Category Archives: Development Economics

Global poverty rates down but challenges still remain

The world attained the first Millennium Development Goal target—to cut the 1990 poverty rate in half by 2015—five years ahead of schedule, in 2010. Despite the progress made in reducing poverty, the number of people living in extreme poverty globally remains unacceptably high. And given global growth forecasts, poverty reduction may not be fast enough to reach the target of ending extreme poverty by 2030.

According to the most recent estimates:

  • 1990 – 36% of the world’s population lived on less than US$1.90 a day
  • 2013 – 11 % of the world’s population lived on less than US$1.90 a day
  • 2015 – 10 % of the world’s population lived on less than US$1.90 a day

Nearly 1.1 billion fewer people are living in extreme poverty than in 1990. In 2015, 736 million people lived on less than $1.90 a day, down from 1.85 billion in 1990.

While poverty rates have declined in all regions, progress has been uneven:

  • East Asia and Pacific (47 million extreme poor)
  • Europe and Central Asia (7 million) have reduced extreme poverty to below 3 percent, achieving the 2030 target.
  • More than half of the extreme poor live in Sub-Saharan Africa. In fact, the number of poor in the region increased by 9 million, with 413 million people living on less than US$1.90 a day in 2015, more than all the other regions combined. If the trend continues, by 2030, nearly 9 out of 10 extreme poor will be in Sub-Saharan Africa.
  • The majority of the global poor live in rural areas, are poorly educated, employed in the agricultural sector, and under 18 years of age.

Challenges

One of the main challenges is that it is becoming very difficult too reach those that are in extreme poverty as they often live in countries that are remote or have internal strife amongst its population. Furthermore access to good schools, health care, electricity, safe water, and other critical services remains elusive for many people, often determined by socioeconomic status, gender, ethnicity, and geography.

Even those that seem to be able to move out of poverty can only do it for a certain period of time as economic shocks, food insecurity and climate change can be their undoing and revert them back into poverty.

Policies

The book ‘The End of Poverty: How we can make it happen in our lifetime’ by Jeffrey Sachs (2005) looks policies to overcome poverty. Although it is an old publication it does have some valid points. However what is imperative is that a one-size fits all policy doesn’t work as all countries having some unique variables that requires a customised approach.

At the most basic level, the key to ending extreme poverty is to enable the poorest of the poor to get their foot on the ladder of development. The development ladder hovers overhead, and the poorest of the poor are stuck beneath it. They lack the minimum amount of capital necessary to get a foothold, and therefore need a boost up to the first rung. The extreme poor lack six major kinds of capital:

  • Human capital: health, nutrition, and skills needed for each person to be economically productive
  • Business capital: the machinery, facilities, motorized transport used in agriculture, industry, and services
  • Infrastructure: roads, power, water and sanitation, airports and seaports, and telecommunications systems, that are critical in-puts into business productivity
  • Natural capital: arable land, healthy soils, biodiversity, and well-functioning ecosystems that provide the environmental services needed by human society
  • Public institutional capital: the commercial law, judicial systems, government services and policing that underpin the peaceful and prosperous division of labor
  • Knowledge capital: the scientific and technological know-how that raises productivity in business output and the promotion of physical and natural capital

Source: The Economist – Espresso

Unemployment – a ‘luxury good’ in the developing world

Image result for unemployment in developing countriesFollowing from my last post about the welfare state, the lack of jobless benefits in developing countries has led to very low unemployment levels as workers simply cannot afford not to work. In order for them to survive they need to be prepared to do any sort of job. Even if unemployment benefits are available a lot of the time they are not worth the effort. In Thailand, for example, payments last six months and range from 1,650 baht per month ($52) to 15,000. To be eligible, a Thai worker must register with the social-security office. But only one in three does so.

Therefore if they have lost their job what do they do? A laid-off factory worker might lend a hand on the family farm, become a casual day labourer, or sell trinkets on the street. When Annan Chanthan left his job as a graphic designer in Bangkok five years ago, he thought about collecting unemployment benefits, but never bothered. He now earns more money selling lottery tickets next to Hua Lamphong railway station than he did in his former profession.

But the situation can be complicated in developing countries, with their large informal sectors, which offer a relatively easy way for unemployed people to pick up some income — undetected by the government — while they continue to receive jobless benefits. However the level of the unemployment benefit influence the duration of the period of unemployment, but it doesn’t really help workers find better jobs (such as those that pay a higher wage). However, the level of the benefit does seem to improve wages somewhat, although not the unemployment duration.

In poor countries, unemployment is paradoxically concentrated among the better off and better educated. They can afford to wait a bit for a job that matches their aspirations and qualifications. Their behaviour may also explain unemployment’s curious stability but when times are bad, they may settle for a worse job or stop looking, rather than wait longer, which would add to the rate of unemployment.

Source: The Economist June 9th 2018 – The luxury of unemployment

 

 

US question globalisation whilst India embrace global trade

The Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) is a development strategy proposed by the Chinese government that focuses on connectivity and cooperation between Eurasian countries. Through infrastructure development China wants to boost trade and stimulate growth across Asia and into Europe. Ratings agency Fitch said that $900bn in projects were planned or in progress.

India is a country that will benefit from this development and recently Prime Minister Modi positively responded to Chinese President XI Jinping’s vision of the world – the BRI being the most obvious and a catalyst to India’s foreign policy aims which responds to the global trends. These are:

  1. India has the potential to become the world’s third largest economy by 2030. It intends to do this by sharing prosperity and working with other countries to set joint goals.
  2. Political ideologies are now encompassing equity and environmental issues. In India they are becoming more main stream policies for government and sustainable resources use is important in the 21st century.
  3. India is looking at Asia as the largest common market. Asia is reverting to its historical equilibrium of an integrated continent and does not want to choose between India or China. Instead, it supports a resetting of their relations to shape the goals of the ‘Asian Century’, which include the Bell and Belt Initiative and security related differences.
  4. India has a comparative advantage in the digital world and the potential to be the engine behind global growth.
  5. India priority is settling the boundary issues with its neighbours, enhancing diplomatic leverage and building a $10 million economy.

China is trying to improve international norms, technical standards and institutions through the BRI which covers more than 900 projects – 76 ports and terminals in 34 countries and special arbitration courts, about 80% which are contracted to Chinese companies. Whilst Prime Minister Modi is trying to divert the Western framework for reducing emissions in favour of human well-being within ecological limits.

And as the rivalry between the US, and Russia and China intensifies, India can play a stabilising role on agreed goals within the framework of a multi-stakeholder in the “Asian Century”.

Source: Neighbors move toward ‘Asian Century’ – ChinaDaily 28-29th April 2018

Has the WTO done enough to help developing countries?

Below is a good clip from Al Jazeera about the problems facing developing economies and it asks the question has the WTO done enough to assist poor nations. It goes back to the WTO: Doha Round of trade talks in 2001 which aimed to lower barriers to trade and therefore facilitate greater global trade but agricultural subsidies and tariffs remain unresolved. The issues seem to be between developed v developing countries and the changing nature of the world economy since 2001.

Fed might tighten but emerging markets could ease.

From the Espresso app by The Economist I came across a useful graph showing inflation figures in emerging economies. I used this with my NCEA Level 2 class when we discussed inflation and how if the inflation rate is below the target rate there may be room to loosen monetary policy and cut interest rates. This should stimulate demand in the economy and increase output and employment.

In America investors are experiencing the novelty of an inflation scare. But in many emerging economies, including several of the biggest, price pressures are at unusual lows. In China and Indonesia inflation is below target. In Brazil, for the first time this century, it has remained under 3% for seven straight months. And in Russia, where the central bank is meeting today, prices are rising at their slowest pace since the fall of the Soviet Union. This lack of inflationary pressure gives central bankers some welcome room for monetary manoeuvre. Even if America’s Federal Reserve turns hawkish, emerging markets need not slavishly follow its lead.

Gourmet chocolate the economic lifeline to Venezuela

At the end of the 18th century Venezuela was the world’s leading cocoa producer. But the rise of the oil industry in the 20th century and the emergence of Hugo Chavez saw the decline of the cocoa industry. Chavez boosted state involvement in the economy and promised to create a society of equals. However since the crash in oil prices – up to 90% of government revenue came from oil – society has been divided. Doctors and engineers rarely make as much as US$50 a month whilst other with access to small amounts of hard currency can afford gourmet products.

Recently in Caracas there have been some 20 new businesses launched producing bars of Gourmet chocolate which retails for around US0.80 each in high end grocery stores — well out of the reach of most Venezuelans who earn less than that in a week but catering for the well-off in a two-tier system. Bars can fetch US$10 in a place like New York and Paris but bureaucracy makes this very difficult.

Although aware of these barriers one producer, Nancy Silva, is now focused on getting her chocolate to France, where she once sold a single kilo of her chocolate for the equivalent of 80 euros (US$96), which is today the equivalent of five years of minimum wage salary in Venezuela.

Venezuela cocoa beans

Venezuela produces 16,000 tonnes per year which is less than 1% of the global output and less than 10% of regional output when you take into consideration big producers like Brazil and Ecuador. However the use of Venezuela cocoa is seen as a marketing tool for shops as bars are produced with 100% local cocoa which is deemed high quality.

Many gourmet bars made in the United States now prominently advertise the use of Venezuelan cocoa but generally mix in other less-desirable cocoas. Bars made in Venezuela by contrast are made with 100 percent local cocoa.

This gives the new Venezuelan chocolatiers a leg up as they tap into the global ‘bean-to-bar’ movement, in which chocolate makers oversee the entire process of turning cocoa fruit into sellable treats.

On the second floor of an old mansion in Caracas, economist and chef Giovanni Conversi has been making specialty chocolate for two years under the name Mantuano. Sprinkled with sea salt or aromatic fruits from the Amazon, the chocolate bars are a hit in London, Miami and Panama City in specialty chocolate stores or shops that specialize in Latin American food.

Source: Reuters – Gourmet chocolate becomes economic lifeline in Venezuela crisis – 12th January

Property rights needed for post-Mugabe Zimbabwe

Determining who owns the land is a necessary step to development and democratisation in Zimbabwe. Nearly all Zimbabweans who benefited from Mr. Mugabe’s land reform policy lack titles, or legal ownership of their property — leaving them at the mercy of the politically powerful. Titles are necessary if landowners are going to secure bank loans and without these loans farmers cannot buy the equipment needed to move on from a subsistence farming environment and their dependence on the government for aid etc.

Government officials, aware of the situation, have urgently started to survey the 6,000 farms that were seized after the fast-track program (where white farmers were forced off their land by the pro-Mugabe ‘Zimbabwe National Liberation War Veterans Association’) in the late 1990’s. This move will hopefully mean that Zimbabwe can now qualify for badly needed loans from international creditors like the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank.

Mr. Chaparadza, the village leader, said that as part of any resolution of the land issue, the new government should compensate white farmers.

“Even if they come back, that’s fine as long as they give us another place,” he said. “We won’t deny them. What we need is only some land where we can survive — and title to the land.’’

Property rights and Hernando de Soto

Peruvian economist Hernando de Soto sees a main obstacle to the development of markets and capitalism within developing countries being linked with the lack of property rights. The result of this is that most people’s resources are commercially and financially invisible. Nobody knows who owns what or where, who is accountable for the performance of obligations, who is responsible for losses and fraud, or what mechanisms are available to enforce payment for services and goods delivered. Consequently, most potential assets in these countries have not been identified or realized; there is little accessible capital, and the exchange economy is constrained and sluggish. However in the West, where property rights and other legal documentation exist, assets take on a role of securing loans and credit for a variety of purposes – building capital with capital.

De Soto estimates that about 85% of urban parcels in Third World and former communist nations, and between 40 and 53 % of rural parcels, are held in such a way that they cannot be used to create capital. The total value of the real estate held but not legally owned by the poor of these countries is at least $9.3 trillion. This is approximately twice as much as the total circulating U.S. money supply and nearly as much as the total value of all the companies listed on the main stock exchanges of the world’s twenty most developed countries. The lack of such an integrated system of property rights in today’s developing nations makes it impossible for the poor to leverage their now informal ownerships into capital (as collateral for credit), which de Soto claims would form the basis for entrepreneurship. However, in reality, it cannot be seen as the panacea. Titling must be followed by a series of politically challenging steps. Improving the efficiency of judicial systems, rewriting bankruptcy codes, restructuring financial market regulations, and similar reforms will involve much more difficult choices by policymakers. Zimbabwe seems to be in need of Hernando de Soto’s ideas. His book The Mystery of Capital: Why Capitalism Triumphs in the West and Fails Everywhere Else is a good read.

Source: New York Times – 20th January 2018

Below is are two great clips from the ‘Commanding Heights’ series with Hernando de Soto talking about property rights. The second one has an interview with a Tanzanian coffee farmer and asks the question – “who owns the land around here?”

 

 

Foreign Aid – where does it come from?

Below is an informative clip from The Economist on foreign aid. Useful for A2 students looking at developing economies and foreign aid.

Rich countries are giving away more in aid than at any other time on record. In 2016 more than $140bn was distributed around the world. According to the latest breakdown in 2015 America gave the most money away – nearly $31bn to at least 40 countries and organisations such as the world bank. This included $770m to Pakistan and $250m to Mexico. This may sound generous but the United States has the largest economy in the world. American foreign aid spending in 2015 was only 0.17% of the gross national income. Far less than other rich countries. Sweden and Norway are the biggest givers, donating over 1% of their gross national income to foreign aid. The biggest receivers of aid in 2015 were Afghanistan, India, Vietnam, Ethiopia and Indonesia. Afghanistan received $3.8bn and India $3.1bn. Despite being the second biggest economy in the world, China received $1.5bn in development aid in 2015. This included around $750m from Germany and $67m from Britain. The total amount of foreign aid is at an all time high – up 9% in 2016. This is largely down to the generosity of six countries who meet or exceed the United Nations foreign aid target, donating more than 0.7% of gross national income.

Norway sovereign wealth fund takes an ethical stance

Norway’s soveriegn-weatlh fund surpassed US$11trn in assets on September 19th this year. With its significant revenue from North Sea oil and gas getting invested overseas it is likely to get even bigger to the extent that Norway can start to shape ideas abroad. It is increasingly speaking out on ethical behaviour of companies and is an increasingly activist shareholder. The ethics watchdog for the fund recommends that it excludes several firms in oil, cement and steel industries for emitting too much greenhouse gas. This may seem hypocritical in that Norway produces significant amounts of oil but it operates under its own ethical guideline set by parliament.

Source: The Economist – 23-9-17

Missing out on billions of dollars

Norway’s sovereign wealth fund has share in 9,000 companies, 1.3% of the entire world’s listed equity. It has lost out on billions of dollars of revenue by its government prohibiting any investment in tobacco companies and manufactures of certain weapons. The fund is forbidden by law from investing in firms that produce nuclear weapons or landmines, or are involved in serious and systematic human rights violations, among other criteria. These include Boeing, Airbus, Imperial Tobacco, Philip Morris. Last year the council looked into the construction industry in Qatar – host of the 2022 soccer World Cup – and neighboring countries, after reports of abuse by human rights groups. Since then new regulations have been implemented which protect the rights and living and working conditions of labour in the construction industry. This includes the right of immigrant workers to hold onto their passport. There is a broad consensus in Norway that the fund should not make money from companies that take people’s lives.

Norway and coase theorem

Another way Norway is trying to influence global warming is by using its sovereign wealth fund to change behaviors of other countries. Ronald Coase argued that bargaining between parties could produce a mutually beneficial and efficient solution to problems like pollution. An example of this was the a deal between Liberia and Norway. Norway will give $150m in aid in return for Liberia stopping the destruction of its forests.

Stick and Carrot

The stick approach of trying to force Liberia to stop cutting down its trees might give way to a more effective carrot approach by paying Liberia to do so. This makes both sides better off. Liberia still gets the aid and Norway gets to preserve biodiversity and take a small step against climate change.

5 or 6 more China’s

The reality is that the planet can’t stand another 5 or 6 China’s but developing countries still need to grow and, like their developed country counterparts, it will involve greenhouse gas emissions. If we are to curb global emissions developing countries will have to leapfrog to new technologies as the burning of traditional fossil fuels will just exacerbate the problem. However developing countries have neither the resources nor the incentive to reduce dependence on fossil fuels on their own as their main focus is economic growth. Whilst developed countries have a lot to lose from developing-world emissions it is in their interest to pay the latter to curb emissions e.g. Norway paying Liberia not to chop down its trees. Although this looks a simple enough policy politicians will not be so enthused by it as money that is paid overseas to cut climate change is not very popular with the electorate and therefore the government.

China’s changing trade dynamics

On 7th April 2008 New Zealand became the first OECD country to sign a free trade deal with China, an economy which in the 1970’s was one of the poorest countries in the global economy. Today China is the world’s second largest economy and the fastest growing at a rate around 7% per year. However China’s trade composition has changed significantly over the years as its economy has developed. Two main trends stand out.

The decline in importance of primary goods (mainly food) as a proportion of China’s total commodity trade.  China’s exports have changed from being dominated by labour-intensive manufactured products in the mid 1990’s to more sophisticated manufactures today. 1994 – 40.6% of exports were miscellaneous manufactured articles. 2014 45.8% of exports were machinery and transport equipment.

A changing comparative advantage

A country’s comparative advantage refers its production of a good or service at a lower opportunity cost than another. Instead of every country trying to produce a wide of goods , countries can grow faster by specializing in the goods they can produce most cheaply and trading for others. Many Asian countries – Japan, Korea, Taiwan – have gone through 4 stages (as shown below) of development through a specialization index. It shows the first stage is the Developing Country stage, where Primary commodities are more competitive than both Other manufactures and Machinery. The second and third stages are the young and mature NIEs (newly industrialised economies) respectively, where for both stages Other manufactures is the most competitive sector, but the ranking of Other manufactures vis-à-vis Machinery is opposite. At the fourth stage – the pinnacle of trade structures – Machinery is most competitive.

Stages of Development.png

*NIE = Newly Industrialised Economy

A country’s trade structure can be classified into any of these 4 stages according to the relative magnitudes of the country’s specialisation indices across 3 sectors:

Three Sectors - China Trade.png

The figure below illustrates the evolution of China’s trade structure during 1984-2014. It can be seen that China became a young NIE in 1990 – when the specialisation index of Other manufactures surpassed that of Primary commodities – and then a mature NIE in 1999 – when Machinery passed Primary commodities. This pattern is consistent with the changing composition of China’s exports, from labour-intensive products to a more sophisticated mix led by various types of machinery and equipment.

China change in specialisation.pngImplications for the global economy
China’s rapid rise poses both challenges and opportunities for other countries as they are exposed to increased competition at home and abroad. For many firms in rich countries, intensifying competition from China’s exports has reduced demand for the goods they produce, with a corresponding decline in workers employed. Such changes in the global economic environment affect the allocation of factors of production and cause sectoral productivity fluctuations, as well as driving changes in comparative advantages among nations. Trade between developing (e.g. China) and developed economies (e.g. US) has been on the rise. Developed countries with high wages and expensive welfare programmes are having trouble coping with the effects of developing countries becoming major global players. It is estimated that 2.0-2.4 million people in the US lost their jobs as a result of increasing Chinese import competition during 1999-2011.

Source: China’s changing comparative advantage: Trends and implications by Murat Ungor. EcoNZ@Otago – August 2016