This paper presents a structural ranking of countries by their distance to frontier. The ranking is based on comparative advantage. Hence, it reveals information on the productive capabilities of countries that is fundamentally different from GDP per capita. The ranking is centered on the assumption that countries’ capabilities across products are similar to those of other countries with comparable distance to frontier. It can be micro-founded using standard trade models. The estimation strategy provides a general, non-parametric approach to uncovering a log-supermodular structure from the data, and I use it to also derive a structural ranking of products by their complexity. The underlying theory provides a flexible micro-foundation for the Economic Complexity Index (Hidalgo and Hausmann, 2009).
We revisit the well-known fact that richer countries tend to produce a larger variety of goods and analyze economic development through (export) diversifcation. We show that countries are more likely to enter ‘nearby’ industries, i.e., industries that require fewer new occupations. To rationalize this finding, we develop a small open economy (SOE) model of economic development at the extensive industry margin. In our model, industries differ in their input requirements of non-tradeable occupations or tasks. The SOE grows if profit maximizing frms decide to enter new, more advanced industries, which requires training workers in all occupations that are new to the economy. As a consequence, the SOE is more likely to enter nearby industries in line with our motivating fact. We provide indirect evidence in support of our main mechanism and then discuss implications: We show that there may be multiple equilibria along the development path, with some equilibria leading on a pathway to prosperity while others resulting in an income trap, and discuss implications for industrial policy. We finally show that the rise of China has a non-monotonic effect on the growth prospects of other developing countries, and provide suggestive evidence for this theoretical prediction.
After a large growth acceleration within the context of the commodity super cycle (2000-2015), Namibia has been grappling with three interrelated challenges: economic growth, fiscal sustainability, and inclusion. Accelerating technological progress and enhancing Namibia’s knowhow agglomeration is crucial to the process of fostering new engines of growth that will deliver progress across the three targets. Using net exports data at the four-digit level, we estimate the economic complexity of Namibia – a measure of knowhow agglomeration – vis-à-vis its peers. Our results suggest that Namibia’s economy is relatively less complex and attractive opportunities to diversify tend to be more distant. Based on economic complexity metrics, we define a place-specific path for productive diversification, identifying industries with high potential and providing inputs – related to their feasibility and attractiveness in Namibia – for further prioritization. Namibia’s path to structural transformation will likely be steeper than for most peers, calling for a more active policy stance geared towards progressive accumulation of productive capacities, well-targeted “long jumps”, and strengthening state capacity to sort out market failures associated with the process of self-discovery.
Economic complexity offers a potentially powerful paradigm to understand key societal issues and challenges of our time. The underlying idea is that growth, development, technological change, income inequality, spatial disparities, and resilience are the visible outcomes of hidden systemic interactions. The study of economic complexity seeks to understand the structure of these interactions and how they shape various socioeconomic processes. This emerging field relies heavily on big data and machine learning techniques. This brief introduction to economic complexity has three aims. The first is to summarize key theoretical foundations and principles of economic complexity. The second is to briefly review the tools and metrics developed in the economic complexity literature that exploit information encoded in the structure of the economy to find new empirical patterns. The final aim is to highlight the insights from economic complexity to improve prediction and political decision-making. Institutions including the World Bank, the European Commission, the World Economic Forum, the OECD, and a range of national and regional organizations have begun to embrace the principles of economic complexity and its analytical framework. We discuss policy implications of this field, in particular the usefulness of building recommendation systems for major public investment decisions in a complex world.
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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Estimating the capabilities, or inputs of production, that drive and constrain the economic development of urban areas has remained a challenging goal. We posit that capabilities are instantiated in the complexity and sophistication of urban activities, the know-how of individual workers, and the city-wide collective know-how. We derive a model that indicates how the value of these three quantities can be inferred from the probability that an individual in a city is employed in a given urban activity. We illustrate how to estimate empirically these variables using data on employment across industries and metropolitan statistical areas in the USA. We then show how the functional form of the probability function derived from our theory is statistically superior when compared with competing alternative models, and that it explains well-known results in the urban scaling and economic complexity literature. Finally, we show how the quantities are associated with metrics of economic performance, suggesting our theory can provide testable implications for why some cities are more prosperous than others.
A little over a year ago, the EU’s political leaders agreed on an unprecedented fiscal package – dubbed ‘Next Generation EU’ – to aid Europe’s recovery from the pandemic. Ricardo Hausmann, Miguel Angel Santos, Corrado Macchiarelli and Renato Giacon write that economic complexity theories can provide a useful tool for evaluating whether the recovery and resilience plans submitted by EU member states to receive this funding are well-designed. Assessing the case of Greece, they argue that investments should be tailored toward export-oriented sectors and aim to help close the country’s product complexity gap with other EU states.
The Growth Lab at Harvard University, with funding provided by the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation, has undertaken this investigation with the aim of identifying the existing productive capacities in Loreto, as well as the economic activities with potential to drive the structural transformation of its economy. This paper is part of a broader investigation – Promoting Sustainable Economic Growth and Structural Transformation in the Amazon Region of Loreto, Peru – which seeks to contribute with context-specific inputs for the development of national and sub-national public policies that promote productive development and prosperity in this Peruvian state.
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.
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 (CID) 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 Economic Complexity Report is organized in six sections, including this brief introduction. Section 2 explains the methodology of economic complexity, including its theoretical foundations and main concepts, as well as the adjustments that were required to obtain the required export data at a subnational level and incorporate the service sector to the analysis. Section 3 describes the structure of the WA economy, identifying its productive capacities and exploring its complexity profile. This is done at the state, regional, and city levels. Section 4 identifies industries with high potential and organizes them into groupings to capture important patterns among the opportunities. Section 5 contextualizes the opportunities further by identifying relevant viability and attractiveness factors that complement the complexity metrics and consider local conditions, as well as a criterion for regional participation in the state-wide diversification strategy. Finally, Section 6 summarizes the main findings of this report and discusses implications for Government of WA strategy and policy toward capitalizing on these revealed opportunities.
Assignment models in trade predict that countries with higher productivity levels are assortatively matched to industries that make better use of these higher levels. Here, we assume that the driver of productivity differences is the differential distribution of factors among countries. Utilizing such a structure, we define and estimate the average factor level (AFL) for countries and products using only the information about the production patterns. Interestingly, our estimates coincide with the complexity variables of (Hidalgo and Hausmann, 2009), providing an underlying economic rationale. We show that AFL is highly correlated with country-level characteristics and predictive of future economic growth.
The literature on wage 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 has shrunk while the wage 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 and argue that place-specific characteristics condition the choices and behaviors of individuals living in Chiapas and explain persisting income gaps. Most importantly, they limit the necessary investments at the firm level in dynamic capabilities. Based on census data, we calculate the economic complexity index, a measure of the knowledge agglomeration embedded in the economic activities at the municipal level. Economic complexity explains a larger fraction of the wage gap than any individual factor. Our results suggest that the problem is Chiapas, and not Chiapanecos.
We analyze Ukraine's opportunities to participate in European value chains, using traditional gravity models, combined with tools from Economic Complexity Analysis to study international trade (exports) and Foreign Direct Investment (FDI). This toolbox is shown to be predictive of the growth and entry of new exports to the EU's Single Market, as well as foreign direct investments from the Single Market in Ukraine. We find that Ukraine has suffered from a decline of trade with Russia, which has led not only to a quantitative but also a qualitative deterioration in Ukrainian exports. Connecting to western European value chains is in principle possible, with several opportunities in the automotive, information technology and other sectors. However, such a shift may lead to a spatial restructuring of the Ukrainian economy and a mismatch between the geographical supply of and demand for labor.
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.
Considering the case of the proposed airport in Vlora, South Albania, this report analyzes the channels through which a new greenfield airport can contribute to regional economic development. In December 2019, the Government of Albania opened a call for offers to build a new airport in the south of the country. While there is evidence indicating that the airport could be commercially viable, this does not provide a grounded perspective on the channels by which the airport could boost the regional economy. To evaluate how the new airport would interact with existing and potential economic activities, this report evaluates three of the most important channels of impact by which the airport could serve as a promoter: (1) economic activities directly related to or promoted by airports, (2) the airport’s potential contribution to the region’s booming tourism sector and (3) the potential for the country’s development of air freight as a tool for export promotion. In each of these three cases, the report identifies complementary public goods or policies that could maximize the airport’s impact in the region.
The operation of the airport itself could stimulate a series of economic activities directly related to air traffic services. Airports have the ability to mold the economic structure of the places immediately around them, acting both as a consumer and as a supplier of air transport services. Not only activities related to transportation and logistics thrive around airports, but also a variety of manufacturing, trade and construction industries. Nevertheless, the agglomeration benefits of a successful aerotropolis are not guaranteed by the construction of an airport. For South Albania’s new airport to actualize its potential returns, integrated planning of the airport site will be required, with focus on real estate planification and provision of complementary infrastructure.
Establishing an airport in Vlora has the potential to spur regional development in South Albania through facilitating the growth of the tourism sector and its related activities. Albania’s tourism industry has seen strong growth in the last two decades, but still lags behind its potential. Albania only has a strong penetration in the tourism market of its neighboring markets, and the high seasonality of the tourism season further limits the sector’s growth. The establishment of an airport in South Albania would ease some of the tourism industry constraints tied to transportation into the country and region. Given the high reliance of the tourism industry on its many complementary inputs, more than one area of concern may have to be addressed for the impact of the new airport to be maximized. Facilitating transportation access around the South Albania region and specifically to tourist sites; preparing natural and cultural heritage sites for tourism use and expanding tourism infrastructure to accommodate potential growth are some of the interventions analyzed.
Airfreight infrastructure could in theory provide opportunities to improve the competitiveness of Albanian exports but developing a successful air cargo cluster is no simple task. An airport can facilitate an alternative mode of transport for specific types of goods and hence promote a country’s exports. In Albania’s case, not only existing textile and agriculture products could be competitively exported through air freight, but also air freight itself could improve Albania’s position to diversify into “nearby” industries, identified by the theory of Economic Complexity. Nevertheless, an effective air freight strategy does not and cannot uniquely depend on the simple availability of a nearby airport. Air cargo operations require both traffic volume that Albania may not be able to provide, as well as complementary cargo-specific infrastructure. Although the potential for air freight in South Albania could be high, it is by no means a safe bet nor does it imply with certainty significant impact in the immediate future.
We introduce quality differentiation into a Ricardian model of international trade. We show that (1) quality differentiation allows industrialized countries to be active across the full board of products, complex and simple ones, while developing countries systematically specialize in simple products, in line with novel stylized facts. (2) Quality differentiation may thus help to explain why richer countries tend to be more diversified and why, increasingly over time, rich and poor countries tend to export the same products. (3) Quality differentiation implies that the gains from inter-product trade mostly accrue to developing countries. (4) Guided by our theory, we use a censored regression model to estimate the link between a country’s GDP per capita and its export quality. We find a much stronger relationship than when using OLS, in line with our theory.
We empirically investigate the relationship between a country’s economic complexity and the diversity in the birthplaces of its immigrants. Our cross-country analysis suggests that countries with higher birthplace diversity by one standard deviation are more economically complex by 0.1 to 0.18 standard deviations above the mean. This holds particularly for diversity among highly educated migrants and for countries at intermediate levels of economic complexity. We address endogeneity concerns by instrumenting diversity through predicted stocks from a pseudo-gravity model as well as from a standard shift-share approach. Finally, we provide evidence suggesting that birthplace diversity boosts economic complexity by increasing the diversification of the host country’s export basket.
We combine a sequence of machine-learning techniques, together called Principal Smooth-Dynamics Analysis (PriSDA), to identify patterns in the dynamics of complex systems. Here, we deploy this method on the task of automating the development of new theory of economic growth. Traditionally, economic growth is modelled with a few aggregate quantities derived from simplified theoretical models. PriSDA, by contrast, identifies important quantities. Applied to 55 years of data on countries’ exports, PriSDA finds that what most distinguishes countries’ export baskets is their diversity, with extra weight assigned to more sophisticated products. The weights are consistent with previous measures of product complexity. The second dimension of variation is proficiency in machinery relative to agriculture. PriSDA then infers the dynamics of these two quantities and of per capita income. The inferred model predicts that diversification drives growth in income, that diversified middle-income countries will grow the fastest, and that countries will converge onto intermediate levels of income and specialization. PriSDA is generalizable and may illuminate dynamics of elusive quantities such as diversity and complexity in other natural and social systems.
Jordan faces a number of pressing economic challenges: low growth, high unemployment, rising debt levels, and continued vulnerability to regional shocks. After a decade of fast economic growth, the economy decelerated with the Global Financial Crisis of 2008-09. From then onwards, various external shocks have thrown its economy out of balance and prolonged the slowdown for over a decade now. Conflicts in neighboring countries have led to reduced demand from key export markets and cut off important trade routes. Foreign direct investment, which averaged 12.7% of gross domestic product (GDP) between 2003-2009, fell to 5.1% of GDP over the 2010-2017. Regional conflicts have interrupted the supply of gas from Egypt – forcing Jordan to import oil at a time of record prices, had a negative impact on tourism, and also provoked a massive influx of migrants and refugees. Failure to cope with 50.4% population growth between led to nine consecutive years (2008-2017) of negative growth rates in GDP per capita, resulting in a cumulative loss of 14.0% over the past decade (2009-2018). Debt to GDP ratios, which were at 55% by the end of 2009, have skyrocketed to 94%.
Over the previous five years Jordan has undertaken a significant process of fiscal consolidation. The resulting reduction in fiscal impulse is among the largest registered in the aftermath of the Financial Crises, third only to Greece and Jamaica, and above Portugal and Spain. Higher taxes, lower subsidies, and sharp reductions in public investment have in turn furthered the recession. Within a context of lower aggregate demand, more consolidation is needed to bring debt-to-GDP ratios back to normal. The only way to break that vicious cycle and restart inclusive growth is by leveraging on foreign markets, developing new exports and attracting investments aimed at increasing competitiveness and strengthening the external sector. The theory of economic complexity provides a solid base to identify opportunities with high potential for export diversification. It allows to identify the existing set of knowhow, skills and capacities as signaled by the products and services that Jordan is able to make, and to define existing and latent areas of comparative advantage that can be developed by redeploying them. Service sectors have been growing in importance within the Jordanian economy and will surely play an important role in export diversification. In order to account for that, we have developed an adjusted framework that allows to identify the most attractive export sectors including services.
Based on that adjusted framework, this report identifies export themes with a high potential to drive growth in Jordan while supporting increasing wage levels and delivering positive spillovers to the non-tradable economy. The general goal is to provide a roadmap with key elements of a strategy for Jordan to return to a high economic growth path that is consistent with its emerging comparative advantages.
We propose a structural alternative to the Economic Complexity Index (ECI, Hidalgo and Hausmann 2009; Hausmann et al. 2011) that ranks countries by their complexity. This ranking is tied to comparative advantages. Hence, it reveals information different from GDP per capita on the deep underlying economic capabilities of countries. Our analysis proceeds in three main steps: (i) We first consider a simplified trade model that is centered on the assumption that countries’ global exports are log-supermodular (Costinot, 2009a), and show that a variant of the ECI correctly ranks countries (and products) by their complexity. This model provides a general theoretical framework for ranking nodes of a weighted (bipartite) graph according to some under- lying unobservable characteristic. (ii) We then embed a structure of log-supermodular productivities into a multi-product Eaton and Kortum (2002)-model, and show how our main insights from the simplified trade model apply to this richer set-up. (iii) We finally implement our structural ranking of economic complexity. The derived ranking is robust and remarkably similar to the one based on the original ECI.