Author Archive

Climate Change in Bangladesh – BBC Photos

7 December, 2008

Bangladesh is one of the countries that will be worst affected by climate change. Rising sea and coastal water levels and more frequent storms threaten this low-lying country. Adapting Bangladesh to climate change is urgent – especially to prevent the reversal of recent progress in poverty reduction there.

An excellent set of pictures on the theme of climate change in Bangladesh can be seen at the BBC here.

BWPI will be undertaking with BRAC a new research programme on climate change and its implications for poverty in Bangladesh. Watch this space over the coming months. In the meantime check out the BWPI and CPRC working paper series for more on Bangladesh.

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Around the World with Joseph Stiglitz

1 December, 2008

BWPI Chair and Nobel Laureate Joe Stiglitz has a new documentary just out. ‘Around the World with Joseph Stiglitz’ is a hard-hitting look at globalization. Joe takes two journeys. His own journey began in Gary, Indiana. The documentary returns to his hometown to see what shaped his thinking. It then heads across the world, taking in Botswana, Ecuador, India and China. It weaves together the social and economic effects of globalization, recommending ways to manage it for the good of all.

If you are in New York you can catch it at the Lincoln center this Wednesday (3 December).

In the meantime, check out Joe’s interview with Alex Jones on YouTube on his book The Three Trillion Dollar War: the True Cost of the Iraq War, with Linda Bilmes. And Joe on the sub prime crisis on CNBC.

Talk the talk – but not walk the walk

1 December, 2008

That’s the way Larry Elliott in The Guardian sums up the donors lack of urgency in meeting the MDGs. Commenting on the just released UNESCO Education for All report, he writes:

“… donor countries can talk the talk but not walk the walk. According to the Unesco study, the aid required for even the most basic primary education provision in poor countries is US$11 bn (£7.2bn) a year. In 2006, spending amounted to around $4bn, leaving a funding gap of $7bn. To put that figure into context, it is around 10% of what Britain spent this autumn recapitalising the banking system”.

Maybe they will walk the walk at the UN Financing for Development summit now underway in Doha. But I wouldn’t hold your breath. “When financial systems fail, the consequences are highly visible and governments act,” concluded UNESCO’s Director-General Koïchiro Matsuura. He added “When education systems fail the consequences are less visible, but no less real”.

I would add that education is the only investment you can be sure of getting at least some return on – provided it’s of good quality and children complete a minimum of 4 years primary education. Well-educated people earn more in the labour market, and find it easier to absorb new technologies and methods when they run micro-enterprises and farms. Education is a means to break the inter-generational transmission of chronic poverty (see this CPRC study for Bangladesh).

And even if it didn’t raise income much – which might be the case in economies that are growing only slowly – it certainly improves health status, especially of children, when mothers are educated. Educated mothers are 50% more likely to immunize their children than mothers with no schooling (go here). Gender inequality in education has high costs for both the family and society (see this IFPRI study).

So the chronic underfunding of education reminds me of that old quotation: if you think education is expensive, try ignorance.

Global Finance – Doha: What Chance of Success?

1 December, 2008

World economic turmoil sets the scene for the UN Conference on Financing for Development in Doha (29 November to 2 December), the most important conference on this topic since the UN’s conference in Monterrey back in 2002. Go here for UN updates.

The last quarter of 2008 has seen a lot of talk-talk on development finance. The long-awaited High Level Forum on aid effectiveness was held in Accra in September as well as the UN’s high level event on the MDGs in New York. Calling an event ‘high-level’ lets the international community claim that progress has been made – just by getting senior people together in one place.

What will Doha bring? Can it make headway against the very strong currents now running through the global financial system? Will rich country donors be able to afford aid? On this and other issues see my WIDER Angle article with George Mavrotas – Development Finance: New Opportunities for Doha. We explore the topic further in our new UNU-WIDER book Development Finance in the Global Economy: The Road Ahead (Palgrave).

The “Dutch Disease” Effects of Aid in Uganda

1 December, 2008

In my recent post on Sorious Samura’s programme for Panorama on BBC One – an expose of aid to Africa, in particular to Sierra Leone and Uganda – I said we would come back on whether Uganda is experiencing a negative impact from the aid flows.

Remember the issue is whether foreign aid to Uganda is deterring export production via a “Dutch Disease” effect. If so, then aid is having perverse effects, hindering rather than helping economic growth.

How does this work?

Short explanation: A capital inflow like foreign aid raises domestic demand. This pushes up domestic prices and, if the exchange rate is not fixed by the government, the currency tends to appreciate as well (a shilling buys more dollars). Hence: exporting is less profitable and imports are cheaper (putting pressure on domestic producers of import-substitutes – for example domestic food crops suffer competition from cheaper food imports). Result: economic growth falls.

(Long explanation: The money is spent on two types of goods and services. First, non-tradables, that is items whose prices are mainly determined by domestic supply and demand. The price of a haircut in Kampala for example. Haircuts aren’t internationally traded. Second, tradables. These are goods and services whose prices are driven by international markets. The price of Uganda’s coffee, for example (Uganda is a ‘price-taker’ in commodity markets: some countries are big enough exporters to affect world prices – Saudi Arabia and oil, for example). A demand expansion caused by a capital inflow tends to push up the prices of non-tradables more than tradables, because the former are less-responsive (more inelastic, as economists say) in supply. The ratio of non-tradable prices relative to tradables prices rises, making it more profitable to produce the former. If the exchange rate is flexible – i.e. the central bank doesn’t fix it as a matter of policy – then it tends to appreciate as well. This adds to the appreciation of the real exchange rate that is caused by the rise in domestic prices as non-tradables prices outpace tradables prices. Result: people give up producing tradables such as coffee and move into the non-tradables sector, and growth falls).

Aid is not the only capital inflow that might cause this. The term Dutch Disease was first coined (and is most often used) to describe the impact of a natural resource windfall (natural gas in the case of 1970s Netherlands). Nigeria and other oil exporters suffered catastrophically from Dutch Disease in the 1970s when oil prices boomed (resulting in a severe contraction in Nigeria’s agriculture, a highly tradable sector).

However, much depends on what aid (or oil revenue) is used for. If it finances infrastructure construction, and if this is the right kind of infrastructure, then aid will have a supply-expanding effect. This could be of sufficient scale to offset any Dutch Disease effect (or the latter might be evident for a while until the infrastructure is built and then productivity effect kicks in: see Chris Adam and David Bevan).

So much for the theory. What about Uganda? The country has certainly had a large injection of aid, which has a big budgetary impact (see Martin Brownbridge and Emmanuel Tumusiime-Mutebile). An IMF study, by Mwanza Nkusu argues that Dutch Disease does not necessarily occur – especially when the economy has unused capacity (which is typical of countries like Uganda recovering from civil war). So the academic jury is still out.

What does recent data tell us? Economic growth was just under 10 per cent over 2007-08 according to a recent IMF staff mission to Uganda. Exports grew by 50 per cent over the same period. The Fund expects both to fall – the result of the global financial crisis that is weakening commodity prices (go here). Uganda is dealing with high inflation (core inflation is 14.5 per cent) – but this is more the result of the run-up (until recently) in global energy and food prices. The shilling has depreciated, not appreciated, recently. So, no indication of aid having Dutch Disease effects: the shilling is down, not up, and exports are up, not down.

But certainly the economy faces a tricky adjustment as it responds to the global economic shock of the last 6 months (true of all low-income, primary-commodity dependent, economies).

Whatever the other effects of aid on Uganda (whether it is being well spent, whether it targets the poor effectively etc.) there does not seem to be a Dutch Disease effect – at least recently. Perhaps more worrying is the potential Dutch Disease effect of the oil revenues that come on stream next year. If Uganda can manage oil well then it will be the first country in Africa to do so. Now that would be an achievement.

Tony Addison is Executive Director of the Brooks World Poverty Institute, University of Manchester.

Nigel Lawson: No Fiscal Stimulus, Darling

24 November, 2008

You can rely on Nigel Lawson, Chancellor of the Exchequer 1983-89, to go against the conventional wisdom (see his views on climate change here and here, for example). He’s certainly not a member of the “we’re all Keynesians now” group. In today’s FT he argues that monetary policy is the key tool, not fiscal stimulus. Keynes was wrong:

“Britain … recovered faster than any other major nation from the 1930s slump. It did so largely on the basis of cheap money and a balanced budget. Between the slump’s deepest point, in 1932, and 1937 the UK economy grew at an unprecedented 4½ per cent a year. Nor was this due to rearmament spending, which did not start until 1936”.

I await the comments of economic historians on his reading of the 1930s. For the moment let me focus on his central message.

Lawson argues that recapitalizing the banks is the priority. Certainly, deleveraging by the banks has been huge. Nobody can deny that the economy can’t move again until the banks are sorted out. They are the achilles heel of the battered Anglo-Saxon model of capitalism. Today Citgroup got a $300 bn bailout.

But is this enough? It won’t be if deflation sets in. Then the real value of debt will rise, which will punish Britain’s already highly indebted households. Once deflationary expectations take hold, they are very difficult to shift as Japan in the 1990s demonstrated. Then monetary policy becomes next to useless: interest rates cannot be cut below zero.

Not using fiscal policy to stimulate consumer spending is therefore enormously risky. For sure, consumers might save rather than spend (see my previous post). And Britain will face a big tax bill (after the next election). The gilts market might take fright, but for now they are buying (few want equities).

Back to the lessons Lawson draws from the 1930s: if Britain was to revert to a balanced budget then it would have to cut public spending in a recession rather than raise it. This would have its own deflationary effect which, as economic activity fell, would reduce the tax base – thereby requiring a further expenditure cut to maintain a balanced budget. This is not a recipe for achieving economic recovery.

So, Nigel Lawson’s defiance of the Keynesian consensus is brave, but wrong. His recommendation is too risky. The same goes for doing nothing about climate change (on the latter: go here for a debate between Lawson and Oliver Letwin).

Tony Addison is Executive Director of the Brooks World Poverty Institute, University of Manchester.

“A fool at 40 is a fool forever”

24 November, 2008

Internationally acclaimed film maker Sorious Samura has a critical article on aid on the BBC News web site in advance of his Panorama programme on aid to Sierra Leone and Uganda – which is broadcast tonight (see our post a few days ago). He writes:

“Where I come from in West Africa, we have a saying: “A fool at 40 is a fool forever”, and most African countries have now been independent for over 40 years. Most are blessed with all the elements to help compete on a global stage….. And yet today, my continent, which is home to 10% of the world’s population, represents just 1% of global trade. I have no doubt we have to take responsibility for our failures. We can’t afford to keep playing the blame game. But when 50 years of foreign aid has failed to lift Africa out of poverty, could corruption be the reason?”

Much of what he says hits the nail on the head. Corruption has been pervasive, and the Rich World must take its share of the blame – for everyone taking a bribe, there is someone giving. And ‘grand corruption’ has been spectacularly rampant in Africa’s oil sector (see EITI here). My IDPM Colleague, Sarah Bracking, has a new book out on corruption and development and what is being done to reduce it (go here).

One point that I do take issue with in Sorious Samura’s article is his view that Uganda is being crippled by what economists term ‘Dutch Disease’, resulting from large aid inflows:

“Large inflows of foreign currency push up the value of the Ugandan shilling making its agricultural and manufactured goods less price competitive. This results in fewer exports and less home-grown, sustainable earnings for the country. Local entrepreneurs such as coffee growers and flower exporters should be cashing in on rising food and commodity prices across the globe at the moment, but they are finding themselves crowded out of their own economy by foreign aid dollars”.

Maybe, but I would like to see hard evidence of this in Uganda’s case. Aid also funds infrastructure investment which, when well-designed, reduces the costs of production, marketing and transport. This raises the profitability of businesses that use the infrastructure. This can more than offset the disincentive to export production resulting from the currency appreciation that Samura worries about, making exporting more profitable, not less, after aid.

As I said it has to be well-designed aid. Aid that simply goes to raising consumption won’t do the trick (although if it is consumption of the poor – including humanitarian aid – then I worry less). And nobody doubts that Africa needs a lot more infrastructure – partly to change the pattern of infrastructure that was created to serve the colonial economy. That pattern still dominates much of Africa 40 years on. Disadvantaged regions, in which chronic poverty is high, especially need better transport infrastructure. Tim Harford, the Undercover Economist, quotes a study that road transport in Francophone Africa is six times more expensive than in Pakistan.

So, I look forward to tonight’s Panorama programme. Sorious Samura will be rightly hard-hitting. We can’t tolerate corruption. And we need well-designed and well-implemented aid. In the meantime, I shall be reading up about Uganda’s aid programme, and whether “Dutch Disease” has been a problem. If you have some suggestions, do please send them along.

Tony Addison is Executive Director of the Brooks World Poverty Institute, University of Manchester.

Keynes is Back. But What to Do, Darling?

24 November, 2008

Britain’s Chancellor of the Exchequer, Alistair Darling is praising Keynes – along with just about everyone else. He’s boosted public spending (go here). The present focus on fiscal policy reflects the fear of a ‘liquidity trap’ – which Keynes first identified in the 1930s. The Bank of England is set to cut interest rates further, but this might not encourage banks to lend. So monetary policy alone can’t do the trick (it is said). Hence public spending. And now tax cuts.

Today we hear the Chancellor’s plans (at 3.30 pm: go here). The government’s spin machine was busy over the weekend so a VAT reduction will hardly come as a surprise. The FT reckons it will be a £12.5 bn package:

“At the heart of the stimulus package is an expected “temporary” cut in the VAT rate from 17.5 to 15 per cent, the lowest standard rate allowed in the EU. Food, children’s clothing and some other items have always been zero-rated in Britain”.

Will a VAT cut work? Canada cut its sales tax at the beginning of 2008, but this had modest effects on total spending, according to the ‘Undercover Economist’, Tim Harford interviewed on the BBC Today programme this morning. For a critique of the Canadian tax cuts from a poverty perspective see GrowingGap. Canadian readers: send us your views.

To cut taxes now, taxes have to rise later. Economists describe this as borrowing from ourselves. Spending won’t rise if we fully anticipate the future tax increase. Or at least that’s what some macro-economists say (see Robert Barro). It’s called Ricardian Equivalence (drop that into your next pub conversation on the economic crisis: sure to impress). Economist readers: please up-date us on whether Barro is right.

Will businesses cut prices following a VAT reduction? They are slashing prices in any case, in advance of Xmas – a last ditch hope that the sales can carry them through the new year. Buyers stormed Marks & Spencers last week, following a 20% price cut. So we might all now afford fresh underwear. But will stores cut prices further, or take some of the VAT cut to rebuild their margins?

Ann Pettifor of the New Economics Foundation interviewed on the BBC yesterday was skeptical about tax cuts (Ann was one of the first people to predict this crisis). She believes that people will instead save the VAT cut (i.e. you will still buy the same basket of goods, but now the basket will be cheaper and you won’t add any more items. Your money is then deposited in one of Britain’s hopeless banks or under your mattress). Ann points out that if the money is spent then a lot will go on foreign imports (true, but I don’t think this is necessarily as bad as is often believed. The Americans need help too. I’ll do my bit by buying a new Apple Mac).

Other ideas I have come across: delay VAT payments by small businesses for six months. Many small businesses are penalized by the larger firms not paying their suppliers on time (a zero-cost way for the latter to fund themselves). Peter Mandelson promised a crack down, but doesn’t seem to have achieved much yet. In the recession of the early 1990s, small business failures were running at a 1,000 a week. So maybe government could help with a delay in VAT payments. Housebuilders want a continuation of the present holiday on stamp duty to get the housing market re-started. Readers might like to comment on the merits of each.

But there are two ideas from the Get Fair campaign that I really like.

First, immediately invest £4bn in measures to halve child poverty by 2010. Child poverty costs at least £25 billion each year in losses to the Exchequer and in reduced GDP, according to research from the Joseph Rowntree foundation. So spending tax revenue on eliminating child poverty now would actually save public money in the future. Surely a good idea.

Second, Get Fair says improve the take-up of existing benefits: they estimate that this would help 500,000 pensioners out of poverty. Here in the UK we have just had Remembrance Sunday, a day on which we remember those who gave their lives to defend Britain – especially in the Two World Wars. A 20-year old in 1940, is now 88. Helping our pensioners now, especially those in poverty (2.5 million of them) will be one of our last chances to thank their generation.

So, over to you Darling.

Addicted to Aid?

19 November, 2008

Next week’s Panorama on BBC One is running a programme on aid to two countries for which Britain is one of the biggest donors. To judge from the blurb, it’s going to be very critical:

“Reporter Sorious Samura visits Uganda and his home country of Sierra Leone to reveal how aid money is lost, stolen and frittered away. He stops at a showpiece hospital, run by a well-funded health department, that looks like a warzone – yet its carpark is home to dozens of new 4x4s for ministry staff. He questions a former minister accused of stealing funds and offers his vision of how Africans can take control of their own destiny”.

Sorious Samuara has done some brilliant films exposing Africa’s “big men” and their corrupt ways, the other side of the coin to the region’s hunger and poverty (go here). But I do hope that he offers more than the usual critique of aid in the Panorama programme.

Yes, corruption is rife in Sierra Leone (it was a big issue in the last elections, with a clean-up promised: see this BBC report). And on a recent visit to Uganda I saw that the local media is full of stories of corruption (the benefits of a free press in Africa! See The New Vision). DFID is presently “ghost-busting” in Uganda (go here).

But I very much doubt that either Sierra Leone, Uganda (or Mozambique – another post-conflict country) would be where they are today without the aid they received to help reconstruction.

This is not in any way to argue that graft or misuse of aid money should be tolerated. But I get tired of the one-sided criticisms of aid that are trotted out repeatedly. For some background reading before the programme check out: the Chronic Poverty Report for Uganda, Joe Hanlon on corruption in Sierra Leone, a special issue of the Swedish Economic Policy Review on aid, and Roger Riddell Does Foreign Aid Really Work? – the best account by far of what aid can, and cannot, do.

So we shall see what Panorama concludes – especially, as Sorious Samura asks: how can Africans take control of their own destiny and graduate the continent away from aid dependence? Let us know what you think of the programme – and the big issues that it tackles.

The New Realities of Philanthrocapitalism

18 November, 2008

BWPI’s Mike Edwards’ book on business-led philanthropy, “Just Another Emperor?” is attracting a lot of attention – especially in the current financial climate. You can follow the debate on OpenDemocracy. More later.