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.
No matter which way you look at it, Chiapas is the most backward of any state in Mexico. Its per capita income is the lowest of the 32 federal entities, at barely 40% of the national median (Figure 1). Its growth rate for the decade 2003-2013 was also the lowest (0.2%),1 causing the income gap separating Chiapas from the national average to increase from 53% to 60%. That is to say that today the average income for a worker in Mexico is two and a half times greater than the average in Chiapas. The two next poorest states, Oaxaca and Guerrero, are 25% and 30% above Chiapas.2 According to the Instituto Nacional de Estadística y Geografía de México (INEGI, National Institute of Statistics and Geography), Chiapas is also the state with the highest poverty rate (74.7%) as well as extreme poverty (46.7%).3
These major differences in income levels among Mexican federal entities are reproduced as in a fractal within Chiapas. In fact, while the wealthiest entity (Mexico City) is wealthier than the poorest (Chiapas) by a factor of six, the difference within Chiapas between the wealthiest municipality (Tuxtla Gutiérrez) and the poorest (Aldama and Mitontic) is by a factor greater than eight.4
As there are different "Mexicos" within Mexico,5 in Chiapas there are also different sorts of Chiapas (Figure 2). Income per capita in Tuxtla Gutiérrez, to the right of the distribution, is five standard deviations above the state average. Next comes a series of intermediate cities, San Cristóbal de las Casas, Comitán de Domínguez, Tapachula, and Reforma, between two and a half to four standard deviations above the average. The remaining municipalities of Chiapas follow (122 in all), clustered to the far left of the distribution. In addition, both the statistics available at the town level and our visits to various municipalities in Chiapas seem to indicate that significant differences also exist within these municipalities.
From this vantage point, questions as to why Chiapas is poor, or what explains its significant backwardness compared to other areas of Mexico, become much more complex. Why do some regions in Chiapas have high income levels, while other regions remain stagnant, fully dependent on federal transfers and deprived from the benefits of modern life?
1 This is the non-oil gross domestic product growth rate reported by INEGI, considered to be more representative of the productive spectrum. In any case, the overall rate of growth in Chiapas (-0.2%) was also the lowest amongst all Mexican entities for the decade. 2 Refers to non-oil GDP; in general terms, Guerrero and Oaxaca are 19% and 16% above Chiapas. 3 Growth figures refer to the decade 2003-2013, poverty figures are those published by INEGI for 2012. 4 Comparisons of Chiapas municipalities are made based on the data from the 10% sample of the 2010 Population Census, which is representative at the state level. 5 This is a reference to the report, A tale of two Mexicos: Growth and prosperity in a two-speed economy, McKinsey Global Institute (2014).
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,
Chiapas es, comoquiera que se le mire, el estado más atrasado de México. Su ingreso por habitante es el más bajo de las 32 entidades federativas, apenas 40% de la media nacional. Su tasa de crecimiento durante la década 2003-2013 también fue la más baja (0,2%), por lo que la brecha que lo separa del promedio nacional creció de 53% a 60%. Eso quiere decir que hoy en día el ingreso promedio de una entidad federal en México está dos veces y media por encima de Chiapas. Los dos estados que le siguen, Oaxaca y Guerrero, están 25% y 30% por encima de Chiapas2. De acuerdo con el Instituto Nacional de Estadística y Geografía de México (INEGI), Chiapas es también el estado de mayor pobreza (74,7%) y pobreza extrema (46,7%).