Anyone who undertakes to produce a volume of surveys in economic development must confront the question: Does the world really need another one? The field changes over time and, one hopes, knowledge accumulates. So, one motive is the desire to cover the more recent advances. And indeed, economic development has been one of the most dynamic and innovative fields within economics in recent years. While one primary goal is to inform policy makers, it also hoped that the volume will assist scholars in designing research agendas that are informed by policy questions, in particular, by the gaps in knowledge that would speak to major policy issues. The development field has always been one in which the worlds of research and practice are in close relationship with each other and move in tandem. The large number of PhD economists who work in international organizations such as the World Bank and the influence of academia among developing-country officialdom ensure that ideas emanating from the ivory tower often find quick application. But equally important, in principle, is the reverse feedback—the need to tilt researchers' attention on the questions that are, or should be, on the policy agenda. The organization of the present volume around policy issues is designed to make a contribution toward both of these goals.
Development economists should stop acting as categorical advocates (or detractors) for specific approaches to development. They should instead be diagnosticians, helping decisionmakers choose the right model (and remedy) for their specific realities, among many contending models (and remedies). In this spirit, Ricardo Hausmann, Andres Velasco, and I have developed a "growth diagnostics" framework that sketches a systematic process for identifying binding constraints and prioritizing policy reforms in multilateral agencies and bilateral donors. Growth diagnostics is based on the idea that not all constraints bind equally and that a sensible and practical strategy consists of identifying the most serious constraint(s) at work. The practitioner works with a decision tree to do this. The second step in growth diagnostics is to identify remedies for relaxing the constraint that are appropriate to the context and take cognizance of potential second-best complications. Successful countries are those that have implemented these two steps in an ongoing manner: identify sequentially the most binding constraints and remove them with locally suited remedies. Diagnostics requires pragmatism and eclecticism, in the use of both theory and evidence. It has no room for dogmatism, imported blueprints, or empirical purism.
For Adam Smith, wealth was related to the division of labor. As people and firms specialize in different activities, economic effi- ciency increases, suggesting that development is associated with an increase in the number of individual activities and with the complexity that emerges from the interactions between them. Here we develop a view of economic growth and development that gives a central role to the complexity of a country’s economy by interpreting trade data as a bipartite network in which countries are connected to the products they export, and show that it is possible to quantify the complexity of a country’s economy by characterizing the structure of this network. Furthermore, we show that the measures of complexity we derive are correlated with a country’s level of income, and that deviations from this relationship are predictive of future growth. This suggests that countries tend to converge to the level of income dictated by the complexity of their productive structures, indicating that development efforts should focus on generating the conditions that would allow complexity to emerge to generate sustained growth and prosperity.
In a series of papers we have developed the notion that net foreign assets could be better approximated by capitalizing the net investment income line of the balance of payments statistics. Hidden assets or changes in financial costs may change the net return of net foreign assets even when the valuation of assets remains unchanged. By capitalizing the net investment income a more realistic picture emerges on the true burden or return of net foreign assets. This paper estimates external positions for East Asian economies using this methodology and compares the results with that of official accounts. We find that, until the late 1990s, net investment income increased relatively little, signaling that net foreign assets had not grown as suggested by the large current account surpluses of these countries. This is consistent with the fact that the region had attracted large amounts of foreign direct investment, for which the transfer of technology and knowledge are not accurately captured by the valuation of the foreign asset position. Since 2002, however, the trend has reversed, indicating much larger surpluses than officially registered. We discuss individual country cases.
Does the type of product a country exports matter for subsequent economic performance? To take an example from the 19th-century economist David Ricardo, does it matter if Britain specializes in cloth and Portugal in wine for the subsequent development of either country? The seminal texts of development economics held that it does matter, suggesting that industrialization creates externalities that lead to accelerated growth (Rosenstein-Rodan 1943; Hirschman 1958; Matsuyama 1992). Yet, lacking formal models, mainstream economic theory has made little of these ideas. Instead, current dominant theories use two approaches to explain countries’ patterns of specialization.
This paper clarifies how the valuation of hidden assets—what we call “dark matter”—changes our assessment of the U.S. external imbalance. Dark matter assets are defined as the capitalized value of the return privilege obtained by U.S. assets. Because this return privilege has been steady over recent decades, it is likely to persist in the future or even to increase, as it becomes leveraged by an increasingly globalized world. Once this is included in future projections of U.S. current accounts, the U.S. external position looks much more balanced than depicted in official statistics.
When local cost discovery generates knowledge spillovers, specialization patterns become partly indeterminate and the mix of goods that a country produces may have important implications for economic growth. We demonstrate this proposition formally and adduce some empirical support for it. We construct an index of the “income level of a country’s exports,” document its properties, and show that it predicts subsequent economic growth.
Economies grow by upgrading the products they produce and export. The technology, capital, institutions, and skills needed to make newer products are more easily adapted from some products than from others. Here, we study this network of relatedness between products, or “product space,” finding that more-sophisticated products are located in a densely connected core whereas less-sophisticated products occupy a less-connected periphery. Empirically, countries move through the product space by developing goods close to those they currently produce. Most countries can reach the core only by traversing empirically infrequent distances, which may help explain why poor countries have trouble developing more competitive exports and fail to converge to the income levels of rich countries.
Current account statistics may not be good indicators of the evolution of a country's net foreign assets and of its external position's sustainability. The value of existing assets may vary independently of current account flows, so-called ‘return privileges’ may allow some countries to obtain abnormal returns, and mismeasurement of FDI, unreported trade of insurance or liquidity services, and debt relief may also play a role. We analyse the relevant evidence in a large set of countries and periods, and examine measures of net foreign assets obtained by capitalizing the net investment income and then estimating the current account from the changes in this stock of foreign assets. We call dark matter the difference between our measure of net foreign assets and that measured by official statistics. We find it to be important for many countries, analyse its relationship with theoretically relevant factors, and note that the resulting perspective tends to make global net asset positions appear relatively stable.
This paper documents large cross-country differences in the long run volatility of the real exchange rate. In particular, it shows that the real exchange rate of developing countries is approximately three times more volatile than the real exchange rate in industrial countries. The paper tests whether this difference in volatility can be explained by the fact that developing countries face larger shocks (both real and nominal) and recurrent currency crises or by different elasticities to these shocks. It finds that the magnitude of the shocks and the differences in elasticities can only explain a small part of the difference in RER volatility between developing and industrial countries. Results from ARCH estimations confirm that there is a substantial difference in long term volatilities between these two sets of countries and indicate that there is also a much higher persistence of deviations of the variance of the RER from its long run value when the economy suffers shocks of various kinds.
Unlike most cross-country growth analyses, we focus on turning points in growth performance. We look for instances of rapid acceleration in economic growth that are sustained for at least eight years and identify more than 80 such episodes since the 1950s. Growth accelerations tend to be correlated with increases in investment and trade, and with real exchange rate depreciations. Political-regime changes are statistically significant predictors of growth accelerations. External shocks tend to produce growth accelerations that eventually fizzle out, while economic reform is a statistically significant predictor of growth accelerations that are sustained. However, growth accelerations tend to be highly unpredictable: the vast majority of growth accelerations are unrelated to standard determinants and most instances of economic reform do not produce growth accelerations.
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.
In the presence of uncertainty about what a country can be good at producing, there can be great social value to discovering costs of domestic activities because such discoveries can be easily imitated. We develop a general-equilibrium framework for a small open economy to clarify the analytical and normative issues. We highlight two failures of the laissez-faire outcome: there is too little investment and entrepreneurship ex ante, and too much production diversification ex post. Optimal policy consists of counteracting these distortions: to encourage investments in the modern sector ex ante, but to rationalize production ex post. We provide some informal evidence on the building blocks of our model.
Most countries do not borrow abroad in their own currency, a fact that has been referred to as “Original Sin”. This paper describes the incidence of the problem and makes an attempt at uncovering its cause. The paper finds weak support for the idea that the level of development, institutional quality, or monetary credibility or fiscal solvency is correlated with Original Sin. Only the absolute size of the economy is robustly correlated. The paper also explores the determinants of a country’s capacity to borrow at home at long duration and in local currency. It finds that monetary credibility and the presence of capital controls are positively correlated with this capacity.