Miguel Santos

Hausmann, R., et al., 2022. The Economic Complexity of Namibia: A Roadmap for Productive Diversification .Abstract
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.
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.


Cambridge Elements are a new concept in academic publishing and scholarly communication, combining the best features of books and journals. They consist of original, concise, authoritative, and peer-reviewed scholarly and scientific research, organised into focused series edited by leading scholars, and provide comprehensive coverage of the key topics in disciplines spanning the arts and sciences.

Regularly updated and conceived from the start for a digital environment, they provide a dynamic reference resource for graduate students, researchers, and practitioners.

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toc_diagnosing_human_capital.pdf excerpts_diagnosing_human_capital.pdf
Hausmann, R., et al., 2021. What Economic Complexity Theory Can Tell Us about the EU’s Pandemic Recovery and Resilience Plans. Growth Lab / European Politics and Policy.Abstract

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. 

Hausmann, R., et al., 2021. Loreto’s Hidden Wealth: Economic Complexity Analysis and Productive Diversification Opportunities.Abstract

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.

2021-03-cid-wp-386-economic-complexity-loreto-en.pdf.pdf 2020-10-cid-wp-386-economic-complexity-loreto-es.pdf
Place-specific determinants of income gaps: New sub-national evidence from Mexico
Hausmann, R., Pietrobelli, C. & Santos, M.A., 2021. Place-specific determinants of income gaps: New sub-national evidence from Mexico. Journal of Business Research. Publisher's VersionAbstract
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.
Hausmann, R., et al., 2020. Buscando virtudes en la lejanía: Recomendaciones de política para promover el crecimiento inclusivo y sostenible en Loreto, Peru.Abstract

Loreto es un lugar de contrastes. Es el departamento más grande del Perú, pero se encuentra entre los de menor densidad poblacional. Su capital, Iquitos, está más cerca de los estados fronterizos de Brasil y Colombia que de las capitales de sus regiones vecinas en el Perú - San Martín y Ucayali. Sólo se puede llegar a Iquitos por vía aérea o fluvial, lo que la convierte en una de las mayores ciudades del mundo sin acceso por carretera. Desde la fundación del departamento, la economía de Loreto ha dependido de la explotación de recursos naturales, desde el boom del caucho a finales del siglo XIX y principios del XX hasta la extracción petrolera y explotación de recursos forestales que predomina en nuestros días. Este modelo ha traído consigo daños ambientales significativos y ha producido un patrón de crecimiento lento y volátil, que ha abierto una brecha cada vez más amplia entre la economía de la región y la del resto del país. Entre 1980 y 2018, Loreto creció a una tasa promedio compuesta anual cuatro veces menor a la del resto del Perú. Es decir, mientras el resto del Perú triplicó el tamaño de su economía, la de Loreto creció algo menos que un tercio.

En la última década (2008-2018), la región también se ha venido distanciando de sus pares amazónicos en el país (Ucayali, San Martín y Madre de Dios), que han crecido a una tasa promedio anual cinco veces mayor. En este período, el ingreso promedio por habitante en Loreto ha pasado de ser tres cuartas partes del promedio nacional en 2008 a menos de la mitad para 2018. Además del rezago económico - o quizás como consecuencia de él -, Loreto también se ubica entre los departamentos con peores indicadores de desarrollo social, anemia y desnutrición infantil del Perú.

En este contexto, el Laboratorio de Crecimiento de la Universidad de Harvard se asoció con la Fundación Gordon and Betty Moore para desarrollar una investigación que proporcionara insumos y recomendaciones de política para acelerar el desarrollo de la región y generar prosperidad de forma sostenible.

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.

2020-10-cid-wp-386-economic-complexity-loreto-es.pdf 2021-03-cid-wp-386-economic-complexity-loreto-en.pdf.pdf
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. 

Santos, M., et al., 2020. Albania's Industry Targeting Dashboard. The Growth Lab's VizHub. Publisher's VersionAbstract
This industry targeting tool is custom-made for Albania. Users can choose any of 272 industries (based on NACE Rev. 2 industry codes) from the above drop-down list and explore the industry’s match with Albania’s current productive capabilities and comparative advantages and disadvantages. The tool is designed for use by government and non-government entities that seek to attract foreign direct investment (FDI) to Albania to accelerate economic development. Harvard Growth Lab research in Albania shows that the long-term pace of economic growth will be determined by the pace at which the country can absorb new economic activities and productive capabilities from abroad. Detailed information on the methodology and data sources used in this tool can be found here. This tool can be used in combination with the Growth Lab’s Atlas of Economic Complexity to explore patterns in global trade in very high detail.
Hiperinflación y cambios políticos: Democracia, transiciones en el poder y resultados económicos
Barrios, D. & Santos, M., 2019. Hiperinflación y cambios políticos: Democracia, transiciones en el poder y resultados económicos. In L. Vera & J. Guerra, ed. Inflación e Hiperinflación: Miradas, lecciones y desafíos para Venezuela. Caracas. Caracas: Abediciones (UCAB), pp. 185-207. libro-hiper-15-05-19-paginas-185-207.pdf
Hausmann, R., et al., 2019. A Roadmap for Investment Promotion and Export Diversification: The Case of Jordan.Abstract

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.

Revised March 2020
Kasoolu, S., et al., 2019. Female Labor in Jordan: A Systematic Approach to the Exclusion Puzzle.Abstract

Women in Jordan are excluded from labor market opportunities at among the highest rates in the world. Previous efforts to explain this outcome have focused on specific, isolated aspects of the problem and have not exploited available datasets to test across causal explanations. We develop a comprehensive framework to analyze the drivers of low female employment rates in Jordan and systematically test their validity, using micro-level data from Employment and Unemployment Surveys (2008-2018) and the Jordanian Labor Market Panel Survey (2010-2016). We find that the nature of low female inclusion in Jordan’s labor market varies significantly with educational attainment, and identify evidence for different factors affecting different educational groups. Among women with high school education or less, we observe extremely low participation levels and find the strongest evidence for this phenomenon tracing to traditional social norms and poor public transportation. On the higher end of the education spectrum – university graduates and above – we find that the problem is not one of participation, but rather of unemployment, which we attribute to a small and undiversified private sector that is unable to accommodate women’s needs for work and work-family balance.

Listen to a podcast interview with author Semiray Kasoolu about her research on women and labor force exclusion in Jordan

2019-10-cid-wp-365-female-labor-jordan.pdf jordan-policy-brief-v11.pdf
"City Design, Planning & Policy Innovations" book cover
Barrios, D. & Santos, M.A., 2019. Is There Life After Ford?. In City Design, Planning & Policy Innovations: The Case of Hermosillo. Inter-American Development Bank, pp. 131-53. Publisher's VersionAbstract

This publication summarizes the outcomes and lessons learned from the Fall 2017 course titled “Emergent Urbanism: Planning and Design Visions for the City of Hermosillo, Mexico” (ADV-9146). Taught by professors Diane Davis and Felipe Vera, this course asked a group of 12 students to design a set of projects that could lay the groundwork for a sustainable future for the city of Hermosillo—an emerging city located in northwest Mexico and the capital of the state of Sonora. Part of a larger initiative funded by the Inter-American Development Bank and the North-American Development Bank in collaboration with Harvard University, ideas developed for this class were the product of collaboration between faculty and students at the Graduate School of Design, the Kennedy School’s Center for International Development and the T.H. Chan School of Public Health.

Written by Miguel Angel Santos and Douglas Barrios—two Growth Lab research fellows—the fourth chapter titled “Is There Life After Ford?” focuses on Hermosillo’s economic competitiveness and, specifically, the reasons behind the city’s economic stagnation. It sees the city’s overreliance on the automobile industry as a primary concern. Based on two methodologies developed at the Growth Lab—the Growth Diagnostic and the Economic Complexity Analysis—this piece proposes alternative pathways for Hermosillo’s future economic growth.

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.

Fool’s Gold: On the Impact of Venezuelan Devaluations in Multinational Stock Prices
Bahar, D., Molina, C.A. & Santos, M.A., 2018. Fool’s Gold: On the Impact of Venezuelan Devaluations in Multinational Stock Prices. Economia LACEA , 19 (1) , pp. 93-128. Publisher's VersionAbstract
This paper documents negative cumulative abnormal returns (CARs) to five exchange rate devaluations in Venezuela within the context of stiff exchange controls and large black-market premiums, using daily stock prices for 110 multinational corporations with Venezuelan subsidiaries. The results suggest evidence of statistically and economically significant negative CARs of up to 2.07 percent over the ten-day event window. We find consistent results using synthetic controls to causally infer the effect of each devaluation on the stock prices of global firms active in the country at the time of the event. Our results are at odds with the predictions of the efficient market hypothesis stating that predictable devaluations should not affect the stock prices of large multinational companies on the day of the event, and even less so when they happen in small countries. We interpret these results as a suggestive indication of market inefficiencies in the process of asset pricing.
Barrios, D., et al., 2018. There is a Future after Cars: Economic Growth Analysis for Hermosillo.Abstract

For 30 years, Hermosillo has been wondering whether it has a future after Ford. Until the early 1980s, the city relied mainly on agricultural activity. When the multinational motor company arrived in this northwestern Mexican city in 1986, it changed the history of a region that up until that point had relied heavily on agriculture. The assembly plant was established and many auto parts suppliers sprang up, triggering industrialization and increasing the complexity of its economy, its productivity, and wages. Intensive manufacturing development turned Hermosillo into the fifth richest metropolitan area in Mexico in 1998.

Broadly speaking, this growth trajectory was maintained. In 2015, Hermosillo was in the top 5% of wealthiest municipalities, with poverty levels and informal employment rates significantly lower than in the rest of the country. But the economy of this city in Sonora State has clearly lost its dynamism over the past few years. Even in Mexico’s low-growth context during the period 2005-2015, growth in per capita gross domestic product in Hermosillo (1.3%) fell below the federal average (1.4%). Hermosillo’s relative performance during this decade was not uniform. Between 2005 and 2010, it grew at a rate of 1.3%, placing it in the 66th percentile (among the top 34% for growth rate) of all municipalities in Mexico. In the second half of the decade, Hermosillo barely reached 1.2% growth, falling to the 47th percentile (53% of Mexican municipalities grew more). The situation worsened in the years 2013-2015, when output per worker fell by 7.2%.

What happened in Hermosillo? Can the current economic structure sustain the municipality’s high wages and guarantee future growth? What policy interventions are needed?

Seeking answers to these questions, the Growth Lab at Harvard's Center for International Development joined forces with the Inter-American Development Bank or IDB, in particular with its Emerging and Sustainable Cities Program (ESC). This program is a technical assistance initiative that provides support to regional governments to develop and execute urban sustainability projects. ESC’s goal is to contribute to priority urban interventions to provide the sustainable, harmonious growth of cities. This part of its vision is aligned with the idea of promoting inclusive growth and prosperity that guides the Growth Lab's research.


hermosillo_economic_analysis_cidrfwp96.pdf analisis_de_crecimiento_economico_para_hermosillo_cidrfwp96.pdf
Hausmann, R., Pietrobelli, C. & Santos, M.A., 2018. Place-specific Determinants of Income Gaps: New Sub-National Evidence from Chiapas, Mexico.Abstract

The literature on income 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 between Chiapas and the other Mexican entities has shrunk while the income 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. Based on census data, we calculate the economic complexity index, a measure of the knowledge agglomeration embedded in the economic activities at a municipal level in Mexico. Economic complexity explains a larger fraction of the income gap than any individual factor. Our results suggest that chiapanecos are not the problem, the problem is Chiapas. These results hold when we extend our analysis to Mexico’s thirty-one federal entities, suggesting that place-specific determinants that have been overlooked in both the literature and policy, have a key role in the determination of income gaps.


Revised February 2020
One more resource curse: Dutch disease and export concentration
Bahar, D. & Santos, M., 2018. One more resource curse: Dutch disease and export concentration. Journal of Development Economics , 132 (May 2018) , pp. 102-114. Publisher's VersionAbstract

Economists have long discussed the negative effect of Dutch disease episodes on the non-resource tradable sector as a whole, but little has been said on its impact on the composition of the non-resource export sector. This paper fills this gap by exploring to what extent concentration of a country's non-resource export basket is determined by their exports of natural resources. We present a theoretical framework that shows how upward pressure in wages caused by a resource windfall results in higher export concentration. We then document two robust empirical findings consistent with the theory. First, using data on discovery of oil and gas fields and of commodity prices as sources of exogenous variation, we find that countries with larger shares of natural resources in exports have more concentrated non-resource export baskets. Second, we find capital-intensive exports tend to dominate the export basket of countries prone to Dutch disease episodes.

Listen to the podcast interview with the authors