Growth Diagnostics

Growth Diagnostics is a methodology to determine the obstacles to a country’s capacity to grow. It is a unified framework for identifying the binding constraints to growth, which is key to formulating growth strategies. 
O'Brien, T., et al., 2022. What Will It Take for Jordan to Grow?.Abstract
This report aims to answer the critical but difficult question: "What will it take for Jordan to grow?" Though Jordan has numerous active growth and reform strategies in place, they do not clearly answer this fundamental question. The Jordanian economy has experienced more than a decade of slow growth. Per capita income today is lower than it was prior to the Global Financial Crisis as Jordan has experienced a refugee-driven population increase. Jordan’s comparative advantages have narrowed over time as external shocks and responses to these shocks have changed the productive structure of Jordan’s economy. This was a problem well before the country faced the COVID-19 pandemic. The Jordanian economy has lost productivity, market access, and, critically, the ability to afford high levels of imports as a share of GDP. Significant efforts toward fiscal consolidation have further constrained aggregate demand, which has slowed non-tradable activity and the ability of the economy to create jobs. Labor market outcomes have worsened over time and are especially bad for women and youth. Looking ahead, this report identifies clear and significant opportunities for Jordan to strengthen new engines of export growth that would enable better overall job creation and resilience, even amidst the continued unpredictability of the pandemic. This report argues that there is need for a paradigm shift in Jordan’s growth strategy to focus more direct attention and resources on activating “agents of change” to accelerate the emergence of key growth opportunities, and that there are novel roles that donor countries can play in support of this.
Hausmann, R., et al., 2022. A Growth Diagnostic of Namibia.Abstract

In the thirty years that have passed since independence, Namibia has been characterized by its over-reliance on its mineral resource wealth, procyclicality of macroeconomic policy, and large income disparities. After an initial decade marked by nation building and slow growth (1990-2000), the Namibian economy embarked on a rapid growth acceleration that lasted 15 years, within the context of the global commodity super cycle. Favorable terms of trade translated into an investment and export boom in the mining sector, which was amplified to the non-tradable sector of the economy through a significant public expenditure spree from 2008 onwards. Between 2000 and 2015 income and consumption per capita expanded at an average annual rate of 3.1%, poverty rates halved, and access to essential public goods expanded rapidly. As the commodity super cycle came to an end and the fiscal space was exhausted, Namibia experienced a significant reversal. Investment and exports plummeted, bringing GDP per capita to contract by 2.1% between 2015-2019. With debt-to-GDP ratios 3.5 times higher than those in 2008, the country embarked on a fiscal consolidation effort which brought the primary fiscal deficit from 6.8% of GDP in 2016 to 0.6% by March 2020. Along all these years, inequality has been endemic and is reflected across demographic characteristics and employment status. At present, a large majority of Namibians are unable to access well-paying formal sector jobs, as these tend to be particularly scarce outside of the public sector. Looking forward, the road to sustained inclusive growth and broad prosperity entails expanding the formal private labor market by diversifying the Namibian economy, while at the same time removing the barriers preventing Namibians from accessing these opportunities inherited from the apartheid.

The Growth Lab at Harvard University has partnered with the Government of Namibia to develop research that results in inputs for a policy strategy aimed at promoting sustainable and inclusive growth. The Growth Diagnostic is a cornerstone of the ongoing research engagement and is meant at providing an overview of the most binding constraints to Namibia’s economic performance and outlining how these relate in a systemic way to the concurrent challenges of growth, fiscal sustainability, and inclusion. 

Inclusive growth in Namibia is currently facing a set of self-reinforcing constraints. The country is missing both the productive capabilities (words) and required skills (letters) to sustain longer periods of growth. The low degree of knowhow agglomeration that can be inferred from its current productive structure – as gathered by the Economic Complexity Index (ECI) – leaves very little opportunities of diversification that can be pursued by redeploying existing skills (low connectedness). Our analysis reveals that Namibia has been able to diversify differentially more that most of its peers given its current set of productive capabilities, but the problem is that the set of adjacent opportunities are neither complex nor plenty. As the marginal cost of acquiring new capabilities tend to be high, the government needs to take a more active role in sorting coordination and information failures associated to the process of productive diversification and self-discovery.

Relatedly, Namibia’s growth prospects are also constrained by a shortage of specialized skills. Three empirical facts derived from econometric analysis of Labor Force Survey statistics point in this direction. First, certain skill-intensive industries and occupations exhibit differentially higher wage premiums. Second, highly educated, and experienced workers face the lowest unemployment rates in the economy, by a wide margin. Third, skill-intensive industries tend to grow less than the rest of the sectors in the economy.

The demand for high skilled foreign workers is high – as proxied by their wage premium. This skill shortage may be constraining not only existing industries but also the development of new engines of growth, limiting access to opportunity for Namibians across all skill levels. Missing skills at the top of the spectrum tends to depress job creation at the bottom. These two constraints – low knowhow agglomeration with poor connectedness and skills shortages – seem to reinforce each other. Using the Scrabble metaphor, Namibia is missing the letters (productive capabilities) and the entire words (more complex products).

Knowhow, by definition, resides in brains of people and it’s embedded in the goods and services a country produces. A broad knowhow-enhancing strategy aimed at targeting efficiency-seeking foreign direct investment (FDI, firms bringing entire new words to Namibia), and migration regulation policies (specific letters needed by more complex industries) is required to ease the binding constraints. Investment promotion efforts shall be targeted to ‘efficiency-seeking’ firms, which tend to take advantage of a competitive factor in the country (efficient labor force, access to international financial markets, infrastructure, etc.) to produce and export to foreign markets. This type of FDI is essentially different from the ‘natural resource-seeking’ investments that have characterized the Namibian economy and pose additional challenges. At the same time, the country would benefit from a more open immigration policy targeted towards high-skill workers. The evidence we have gathered suggests that high-skill foreigners tend to function as complements – rather than substitutes – to Namibian workers: industries with larger shares of high-skill workers tended to pay lower skill workers significantly higher wages. Easing the existing restrictions t labor flows and incentivizing inflows of high-skill foreigners will likely trickle down into the rest of the labor force and enhance the knowhow agglomeration of the Namibian productive ecosystem.

A challenge to productive diversification broadly, and attracting foreign investment and talent more particularly, might be policy uncertainty. Existing levels of policy uncertainty – instability or absence of the adequate regulating environment, worries about potential issues for property rights, inexperience with respect to the efficiency of domestic courts – in Namibia might not be enough to deter investments in resource-based industries, but might be an important hurdle for other type of industries, especially the ones that have a choice regarding their international location. To attract these investments, a simpler and more transparent investment environment, coped a more comprehensive set of international investment treaties, might be necessary.

The report is organized in six sections, including this Executive Summary. Section 2 outlines the Growth Diagnostic methodology. Section 3 provides a summary of the growth trajectory of Namibia and the challenges facing inclusive growth. Section 4 covers the main takeaways of the analysis conducted in each of the branches of the Growth Diagnostics Tree, including those related to access to finance, low social returns, government failures and agglomeration of collective knowhow. Section 5 concludes by highlighting potential binding and providing inputs for a collaborative exploration of why these issues have persisted and become an equilibrium.

Diagnosing Human Capital as a Binding Constraint to Growth: Tests, Symptoms and Prescriptions
Santos, M.A. & Hani, F., 2021. Diagnosing Human Capital as a Binding Constraint to Growth: Tests, Symptoms and Prescriptions. Cambridge University Press: Elements in the Economics of Emerging Markets. Publisher's VersionAbstract

The empirical literature on the contributions of human capital investments to economic growth shows mixed results. While evidence from OECD countries demonstrates that human capital accumulation is associated with growth accelerations, the substantial efforts of developing countries to improve access to and quality of education, as a means for skill accumulation, did not translate into higher income per capita. In this Element, we propose a framework, building on the principles of 'growth diagnostics', to enable practitioners to determine whether human capital investments are a priority for a country's growth strategy. We then discuss and exemplify different tests to diagnose human capital in a place, drawing on the Harvard Growth Lab's experience in different development context, and discuss various policy options to address skill shortages.

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Iterations of a Growth Diagnostic: The Case Study of Albania

The Growth Lab has been engaged in an applied research project with the country of Albania since 2013. In this time, we have conducted research on numerous, diverse workstreams related to stimulating economic growth in the country.

During this research engagement, our team conducted Growth Diagnostic analyses to understand and test potential binding constraints to economic growth in Albania. After the initial Growth Diagnostic study in 2013,...

Read more about Iterations of a Growth Diagnostic: The Case Study of Albania
Hausmann, R., et al., 2021. Western Australia – Research Findings and Policy Recommendations.Abstract

The Government of Western Australia (WA), acting through its Department of Primary Industries and Regional Development (DPIRD), invited the Growth Lab of the Center for International Development at Harvard University to partner with the state to better understand and address constraints to economic diversification through a collaborative applied research project. The project seeks to apply growth diagnostic and economic complexity methodologies to inform policy design in order to accelerate productive transformation, economic diversification, and more inclusive and resilient job creation across Western Australia.

This report is organized in six sections, including this brief introduction. Section 2 is an Executive Summary. Section 3 explains the methodologies of Growth Diagnostics and Economic Complexity, including its theoretical foundations and main concepts. Section 4 describes the main findings of the Economic Complexity Report, including a characterization of Western Australia’s complexity profile. This is done at the state, regional, and city levels. Additionally, this section identifies diversification opportunities with high potential and organizes them into groupings to capture important patterns among the opportunities. This section also contextualizes the opportunities further by identifying relevant viability and attractiveness factors that complement the complexity metrics and consider local conditions. Section 5 highlights the main findings of the Growth Perspective Report. This section describes the economic growth process of Western Australia — with a focus on the past two decades — and identifies several issues with the way that growth has occurred. This section highlights three key channels through which negative externalities have manifested: labor market imbalances, pro-cyclicality of fiscal policy, and a misalignment of public goods. The section provides perspectives on the ways in which each of these channels have hampered the quality of growth and explores the deep-rooted factors that underpin these adverse dynamics. Section 6 introduces a policy framework that can be leveraged by WA to capitalize on revealed diversification opportunities and address the factors that impact the quality of the growth process of the state.

Hausmann, R., et al., 2021. Growth Perspective on Western Australia.Abstract

The Government of Western Australia (WA), acting through its Department of Primary Industries and Regional Development (DPIRD), invited the Growth Lab of the Center for International Development at Harvard University to partner with the state to better understand and address constraints to economic diversification through a collaborative applied research project. The project seeks to apply growth diagnostic and economic complexity methodologies to inform policy design in order to accelerate productive transformation, economic diversification, and more inclusive and resilient job creation across Western Australia. As its name implies, this Growth Perspective Report aims to provide a set of perspectives on the process of economic growth in WA that provide insights for policymakers toward improving growth outcomes.

This Growth Perspective Report describes both the economic growth process of Western Australia — with a focus on the past two decades — and identifies several problematic issues with the way that growth has been structured. In particular, this report traces important ways in which policies applied during the boom and subsequent slowdown in growth over the last twenty years have exacerbated a number of self-reinforcing negative externalities of undiversified growth. The report analyzes three key channels through which negative externalities have manifested: labor market imbalances, pro-cyclicality of fiscal policy, and a misalignment of public goods. The report includes sections on each of these channels, which provide perspectives on the ways in which they have hampered the quality of growth and explore the reasons why problematic externalities have become self-reinforcing. In some cases, new issues have emerged in the most recent iteration of WA’s boom-slowdown cycle, but many issues have roots in the long-term growth history of WA.

Growth Diagnostics in Real Life: The Growth Lab's Project in Sri Lanka

On today's episode of The Growth Lab Podcast, CID Student Ambassador Emily Ausubel interviews Tim O’Brien and Dan Stock, Research Fellows at Harvard's Growth Lab. Tim and Dan discuss the Growth Lab project in Sri Lanka and how they are applying the Growth Diagnostics Methodology to identify the country’s binding constraints for diversification and economic growth. Read the Growth Diagnostic. Read more about Growth Diagnostics in Real Life: The Growth Lab's Project in Sri Lanka
Hausmann, R. & Klinger, B., 2007. Growth Diagnostic: Belize. Publisher's VersionAbstract

Belize’s economic history shows marked periods of growth accelerations and recessions. There have been two such expansions and collapses in the past two decades, with disturbingly similar features. While not always initiated by public spending, these booms quickly became public-investment led, until ballooning budget, trade, and current account deficits and the resulting shrinking reserves and growing debt required home-grown adjustment programs. The huge cuts in public investment and sharp increases in reserve requirements created marked recessions. In addition, the second acceleration happened after a significant collapse in private savings, and ended up creating a huge debt overhang which has eliminated public savings. As a consequence, Belize is a country with a low savings, little access to international finance, and an extremely high domestic cost of finance. Access to finance is the binding constraint to economic growth.

We show that other potential constraints are not binding. Returns to education are low, and there is little to no infrastructure congestion, suggesting that although Belize is a structurally high-cost country, lacking complementary factors of production are not holding back growth. Furthermore, tax, inflation, exchange rate stability, and law and order do not seem to restrict investment through lowering appropriability. Finally, the country is not being held back by a lack of self-discovery. Although the movement to new export goods is critical for Belize’s growth, this process is being hindered by the cost and availability of finance, both public and private.

The appropriate policy stance is therefore to institutionalize fiscal discipline and gradually reduce the cost of credit. Given that low public savings are presently the result of expensive debt service, and also that foreign debt has created barriers to foreign borrowing and a heightened tax on financial intermediation which are key contributors to the high cost of finance, fiscal sustainability is key for drawing down the cost of finance in Belize. Reforms to prevent a lack of fiscal discipline in the future, particularly surrounding political cycles, are critical to end the past two decade’s ‘stop-and-go’ growth pattern. Finally, the government must address the rapidly rising implicit tax expenditure on investment promotion, as well as the fall in the tax take.

But these reductions in the domestic cost of finance will, as best, be gradual given the size of the debt. In the meantime, there is a need for public investment in areas such as public safety, road maintenance, and rural airports that if ignored, could have deleterious effects on long-term growth. Creative ways to finance such productivity-enhancing investments, which would not increase publicly-guaranteed debt, must be pursued.

In addition, the industrial strategy of the country must adapt to the current financial constraints and focus on attracting investors who aren’t subject to the high domestic interest rate, namely foreign investors. The current industrial strategy is not consistent with Belize’s constraints to growth.

Hausmann, R., et al., 2020. Diagnóstico de Crecimiento de Loreto: Principales Restricciones al Desarrollo Sostenible.Abstract

Sembrado en el flanco oeste de la selva amazónica, Loreto se encuentra entre los departamentos más pobres y con peores indicadores sociales del Perú. El desarrollo enfrenta allí un sinfín de barreras, pero no todas son igualmente limitantes y tampoco hay recursos para atender todos los problemas a la vez. El Laboratorio de Crecimiento de la Universidad de Harvard, bajo el auspicio de la Fundación Gordon and Betty Moore, ha desarrollado un Diagnóstico de Crecimiento que buscar identificar las restricciones más limitantes, y priorizar las intervenciones de políticas públicas alrededor de un número reducido de factores con el mayor impacto. La investigación, que se fundamenta en análisis de bases de datos nacionales e internacionales, e incluye factores cuantitativos y cualitativos derivados de las visitas de campo, identifica a la conectividad de transporte, los problemas de coordinación asociados al autodescubrimiento, y la energía eléctrica, como las restricciones más vinculantes para el desarrollo de Loreto. De acuerdo con nuestras conclusiones, mejoras en la provisión de estos tres factores tendrían un mayor impacto sobre el desarrollo sostenible de la región que mejores en la educación y los niveles de capital humano, el acceso a financiamiento, y otros sospechosos habituales. Este reporte es el segundo de una investigación más amplia – Transformación estructural y restricciones limitantes a la prosperidad en Loreto, Perú – que busca aportar insumos para el desarrollo de políticas públicas a escala nacional y regional que contribuyan a promover el desarrollo productivo y la prosperidad de la región.

Hausmann, R., et al., 2020. La Riqueza Escondida de Loreto: Análisis de Complejidad Económica y Oportunidades de Diversificación Productiva.Abstract

El Laboratorio de Crecimiento de la Universidad de Harvard, bajo el auspicio de la Fundación Gordon and Betty Moore, ha desarrollado esta investigación para identificar las capacidades productivas existentes en Loreto y las actividades económicas con potencial para liderar la transformación estructural de su economía. Este reporte forma parte de una investigación más amplia – Transformación estructural y restricciones limitantes a la prosperidad en Loreto, Perú – que busca aportar insumos para el desarrollo de políticas públicas a escala nacional y regional que contribuyan a promover el desarrollo productivo y la prosperidad de la región, tomando en cuenta sus características particulares.

Hausmann, R., et al., 2020. Emerging Cities as Independent Engines of Growth: The Case of Buenos Aires.Abstract

What does it take for a sub-national unit to become an autonomous engine of growth? This issue is particularly relevant to large cities, as they tend to display larger and more complex know-how agglomerations and may have access to a broader set of policy tools. To approximate an answer to this question, specific to the case of Buenos Aires, Harvard’s Growth Lab engaged in a research project from December 2018 to June 2019, collaborating with the Center for Evidence-based Evaluation of Policies (CEPE) of Universidad Torcuato di Tella, and the Development Unit of the Secretary of Finance of the City of Buenos Aires. Together, we have developed research agenda that seeks to provide inputs for a policy plan aimed at decoupling Buenos Aires’s growth trajectory from the rest of Argentina’s.

Listen to the Growth Lab Podcast interview with the authors. 

Hausmann, R. & Klinger, B., 2007. Growth Diagnostic: Paraguay.Abstract

Paraguay’s growth history is characterized by prolonged periods of stagnation, interrupted by a few small recessions and growth accelerations. These dynamics reveal that growth in Paraguay has been dependent on latching on to particular export goods enjoying favorable external conditions, rather than driven by macroeconomic or political cycles. Moreover, the country currently has significant room for further export growth in existing products, as well as many new export products that are nearby and have high potential. But these available channels to generate sustained growth have all gone unexploited. Our growth diagnostic indicates that the underlying obstacles that have prevented the country from developing many of the available opportunities are related to two constraints: the provision of infrastructure and a lack of appropriability due to corruption and a poor regulatory environment. The current environment is one where the only activities that can survive have to be un-intensive in infrastructure, and either unintensive in transactions requiring an efficient business environment or at least at a scale where informality and corruption is a viable alternative to institutional blockages. We provide policy recommendations that will help alleviate these problems, focusing on not only on institutional and infrastructure reforms in the abstract, but outlining a process of learning from the relevant private sector actors what sector-specific needs in the areas of regulations and infrastructure are the most important for achieving accelerated growth in Paraguay.

Macroeconomic Stability & Long-Term Growth in Jordan

The Macroeconomic Stability & Long-Term Growth in Jordan project deployed research guided by Growth Diagnostic and Economic Complexity methodologies, first to understand constraints to growth and key opportunities and later to guide problem-specific research.

Pan, C.I., 2019. Tax Avoidance in Buenos Aires: The Case of Ingresos Brutos.Abstract
This study presents evidence of tax avoidance in Buenos Aires, Argentina. I exploit a break in the tax scheme of the most controversial tax, Ingresos Brutos (gross income), between the city and the greater area, which are otherwise identical law and regulation-wise for the studied population. When possible, workers would rather travel longer distances to their jobs than face the tax burden. Given that this type of avoidance is costly, results suggest that Ingresos Brutos might be acting as a binding constraint to growth for businesses.
Hausmann, R., et al., 2019. Jordan: The Elements of a Growth Strategy.Abstract

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.

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