Faculty Working Papers

Frankel, J., 2012. Mauritius: African Success Story.Abstract

Mauritius is a top performer among African countries. It developed a manufacturing sector soon after independence and has managed to respond well to new external shocks. What explains this success? This paper draws on the history of the island, the writings of foreign economists, the ideas of locals, and the results of econometric tests. Mauritius has mostly followed good policies. They include: creating a well-managed Export Processing Zone, conducting diplomacy regarding trade preferences, spending on education, avoiding currency overvaluation, and facilitating business. The good policies can in turn be traced back to good institutions. They include: forswearing an army, protecting property rights (particularly non-expropriation of sugar plantations), and creating a parliamentary structure with comprehensive participation (in the form of representation for rural districts and ethnic minorities, the “best loser system,” ever-changing coalition governments, and cabinet power-sharing). But from where did the good institutions come? They were chosen around the time of independence in 1968. Why in Mauritius and not elsewhere? Luck?
Some fundamental geographic and historical determinants of trade and rule of law help explain why average income is lower in Africa than elsewhere, and trade and rule of law help explain performance within Africa just as they do worldwide. Despite these two econometric findings, the more fundamental determinants are not much help in explaining relative performance within Africa. Fundamental determinants that work worldwide but not within Africa are remoteness, tropics, size and fragmentation. (Access to the sea is the one fundamental geographic determinant of trade and income that is always important.) A case in point is the high level of ethnic diversity in Mauritius, which in many places would make for dysfunctional politics. Here, however, it brings cosmopolitan benefits. The institutions manage to balance the ethnic groups; none is excluded from the system. It is intriguing that the three African countries with the highest governance rankings (Mauritius, Seychelles and Cape Verde) are all islands that had no indigenous population. It helps that everyone came from somewhere else.

Chekir, H. & Diwan, I., 2012. Crony Capitalism in Egypt.Abstract

The paper studies the nature and extent of Egyptian "crony" capitalism by comparing the corporate performance and the stock market valuation of politically connected and unconnected firms, before and after the 2011 popular uprising that led to the end of President Mubarak 30 years rule. First, we identify politically connected firms and conduct an event study around the events of 2011, as well as around previous events related to rumors about Mubarak’s health. We estimate the market valuation of political connections to be 20% to 23% of the value of connected firms. Second, we explore the mechanisms used for granting these privileges by looking at corporate behavior before 2011. It appears that these advantages allowed connected firms to increase their market size and power and their borrowings. We finally compare the performance of firms and find that the rate of return on assets of connected firms was lower than that of non-connected firms by nearly 3 percentage points. We argue that this indicates that the granting of privileges was not part of a successful industrial policy but instead, that it led to a large misallocation of capital towards less efficient firms, which together with reduced competition, led to lower economic growth.

*Formerly titled: Distressed Whales on the Nile - Egypt Capitalists in the Wake of the 2010 Revolution

Diwan, I., Gaddah, O. & Osire, R., 2013. Looking like an Industry: Supporting Commercial Agriculture in Africa.Abstract

It has long been known that countries only converge conditionally i.e. poor countries catch up with richer ones only if they adopt policies and institutions that are conducive to economic growth. Recently, Dani Rodrik (2011) has shown that manufacturing industries, unlike countries, converge unconditionally. We look at countries' performance in agriculture and find that agricultural productivity actually shows unconditional divergence (and like GDP, conditional converge). This means that agriculture very much behaves like a country and not like industry. We find however that many crops do converge unconditionally, like industry. The question we then ask is: how can we make particular sectors in agriculture more like an "industry" and less like a "country?" The paper argues that the solution lies in finding business models that provide capital and access to missing markets in an aggregated fashion, thus forming high-productivity islands of quality. We provide examples and a discussion of promising business models that do that.

Frankel, J., 2012. What Small Countries Can Teach the World.Abstract

The large economies have each, in sequence, offered "models" that once seemed attractive to others but that eventually gave way to disillusionment. Small countries may have some answers. They are often better able to experiment with innovative policies and institutions and some of the results are worthy of emulation. This article gives an array of examples. Some of them come from small advanced countries: New Zealand’s Inflation Targeting, Estonia’s flat tax, Switzerland’s debt brake, Ireland’s FDI policy, Canada’s banking structure, Sweden’s Nordic model, and the Netherlands’ labor market reforms. Some examples come from countries that were considered "developing" 40 years ago, but have since industrialized. Korea stands for education; among Singapore’s innovative polices were forced saving and traffic congestion pricing; Costa Rica and Mauritius outperformed their respective regions by, among other policies, foreswearing standing armies; and Mexico experimented successfully with the original Conditional Cash Transfers. A final set of examples come from countries that export mineral and agricultural commodities -- historically vulnerable to the "resource curse" -- but that have learned how to avoid the pitfalls: Chile’s structural budget rules, Mexico’s oil option hedging, and Botswana’s "Pula Fund."

Peters, P., 2012. Conflicts Over Land and Threats to Customary Tenure in Africa Today.Abstract

Issues swirling around land across Africa have never been so central to key social and political-economic dynamics as they are at the present time. The first part of the paper briefly reviews the construction of customary tenure and the historical phases of administrative interventions into land tenure, and considers their heritage in contemporary situations. The second part reviews the increasing competition and conflict centered on land; the increase in various types of land transfers that are implicated in the pervasive social conflict focused on land; and the associated rise in social inequality and contestation over belonging and citizenship. The third and final part discusses ‘land grabs’, the most recent surge of international interest in African land, and external and internal threats to ‘customary’ rights in land. The overall conclusion is that while relations around land have long been central to political economy, culture and society across the continent, their greater salience in intensifying struggles among actors within and from outside Africa has significance for the disposition of authority, property and citizenship.

Hausmann, R., Dell’Erba, S. & Panizza, U., 2013. Debt Levels, Debt Composition, and Sovereign Spreads in Emerging and Advanced Economies.Abstract

This paper studies the relationship between sovereign spreads and the interaction between debt composition and debt levels in advanced and emerging market countries. It finds that in emerging market countries there is a significant correlation between spreads and debt levels. This correlation, however, is not statistically significant in countries where most public debt is denominated in local currency. In advanced economies, the magnitude of the correlation between debt levels and spreads is about one fifth of the corresponding correlation for emerging market economies. In Eurozone countries, however, the correlation between spreads and debt ratios is similar to that of emerging market countries. The paper also shows that the financial crisis amplified the relationship between spreads and debt levels within the Eurozone but had no effect on the relationship between spreads and debt in standalone countries. Finally, the paper shows that the relationship between debt levels and spreads is amplified by the presence of large net foreign liabilities. This amplifying effect of net foreign liabilities is larger in the Eurozone than in standalone advanced economies. The paper concludes that debt composition matters and corroborates the original sin hypothesis that, rather than being a mere reflection of institutional weaknesses, the presence of foreign currency debt increases financial fragility and leads to suboptimal macroeconomic policies.

Rodríguez-Oreggia, E. & Freije, S., 2012. Long Term Impact of a Cash-Transfers Program on Labor Outcomes of the Rural Youth.Abstract

This paper evaluates if, after ten years of implementation, the conditional cash transfer program Progresa/Oportunidades has had an effect on labor market outcomes among young beneficiaries in rural Mexico. We use a specific module for the young aged 14 to 24 in the 2007 wave of the Rural Households Evaluation Survey and apply a multi-treatment methodology for different time exposition to the program to identify effects on employment probability, wages, migration and intergenerational occupational mobility. Our results show very little evidence of program impacts on employment, wages or inter-generational occupational mobility among the cohort of beneficiaries under study. This suggests that, despite well documented effects on human capital accumulation of the beneficiaries, labor market prospects in the localities under the program remain sparse.