In the decade 1999-2009, Jordan experienced an impressive growth acceleration, tripling its exports and increasing income per capita by 38%. Since then, a number of external shocks that include the Global Financial Crisis (2008-2009), the Arab Spring (2011), the Syrian Civil War (2011), and the emergence of the Islamic State (2014) have affected Jordan in significant ways and thrown its economy out of balance. Jordan’s debt-to-GDP ratio has ballooned from 55% (2009) to 94% (2018). The economy has continued to grow amidst massive fiscal adjustment and balance of payments constraints, but the large increase in population – by 50% between 2008 and 2017 – driven by massive waves of refugees has resulted in a 12% cumulative loss in income per capita (2010-2017). Moving forward, debt sustainability will require not only continued fiscal consolidation but also faster growth and international support to keep interest payments on the debt contained. We have developed an innovative framework to align Jordan’s growth strategy with its changing factor endowments. The framework incorporates service industries into an Economic Complexity analysis, utilizing the Dun and Bradstreet database, together with an evaluation of the evolution of Jordan’s comparative advantages over time. Combining several tools to identify critical constraints faced by sectors with the greatest potential, we have produced a roadmap with key elements of a strategy for Jordan to return to faster, more sustainable and more inclusive growth that is consistent with its emerging comparative advantages.
The literature on income gaps between Chiapas and the rest of Mexico revolves around individual factors, such as education and ethnicity. Yet, twenty years after the Zapatista rebellion, the schooling gap between Chiapas and the other Mexican entities has shrunk while the income gap has widened, and we find no evidence indicating that Chiapas indigenes are worse-off than their likes elsewhere in Mexico. We explore a different hypothesis. Based on census data, we calculate the economic complexity index, a measure of the knowledge agglomeration embedded in the economic activities at a municipal level in Mexico. Economic complexity explains a larger fraction of the income gap than any individual factor. Our results suggest that chiapanecos are not the problem, the problem is Chiapas. These results hold when we extend our analysis to Mexico’s thirty-one federal entities, suggesting that place-specific determinants that have been overlooked in both the literature and policy, have a key role in the determination of income gaps.
Countries that specialize in commodities have in recent years been hit by high volatility in world prices for their exports. This paper suggests four ways that commodity-exporters can make themselves less vulnerable.
(1) Option contracts can be used to hedge against short-term declines in the commodity price without giving up the upside, as Mexico has shown.
(2) Commodity-linked bonds can hedge longer-term risk, and often have a natural ultimate counter-party in multinational corporations that depend on the commodity as an input.
(3) The well-documented pro-cyclicality of fiscal policy among commodity exporters can be reduced by insulating official forecasters against an optimism bias, as Chile has shown.
(4) Monetary policy can be made automatically more counter-cyclical, judged by the criterion of currency appreciation in reaction to positive terms-of-trade shocks, under either of two regimes: peggers can add the export commodity to a currency basket (CCB, for “Currency-plus-Commodity Basket”) and others can target Nominal Income instead of the CPI.
This report aims to summarize the main findings of the project as gathered by the three baseline documents, and frame them within a coherent set of policy recommendations that can help Panama to maintain their growth momentum in time and make it more inclusive. Three elements stand out as cornerstones of our proposal:
(i) attracting and retaining qualified human capital;
(ii) maximizing the diffusion of know-how and knowledge spillovers, and
(iii) leveraging on public-private dialog to tackle coordination problems that are hindering economic activity outside the Panama-Colón axis.
The paper proposes an exchange rate regime for oil-exporting countries. The goal is to achieve the best of both flexible and fixed exchange rates. The arrangement is designed to deliver monetary policy that counteracts rather than exacerbates the effects of swings in the oil market, while yet offering the day-to-day transparency and predictability of a currency peg. The proposal is to peg the national currency to a basket, but a basket that includes not only the currencies of major trading partners (in particular, the dollar and the euro), but also the export commodity (oil). The plan is called Currency-plus-Commodity Basket (CCB). The paper begins by fleshing out the need for an innovative arrangement that allows accommodation to trade shocks. The analysis provides evidence from six Gulf countries that periods when their currencies were “undervalued”, in the sense that the actual foreign exchange value lay below what it would have been under the CCB proposal, were periods of overheating as reflected in high inflation and of external imbalance as reflected in high balance of payments surpluses. Conversely, periods when the currencies were “overvalued,” in the sense that their foreign exchange value lay above what it would have been under CCB, featured unusually low inflation and low balance of payments. These results are suggestive of the implication that the economy would have been more stable under CCB. The last section of the paper offers a practical blueprint for detailed implementation of the proposal.
Are regions poor because they have bad institutions or are they poor because they are disconnected from the social channels through which technology diffuses? This paper tests institutional and technological theories of economic convergence by looking at income convergence across Colombian municipalities. We use formal employment and wage data to estimate growth of income per capita at the municipal level. In Colombia, municipalities are organized into 32 departamentos or states. We use cellphone metadata to cluster municipalities into 32 communication clusters, defined as a set of municipalities that are densely connected through phone calls. We show that these two forms of grouping municipalities are very different. We study the effect on municipal income growth of the characteristics of both the state and the communication cluster to which the municipality belongs. We find that belonging to a richer communication cluster accelerates convergence, while belonging to a richer state does not. This result is robust to controlling for state fixed effects when studying the impact of communication clusters and vice versa. The results point to the importance of social interactions rather than formal institutions in the growth process.
The recent economic depression in Greece hit the population of Albanian migrants in Greece particularly hard, spurring a wave of return migration which increased the Albanian labor force by 5 percent in less than four years, between 2011 and 2014. We study how this return migration affected the employment chances and earnings of Albanians who never migrated. We find positive effects on the wages of low-skilled non-migrants and overall positive effects on employment. The gains partially offset the sharp drop in remittances in the observed period. An important part of the employment gains are concentrated in the agricultural sector, where most return migrants engage in self-employment and entrepreneurship. Businesses run by return migrants seem to pull Albanians from non-participation, unemployment and subsistence agriculture into commercial agriculture.
The prevalence of many urban phenomena changes systematically with population size1. We propose a theory that unifies models of economic complexity2, 3 and cultural evolution4 to derive urban scaling. The theory accounts for the difference in scaling exponents and average prevalence across phenomena, as well as the difference in the variance within phenomena across cities of similar size. The central ideas are that a number of necessary complementary factors must be simultaneously present for a phenomenon to occur, and that the diversity of factors is logarithmically related to population size. The model reveals that phenomena that require more factors will be less prevalent, scale more superlinearly and show larger variance across cities of similar size. The theory applies to data on education, employment, innovation, disease and crime, and it entails the ability to predict the prevalence of a phenomenon across cities, given information about the prevalence in a single city.
This paper is published in the journal, Nature: Human Behavior.
Tourism is one of the most important economic activities in the world: for many countries it represents the single largest product in their export basket. However, it is a product difficult to chart: "exporters" of tourism do not ship it abroad, but they welcome importers inside the country. Current research uses social accounting matrices and general equilibrium models, but the standard industry classifications they use make it hard to identify which domestic industries cater to foreign visitors. In this paper, we make use of open source data and of anonymized and aggregated transaction data giving us insights about the spend behavior of foreigners inside two countries, Colombia and the Netherlands, to inform our research. With this data, we are able to describe what constitutes the tourism sector, and to map the most attractive destinations for visitors. In particular, we find that countries might observe different geographical tourists' patterns - concentration versus decentralization -; we show the importance of distance, a country's reported wealth and cultural affinity in informing tourism; and we show the potential of combining open source data and anonymized and aggregated transaction data on foreign spend patterns in gaining insight as to the evolution of tourism from one year to another.
Coscia blog: Exploring the uncharted export
Venezuela has one of the most abundant geological endowments in the world. Oil proven reserves are among the largest globally, even if a more conservative criterion than the one used by the current government is applied. However, these resources are qualitatively different than those of other abundant regions such as the Middle East. The large majority constitutes extra-heavy oil, which generally requires higher oil prices to be extracted profitably.
During the last decade, the Venezuelan oil industry wasted a unique opportunity to increase investment and production. At the high oil prices that prevailed, the massive oil reserves could have been monetized by rapidly increasing production with a large margin of profitability. Quite to the contrary, production steadily dropped due either to lack of investment in the new unconventional oil projects or for failing to compensate the decline of the older conventional fields. It is a tragic story of great potential with dismal performance.
A series of trends were negatively impacting the Venezuelan oil industry even before the oil price collapse in 2014. From the revenue side, although oil prices showed an increase in real terms of 120% between 2000 and 2014, the barrels that effectively generate cash for Venezuela have shown a continuous decline. This is not just because production has been declining for the most part during the last eighteen years (a trend that has gotten significantly worse during the last year), but also because of a number of developments. First, during that period, total exports have declined more rapidly than production, and recently, net exports have declined more than total exports. Consumption in the massively subsidized domestic market increased until 2013 (when it started to decline likely because of the recession in the local economy), while imports of oil products for the domestic market have increased since 2012. The domestic market not only generates negative cash-flow for the national oil company (NOC), PDVSA, but also its expansion reduced the barrels available to export. More recently, there has also been an increase in imports of light oil and naphtha as diluents for the extra-heavy oil. Second, the Venezuelan production basket has become heavier and the share of unconventional production, generally less profitable, has increased. Third, the production wholly operated by PDVSA has been falling much more rapidly, while the production share of joint-ventures increased. Fourth, a significant share of the exports to Latin America and the Caribbean is subsidized (although these exports have declined recently). Fifth, some oil exports are committed to repay debts of PDVSA and specially the Venezuelan government, limiting the actual cash flow received by the company. In particular, the government’s debt agreements with China involve a significant and increasing amount of production, although recently those agreements were restructured, allowing for a grace period with no capital amortization. From the expenditure side, PDVSA was increasingly responsible of carrying social expenditures and activities not related to the oil industry, which limited the resources for highly profitable investments. That is in addition to the increased fiscal take due to changes in the tax legislation. Also, higher investment requirements due to an increase in the equity share of PDVSA in joint venture projects, has had an impact on its cash flow.
The explanations for the underperformance of the Venezuelan oil industry basically fall into two connected categories: the multiple problems facing PDVSA; and the increase in above-ground risks for foreign investors operating in the country. The deterioration of the institutional framework, led to radical fiscal and regulatory changes, and to the nationalization of the majority of the industry. In 7 addition, the substantial over-extraction of resources from the NOC, the significant macroeconomic distortions affecting the cost structure of oil companies, and the constraints imposed by the energy infrastructure and human capital availability; have combined to produce dismal results. The massive firing of the majority of the management and technical experts from PDVSA in 2003 following the political conflict that led to a strike, has left the company with limited capabilities to operate effectively.
The recent decline in oil prices, and the changes in the international market structure, have exposed more dramatically the difficulties facing the Venezuelan oil sector, and call into question its ability to prevent a continuation of the declining trend in oil extraction. This situation becomes particularly severe if we take into account the cash flow constraints facing PDVSA, as well as its multiple operational problems, power cuts, and conflicts with oilfield services providers. These challenges are proportional to the enormous investments required to finance the projects in the Orinoco Oil Belt, where most of the reserves in Venezuela are located, and where the quality of the crude and the lack of development of the region, are just two of the many issues that need to be addressed.
Since this paper is part of a wider project to understand the macroeconomic challenges facing the country in 2016-17, it focuses narrowly on the financial problems of the oil industry in the short-term and the operational challenges that could impede its recovery in the next couple of years. Within this context, it largely analyzes the upstream operations, i.e. oil extraction, rather than the downstream, given that in the former is where the oil rents are generated and constitutes the main source of foreign exchange and fiscal revenues of Venezuela. Other areas for further research are mentioned at the end of the document.2
Official figures are used to the extent that they are publicly available. An important aspect that prevents an exhaustive evaluation of the oil sector in Venezuela is the lack of available information regarding key performance indicators affecting the cost structure of oil projects, the cash flow of PDVSA, and the fiscal contributions of the oil sector to the government, among other important variables. Thus, on occasion, estimations for variables of interest and explanations for their divergence from official figures are provided.
The paper has two main sections. The first one analyzes the issues affecting the cash flow of PDVSA, the effects of macroeconomic and fiscal variables on both revenues and costs, as well as other financial issues affecting the performance of the company. The second section discusses some of the operational challenges facing the industry and mentions areas for further research.
2For a more general overview of the recent developments of the oil sector in Venezuela see Monaldi (2015).
Since the Zapatista revolution of January 1994, enormous amount of resources coming from the federal government have poured over Chiapas. The gap in years and quality of education has been reduced significantly; and road, port and airport infrastructure have undergone a dramatic transformation. And yet, the income gap between Chiapas and the rest of Mexico has only widened. To understand why, a multi-disciplinary team of twelve experts have devoted significant time and resources to study different aspects of the development dynamic of Chiapas. As a result, 5 base documents have been published analyzing Chiapas:
- Complexity profile
- Growth Diagnostic
- Institutional Diagnostic
- Poverty profile
- Pilot of productive dialogs and inclusive growth in an indigenous community
This report resumes the findings from these and articulates their corresponding recommendations into a policy plan.
According to our hypothesis, Chiapas is wedged in a low productivity trap. A modern production system, responsible for productivity increases, income and development elsewhere in the world, requires a number of complementary inputs or capacities that are absent in Chiapas. As a result, its economy consists of a few primary products of little or no technological sophistication, and a vibrant service industry fueled by public expenditure in its larger cities. In this situation, there are no incentives to acquire additional education or skills because there is no demand for them in the economy. As we have proved, the few that manage to emigrate earn salaries elsewhere in Mexico slightly above other migrants with similar qualifications. As it turns out, it is not about the Chiapanecos, it is about Chiapas.
To overcome the current dilemmas and spark the engine of growth, Chiapas needs to resolve its issues of coordination, connectivity and gradually promote economic activities of higher complexity. Yazaki, one of the few manufacturers present in Chiapas, is an example of the role of the state in helping the economy to overcome the chicken-and-egg dilemmas, providing the public goods required - in an initial push – by a more complex economy. Our recommendations are based in identifying the productive capabilities embedded within the current productive structure of Chiapas four largest urban agglomerations, and leveraging on them to board on different potential, more complex industries that use a similar base of knowledge. To conquer those industries and diversify its economy, Chiapas needs a public-private agency empowered to iteratively solve the issues and bottlenecks these potential industries face in each particular place. Public transport and housing policy can be used as means to incorporating the surrounding communities into the increasingly modern economies of urban centers. Special economic zones and agro-industrial parks can be used to spur productivity in those areas where labor and appropriability are the most binding constrains.
Special Economic Zones (SEZ) have played an important role in Panama's successful growth story over the previous decade. SEZ have attracted local and foreign investment by leveraging a business-friendly environment of low transaction costs, and created many stable, well-paid jobs for Panamanians. Beyond that, SEZ shall be assessed as place-based policy by their capacity to boost structural transformations, namely attracting new skills and more complex know-how not to be found in the domestic economy.
The aim of this paper is to evaluate the three largest SEZ in Panama:
- Colon Free Zone
- City of Knowledge
Our results suggest that SEZ have been successful as measured by static indicators, such as foreign investment, job creation and productivity. We also find that SEZ have boosted inflows of high-skill immigrants, who are most likely generating positive knowledge spillovers on Panamanians productivity and wages. However, significant legal instruments and institutional designs are preventing Panama from taking full advantage of the skill variety hosted at the SEZ. Complex immigration processes inhibiting foreigners from transitioning out of the SEZ, a long list of restricted professions and even citizenships considered as a national security concern, are hindering the flow of knowledge, keeping the benefits coming from more complex multinational companies locked inside the gates of SEZ.
Originally published October 2016. Revised May 2017.