrive, the public has been outraged, and enterprising phone-case companies have gotten creative. So what does it mean for us in the field of tourism, conservation and development?

The global spotlight has been a good thing.  First of all, it has raised the temperature of the debate around conservation. People have flooded the dentist’s business page with negative online reviews (“murderer!”), called for his extradition to Zimbabwe, signed petitions, made donations, retweeted celebrities and forced three US airlines to ban wildlife trophy transport.

Publicity like this can have a lasting effect on consumer demand by stimulating more responsible behavior. For example, media exposs on sex tourism and child abuse in Thailand and Madagascar caused the tourism industry (more than 1,000 travel and hospitality companies) to adopt a global code of ethics. Public backlash against the negative impacts of orphanage tourism (volunteering) in Cambodia – following a 2012 investigation by Al Jazeera – meant that most large travel agents removed the product from their books, not only in Cambodia but globally. There is an opportunity here for all tourists, hunters and operators to reflect on and improve the way they behave and interact with wildlife.

More crucially, Cecil’s publicity has revealed the divisiveness of the issue. While everyone condemns the illegality of what happened, conservationists, columnists, academics and others cannot definitively agree on bigger questions. Does trophy hunting really contribute to conservation? Or should it be banned? Is photographic tourism a better alternative? Do we actually know?

For those of us concerned with such development goals as natural-resource management, job creation or local community empowerment, this lack of a global consensus poses a policy challenge. Indeed, the last few days have highlighted that indeed both consumptive (hunting) and non-consumptive (safari) tourism can demonstrate positive impacts.

So perhaps the question is not “Which is the better alternative” but “How can we better capture the value and benefits of each?” One way is to look at the policy framework and its role in regulating the supply side of the equation.

For success and sustainability, seek broad social ‘well-being’; Good governance promotes a ‘virtuous cycle’ of growth

Christopher Colford's picture

Beyond the cold calculus of GDP and TFP and FDI, development is about promoting strong societies as well as propelling powerful economies. But how can we measure societies’ progress toward success? Some may try to calculate “Gross National Happiness” as a yardstick, and some may envision “getting to Denmark” as the ideal end-of-history destiny of development – but are there patterns that reveal how societies can flourish?

Two recent Washington seminars suggest that – by pursuing innovation and inclusion, and by focusing on broad-scale social “well-being” – policymakers can define realistic paths toward development success.

The methodologies used by Harvard economist Philippe Aghion at an International Monetary Fund forum and by former World Bank strategist Enrique Rueda-Sabater at a Center for Global Development discussion may have been different, but their conclusions were in harmony: Societies thrive – in a sustainable way – when inclusion and innovation help expand the circle of opportunity, and when strong governance standards lead to sound civic decision-making.

Taken together, the two seminars’ insights should help inform policymakers’ debate about the Sustainable Development Goals, which are due to be approved in September at the opening of the United Nations General Assembly.

Aghion, at an IMF seminar (sponsored by its Low-Income Countries Strategy Unit) on June 30, approached the topic of “Making Growth Inclusive” by imagining “how to enhance productivity growth while promoting social mobility.” Presenting data from a recent paper on “Innovation and Top-Income Inequality,” which he recently co-authored with an all-star team of economists, Aghion outlined the way that income and wealth inequality have drastically soared in developed countries since the mid-1970s – analyzing trends that by now are sadly familiar to the squeezed middle class, as calculated in the esteemed work of Thomas Piketty, “Capital in the Twenty-First Century.”

Building on that data, Aghion took the inequality-and-inclusion logic several steps further. He lamented the way that “skill-biased technological change” has (in the absence of policy safeguards) provoked societies to stratify along the lines of wealth, income, education and connections. Yet “creative destruction” is inevitable in “a Schumpeterian world,” reasoned Aghion: A significant factor expanding the wealth gap is the same process of continuous economic renewal that helps economies advance. “There is a big [economic] premium to being a superstar innovator,” he asserted, noting that “you can become rich by innovating” – and thus “innovation is a big part of top-1-percent income inequality.”



Philippe Aghion

“Creative destruction is good for social mobility” and broader inclusion, in the long run, because it causes a steady procession of “new innovators to replace old incumbents.” The effect of each wave of innovation is fleeting, especially in a hyperspeed economy: “You get temporary ‘rents’ when you innovate. You don’t get them forever,” because the relentless Schumpeterian process will eventually cause yesterday’s innovators to become, in turn, tomorrow’s has-beens.

The darker danger of entrenched inequality occurs, said Aghion, when incumbent interests use their political power to lobby for the protection of their advantages – whether by pleading for tax-code favors, seeking government-imposed barriers to the entry of new competitors, or purchasing influence with pliant politicians through campaign donations. (In an aside on U.S. politics, Aghion pointed to his paper’s data linking a state’s representation on the congressional Appropriations Committees with its amount of federal favors – a shrewd quantification of the pork-barrel compulsions of Capitol Hill.)

Because innovation promotes social mobility and thus greater inclusiveness, Aghion contended that “innovation is a good guy; lobbying is a bad guy.” So “if you’re for inclusive growth, then you will be against lobbying and [the creation of] entry barriers.”

Focusing simply on present-day inequality is less informative than focusing on social mobility, he asserted. There’s nothing wrong with an economy that bestows ample financial rewards upon genuine innovators who create new products and processes. There is, however, something deeply wrong – and economically growth-inhibiting – with governments that allow no-longer-innovative incumbents to use their political connections to suppress potential competitors.

The IMF panel’s respondents amplified Aghion’s analysis. World Bank economist Daniel Lederman noted that it would be wise to use “the lexicon of ‘inequality of opportunity’,” because some degree of wealth inequality is inevitable (and perhaps even desirable) when individuals’ talent and effort are rewarded with rising incomes. IMF economist Benedict Clements – deploring the “great degree of disparity in ‘equality of opportunity’ ” that now prevails in advanced economies, including the United States – noted that there need be “no conflict between equity and efficiency if you design your policies right.”

Getting policies right – by upholding strong standards of governance – was also one of the underlying themes at a July 21 seminar at the Center for Global Development led by Rueda-Sabater, who is now a senior advisor to the Boston Consulting Group and a visiting fellow among CGD’s strong lineup of scholars. Rueda-Sabater is well remembered at the World Bank for leading a research team’s detailed “scenario planninganalyses that, in 2009, discerned the contours of three possible scenarios for the world in the year 2020.

Presenting a recent BCG report, “Why Well-Being Should Drive Growth Strategies,” Rueda-Sabater outlined an imaginative BCG diagnostic tool: the “Sustainable Economic Development Assessment” (SEDA), which measures the relative well-being of 149 countries by gauging their success in converting wealth into well-being – that is to say, in effectively translating their potential into tangible progress.


 

From Tirole to the WBG Twin Goals: Scaling up competition policies to reduce poverty and boost shared prosperity

Anabel Gonzalez's picture
The role of policies that ensure and promote competition in the marketplace have moved to the forefront of economics and the development agenda. The Australian G20 presidency highlighted competition as one of the four policy areas for the growth agenda. India’s prime-minister Modi has placed competition on his transformational reform agenda, and The Economist recently emphasized the lack of competition as a source of low productivity among Latin American firms. Jean Tirole, who won the latest Nobel Prize for his analysis of market power and regulation, demonstrated how competition policies can spur powerful firms to become more productive and can give smaller firms more opportunity to thrive.

To respond to client demand at this crucial moment for economic development, the World Bank Group is generating knowledge to better understand the links among competition, growth and shared prosperity, and to develop policies that promote competition. Last week, at a Bank Group event, held jointly with the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), experts and practitioners discussed the growing body of empirical evidence on these matters. Representatives from the WBG’s client countries, in turn, shared how WBG competition policy tools are leveraging their development impact.

Competition in the marketplace matters for economic growth and household welfare for two reasons:
 
  • First, it fosters more productive firms and industries, allowing domestic firms to become more competitive abroad and to export more. A WBG study shows that substantially increasing competition in Tunisia would boost labor productivity growth by 5 percent.
  • Second, it protects poorer households from paying too much for consumer goods, and from missing out on the benefits of trade liberalization. In Mexico, lack of competition costs the poorest households 20 percent more than richest households. In Kenya, poverty could fall by 2 percent if competition was more intense in the maize and sugar markets.


Competition is restricted by businesses practices that undermine competitive dynamics. When firms agree to fix prices, empirical evidence reveals that consumers pay on average 49 percent more, and 80 percent more when cartels are strongest. Developing economies are still frequently marked by regulations that restrict the number of firms or limit private investment; rules that increase business risks and facilitate agreements among competitors; and rules that discriminate against certain competitors or affect competitive neutrality. When new retail firms are allowed to enter the market, real household income increases by 6.2 percent.

'Model Law for Best Practice in Financial Consumer Protection': An important driver for Universal Financial Access

Ros Grady's picture

The Client Protection Principles: Model Law and Commentary for Financial Consumer Protection (the "Model Law"), recently launched by the Microfinance CEO Working Group, has the potential to be a useful resource for the many developing and emerging economies that are seeking to design and implement international best practices in financial consumer protection, having recognized that consumer protection is a critical element in building and maintaining trust in the financial sector and achieving financial inclusion targets.

The Model Law was prepared on a pro-bono basis by the international law firm DLA Piper on the basis of the 7 Client Protection Principles of the Smart Campaign. The project, which took place over a 15-month period and was managed by Accion on behalf of the Council of Microfinance Counsels, included consultations with financial inclusion stakeholders and legal experts, who undertook a review of existing legal frameworks in various countries. Reference was also made to international best practices and principles such as the World Bank’s Good Practices on Financial Consumer Protection and the G20 High Level Principles on Financial Consumer Protection.
 
The Model Law is a high-level, activities-based law that is intended to apply equally to all financial-services providers. This includes “banks, credit unions, microfinance institutions, money lenders and digital financial-service providers.” The apparent aim is to ensure an equal level of protection for all consumers and a level playing field. The consumers concerned may be an individual or a micro-, small or medium-sized business, and so the law will apply equally to consumption and small-business facilities. Many of the provisions are framed in terms of principles, the detail of which would need to be filled out in related legislation.


 
The framework of the Model Law follows the Smart Campaign’s 7 Client Protection Principles, and so it covers the topics of appropriate product design and delivery; prevention of overindebtedness; transparency; responsible pricing; fair and respectful treatment of clients; privacy of client data; and mechanisms for complaint resolution. There is also a section covering the establishment of a dedicated supervisory authority with broad functions relating to the regulation, supervision and registration of financial-services providers, market monitoring and enforcement.

'Business unusual' can still work

Cecile Fruman's picture

I recently spent three days in Hargeisa, Somaliland. An eye-opening experience, as much as one that strengthens my conviction that World Bank Group is doing the right thing by engaging in this fragile country.

Somaliland is business unusual. Imagine among others, sitting in a mandatory security brief and specifying your blood type straight off the plane, going to meetings in armored cars, wearing the hijab  – a veil worn by Muslim women in the presence of adult males – scheduling meetings around prayers and the time of Iftar, the evening meal when Muslims end their daily fast during Ramadan.

The business environment in Somaliland is characterized by a fragile state, poor public service delivery, a weak legal and regulatory regime, inefficient and costly trade logistics, and a fragmented private sector with limited structured engagement with the government. Although the private sector accounts for more than 90 percent of GDP (an anomaly in Africa), it has poor access to finance and lacks an organized voice.



Meeting with the President of the Republic of Somaliland.
 
During my mission, I met with key Ministers, entrepreneurs and development partners and discussed the challenges and opportunities linked to the ongoing economic development agenda, notably the development of infrastructure and the energy sector. The exchanges highlighted how the World Bank Group's program in Somaliland is laying a foundation to create job opportunities and to accelerate the pace of economic development by fostering business reforms and SME engagement. In this light, the set-up of a high-level taskforce – reporting directly to the President – to implement Doing Business reforms compiled in a Doing Business memo, is a milestone and a strong sign of client buy-in. That is always crucial for the World Bank Group's programs to reach their objectives.  

Last, I participated in the presentation of the pilot Reform Champion Program, which aims to develop the capacity of government officials and some representatives of the private sector to implement key reforms that will address constraints to economic growth and development. The project is expected to help trained reform champions implement at least five reforms to improve government-to-business services by July 2016.

The impact of investment climate reform in Africa: How has 'Doing Business' reform promoted broader competitiveness?

Aref Adamali's picture

Sub-Saharan Africa’s (SSA) impressive growth over the past decade or so has been matched by its equally impressive showing on the World Bank Group's "Doing Business" index. In 2012, one-third of the world’s top reformers on the index were from the continent, and every year its countries feature in the top 10 most active reformers. In 2014, five of the top 10 were from SSA.

Doing Business tracks progress in reforms that support a firm through its life-cycle, from start-up, through to raising capital, to potential closure. Through a mix of wide geographic coverage and rankings that generate a lot of public attention (not all of it wholly positive), the report has been a powerful motivator of investment climate reform, with the data serving as a useful means to measure progress made.
 
Doing Business as a start
While a large appeal of Doing Business as a measure of a country’s business environment is that it focuses on tangible business activities to which the private sector and policymakers can directly relate, its indicators are limited in scope. They are therefore intended to be used mainly as a litmus test of the state of a country’s investment climate. Therefore, while Doing Business's accessibility and global profile can be very useful in generating momentum for private sector reform, it ought to mainly serve as a starting point for a country to then engage in both broader reaching and deeper investment climate change. (This approach to the use of Doing Business has largely underpinned investment climate reform efforts in SSA by the Bank Group’s Trade and Competitiveness Global Practice.)  
 
So, if Doing Business is a starting point and is used as such, is there evidence to support the assumption that it triggers wider and deeper private sector reform? Or is movement on Doing Businesses a starting point and, unintentionally, an ending point too?
 
Linkages to wider competitiveness reform data
One of the most comprehensive measures of the state of different countries’ business environments is the World Economic Forum’s (WEF) Global Competitiveness Index (GCI), a data set of over 110 variables that looks at the current state of, and tracks changes in, competitiveness across the world. The data set is structured under 12 pillars that cover measures from institutional development to technology and innovation.

Using GCI as a good measure of competitiveness, and interpreting changes in it as a reflection of a country’s effectiveness in engaging in wider competitiveness reform, we can look at the relationship between GCI and Doing Business and, significantly, the extent of movement on the two indices.
 
A high-level review of the relationship between changes in GCI and Doing Business for different regions between 2007 and 2013 shows SSA to have performed comparatively well on both indices, performing similarly to countries of Eastern and Central Europe and surpassing the world average.[1] However, looking beyond averages to GCI’s specific pillars, SSA’s performance has been variable, advancing as a region in some areas more than others. Figure 1, below, shows GCI pillars where SSA has improved the most and the least, highlighting the top and bottom three.

Figure 1: Variations within competitiveness
(SSA score on GCI, total and select pillars)  




Of particular interest is Pillar 6, Goods Market Efficiency, because many of the areas that this pillar tracks are also areas where the Bank Group has focused its investment climate reform interventions, from business entry and competition, to taxes, trade and investment. (Two of the 16 indicators in this pillar actually comprise Doing Business data – the number of procedures and days required to start a business.)
 
Pillar 6 is one of the top three GCI pillars that have the greatest upward pull on SSA’s overall performance on GCI, countering the areas where SSA has slipped in its scores.

Can countries legislate to attract more investment?

Ivan Nimac's picture

The effectiveness of legislating to address investment policy shortcomings is a recurrent debate in development circles. More specifically, do countries need a singular investment law? Should governments expend the political capital required to put in place a law if the likelihood of its implementation is questionable from the outset? Is it not better to work on more implementation-focused activities? And: If countries do undergo the reform process, what should it entail?

Revising or enacting investment laws is one of the first steps that many developing countries take to achieve its objectives for Foreign Direct Investment (FDI). In some cases, the purpose is to signal political will to reform; in other cases, changes are more substantial and seek to profoundly increase legal certainty and improve the value proposition for investors. Reforms may also arise from obligations that countries adopt under international investment agreements.

Investor certainty can bring substantial payoffs to host countries. Foreign investors want to be clear, among other things, about market access; about the requirements for business operation; about their rights and obligations; and about the accessibility and enforcement of dispute resolution.

Lack of certainty can have dire consequences. According to the 2013 Political Risk Survey by the Multilateral Investment Guarantee Agency (MIGA), almost 10 percent of investment plans were cancelled or existing investments were withdrawn due to various adverse regulatory changes in the preceding year. The value of such lost investment, coupled with the cost of international disputes that may arise from it, could climb to tens of millions of dollars for a single case.

But, this does not mean that enacting an FDI law is a guarantee of more investment. Effective reform requires, first, policy based on good practice and, second, implementation (legal, regulatory and administrative) through institutions that are up to the task. An investment framework should be implementable locally while remaining consistent with good practice.

Ideally, an investment law should be a part of a broader set of reforms dedicated to achieving specific objectives, such as more exports, jobs, productivity and other forms of value addition. All stages of investment should be addressed, including attraction, retention and linkage to the local economy.

Halting the 'race to the bottom’ in corporate conduct: Governance reform, focus on ethics must repair the damage

Christopher Colford's picture

When terms like “criminal conspiracy” and “felony” appear in confessions and plea bargains, the criminal-justice system sits up and takes notice. And when the confessed felons are some of the world’s largest corporations, the private sector ought to be jolted into action, too.

The continuing shame of confessed corporate misconduct – in this case, lawbreaking conducted with such a degree of guile that the U.S. Attorney General called it “breathtaking flagrancy” and that the FBI labeled it criminality “on a massive scale” – reached a new intensity this month: Four of the world’s largest banks confessed to taking part in a five-year-long conspiracy to manipulate the world’s foreign-exchange markets.

This latest in a series of stern legal judgments has damaged the corporate reputations of some of the world’s most pivotal financial institutions – with guilty pleas, to felony charges no less, entered by Citicorp, JPMorgan Chase & Co., Barclays PLC and The Royal Bank of Scotland PLC. A separate guilty plea by UBS – along with earlier fines against Bank of America and HSBC in separate settlements in related cases – has brought the total of fines against those once-trusted, now-tarnished firms to about $6 billion.

The corporate confessions of deliberate lawbreaking, pursued with systematic and sinister stealth – at the very center of the international financial system – vividly validate the recent exhortation of Christine Lagarde of the International Monetary Fund: that corporate governance must be strengthened and that a higher standard of individual ethics must prevail, especially in the financial sector.

Lagarde wisely linked skewed incentives and a short-term profit-maximization mindset to the risk of financial instability, in an eloquent recent address to the Institute for New Economic Thinking’s conference on “Finance and Society”: “There is still work to be done to address distorted incentives in the financial system. Indeed, actions that precipitated the [global financial] crisis were – mostly – not so much fraudulent as driven by short-term profit motivation. This suggests to me that we need to build a financial system that is both more ethical and oriented more to the needs of the real economy – a financial system that serves society, and not the other way round.”

Those who champion the creative potential of the private sector (including, I imagine, the regular readers of this blog) have a particular reason – one might even say, a special responsibility – to voice their anger about the foreign-exchange-rigging scandal and other acts of lawlessness.

Idealists who esteem the private sector’s ingenuity in delivering growth and jobs sans frontières know that business' creativity will be indispensable in achieving the vital development goals of eliminating extreme poverty and promoting shared prosperity. Society thus rightly expects that the full measure of corporate energies should be focused on companies’ central mission of generating wealth that benefits all of society. Whenever any of those energies are diverted – especially toward criminal schemes that put short-term personal plunder ahead of long-term economic growth – the lawbreakers undermine public confidence (or what little remains of it, in the wake of the global financial crisis) in the fairness of the economic system.

Moreover, lawbreakers provide ammunition to critics who allege that today’s economic system is irredeemably corrupt, through-and-through – thus making it even more difficult for law-abiding companies, holding true to the values of honest business behavior, to make the case for policies that liberate private-sector dynamism.

Six Financial Sector Challenges for Emerging and Developing Economies

Erik Feyen's picture
The relatively weak economic growth outlook, particularly for emerging and developing economies (EMDE), provides an important backdrop for the financial challenges that some of them currently face.
 
Recently, financial volatility returned because of various concerns in the marketplace – including (just to name a few) shifting expectations of the shape of the Federal Reserve’s exit path from ultra-low interest rates and the rapid strengthening of the US dollar; the launch of quantitative easing by the European Central Bank and its impact on inflation expectations and bond markets; low and volatile oil prices; China’s growth slowdown, additional stimulus and financial-sector challenges; the standoff between the new Greek government and its creditors; and continuing geopolitical turmoil.
 
In this context, EMDEs face six interrelated financial challenges, although it is important to note significant differences between countries exist.
 
First: Prolonged extraordinary monetary policies (EMPs) in developed countries and the prospect of asynchronous exits create a wide range of global financial market challenges. EMPs in developed economies created an environment of ultra-low interest rates, as policymakers have aimed to rekindle economic growth and battle disinflationary pressures. Three key risks have emerged:
 
  • Low rates and excessive risk-taking have contributed to very high asset valuations, compressed risk spreads and term premiums, and stimulated non-bank-sector growth, boosting leverage, illiquidity and collateral shortages. That exposes the financial system to shocks. This has weakened risk pricing and contributed to the “illusion of liquidity,” raising the risk of pro-cyclical “fire sales” with global spillovers.
  • Sudden shifts in market expectations or a bumpy trajectory of the U.S. Federal Reserve exit path to normalized interest rates could trigger volatility in currency, equity and capital-flow markets – similar to the “Taper Tantrum” of 2013, when the Federal Reserve openly contemplated scaling back its asset purchases.
  • Increasing divergence between central bank policies in developed economies has already had significant implications for currency markets, particularly for the euro-dollar pair. Divergence creates an interference risk and the possibility of miscommunication, which could trigger new bouts of global financial market volatility.

Pages