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April 2016

Macro hype, micro hope: Optimists champion ‘Community-Led Development’

Christopher Colford's picture

Now there’s a guy who really puts the full-scale dismal into “the dismal science” of economics – spurring optimists to quickly seek out more hopeful visions of the future.

Those seeking a glimmer of hope about the economic future were well-advised to keep their expectations low as they awaited the gloomy analysis by Prof. Robert J. Gordon, the esteemed economic historian from Northwestern University, who spoke at the World Bank Group’s Macrofiscal Seminar Series on March 31. As anticipated, Gordon’s expertly documented but relentlessly downbeat scenario, based on his latest book, “The Rise and Fall of American Growth,” persuasively made the case for a future of chronically sluggish growth in the world’s advanced economies.

Gordon’s chilling projections combine some of the darkest aspects of Lawrence Summers’ worries about “secular stagnation,” Christine Lagarde’s lamentations of a “New Mediocre” and private-sector leaders’ struggle to strategize for the “New Normal.” Gordon’s bleak thesis foresees “little growth” – although, significantly, not zero growth – as the developed world’s weary economies endure perhaps decades of drift.

Policymakers in the world’s largest economies are surely exasperated by the painstaking crawl out of the global financial crisis – yet they don’t have much positive news to look forward to, asserts Gordon. With “declining potential productivity growth” compounding the impact of declining population growth and a declining labor-force participation rate, there’s probably no technological deus ex machina that can soon propel the world’s advanced economies toward restored prosperity.

That viewpoint defies the techno-utopian visions that have been so eagerly peddled to anxious Western voters, who can only dream of a return to brisk late-1990s-style growth. Quipped the Macrofiscal seminar’s discussant, Deepak Mishra: Gordon “has made a career of busting the technology hype.”

Yet Gordon’s logic need not trigger total despair among the Bank’s poverty-fighting professionals and their counterparts at other development institutions. Gordon emphasized that his analysis is about the American economy, and, to some extent, about the mature economies of Western Europe. His book’s foreboding predictions, he said, do not extend to developing economies, which enjoy “great potential for growth.”

For can-do pragmatists who strive for stronger growth and sustained progress in developing economies, there’s a ready antidote to Gordon-style macroeconomic gloom. By happenstance, immediately after Gordon delivered his grim analysis in the Bank’s J Building auditorium, optimists seeking inspiration needed only to cross the street to the Bank’s Main Complex to hear an energetic appeal for greater hands-on activism.

With an update on the movement for Community-Led Development (CLD), a seminar sponsored by the Bank’s Community-Driven Development Global Solutions Group learned of the promise that CLD offers for inspiring inclusive, sustainable solutions that enlist citizens’ engagement and build community-level confidence in strong governance standards.

Moving from macro to micro – dispelling the dread of inexorable global forces and embracing positive citizen-centric action – the CLD leaders leapfrogged Gordon’s macro-level angst to highlight micro-level opportunity.


Global Daily: U.S. jobs growth remains solid

Global Macroeconomics Team's picture

The 2017 edition of International Debt Statistics has just been published.

IDS 2017 presents statistics and analysis on the external debt and financial flows (debt and equity) for the world’s economies for 2015. This publication provides more than 200 time series indicators from 1970 to 2015 for most reporting countries. To access the report and related products you can:

This year’s edition of International Debt Statistics been reconfigured to offer a more con­densed presentation of the principal indicators, along with additional tables showcasing quar­terly external debt statistics and public sector debt to respond to user demand for timely, comprehensive data on trends in external debt in low middle and high income coun­tries.

By providing comprehensive and timely data that reflects the latest additions and revisions, and by expanding the scope of the data available online, we aim to serve the needs of our users and to reach a wider audience.

This Week in #SouthAsiaDev: April 1, 2016

Mary Ongwen's picture
Two women in Sidama Zone, Ethiopia. Photo credit: Alan Nicol

Selilah stares out over a landscape she has inhabited for 70 years. In the valley below, deep gullies scar the slopes where rains have carried away the soil. Living with three of her four sons, she is struggling to make ends meet in this part of Sidama Zone, Ethiopia, where, she says, there used to be a forest more than 40 years ago.

Now most trees have been felled and water is scarce. Selilah spends two hours a day collecting her two jerrycans (50 liters) from a neighboring kebele (neighborhood), but when that source fails she has to buy water from a vendor at ETB 6 (30 US Cents) per a jerrycan, a huge cut into her income.
 
In the last 10 years, she says, the rains have changed – they are lighter than before and more infrequent. As a result, production from her meager plot – just 0.25 ha – is declining. After her husband died more than a decade ago, she now only makes ends meet through the daily wage-labor income of her sons. Like many others, Selilah is on the frontline of climate change in a landscape under increasing pressure.

Stirred, not shaken: blended finance for climate action

Kruskaia Sierra-Escalante's picture

A New Year traditionally comes with upbeat thoughts. New resolutions will make life better. Past mistakes will not be repeated. And calamities are seldom predicted. These positive thoughts are not always justified, but they provide necessary energy during the first cold months of the year all the same.

At the beginning of 2014 some economic optimism actually seems defensible. Five years after the start of the global financial crisis, Europe is finally exiting their recession, albeit slowly and hesitantly. The U.S. economy is accelerating and so is growth of global production and trade. True, the BRICs are no longer as vibrant as they have been for a long time, but growth in China (a key concern of markets in recent days) is still expected to be three and a half times growth in high income countries.

Given the tradition of New Year’s optimism it is salient that the EBRD starts the New Year on a rather gloomy note with their new Transition Report. The title of this year’s report is "Stuck in transition?." But in the text they change the question mark into a firm exclamation mark, even as the report contains some suggestions of ways to escape the current impasse.

Blog post of the month: Six lessons I learnt while trying to reach 10 million women in India with life-saving health information

BBC Media Action's picture

Each month People, Spaces, Deliberation shares the blog post that generated the most interest and discussion. In March 2016, the featured blog post is "Six lessons I learnt while trying to reach 10 million women in India with life-saving health information" by Priyanka Dutt.

Kilkari mobile messagingLast month, the Government of India launched a nationwide mobile health (mHealth) program designed by BBC Media Action, the BBC’s international development charity. The aim - to train 1 million community health workers and help nearly 10 million new and expecting mothers in India make healthier choices and lead longer, healthier lives.
 
Mobile Academy is an anytime, anywhere audio training course, delivered via mobile phone, designed to refresh the knowledge and strengthen the communication skills of community health workers. The objective is to enable the nation’s nearly one million health workers to more effectively persuade families to lead healthier lives.
 
Kilkari  (a baby’s gurgle) service delivers free, weekly, time-appropriate audio messages about pregnancy, childbirth, and childcare directly to the mobile phones of mothers and other family members from the second trimester of pregnancy until the child is one year old.

These services were originally designed for use in Bihar in North India, where BBC Media Action, in partnership with the state government works to improve demand for health services, improve social norms and impact health outcomes for mothers and children. Read more.

Mobile Academy and Kilkari leverage the massive penetration of mobile phones to reach the most marginalized, hardest-to-reach communities in India. These are communities where getting pregnant and having babies can be 24 times more life-threatening than giving birth in the United Kingdom!
 
The statistics are pretty stark. Globally, every five minutes, three women die from complications related to pregnancy or childbirth, while 60 others will be left with debilitating injuries. Of these deaths, India accounts for the greatest number of women dying – over 150 every day. But we know how many of these health risks that pregnant women and their newborns face are preventable.


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