Panama has been one of the fastest growing economies in the world over the previous decade. Growth has been spearheaded by the development of a modern service sector on the activities surrounding the Canal, and non-residential construction. Large public infrastructure projects and the private provision for infrastructure demanded by the service sector, have fueled growth and created a vibrant labor market for non-skilled workers.
Two warning signals hover over Panama´s stellar performance. The construction sector has been growing for a decade at a rate that is equivalent to doubling its stock of structures every four years. The demand for non-residential construction cannot grow indefinitely at a higher rate than the rest of the economy. This feeds into the second signal: Income inequality. In spite of the minor improvements registered over the accelerated-growth spell, Panama remains amongst the world´s top five most unequal countries.
Both warning signals point out to the need of further diversifying the Panamanian economy, and promoting economic activity in the provinces so as to deconcentrate growth and make it more inclusive.
We deployed our Growth Diagnostic methodology in order to identify potential binding constraints to that process. Skilled labor, necessary to gradually diversify into more complex and high value-added activities, is relatively scarce. This scarcity manifests into large wage-premiums to foreigners across all occupations, which are particular large within more complex industries.
Major investments in education have improved indicators of schooling quantitatively, but quality remains a major concern. We find that Panama’s immigration policies are preventing skills from spilling over from their special economic zones into the rest of the economy. On top of that, the list of professions restricted to Panamanians and other constraints on skilled labor flows, are constraining even further the pool of skills. As we document here, these efforts are not helping the Panamanian workers, quite the contrary.
We also find that corruption, and to a lesser extent, red tape, are other important factors that shall be addressed in order to allow Panama to shift the gears of growth, tackle inequality and continue growing at a fast pace.
Originally published October 2016. Revised January 2017.
Chiapas is not only the lowest per capita entity in Mexico, but also the one that has grown the least during the last decade. As a result, the gap that separates it from the rest of the country has been widening significantly. This performance contrasts with the environment of relative macroeconomic and institutional stability that has prevailed during this period.
The low level of income in Chiapas is consistent with the inability of the state to produce things that it can sell beyond its limits. Its per capita exports are among the lowest in Mexico and are concentrated in a series of agricultural primary products, which are traded in highly competitive markets with very low margins.
What are the reasons behind Chiapas' poor economic performance? This document follows the growth diagnosis methodology developed by Hausmann, Rodrik and Velasco (2005), adapting it to a sub-national context. Our objective remains the same: to identify the main constraints to economic growth in Chiapas.
According to the results of our analysis, the main restrictions on the growth of the state are not found in any of the usual suspects. Low levels of education to some extent are associated with the backwardness of Chiapas, but barely enough to explain a small part of the gap. The orography and the climate of Chiapas represent a challenge for the lifting and maintenance of its infrastructure, but the latter does not appear as the main restriction to the development of its productive fabric. There is also no evidence of credit market failures. The low levels of private credit in Chiapas are more associated with the low productivity of the economic activities carried out there than with bottlenecks or insufficiencies in the supply of financing.
Our conclusion is that Chiapas is in a (low) productivity trap. Its main problem is that it has an economy of very low complexity or sophistication, which reflects its few productive capacities. Modern production systems require a number of complementary inputs that are absent in Chiapas. In this context, productive diversity and private investment are low because returns to investment are also very low. Since the demand derived from private investment is low, it inhibits the emergence of a supply of complementary inputs, giving rise to a problem of coordination similar to that of the egg and the hen. Solving this coordination problem requires state intervention. Some of the few cases of manufactured exports that exist in Chiapas have resulted from successful state interventions to coordinate the existence of inputs needed for production with the demand for them. This feature provides the supporting argument that justifies the creation of Special Economic Zones.
In Chiapas, this situation is further aggravated by the combination of three factors: (1) high government transfers, (2) lack of public transportation and (3) low educational level.
Government transfers have effects similar to those identified in the economic literature of the Dutch disease: to increase the relative costs of tradable goods by tilting economic activity to the non-tradable sectors. The absence of a public transport system directly reduces the net benefit of working in the city if you live in the countryside. Thus, a dual equilibrium has been established with significant differences between wages across the entire range of professions and occupations between cities and their nearest rural communities. Finally, although Chiapas has gradually closed the educational gap that separates it from the rest of the country, there are still significant differences. In our opinion, This gap is due to the fact that the decision to accumulate years of schooling is partly endogenous to the returns obtained from education. Seen this way, education gaps would be a mirror of the differences in terms of production methods that predominate in Chiapas, in contrast to the rest of the country. For this reason, we observe that while returns to education are higher in Chiapas, it is more profitable for each educational level to emigrate (to a place where there are other complementary inputs that make higher productivity and a higher salary possible) than to stay in work the entity. Chiapas emigrants, although few, receive similar incomes to workers with the same level of education at the destination. Education gaps would be a mirror of the differences in terms of production methods that predominate in Chiapas, in contrast to the rest of the country. For this reason, we observe that while returns to education are higher in Chiapas, it is more profitable for each educational level to emigrate (to a place where there are other complementary inputs that make higher productivity and a higher salary possible) than to stay in work the entity. Chiapas emigrants, although few, receive similar incomes to workers with the same level of education at the destination. Education gaps would be a mirror of the differences in terms of production methods that predominate in Chiapas, in contrast to the rest of the country. For this reason, we observe that while returns to education are higher in Chiapas, it is more profitable for each educational level to emigrate (to a place where there are other complementary inputs that make higher productivity and a higher salary possible) than to stay in work the entity. Chiapas emigrants, although few, receive similar incomes to workers with the same level of education at the destination. For each educational level it is more profitable to emigrate (to a place where other complementary inputs exist that make possible a greater productivity and a higher salary) than to stay to work in the entity. Chiapas emigrants, although few, receive similar incomes to workers with the same level of education at the destination. For each educational level it is more profitable to emigrate (to a place where other complementary inputs exist that make possible a greater productivity and a higher salary) than to stay to work in the entity. Chiapas emigrants, although few, receive similar incomes to workers with the same level of education at the destination.
The policy implications of this diagnosis point to the need to take advantage of the knowledge that already exists in the greater populated centers of Chiapas and in the rest of Mexico to promote diversification towards other more complex activities that can build upon the capacities already Existing in the area. The creation of a public transport system linking the rural communities surrounding the city could solve the constraint of labor shortages, while opening up greater urban employment opportunities for the inhabitants of neighboring rural communities. This is a typical example of the egg and chicken dynamics that prevails in Chiapas, since a minimum scale of operation is required for the creation of an efficient public transport system,
Our prescription suggests that we take the mountain to Muhammad, since Muhammad has not gone to the mountain. That is to say, to try to solve the problems of coordination through an intervention that approaches the work opportunities to where the workers are, given that under the current conditions the latter do not find it profitable to get closer to where the job opportunities are. There are rural areas with low participation rates and high poverty rates in the neighborhood of San Cristóbal de las Casas. This is also a region where there is a lot of uncertainty for private economic activity, since the existence of ejido territories of community ownership predominates there. One implication of our analysis could be to create an Industrial Park around San Cristóbal, That solves the lack of public goods that has kept away the private economic activity (legal insecurity, difficulty to get land, social unrest), and at the same time bring the companies where the available labor is. The experience within Chiapas of companies like Arnecom-Yazaki indicates that with short training periods, workers could be integrated into relatively modern systems and deal productively.
This solution is a step on which we can enter a sustained development dynamic, through successive improvements in productivity derived from the transformation of production and the progressive adoption of more modern production systems. To grow, Chiapas must start by learning to do things that are already produced in the rest of Mexico and can sell out of the state. From there, the economic fabric and knowledge associated with more modern methods of production will be created, and from there gradually the export capacity can be developed and more complex activities can be developed. This process requires coordination between the different actors, government (national and regional), private sector, and academia, with the aim of proactively seeking adjacent activities,
El Salvador is a star reformer. After the civil war of the 1980s, the country was able to adopt important political and institutional reforms. These included the incorporation of all political groups into the electoral process, the adoption of a new constitution, the elimination of the military police, the creation of a civilian police with members from both sides of the war, and the adoption of rules to strengthen the independence of the judiciary. On the economic front, the country consolidated its fiscal position, modernized its tax system, liberalized trade and banking, improved the regulation and supervision of its financial system, privatized most state productive assets including energy and telecommunications, and reformed its social security system in line with the Chilean model. It also expanded and granted local autonomy to the school system through the Community-Managed Schools Program (EDUCO). Finally, El Salvador dollarized its financial system in November 2000. Given the investment-grade rating earned by the country, domestic money market rates have converged to U.S. levels.
Unfortunately, El Salvador is not a star performer. Standard theory would predict that such an improvement in the institutional and regulatory environment should be followed by convergence to a higher income level. Instead, after an initial period of recovery that lasted until 1997, real gross national income per capita stagnated at levels comparable to those achieved by the country in the late 1970s. Its income relative to the United States has not recovered from the fall associated with the civil war and is just over half the ratio achieved in the late 1970s.
El Salvador is not alone in finding that reform efforts have had smaller-than-expected
growth effects. With the exception of Chile, the effects of reform ongrowth throughout Latin America have been smaller than the initial estimates carried out in the mid-1990s.In this context, El Salvador is an interesting case, since it has been particularly effective in applying wide-ranging reforms.
This paper explores why these reforms have failed to produce more growth and what can be done about it.2 We begin by placing the economic choices faced by the incoming Salvadoran administration in a regional and historical perspective. The late 1980s and early 1990s in Latin America were preceded by a decade of stagnation, but coincided with a time of unusual confidence in the future. The collapse of communism, the failure of many interventionist policies in Latin America in the 1980s, and Chile’s success gave governments a clear idea of the road they wanted to leave and the road they wanted to take. Inadequate past performance and consensus on the road ahead led to a forceful policy agenda.
This book identifies the binding constraints to growth of Morocco. It applies an innovative procedure known as 'growth diagnostic' and has a central finding. The Moroccan economy suffers from a too slow process of structural transformation for achieving higher growth, especially for its exports that face unfavorable external shocks arising from competitor countries in the main markets for Moroccan exports. This process of so-called 'productive diversification' requires that Morocco enhance its competitiveness. Four government failures are identified as the binding constraints to growth in Morocco: a rigid labor market; a taxation regime that represents a heavy burden for firms and an obstacle to hiring skilled human capital; a fixed exchange rate regime that has allowed regaining price stability, but, given existing rigidities in the labor market, does not favor international competitiveness; and an anti-export bias, featuring a still high level of trade protectionism despite recent progress in tariff reductions and the signing of several Free Trade Agreements. In parallel, three market failures affect competitiveness and innovation: information failures, coordination failures between the public and private sector, and training failures that rank the country among those with the lowest level of training offered by businesses.
Belize’s long-term growth performance has been comparatively good. It is not clear what comparator group is relevant, given Belize’s status as both a Caribbean and a Central American country. Compared with its Central American counterparts, Belize has been a growth star. In 1960, it was the second-poorest country in the region; now it is among the “top tier” countries, with gross domestic product (GDP) per capita (Figure 1.1) near that of Costa Rica and Panama. Moreover, much of this growth was achieved after independence. Among its Caribbean peers, however, Belize’s performance has been average, and it has not been able to close the gap with the better-performing economies in the region. And since 2004, economic growth has been sluggish, barely above the rate of population growth, implying that reactivating economic growth is a central development challenge for the country.
This chapter applies new methodologies to examine the history of and future opportunities for export diversification in Algeria. The first section examines Algeria’s productive structure, which is highly concentrated in the hydrocarbons sector. It shows that this pattern of specialization is inconsistent with the country’s endowment of hydrocarbon resources. The lack of export diversification is suggestive of an inefficient distortion, reversal of which should be a clear policy priority.
The second section reviews some of the traditional explanations for a lack of export diversification in an oil-exporting country and shows that these explanations do not seem to hold for Algeria. It offers an alternative explanation, based not on macroeconomic volatility or real exchange rate appreciation but on the specificity of productive capabilities in the oil sector and their substitutability to other activities. This explanation underlies the notion of a “product space,” in which structural transformation occurs.
The third section introduces a new methodology to export diversification in Algeria, which is shown to be specialized in a highly peripheral part of the product space. Even activities that compose the non-oil export basket are highly peripheral in the product space, which helps explain the severe lack of export diversification.
The fourth section applies product space data to Algeria’s industrial strategy, using the methodology to identify high-potential export sectors. This data-driven approach has the benefit of systematically scanning the entire set of potential export goods using an empirically validated methodology. It complements other more qualitative and contextual approaches. This section uses the same methodology to review the sectors already identified by the Algerian government in the new industrial policy.
The last section discusses the policy implications of this analysis. A wide variety of methodologies can be used to generate lists of high potential export sectors; more difficult is determining what to do with such lists. The section offers a few specific policy recommendations and discusses some best practices. But the fact that most required public goods and constraints to investment are sector specific means that recommendations cannot be made at the macro level.
Most well-trained economists would agree that the standard policy reforms included in the Washington Consensus have the potential to be growth promoting. What the experience of the last 15 years has shown, however, is that the impact of these reforms is heavily dependent on circumstances. Policies that work wonders in some places may have weak, unintended, or negative effects in others.1 We argue in this chapter that this calls for an approach to reform that is much more contingent on the economic environment, but one that also avoids an ‘anything goes’ attitude of nihilism. We show it is possible to develop a unified framework for analyzing and formulating growth strategies that is both operational and based on solid economic reasoning. The key step is to develop a better understanding of how the binding constraints on economic activity differ from setting to setting. This understanding can then be used to derive policy priorities accordingly, in a way that uses efficiently the scarce political capital of reformers.
The past 20 years have been a period of important reforms in Mexico. Since the late 1980s, the country has undergone an impressive process of liberalization, opening of the economy, and macroeconomic stabilization. Extreme vulnerability to external shocks, double-digit inflation, and current account and fiscal deficits seem to have been overcome. However, a number of weaknesses continue to drag the country’s productivity and hence its potential for sustained economic growth and the well-being of its citizens. In spite of a very benign external environment in the period 2003–07, Mexico’s growth rates have been disappointing, and the challenges facing the country have become even greater in the context of the current major economic and financial crisis — one of the most serious in decades — affecting the United States and the rest of the world. The Mexico Competitiveness Report 2009 aims at providing Mexico’s policymakers, business leaders, and all relevant stakeholders with a unique tool that identifies the country’s main competitiveness flaws and strengths, together with an in-depth analysis of areas that are key to the country’s potential for long-term growth. In doing so, the Report aims to support the country’s reform process and contribute to the definition of a national competitiveness agenda of the priority issues that need to be tackled for Mexico to boost its competitiveness in the face of the present daunting economic outlook. The Report is organized into three thematic parts. Part 1 assesses the current state of Mexico’s competitiveness and its potential for sustained growth using the broad methodological framework offered by the Global Competitiveness Index (GCI) 2008–2009. Part 2 features contributions from a number of experts providing additional insights and diagnostics related to particular aspects of the competitiveness challenges faced by the country. Part 3 includes detailed profiles for Mexico and 10 selected countries and offers a comprehensive competitiveness snapshot for each of these countries.
This paper systematizes the implementation of the Growth Diagnostics framework. It aims to give the meta-steps that a persuasive growth diagnosis should have, and elaborates on the strategies and methods that may be used. Rather than a step-by-step instruction manual or handbook, this paper is meant to be a ‘mindbook’, suggesting how to think about the problem of identifying a country’s constraints to growth.