Today’s post is by Erwin van Veen (Twitter @ErwinVeen) a senior research fellow with the Clingendael Conflict Research Unit of the Netherlands Institute of International Relations, based on interviews conducted by the author during a recent visit to Guinea.
Over the last two-and-a-half years, a UN-supported stabilization package has helped put the ongoing transition from military to civilian rule in Guinea on a more sustainable footing. It largely took the form of a set of security sector reform interventions. While progress since 2010 has been substantive, Guinea today remains fragile. This highlights security as a critical precondition for development. It also demonstrates that initial security improvements must be followed up to become sustainable. Finally, it suggests what kind of results external money may ‘buy’ in a transition context. All three issues raise challenges for donors in terms of their policy focus (e.g. in the context of the post-2015 debate), their ability to commit long-term and their need to demonstrate clear-cut, ‘value-for-money’ results.
Between 1984 and 2009 the people of Guinea lived under a series of military and strong-arm governments that combined oppression with repression, plunging the country into a severe economic downturn. In 2010, the election of president Condé heralded a first step towards the return of civilian rule. However, the role and behavior of the armed forces continued to pose a critical challenge to political stability. The military retained a strong grip on political life and a visible position in society: theft, intimidation and violence were common. Citizens experienced the military as a daily, random threat on the streets.
In a rare show of unity, ECOWAS, the AU, UN and Government of Guinea recognized the instability of this situation in 2010 and jointly conducted a review of the country’s security situation. It led to a comprehensive, UN-supported, initiative to stabilize the security sector. Two-and-a-half years later both the results and the challenges look substantial. While Guinea’s poor governance and economic situation – exacerbated by its ‘bad neighborhood’ – still make for a combustible combination, the specter of another coup is fading. The military has moved from the streets into the barracks, weapons have disappeared from sight and civilian oversight improved.
A census of the armed forces that led to the retirement of 4000 out of roughly 24,000 soldiers – with dignity and a package – proved a critical part of the intervention. It helped reduce corruption in the military by weeding out ‘ghost soldiers’, reduced the potential for violence and increased the affordability of the military. Most importantly perhaps, it was a first step in restoring an ‘esprit de corps’ amongst the armed forces. Another key part of the intervention included the creation of a small, UN-led team to provide strategic advice on the security sector reform process to the office of the president. Leveraging the UN’s prestige, this team played an important role in maintaining momentum, building confidence and stimulating the re-instatement of critical institutional practices. Finally, additional interventions enabled difficult conversations to start on sensitive topics like democratic oversight and better protection of women against violence. The entire package came at the bargain price of $11 million out of a total Peace Building Fund (PBF) envelope for Guinea of $18 million.
What is remarkable is that in such a short time span a legal framework governing the security forces has been put in place, the previously prevalent culture of military secrecy has been reduced, the budget for the security forces is now publicly available (the government itself financed the retirement of the most recent contingent of soldiers in December 2013) and public consultations are going on about the role of the security forces (including the police) in society. No less important for the citizens of Conakry, soldiers now obey traffic laws like anyone else. The military is poised to contribute a battalion to MINUSMA (United Nations Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in Mali) later this year, which will further increase its accountability, cohesion and esprit de corps.
These results may not seem transformative in Western parliaments – they are in Guinea.
Three factors played an important role. First, the UN leveraged the credibility it gained from staying in the country throughout Guinea’s crises – bilateral donors largely left – to advantage. Second, PBF funds were mobilized in a timely and flexible manner. It is worthwhile recalling that Guinea is neither post-conflict nor hosts a peacekeeping mission – the usual criteria for PBF support – and so this is a testimony to the catalytic role the fund can play. Third, and most importantly, the Guinean government recognized the urgency of the process and drove it hard, putting political capital on the line. Three decades of coups and military rule undoubtedly provided a useful reminder of the consequences of failure.
However, the devil is in the detail and this progress has, in a way, merely thrown up the next set of challenges. For example, now that the army has vacated the social space it used to occupy to the benefit of the police, the latter needs to step up to ensure public security. So does the country’s notoriously ineffective justice system. Yet, they are poorly governed, led, paid, trained and equipped. Reforming these organizations is also likely to command less political interest. For example, the 2009 ‘stadium massacre’ remains unresolved despite there being clear clues as to suspects and appropriate next steps. Finally, funds are becoming scarcer now that Guinea’s ‘success’ puts it at risk of seeing its PBF funding discontinued and donors in-country are few and not necessarily well-coordinated. Without further political and financial support the reform process may flounder, setting the scene for a slow erosion of what capacity has been created and increasing the potential for future violence.
Hence, paradoxically, if next steps cannot be taken, the success of the stabilization intervention may increase instability. A lack of prospects, basic services and poor governance continue to ensure that small incidents can spontaneously escalate and quickly lead to widespread violence. For example, a two-month long span of blackouts in some of the poorer suburbs of Conakry resulted in massive demonstrations leading to at least one death and several injured on 18 February. Police performance was poor. Such incidents are frequent.
In other words, given its help in achieving initial successes, can the international community now demonstrate it has staying power in accompanying the next step of the security sector reform process? Time will tell and yet the challenge is real.
It’s fashionable these days to talk down official development assistance – ‘aid’, for want of a better word. Certainly, there’s little doubt that its relative importance has dwindled as more developing countries gather the economic momentum they need to finance their own progress and as aid becomes just one of many sources of finance for development.
All of this is welcome and helps us imagine a day when aid is just a distant memory. But that day is not today. Aid still matters, as even a quick glance at the websites of DAC members’ development agencies shows. Here we can see countless examples of how donor countries work with developing countries to get ahead of the curve in meeting social and other objectives.
So, aid still has a role to play, but that role is changing and sometimes at such a pace that it can be hard to keep up. That’s why I want to set down, first, some of the characteristics of the changing world in which aid now operates and, second, how aid can best meet the needs of developing countries in this ever-changing landscape.
The world in which aid operates has shifted profoundly. Take poverty. The poorest people once lived in ‘poor’ countries but, as Andy Sumner has shown, today around three-quarters of them now live in middle-income countries. On one level, this shift simply reflects what some have called a statistical ‘artefact’ – the poor didn’t move countries, but their countries moved classifications from low to middle income.
On another level, however, it underlines how the fight against poverty is evolving. As Owen Barder has argued, ‘The figures suggest that the biggest causes of poverty are not lack of development in the country as a whole, but political, economic and social marginalisation of particular groups in countries that are otherwise doing quite well.’
At the very least, this shift underlines the reality that developing countries are increasingly diverse, spanning a spectrum from middle-income emerging economies like China to low-income fragile states like South Sudan. Their needs vary greatly, as does their capacity to drive – and fund – their own progress. To be effective, aid must respond to this diversity.
A second key change is the increasing importance of non-aid financing, such as foreign investment and tax revenues, for developing countries, as well as development co-operation provided by countries beyond the DAC. At the OECD, we calculate that aid provided by the ‘traditional’ DAC donor countries now accounts for just one-quarter of total financing for development (official development assistance as captured in DAC statistics divided by total developing countries’ resource receipts, 2012 data).
Aid must also respond to the changing international development agenda. While the final shape of the post-2015 development goals has yet to emerge, they seem likely to include at least two priorities. First, building on the MDGs, world leaders will probably commit to the eradication of absolute poverty over a relatively short timeframe. Second, we’re likely to see a gradual merging of the development and sustainability agendas. This makes sense: it’s already clear that climate change threatens the hard-won progress made by many developing countries in recent years while undermining the foundations of future growth in both developing and developed countries – carbon emissions know no borders.
So, how should aid respond? In many areas, it already is. In recent years, for example, a growing slice of the aid pie has been spent on climate change mitigation. And the pie needs to get bigger: by 2020, an estimated $100 billion a year will be needed from public and private sources to tackle climate change. In other areas, however, aid is dragging its feet, with some countries getting far less than their fair share: using a recently developed analytical tool, the OECD calculates that 8 countries – from Madagascar to Togo – are ‘under-aided’.
All of this only emphasises the challenges that aid must address. If it’s to succeed, it must become ‘smart’ – increasingly targeted towards the poorest countries and those that face the greatest difficulties in raising alternative finance for development. It must also become increasingly strategic in creating effective development partnerships and in mobilising non-aid sources of financing for development. These ideas might sound abstract, but they have real-world applications. A few examples:
Untie aid to improve transparency: ‘tied’ aid obliges developing countries to use goods or suppliers based in donor countries. Untying aid creates greater transparency to build more effective partnerships, and cuts the cost of goods and services by at least 15%.
More value for money with predictable aid: uncertainties about future resources complicate countries’ decision-making and can stand in their way when it comes to the strategic planning of their own development priorities. More predictable aid allows countries to better implement their own development plans and reduces the deadweight loss associated with aid volatility, which has been estimated to amount to 15%-20% of the total value of aid.
Use aid to mobilise domestic funding: in Colombia, a $15,000 investment in capacity building for tax administrators was followed by a 76% increase in tax revenues – a rate of return of about $170 for every dollar spent.
Use aid to mobilise additional resources: guarantees for development have been attracting attention among both the development community and the private sector as an effective tool to leverage private finance for development. According to a survey recently conducted by the OECD, guarantees issued by development finance institutions, both multilateral and bilateral, mobilised $15.3 billion from the private sector for investments in developing countries.
A last point: ‘smart’ should also mean taking our knowledge of what works in aid and putting it to good use. But, as a recent OECD paper pointed out, only 0.07% of aid allocated to fragile states is currently being used to bolster tax revenues in developing countries. Smart move? I’m afraid not.
Visitors to Paris may have noticed that it can be hard to find a taxi. Lately, there have been days when it was impossible. The explanation? A strike.
Before you roll your eyes, it’s worth taking a moment to hear what’s riling the taxi-drivers. Yes, in many ways this feels like the sort of dispute we’re used to around here – shouting, blocked streets, frustrated travellers. But it also reflects issues that are playing out in many other parts of the world and that can be summed up in a word: regulation.
The roots of the dispute date back to 2009, when France licensed a new sort of taxi, a “passenger vehicle with chauffeur,” or VTC. These VTCs operate under rules similar to those covering “mini-cabs” in the United Kingdom: You can call one to pick you up at home, but – unlike a regular taxi – you can’t hail one in the street.
Even though VTCs are not full competitors, the taxi drivers don’t like them. They point to the fact that taxi drivers have to pass a test; VTC drivers don’t. But a bigger gripe is money. VTC drivers pay €120 for a licence. By contrast, a taxi licence is free – in theory. In practice, it’s anything but. In Paris, the price currently seems to about €240,000 (around $320,000). The reason it’s so high is that, as Le Parisien (in French) explains, only a very limited number of taxi licences are issued. If you want to secure a free licence you may have to wait 17 years. So, instead, would-be drivers buy licences from drivers who are retiring.
Still, despite their resentment, it’s possible that the taxi drivers might have learned to live with the VTCs – after all, old-style taxis in London seem to do fine despite being vastly outnumbered by mini-cabs. However, the emergence of new technologies has probably put paid to that hope. Using an app on your smartphone, you can order a VTC, provide your location and pay the fee with just a few swipes on your screen. That’s increasingly blurring the distinction between regular taxis and VTCs, and seems to have been the final straw for the taxi drivers. Hence the strike, and an announcement by the government last week that it would work to draft “new rules for balanced competition”.
That could prove challenging. The taxi drivers are angry: “Today, we are facing direct competition from VTCs that work virtually without regulation,” Karim Lalouani, a member of a taxi union, told RFI. “We are not fighting on equal terms.” But for their part, the VTC operators say they’re filling a gap. Certainly, by international standards France is short of taxis. The national total of 55,000 taxis and 12,400 VTCs is below the combined total of 72,000 for London alone. “People in France are fed up with monopolies,” Pierre-Dimitri Gore-Coty of US-based Uber, which operates VTC services in France, told The Economist. “The French now realise that in real life more competition brings innovation and improves the level of service.”
But even when new regulations appear, technology could make them outdated very quickly. After turning VTCs into quasi-taxis, app technologies are now turning anyone with a car, clean licence and a smartphone into a potential taxi driver, according to Stephen Shankland.
If it’s any comfort to the French regulators, they’re not the only ones facing challenges. In the United states, says The New York Times, “regulators, courts and city halls are struggling to define Uber. Is it a taxi company or a technology platform?” And it’s not just taxis. Services like Airbnb and FlipKey now mean that anyone with keys to an apartment can become a hotelier. Some cities aren’t happy. New York has subpoenaed Airbnb. By contrast, Amsterdam, has changed the rules to make Airbnb-style rentals easier.
So, what to make of this particular regulatory debate? Are existing service providers, like hoteliers and taxi drivers, being forced to play on an uneven playing field? Or are they a vested interest defending market rules that don’t serve consumer needs? Or are consumers facing increasing risks from “rogue” operators?
While pondering these questions, you might like to take a broader look at how OECD countries – including France – stand on a wide range of regulatory issues that affect competitiveness in our economies. This new data tool (below) has just been released alongside the latest edition of Going for Growth, the ongoing OECD project that examines the impact of structural policies, including regulation, on growth. The tool compares regulation and competition rules between countries across a wide range of markets, including telecoms, power and legal and other professional services. Ideal for passing the time while you’re waiting for that taxi.
Today’s post is written by Rudolf Van der Berg of the OECD’s Science, Technology and Industry Directorate
In 2012 the only submarine fibre optic cable that then connected Benin with global telecommunication networks and the Internet was cut for two weeks. International payments were not possible and the equivalent of 150,000 weekly salaries were not available in a country of 10 million people. The influence was particularly severe because most servers are located outside the country due to a lack of data centres and local-hosting facilities. Though similar cable cuts happen on average twice a week, their effects are generally less. This is due to the fact that most countries are connected to multiple submarine fibre-cables, connect overland to neighbouring countries, and have domestic data centres.
In OECD countries, networks look like a mesh with multiple paths that can act as each other’s backup. In developing countries, however, communication networks often resemble rivers, with small branches of regional networks delivering their traffic to a central national backbone that ends at one submarine fibre, making cable cuts a greater risk to the functioning of the economy.
A new OECD report – International cables, gateways, backhaul and IXPs – investigates developments in these networks and other essential components that are beyond a consumer’s “first mile” connection. Such networks are known as backhaul, backbone, regional, middle mile, core, trunk, or international networks. The report finds that there is still considerable investment in backbone and submarine fibre networks being made. The Baltic Sea submarine project between Finland and Germany, for example, aims to increase the operational reliability of networks in Finland, where currently traffic is routed via Sweden. In New Zealand, on the other hand, similar market initiatives to develop an alternative to the Southern Cross system, its only link to California and Australia, have not yet found the much greater commercial support that would be required.
Today, the decision to invest in a new cable can be due to a number of factors. It may, for example, be due to the need for shorter routes for high frequency trading. Here the few milliseconds gained in transmitting orders can result in a significant difference in the amounts of money earned (and in fact fibre-optic cables are too slow, so microwave networks are deployed between some stock exchanges). Nonetheless, all regions have to some extent benefited serendipitously from the initial over-investment in (inter-) regional networks between large cities during the dotcom bubble. Despite bankruptcies of the initial investors, the fibre is still present and has been bought and swapped, by telecommunication companies, cloud networks, Internet content providers and others. For example, Facebook and Google have both invested in submarine fibre projects and bought regional rings. By way of contrast, in other areas such as in many rural regions there is insufficient competition. Here, governments sometimes choose to regulate these monopolies to allow for competitive access.
Not all interventions in OECD countries, however, may be interpreted as stimulating the rollout of backhaul networks. In the United Kingdom, some believe the application of a “fibre tax” has a restrictive effect on deployment of backhaul networks. This property tax charges long distance network operators via a depreciating scale, based on the number of lit fibres (cables in use) that they have and on the length of those fibres, creating a competitive advantage for incumbents. It also requires operators to use more expensive equipment to employ multiple colours on a single fibre pair, instead of lighting unlit fibres.
It is not enough that countries are well connected through networks. The presence of data centres or other local facilities that can host Internet exchange points (IXPs) and servers is also essential. This allows local traffic to stay local. A new indicator of the number of websites under a country code top level domain name, a ccTLD such as .fr for France, hosted in the country, developed based on data provided by Pingdom, gives some insight into the functioning of the country’s hosting market. Just six OECD countries host more than half of their ccTLD domains outside that country, with Greece being the only country where two countries (Germany and the United States) host more of its ccTLD domains.
|Name||Hosted in Country||Total Sites||Sites in Country||cctld|
Econometric analysis of the extended global table, indicates that there is a strong positive correlation between the percentage of sites hosted in country and the reliability of a country’s energy network and ease of doing business in the country.
Local (blue) versus Foreign (Red) hosted content*
Source: OECD, Pingdom, Alexa
The new OECD report also looks at the issue of local infrastructure development and costs. The lack of locally hosted content sites makes it difficult for local IXPs to continue to develop, because a market for Internet traffic exchange (peering and transit) is weak. However, in some cases it is local players that refuse to exchange traffic locally. By not peering or buying transit locally, established networks force other ISPs and content providers to buy transit from them to reach customers in that country. If networks refuse to buy transit locally from these networks, but buy it from another transit provider, the traffic will be routed via an international link out of the country, to be exchanged elsewhere with the network. Forcing networks to peer (exchange traffic without settlement) has in the past not proven to be a successful solution. In exceptional circumstances an alternative could be to force networks to buy transit locally.
For more on Internet traffic exchange (peering and transit):
A 2014 report on “Connected television”, explains peering and transit decisions between first-mile networks and content providers.
A 2013 report on “Internet traffic exchange” explains peering and transit and shows that out of 144,000 agreements 99,5% are based on a handshake.
* This map is included herein without prejudice to the status of or sovereignty over any territory, to the delimitation of international frontiers and boundaries and to the name of any territory, city or area.
“It’s a wrong situation. It’s gettin’ so a businessman can’t expect no return from a fixed fight. Now if you can’t trust a fix, what can you trust? For a good return you gotta go bettin’ on chance, and then you’re back with anarchy. Right back inna jungle. On account of the breakdown of ethics.”
Johnny Caspar in the Coen brother’s Miller’s Crossing would have been pleased to hear that today the OECD is announcing a way to remedy the shocking lack of ethics in the increasingly globalised globe people do business on. Like Johnny, we’re concerned about the consequences when certain parties don’t play fair. Johnny’s way of levelling the playing field is to bury the scallywags underneath it, but this being the OECD, our proposal, developed with G20 countries at the G20’s request, concerns the international tax system and how to “inject greater trust and fairness” into it.
It’s less exciting than machine guns and hit men, but the sums involved are literally millions of times bigger than the cash the Coens’ gangsters are fighting over. The Tax Justice Network claims that $21-32 trillion are stashed offshore – the equivalent of the combined GDP of the US and Japan. That only concerns tax havens. There are also a number of other means available for what is variously called tax evasion, tax avoidance or tax planning, depending on the degree of legality. Sometimes the neutral, non-judgemental term tax dodging is used, even by the OECD. Usually though, we use more technical terms like “base erosion and profit shifting” (BEPS) to describe the mechanisms firms exploit to avoid paying what most citizens would consider “fair” taxes. As we discussed in this article, BEPS schemes themselves can be extremely complicated, but the basic idea is simple: shift profits across borders to take advantage of tax rates that are lower than in the country where the profit is made.
As we’ve discussed before, the core of the problem is that taxes are a national affair while finance is international. The OECD has been helping governments cooperate on tax collection for decades, and the Model Tax Convention serves as the basis for the negotiation, application, and interpretation of over 3000 bilateral tax treaties in force around the world. The Convention was updated in 2012 to allow tax authorities to ask for information on a group of taxpayers without having to name them individually.
These are so-called targeted requests, but automatic exchange of information is the systematic and periodic transmission of “bulk” taxpayer information collected by the source country to the country of residence concerning income from dividends, interest, royalties, salaries, pensions, and so on. Automatic exchange seems to work both to detect tax evasion and as a deterrent. Clinical trials suggest it also cures memory loss. Denmark helped 440 of its absent-minded citizens to remember foreign income after the tax administration sent them a letter announcing that it received automatic information from abroad.
More than 40 countries have committed to early adoption of the Standard for Automatic Exchange of Financial Account Information published today, committing tax jurisdictions to obtain information from their financial institutions and automatically exchange that information with other jurisdictions annually. The Standard sets out what information has to be exchanged, the financial institutions that need to file reports, the different types of accounts and taxpayers covered, as well as common due diligence procedures to be followed by financial institutions (verifying the address of account holders for instance).
According to today’s presentation, the “advantage of standardisation is process simplification, higher effectiveness and lower costs for all stakeholders concerned” (except presumably for tax dodging stakeholders).
The Standard consists of the two parts: the Common Reporting and Due Diligence Standard (CRS) describing the reporting and due diligence rules to be imposed on financial institutions; while the detailed rules on the exchange of information are in the Model Competent Authority Agreement (CAA). The CRS draws heavily on a model developed by the United States, France, Germany, Italy, Spain and the United Kingdom to implement the US’s Foreign Account Tax Compliance Act (FATCA) through automatic exchange between governments.
Of course companies and individuals who spend a fortune on experts to help them dodge taxes will try to get round the CRS. To avoid this, the financial information to be reported includes all types of investment income, account balances and revenue from selling financial assets. A wide range of financial institutions apart from banks have to report too, including brokers, certain insurance companies, and certain so-called collective investment vehicles – funds that pool money from a number of accounts. The Standard also requires those signing it to look beyond “passive entities” to report on the individuals that ultimately control the money from behind the screen of entities set up to hide where the money is actually going.
What’s the alternative to imposing a global standard? “A proliferation of different and inconsistent models would potentially impose significant costs on both government and business to collect the necessary information and operate the different models. It could lead to a fragmentation of standards, which may introduce conflicting requirements, further increasing the costs of compliance and reducing effectiveness.”
Or as Johnny Caspar pointed out, “… ethics is important. It’s the grease that makes us get along, what separates us from the animals, beasts a burden, beasts a prey”. I hope youse all agree.
If you’re a regular visitor to the blog, you’ll know we often report on the latest OECD economic forecasts. After reading these, you may have found yourself asking this question: Is this really what’s going to happen? You’re not alone. The OECD’s economists, too, have been asking themselves the same question, and today they offered some answers.
In a “post-mortem” project, the OECD examined the accuracy of the economic forecasts it issued between 2007 and 2012, a period of seemingly endless economic turbulence. The study reports that, in general, the OECD tended to be too optimistic – it didn’t predict the scale of the collapse in economic activity between 2008-09 and then overestimated the speed of the subsequent recovery.
The errors were particularly notable for certain countries. When it came to the vulnerable Eurozone economies, for instance, the OECD was too hopeful of a quick resolution to the euro crisis. Equally, when it came to small, open economies, the OECD didn’t grasp just how connected these had become to the global economy, making them highly vulnerable to developments beyond their borders.
This review may seem a bit like navel-gazing, but there is a point to it. “We have learned a lot from the crisis,” OECD Chief Economist Pier Carlo Padoan said today in London, where he presented findings from the OECD review. He added that the experience gained over the past few years was helping to change how the organisation works and thinks – a process reflected in the OECD’s ongoing New Approaches to Economic Challenges project.
So what has the OECD learned (pdf)? One quite striking lesson is that the organisation’s economists are better at predicting upturns than downturns (so much for “the gloomy profession”). Between 2007 and 2012, they predicted 91% of accelerations in OECD countries over the following 12 months, but only 46% of decelerations.
The organisations says it also needs to take better account of the impact of the financial system on economies. That’s one reason why it tended to underestimate the impact of weak banking systems on economies. “The repeated deepening of the euro area sovereign debt crisis took us by surprise,” according to Pier Carlo Padoan, “because of the stronger-than-expected feedback between banking and sovereign weaknesses …”.
Of course, this isn’t the first time the crisis has illustrated what many see as a gap in how economists see the world. “There’s a lot of stuff that isn’t there – financial institutions, feedback effects,” William White, Chairman of the OECD’s Economic Development and Review Committee, remarked four years ago in OECD Insights: From Crisis to Recovery. “All of this stuff is very, very hard. I don’t want to disparage current modelling, but the fact of the matter is it’s all very hard. But I do think progress is being made – something has started.”
The review also reflects another oft-repeated theme from the crisis – namely, the tendency towards “groupthink,” or a herd mentality, in economic and financial analysis. As we reported here on the blog some time ago, an IMF self-evaluation in 2011 attributed some of its failures in the run-up to the crisis to “a high degree of groupthink” and “an institutional culture that discourages contrarian views”. Indeed, it’s notable the extent to which OECD forecasts between 2007 and 2012 matched those of other leading international agencies like the IMF, World Bank and European Commission. A lesson for the OECD, perhaps, is that it needs to encourage its people to “think out of the box” (apologies for the jargon).
But perhaps the most important lesson to come out of the crisis is that governments, economists, international organisations need to come to terms with the reality that they know less than they think they do. That might sound like a platitude, but it has important implications for economic forecasting, some of which are already evident in OECD work. Most notably, the OECD is now placing more emphasis on the health warnings surrounding its projections; in other words, it’s saying “here’s what we think will happen, but here’s why it might not”. Worth bearing in mind next time you read a forecast on the blog.
OECD Forecasts During and After the Financial Crisis: A Post Mortem (pdf) (An OECD Economics Department Policy Note)
New Approaches to Economic Challenges at the OECD
“Ending Poverty” is the title of the OECD Development Co-operation Report 2013. For the first time in history, we have the knowledge, technologies, policies and resources required to bring an end to extreme poverty. President Obama, World Bank Group President Jim Yong Kim and others have explicitly called on the world to set poverty eradication as the overarching aim of the post-2015 framework.
Overall the last decade has been the most successful period of poverty reduction in human history. And progress was not limited to the alleviation of income poverty: The fact that polio is close to global eradication and that child mortality has declined rapidly are striking examples of recent successes. All these developments show that there are indeed reasons for optimism.
Yet Helmut Reisen deems the end-of-poverty declarations euphoric and argues that the idea it might be possible to end extreme poverty by 2030 may be based on wrong premises. He has raised some important points and I thank him for having done so. It is true that the last decade’s progress in poverty reduction has to be considered with caution. For instance, economic growth in China alone has been responsible for a large share of global poverty reduction. Progress certainly has been unevenly distributed across the globe. Some fragile states are falling behind and development assistance to some of the poorest countries is decreasing. Future successes in poverty reduction will by no means be easy to achieve. For example, targeting the ultra-poor and poor minorities will be more difficult than what has been accomplished so far. But eventually this is a matter of political will and good pro-poor policies.
This is why the Development Co-operation Report 2013 comprises contributions from China and other successful countries sharing experiences and lessons others could learn. Yet outstanding developments such as China’s economic rise should not hide the fact that there has also been a lot of progress in Latin America, in Turkey and Indonesia as well as in the entire South East Asia region. If absolute progress of countries in achieving Millennium Development Goals is measured, even low-income countries in Africa reach the top ten places. Rwanda, Burundi, Ethiopia, Liberia, Sierra Leone, Mozambique have made quite significant progress, as outlined in the OECD’s Keeping the multiple dimensions of poverty at the heart of development, OECD and Post-2015 Reflections. OECD analyses of the past and projections for the future support such positive thinking.
Poverty eradication is possible if economic growth continue and there is no further deterioration in economic inequalities. The OECD’s Ending-Poverty message is not, as Helmut Reisen holds, based on the projections by Moss and Leo (2011) or Kharas and Rogerson (2012). Instead we refer to the projections by Peter Edward and Andy Sumner (2013) as well as by Martin Ravallion (2013) who conclude that it is “feasible to come close to ending extreme poverty by around 2030 or so – but only under certain conditions. (see: Sumner, A. (2013). What Will it Take to End Poverty? Development Co-operation Report 2013, OECD, Paris)
To be sure, our report (especially Sabina Alkire’s and Andrew Shepherd’s contributions) explicitly presents the serious challenges linked to achieving global development objectives. Based on such assessments the different chapters of the report also present possible policy strategies for poverty reduction. OECD has core competences on a range of issues relevant for poverty reduction – a multidimensional and complex challenge. OECD work on policy areas such as development cooperation, tax, financing, investment, statistics, environment, and education are extremely relevant and directly linked to future poverty reduction policies. For instance, our research – and experience with countries such as South Korea, China, and Vietnam – suggests that there is an enormous potential for greater tax revenue generation in developing countries – e.g. from better collection systems, from big companies paying a fair share, from addressing illicit financial flows. Especially in middle-income countries, where more than 70% of the global poor live, domestic resource mobilization is both crucial and promising.
The fact that OECD countries, too, face challenges regarding increasing poverty and inequalities does not deprive the Organisation of its competence regarding these issues. On the contrary, these developments worry the OECD and have shifted our focus on these challenges. Our work in this area provides important knowledge that helps both OECD and developing countries to tackle poverty and inequalities more effectively. After all, poverty and inequalities must be considered universal challenges. New ways of working together and learning from each other on a global scale, e.g. through global partnerships, can thus help to achieve this global goal.
For all this political will is needed. This conviction is the main reason why the OECD is calling for “Ending Poverty”. It is a political message intended to mobilise all intellectual, political and financial resources to make progress and – hopefully – end poverty. The development community has far too often tried to mobilise by calling the world a horrible place. Yet positive messages and clear goals are much more likely to mobilise people and politics. Poverty will only be ended if politicians make poverty reduction the top priority among their many different and competing priorities.
Can we really end poverty? Brian Keeley’s report from a debate in London in December 2013 to launch the Development Cooperation Report
Today’s post is by Helmut Reisen, former Head of Research at the OECD Development Centre and author of the Shifting Wealth blog. Erik Solheim, Chair of the OECD Development Assistance Committee will reply tomorrow.
Mostly thanks to China’s supercharged 2000s growth and the related global development impact, extreme poverty (in its 1.25$ PPP/day/person variety) has dropped as a percentage of a growing world population – from 40 to 20% over the past two decades. Consider this back-of-the-envelope calculation: One percent of GDP growth in China has been associated with 0.34% of GDP growth in countries with an annual Gross National Income (GNI, Atlas method) below 1,035$/year per person that are classified by the World Bank as Low-Income Country (LIC); estimates of poverty elasticity for LICs to growth vary between 1.2 and 3.1 for the 2000s (they are higher than the estimates for the 1990s). Assume a poverty elasticity of 2; then, a percentage point of Chinese growth would lower the LIC poverty headcount by .68%. With roughly 1.1 billion people still in extreme poverty outside China, one percent of China´s growth has translated into 7.7 million poor people less year by year. However, note that while the bottom third of the global income distribution have also made significant income gains, real incomes of the poorest 5% of the world population have remained the same even in the past Golden Age of emerging-country growth.
Millennium Development Goal #1 – to halve extreme poverty by 2015 – was thus reached fairly easily with China as the global poverty reduction machine (and not because leaders signed the Millennium declaration!). A close corollary to developing-country growth performance has been LICs’ eligibility for and graduation from concessional finance. Several countries have graduated from IDA borrowing since 1999, including populous countries such as China, Egypt and Indonesia, with India expected to graduate soon. There are today only 36 LIC countries eligible for concessional finance – grants and soft loans – by the International Development Association (IDA) and the soft windows of the regional development banks. (The Inter-American Development Bank and its soft window, the Fund of Special Operations (FSO), considerably reduced in size). The graduation threshold itself is controversial, however: an outdated LIC/MIC threshold explains that the share of the poor (and, indeed, of the whole population) in LICs has declined over time. With China and India having crossed the threshold, the reduced demand for concessional finance (CF) may partly reflect a statistical artifact.
What arguably accounts better than income levels for CF demand is a country’s domestic capacity of resource mobilization, especially through taxation. Availability of public and private resources for development, coupled with the fall in global poverty, are said to imply that dramatically more funding is potentially available for each poor person. And domestic resources, especially tax receipts, may be mobilized better as result of high raw material income and better tax administrations.
Looking beyond 2015, the target year defined by the Millennium Goals, international organizations and their leaders have increasingly joined a chorus of euphoric We-Can-End-Poverty declarations. OECD boss Angel Gurria proclaimed when the last DAC Report Ending Poverty was presented late 2013 in London: “Ending Poverty Completely and Forever”, seconded by DAC chair Eric Solheim “Eradicating Extreme Poverty Completely – ‘Yes We Can’”. There are today numerous websites devoted to the goal to end extreme poverty, such as www.endpoverty2015.org, www.theendofpoverty.com, www.endpoverty.org, or www.stoppoverty.com, which translates a strong belief in the feasibility of poverty eradication. While macroeconomic observers are now abuzz with secular stagnation, China´s forthcoming crash, or emerging market taperitis, this is not the stuff that most of the ODA crowd is familiar with on a professional level. So the End-of-Poverty banner waving seems quite detached now from what can be expected from future growth and seems to extrapolate a trend of global poverty reduction that may have been special to the past decade.
The End-of-Poverty banner waving seems to be based on two influential studies, from the Center for Global Development (CGD) and Overseas Development Institute (ODI), which projected total population in IDA-eligible countries to decline from 3 bn (2012) to 1 bn by 2025 and the global poverty pool to shrink dramatically by 2025 as a result of high per capita income growth. According to these studies, soft CF windows such as the African Development Fund (AfDF), the Asian Development Fund (ADF), the International Development Association (IDA) and also some International Monetary Fund (IMF) facilities would likely face a wave of country graduations by 2025. These studies also foresee a reduced number of selected low-income, post-conflict and fragile countries, mostly in Africa, re-established as the main location for CF-eligibility. A drastically altered client base will have significant implications for the strategic options as well as operational and financial models of IFIs. The strategic choices facing the IFI shareholders are at the heart of the future of the global concessional finance architecture.
Both studies are penetrated by emerging market optimism that underpins their view that “we” can successfully eliminate poverty without continued access to concessional finance. However, there are important shortcomings to both studies on a closer look at technical detail:
- Both the CGD and ODI studies cited above are start from GDP projections provided by the IMF in its World Economic Outlook (WEO). However, the accuracy of IMF-WEO forecasts is dismal as they have been overly optimistic in the past. Highly optimistic assumptions on the growth of total factor productivity in emerging countries, derived from observations of converging countries in the past decade, have been deployed for projections to 2025. Projecting growth rates over long horizons is hazardous, especially if rates are held constant and do not build in major occasional disruptions to growth, such as from natural disasters and financial crises.
- Mind the gap: GDP is not the appropriate income concept but GNI, especially in poor countries due to inflows of remittances (that could be used to reduce poverty at home). Disruptions to remittances (e.g. when resource-rich countries send immigrant workers home, as happened recently in Saudi Arabia) can lead to important differences in the growth projections in the two national-account concepts.
- The two studies also understate the Balassa-Samuelson effect (or Penn effect) of growth convergence in poor countries: the increase in price levels that have accompanied the last decade of high growth in emerging countries may have given rise to estimates for CF demand that are excessively low (The Economist’s brilliant post “Appreciating the BRICs”shows how actual and projected GDP is lowered by holding prices and currencies constant, by correcting for the Penn effect.). Higher prices for services (such as real estate rents, transport cost, schooling) lower the purchasing power of nominal incomes and may lock in the poor below poverty thresholds. The CGD study, e.g., holds all calculations in constant 2009 dollars with the hidden assumption that price levels stay the same. Over a decade-long projection, this leads to massive distortions.
- As poor-country growth over the last decade has been based on expansive monetary policy in OECD countries and on unsustainably high growth in China, a return to normalized rates of global money supply and to sustainable growth in China must receive special attention in growth projections to 2025. (Large emerging countries with high external deficits – Brazil, India, Indonesia, South Africa and Turkey – are supposed to suffer once monetary stimulus is scaled back). Both studies were carried out at a time that many observers consider now the peak of emerging-country euphoria. Emerging-country optimism has rapidly ebbed with two major sources – ultralight monetary policy in the US notably and unsustainable growth in China – running dry.
- Finally, there seems to be excessive optimism around about poor countries’ capacity to mobilize their own resources rather than to depend on aid dollars, via redistribution from the “rich” to the “poor” within developing countries. Evaluating poverty levels using expenditures from the national account data helps downplay the problem of rising inequality in many middle-income countries. Whether middle-income countries will, as projected, manage to solve their enormous distributional challenges is yet to be seen.
Ravaillon shows that there is a positive correlation between domestic capacity for redistribution (as indicated by a low required marginal tax rate to close the poverty gap) and a country’s average per capita income. His measure – marginal tax rates on the “non-poor by US standards” required to cover the poverty gap – finds that for most (but not all) countries with annual consumption per capita under $2,000 the required tax burdens are prohibitive—often calling for marginal tax rates of 100 percent or more. By contrast, the required tax rates are very low (1% on average) among all countries with consumption per capita over $4,000, as well as some poorer countries. The tax ratio calculations thus demonstrate that LICs (and even UMICs) have little or no prospect for increasing domestic resources in the medium term to meet these needs.
So there a mismatch between the loudness of the End-of-Poverty chorus and the empirical solidity of the projections on which the official declarations are pegged.
A fascinating survey just released by Gallup cautions also against excessive post-2015 optimism. Gallup’s self-reported household income data across 131 countries indicate that more than one in five residents (22%) live on $1.25 per day or less. About one in three (34%) live on no more than $2 per day. The World Bank Group recently set a new goal of reducing the worldwide rate of extreme poverty to no more than 3% by 2030, but Gallup’s data suggest meeting that goal will require substantial growth and job creation in many countries. In 86 countries, more than 3% of the population lives on $1.25 per day or less.
Even in the OECD, “Ending Poverty Completely and Forever” has not been achieved, as the Gallup global poverty map makes clear. To be sure, OECD leaders have no core competence in eliminating poverty. They would benefit from more modesty. Despite more extended tax, welfare and transfer systems and per capita income levels much higher than in developing countries, most OECD countries have witnessed a remarkable rise in poverty rates during the past fifteen years. In most OECD member countries, relative poverty – defined as the share of people living in households with less than 50% of median disposable income in their country – affected 11% of OECD population in 2010, after taxes and transfers. This was a marked increase of poverty rates compared to 1995. Source? OECD!
Can we really end poverty? Brian Keeley’s report from a debate in London in December 2013 to launch the Development Cooperation Report