According to World Bank data, 80% of global GDP is derived from urban centers. It is therefore clear that currently, cities play a key role in development.
A few years ago, when we visited Ségou, the regional capital and administrative center of the Cercle de Ségou, composed of 30 communes and located 240 kilometers from Bamako, we were able to witness a perfect illustration of the paradox of Malian cities, discussed at the 2018 Bamako Forum—although they are expanding rapidly, the economic growth potential offered by an urban area is not being realized in many Malian cities. This paradox is attributable to inadequate urban planning, which hampers the ability of the commune to be functional, economically inclusive, safe, and resilient.
Uganda Revenue authority officials tend to taxpayers during customer appreciation week in Kampala. Photo: Morgan Mbabazi/World Bank.
Less than one million people and about 40,000 firms are registered as tax payers in Uganda. That’s less than 7% of the total working age population, and less than 10% of firms with a fixed location, respectively.
For the past few years, I have been fortunate enough to be the World Bank’s resident economist for Mauritius and Seychelles. With this now coming to an end, here are some especially striking impressions of these countries’ successes and challenges that I hope can provide food for thought more widely.
Over the summer I read a few absolutely brilliant books – hence the spate of book reviews. This week I will cover two new studies on development’s biggest recent success stories – China, but first Bangladesh.
How did Bangladesh go from being a ‘basket case’ (though ‘not necessarily our basket case’ – Henry Kissinger, 1971) to a development success story, claimed by numerous would-be fathers (aid donors, NGOs, feminists, microfinanciers, low cost solution finders)? That’s the subject of an excellent new book by Naomi Hossain.
The success is undeniable. Per capita income is up to $2780 from $890 in 1991 (PPP terms). Today, that economic progess is built on 3 pillars: garments (80% of exports, 3m largely female jobs), migration (remittances = 7-10% GDP, about 9m workers overseas, mainly men) and microfinance (which has been used by about half of all households).
But perhaps even more interesting, social progress has outstripped economic growth. Infant mortality down from 258/1,000 in 1961 to 47 in 2011; women were having 7 kids in 1961 and are now having 2. In Hossain’s words (she writes well) ‘Bangladesh is the smiling, more often than not sweetly female, face of global capitalist development. Better yet – she often wears a headscarf as she goes about enjoying her new economic and political freedoms, signalling that moderate Islam can couple with global capitalism.’ (And yes, she does acknowledge that there is still a lot of hunger and deprivation).
The ‘how’ of Bangladesh’s transformation is reasonably well known. What interests Hossain is the ‘why’. It certainly isn’t down to good governance – ‘it has never been obvious why an elite known best for corruption and violent winner-takes-all politics should have committed its country to a progressive, inclusive development pathway.’
The recent debate on whether it makes more sense to measure Gross Domestic Product (GDP) in Ringgit or in Dollars is a healthy one. It reflects a sound interest by many segments of Malaysian society in statistics that measure economic development and how it changes people’s living standards. This is the fundamental question: what does GDP really mean in the daily life of Malaysians. There are sound arguments on both sides and, in a way, both are right, depending on what perspective is taken.
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Recent research shows that
City governments invest a lot in job creation—they plan infrastructure, skills initiatives, and industry support with the goal to improve productivity and generate jobs and growth, especially in the high-skill sectors. Yet, there might be an important input to productivity that cities can pay more attention to: clean air.
Recent research suggests that a 10-unit increase in the air quality index decreases productivity by 0.35%. Seems marginal? This “productivity slow-down” costs the high-skill economy of China $2.2 billion per year for each additional 10 units of the air quality index.
The research in question studied the effect of air pollution on worker productivity in call centers in Shanghai and Nantong in China. The firm analyzed is Ctrip, one of the largest travel agencies in the country, employing more than 30,000 people. 50% of the workers’ pay is based on performance and the measures of productivity are very detailed and high frequency. The study concluded that there is a robust relationship between daily air pollution levels and worker productivity. On average, a 10-unit increase in the Air Quality Index (AQI) led to a 0.35% decline in the number of calls handled by a worker in a day at an AQI of 100. If we translate this to the entire Chinese high-skill industries, a 10-unit reduction of air pollution levels would increase the monetized value of improved productivity by $2.2 billion per year.
This importance of cities for regional and national development now serves as a foundation for the dialogue between the World Bank and the European Commission, with respect to the design of the European Regional Development Fund (ERDF) for the 2014-2020 Programming Period. The ERDF is the world’s largest investment program targeting sub-national public infrastructure investments.
In this video, World Bank Senior Director Ede Ijjasz-Vasquez and Marcel Ionescu-Heroiu, Senior Urban Development Specialist from Romania Country Office team, discuss the importance of cities in regional and national growth and development, and the role the Bank is playing in the design of the world’s largest sub-national investment fund.
Energy prices play a key role in the determination of food prices. The post-2006 boom of food prices was partly driven by higher energy costs, and the weakness in energy prices since 2014 is expected to hold food commodity prices down in the future as well.
This week, the World Bank, together with the International Monetary Fund, the Organisation for Co-Operation and Development, and the United Nations, submitted recommendations to the G20 on how we can best work to strengthen the capacity of our client countries to build fair, efficient tax systems. Responding to a request the G20 made in February, and working as the recently-formed Platform for Collaboration on Tax, we dug deep into our collective years of policy-setting, technical advice, and on-the-ground experience to arrive at guidance for providing assistance and suggestions for funding that work. In short, we looked at how best we could help.
The recommendations in our report, “Enhancing the Effectiveness of External Support in Building Tax Capacity in Developing Countries,” present an ambitious agenda for development partners to support developing nations to strengthen their tax systems and realize their development objectives, as well as strive for achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals.
The wealthy can borrow money to finance their investment needs because bankers trust them. Those who are less well off, and who need loans the most, do not have this access and must call upon the solidarity of their family and community to finance their investments. The same logic can be used at the country level. High income countries borrow, while many poor African countries have a limited access to international capital markets. In recent years, only one fourth of sub-Saharan African countries were able to issue international bonds—and do not have any other alternative but to solicit international aid.