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Quote of the Week: Thomas Piketty

Sina Odugbemi's picture

Thomas Piketty"The success of my book shows there are a lot of people who are not economists but are tired of being told that those questions are too complicated for them." [...] “ What pleases me is that this book reaches ‘normal’ people, a rather wide public.”

- Thomas Piketty, a French economist who works on wealth and income inequality. He is the author of the best-selling book Capital in the Twenty-First Century (2013), in which he argues that the rate of return on capital (wealth) in developed countries is persistently greater than economic growth. Other things being equal, he states, faster economic growth diminishes the importance of wealth in a society, while slower growth increases it. To counter the steady concentration of wealth, Piketty proposes a global tax on wealth. Piketty is also a professor at the École des hautes études en sciences sociales (EHESS), professor at the Paris School of Economics and Centennial professor at the London School of Economics.

Have technology and globalization kicked away the ladder of ‘easy’ development? Dani Rodrik thinks so

Duncan Green's picture

Dani RodrikEconomic transformation is necessary for growth that can lead to poverty reduction. However, economic transformation in low-income countries is changing as recent evidence suggests countries are running out of industrialization options much sooner than once expected. Is this a cause for concern? What does the past, present, and likely future of structural transformation look like? Read on to find out why leading economist Dani Rodrik is pessimistic and what some possible rays of light are. 

Dani Rodrik was in town his week, and I attended a brilliant presentation at ODI. Very exciting. He’s been one of my heroes ever since I joined the aid and development crowd in the late 90s, when he was one of the few high profile economists to be arguing against the liberalizing market-good/state-bad tide on trade, investment and just about everything else. Dani doggedly and brilliantly made the case for the role of the state in intelligent industrial policy. But now he’s feeling pessimistic about the future (one discussant described it as ‘like your local priest losing his faith’).

The gloom arises from his analysis of the causes and consequences of premature industrialization. I blogged about his paper on this a few months ago, but here are some additional thoughts that emerged in the discussion. He’s also happy for you to nick his powerpoint.

Dani identified two fundamental engines of growth. The first is a ‘neoclassical engine’, consisting of a slow accumulation of human capital (eg skills), institutions and other ‘fundamental capabilities’. The second, which he ascribed to Arthur Lewis, is driven by structural differences within national economies – islands of modern, high productivity industry in a sea of traditional low productivity. Countries go through a ‘structural transformation’ when an increasing amount of the economy moves from the traditional to the modern sector, with a resulting leap in productivity leading to the kinds of stellar growth that has characterized take-off countries over the last 60 years.

Simulated Manufacturing Employment SharesManufacturing has been key to that second driver. It is technologically dynamic, with technologies spreading rapidly across the world, allowing poor countries to hitch a ride on stuff invented elsewhere. It has absorbed lots of unskilled labour (unlike mining, for example). And since manufactures are tradable, countries can specialize and produce loads of a particular kind of goods, without flooding the domestic market and driving down prices.

But that very dynamism has produced diminishing returns in terms of growth and (especially) jobs. Countries are hitting a peak of manufacturing jobs earlier and earlier in their development process (see graph). And it could get much worse – just imagine the impact if/when garments, the classic job-creating first rung on the industrialization ladder, shift to automated production in the same way as vehicle production.
 

"Journalism and PR: News Media and Public Relations in the Digital Age"

Sina Odugbemi's picture
journalist and public relations on cameraThe communication business worldwide is, at bottom, a collaborative tussle between two tribes: the tribe of journalists working for newspapers, magazines and broadcast stations versus the tribe of publicists and communicators who work for different organizations, and those personalities important and rich enough to afford full time support. For decades, if not centuries, there was no doubting which tribe was stronger. Journalists had the whip hand simply because they were the gatekeepers. They controlled access to mass publics, they shaped reputations, and they decided what mattered and what did not. When I was active in the media, both in Lagos and London, my colleagues and I disdained PR practitioners. They were supplicants, always imploring us to use a press release, always anxious about how a boss or the organization they worked for would be portrayed by our newspaper.

Well, according to John Lloyd and Laura Toogood, the pecking order is changing. In a new book published by the Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism, University of Oxford, United Kingdom, the authors make the following case:
 

Public relations is booming at present, and its mechanisms and practices are being adopted by corporations and companies across the globe. Journalism in the developed world is undergoing a series of radical changes, and is available in a greater choice of forms than ever before. The first, however, is highly profitable: while newspaper, magazine, and some forms of broadcast journalism struggle to discover a stable model for making profits. This will not change soon.

Newspapers and magazines under pressure are thus pulling their editorial closer to public relations and advertising to secure funding, both in the carriage of native advertising and in using public relations narratives. The internet, which increasingly carries all media, blurs the distinctions which had taken physical form in the pre-digital era. (p. 129)

Davos: New Briefing on Global Wealth, Inequality and an Update of that 85 Richest = 3.5 Billion Poorest Killer Fact

Duncan Green's picture

This is Davos week, and over on the Oxfam Research team’s excellent new Mind the Gap blog, Deborah Hardoon has an update on the mind-boggling maths of global inequality. 

 
 



Wealth data from Credit Suisse, finds that the 99% have been getting less and less of the economic pie over the past few years as the 1% get more. By next year, if the 2010-2014 trend for the growing concentration of global wealth is to continue, the richest 1% of people in the world will have more wealth than the rest of the world put together.


Measurements of wealth capture financial assets (including money in the bank) as well as non financial assets such as property. It is not just inefficient to concentrate more and more wealth in the hands of a few, but also unjust. Just think of all the empty properties bought by wealthy people as investments rather than providing housing for those in need of a home. Think of the billionaire chugging out carbon emissions flying around in a private jet, whilst the poorest countries suffer most from the impacts of climate change and the poorest individuals living want for a decent bicycle to get to school or work.
 

A Seismic Shift in Improving the Behaviour of Large Companies? Guest Post from Phil Bloomer

Duncan Green's picture

PhilBloomerMy former boss, Phil Bloomer is now running the Business and Human Rights Resource Centre (check out its smart new multilingual website). Here he sees some signs of hope that the debate on corporate responsibility is moving beyond trench warfare over voluntary v regulatory approaches. Fingers crossed.



‘Mind the gap’ is a refrain that any visitor to London’s Underground trains will have had drilled into their brains. In development and human rights, one of the most controversial issues is how to deal with the dangerous governance gap that has opened up between the powerful globalising forces in our economies, often led by large companies, and the often weak capacity of societies to cope with the problems and damage these forces can create.

A fortnight ago came a seismic shift in this debate. The UN Human Rights Council adopted a resolution to create an international binding treaty for transnational corporations. This comes three years after the adoption, by consensus, of the more voluntary, UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights. Most observers put this major tremor down to rising frustration at the apparent glacial pace of implementation of the Guiding Principles by governments (only the UK, Netherlands and Denmark have so far agreed National Action Plans), and few companies are stepping up. The age-old, and sometimes theological, divisions between opposing panaceas of state-regulation v voluntary codes may be returning.

Are We Measuring the Right Things? The Latest Multidimensional Poverty Index is Launched Today – What do You Think?

Duncan Green's picture

I’m definitely not a stats geek, but every now and then, I get caught up in some of the nerdy excitement generated by measuring the state of the world. Take today’s launch (in London, but webstreamed) of a new ‘Global Multidimensional Poverty Index 2014’ for example – it’s fascinating.

This is the fourth MPI (the first came out in 2010), and is again produced by the Oxford Poverty and Human Development Initiative (OPHI), led by Sabina Alkire, a definite uber-geek on all things poverty related. The MPI brings together 10 indicators, with equal weighting for education, health and living standards (see table). If you tick a third or more of the boxes, you are counted as poor.

The Things We Do: Will Money Make You Mean?

Roxanne Bauer's picture
In a TEDTalk published Dec 20, 2013, social psychologist Paul Piff shares the results of several research studies on how people behave when they feel wealthy. He concludes that while inequality is a complex and formidable challenge, there are bright spots, too. 
 
In the first study, two participants are asked to play Monopoly, but one player is given more money than the other.  Throughout the course of the game, the 'rich' player moved around the board louder, made sounds of dominance and non-verbal displays of power, and became ruder and less sympathetic to the 'poor' player.  After the game ended and the rich player won, the rich player talked about what he/she did and bought during the game to explain the outcome- they did not mention the unfair advantage they were given at the start of the game.

Piff believes that Monopoly can be used as a metaphor for many contemporary societies in which some people are born with more access to resources, money and power. 
 
TED Talks, Paul Piff

The Case for Democracy- A New Study on India, South Africa and Brazil (shame it’s not much good – missed opportunity)

Duncan Green's picture

The ODI is a 10 minute train ride from my home, so I’m easily tempted out of my lair for the occasional lunchtime meeting. Last week it was the launch of ‘Democracy Works: The Democratic Alternative from the South’, a paper on the three ‘rapidly developing democracies’ of Brazil, India and South Africa, co-authored by the Legatum Institute and South Africa’s Centre for Development and Enterprise (not ODI, who merely hosted the launch). I was underwhelmed.

Which is a shame, because the topic is great – China’s rise and the West’s economic implosion are undermining arguments for democratic and open systems around the world. The report quotes Jacob Zuma: “the economic crisis facing countries in the West has put a question mark on the paradigm and approaches which a few years ago were celebrated as dogma to be worshipped.”
 

Top New African Progress Report Focusses on Farms, Fisheries and Finance

Duncan Green's picture

The Africa Progress Panel (a group of the great and good, chaired by Kofi Annan) recently launched its 2014 Africa Progress Report. It’s an excellent, and very nicely written (heartfelt thanks) overview of some key areas: agriculture, fisheries and finance. Some highlights:

‘For more than a decade, Africa’s economies have been doing well, according to graphs that chart the growth of GDP, exports and foreign investment. The experience of Africa’s people has been more mixed. Viewed from the rural areas and informal settlements that are home to most Africans, the economic recovery looks less impressive. Some – like the artisanal fishermen of West Africa – have been pushed to the brink of destitution. For others, growth has brought extraordinary wealth.

There is much cause for optimism. Demography, globalization, new technologies and changes in the environment for business are combining to create opportunities for development that were absent before the economic recovery. However, optimism should not give way to the exuberance now on display in some quarters. Governments urgently need to make sure that economic growth doesn’t just create wealth for some, but improves wellbeing for the majority. Above all, that means strengthening the focus on Africa’s greatest and most productive assets, the region’s farms and fisheries. This report calls for more effective protection, management and mobilization of the continent’s vast ocean and forest resources. This protection is needed to support transformative growth.

Quote of the Week: Ha-Joon Chang

Sina Odugbemi's picture

“We have been led to believe that the market is some kind of natural phenomenon. But in the end, the market is a political construct.”

- Ha-Joon Chang, a leading heterodox economist and institutional economist who specialises in development economics. Chang has written several widely-discussed books on policy, including Kicking Away the Ladder: Development Strategy in Historical Perspective (2002).  Prospect Magazine ranked him as one of the top World Thinkers in 2013.

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