Policy Research

What is different about urbanization in rich and poor countries? Cities in Brazil, China, India and the United States
Chauvin, J.P., et al., 2017. What is different about urbanization in rich and poor countries? Cities in Brazil, China, India and the United States. Journal of Urban Economics , 98 (March 2017) , pp. 17-49. Publisher's VersionAbstract
Are the well-known facts about urbanization in the United States also true for the developing world? We compare American metropolitan areas with analogous geographic units in Brazil, China and India. Both Gibrat’s Law and Zipf’s Law seem to hold as well in Brazil as in the U.S., but China and India look quite different. In Brazil and China, the implications of the spatial equilibrium hypothesis, the central organizing idea of urban economics, are not rejected. The India data, however, repeatedly rejects tests inspired by the spatial equilibrium assumption. One hypothesis is that spatial equilibrium only emerges with economic development, as markets replace social relationships and as human capital spreads more widely. In all four countries there is strong evidence of agglomeration economies and human capital externalities. The correlation between density and earnings is stronger in both China and India than in the U.S., strongest in China. In India the gap between urban and rural wages is huge, but the correlation between city size and earnings is more modest. The cross-sectional relationship between area-level skills and both earnings and area-level growth are also stronger in the developing world than in the U.S. The forces that drive urban success seem similar in the rich and poor world, even if limited migration and difficult housing markets make it harder for a spatial equilibrium to develop.
Venezuela: Public Debate and the Management of Oil Resources and Revenues
Villasmil, R., 2018. Venezuela: Public Debate and the Management of Oil Resources and Revenues. In Public Brainpower. Palgrave Macmillan, Cham, pp. 347-367. Publisher's VersionAbstract
Although Venezuela’s experience since the 1980s would seem to make it a classic example of the resource curse, that perspective fails to explain the country’s impressive economic, social and institutional performance—including healthy public debate—during the first five decades after oil was first produced on a large scale. This chapter takes a long view of the Venezuelan experience and argues that this initial performance was lengthy and positive but fragile, given the incapacity of the country’s institutions to adapt to the different environment that developed afterwards, characterized by high oil price volatility and significant and sudden declines in oil revenues. The prolonged initial period of equilibrium became a curse of sorts. Lacking adaptive efficiency, political institutions were forced to rely increasingly on maintaining an illusion of harmony, and as faltering performance became evident, Venezuelans began questioning the model and its hegemonic arrangements. The scope and magnitude of the economic, social and institutional devastation that followed were such that public debate became one the first casualties. One of the main problems in contemporary Venezuela is the polarization of politics. This makes it difficult for the country’s population to arrive at reasonable solutions through public discussion.
Halff, A., et al., 2017. Apocalypse Now: Venezuela, Oil and Reconstruction, Columbia University's School of International and Public Affairs. Publisher's VersionAbstract

Venezuela is at a breaking point. The political, economic, financial, social and humanitarian crisis that has gripped the country is intensifying. This unsustainable situation raises several urgent questions: Which path will the embattled OPEC country take out of the current turmoil? What type of political transition lies ahead? What short-term and long-term impact will the crisis have on its ailing oil industry, economy and bond debt? What would be the best and most effective prescription for oil and economic recovery under a new governance regime? To discuss these matters, the Center on Global Energy Policy brought together on June 19, 2017 a group of about 45 experts, including oil industry executives, investment bankers, economists and political scientists from leading think tanks and universities, consultants, and multilateral organization representatives. This note provides some of the highlights from that roundtable discussion, which was held under the Chatham House rule.

Bahar, D., Molina, C.A. & Santos, M.A., 2017. Fool’s Gold: On the Impact of Venezuelan Devaluations in Multinational Stock Prices.Abstract

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 multinationals with Venezuelan subsidiaries. The results suggest evidence of statistically and economically significant negative CARs of up to 2.07% 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 predicaments of the efficient market hypothesis stating that predictable devaluations should not impact 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 suggestive indication of market inefficiencies in the process of asset pricing.

Of Knights and Squires: European Union and the Modernization of Albania
Frasheri, E., 2016. Of Knights and Squires: European Union and the Modernization of Albania. North Carolina Journal of International Law , 42 (1) , pp. 1.Abstract

In this paper, I question the idea that a country develops and democratizes merely by pursuing a model of deeper regional integration with more prosperous countries. I examine the case of Albania’s integration into the European Union to show that more often than not, transition reproduces hierarchies and inequities that usually underpin relations between a prosperous center and a backward periphery. Instead of being a cure, a solution to the political primitivism and underdevelopment, the story with Europeanization as a model of modernization suggests that despite noble intentions and goals, reforms in the name of the European Union end up foregrounding a security state apparatus, impose an ideological hegemony, and maintain a political culture that inhibits democratization, while discouraging and displacing the need for endogenous growth strategies.

O'Brien, T., Nedelkoska, L. & Frasheri, E., 2017. What is the Binding Constraint to Growth in Albania?, Growth Lab at Harvard's Center for International Development.Abstract

About four years ago, at the onset of CID’s engagement in Albania, the country faced two issues that were threatening its macro-fiscal stability: a skyrocketing public debt and an insolvent, publicly-owned electricity distribution system that was plagued by theft and technical inefficiency. These two interlinked issues constrained both short-term economic growth and the ability of the country to develop new drivers of long-term growth. Over the subsequent years, the government was able to successfully respond to these constraints through a now-concluded IMF program and through a series of reforms in the electricity sector. With these constraints now relaxed, CID saw the need for a new analysis of the current and emerging constraints to growth in Albania. This analysis will guide future research and inform the government and non-government actors on emerging economic issues for prioritization.

While growth has accelerated over the last several years, to over 3% in 2016, this is not a pace that will allow for a rapid convergence of incomes and well-being in Albania with that of developed countries in Europe and elsewhere. This growth diagnostic attempts to identify the binding constraint to sustainably higher economic growth in Albania.

Recognizing that economic growth requires a number of complementary inputs, from roads to human capital to access to finance and many more, this report compares across eight potentially binding constraints using the growth diagnostic methodology to identify which constraint is most binding. This research was conducted throughout 2016, building on prior research conducted by CID and other organizations in Albania. Each constraint discussed in this report is cited by analysts within or outside the country as the biggest problem for growth in Albania. Through the growth diagnostic framework, we are able to evaluate the evidence and show that some constraints are more binding than others.

Despite serious issues in many other areas, we find that the binding constraint to stronger growth in Albania is a lack of productive knowhow. By “knowhow,” we mean the knowledge and skills needed to produce complex goods and services. Albania faces a unique knowhow constraint that is deeply rooted in its closed-off past, and the limited diversification that has taken place in the private sector can, in nearly all cases, be linked to distinct inflows of knowhow. The strongest sources of knowhow inflows into Albania have been through foreign direct investment and immigration, especially returning members of the diaspora who start new businesses or upgrade the productivity of existing businesses.

The evidence also points to particular failings in rule of law in Albania that play an important role in keeping Albania in a low-knowhow equilibrium. Weaknesses in Albania’s rule of law institutions, including frequent policy reversals and corruption in the bureaucracy and judiciary, increase the risk of investments and transaction costs of business. While it is difficult to separate perceptions from reality in this area, both perceptions of weak rule of law and actual rule of law failings appear to play critical roles in constraining more diversified investment in Albania. We find that while existing firms in Albania successfully navigate the rule of law weaknesses, and in some cases benefit from the system, potential new investors are acutely sensitive to rule of law issues.

 

Coscia, M., Cheston, T. & Hausmann, R., 2017. Institutions vs. Social Interactions in Driving Economic Convergence: Evidence from Colombia.Abstract

Are regions poor because they have bad institutions or are they poor because they are disconnected from the social channels through which technology diffuses? This paper tests institutional and technological theories of economic convergence by looking at income convergence across Colombian municipalities. We use formal employment and wage data to estimate growth of income per capita at the municipal level. In Colombia, municipalities are organized into 32 departamentos or states. We use cellphone metadata to cluster municipalities into 32 communication clusters, defined as a set of municipalities that are densely connected through phone calls. We show that these two forms of grouping municipalities are very different. We study the effect on municipal income growth of the characteristics of both the state and the communication cluster to which the municipality belongs. We find that belonging to a richer communication cluster accelerates convergence, while belonging to a richer state does not. This result is robust to controlling for state fixed effects when studying the impact of communication clusters and vice versa. The results point to the importance of social interactions rather than formal institutions in the growth process.

 

Hausmann, R. & Nedelkoska, L., 2017. Welcome Home in a Crisis: Effects of Return Migration on the Non-migrants' Wages and Employment.Abstract

The recent economic depression in Greece hit the population of Albanian migrants in Greece particularly hard, spurring a wave of return migration which increased the Albanian labor force by 5 percent in less than four years, between 2011 and 2014. We study how this return migration affected the employment chances and earnings of Albanians who never migrated. We find positive effects on the wages of low-skilled non-migrants and overall positive effects on employment. The gains partially offset the sharp drop in remittances in the observed period. An important part of the employment gains are concentrated in the agricultural sector, where most return migrants engage in self-employment and entrepreneurship. Businesses run by return migrants seem to pull Albanians from non-participation, unemployment and subsistence agriculture into commercial agriculture. 

Hernandez, I. & Monaldi, F., 2016. Weathering Collapse: An Assessment of the Financial and Operational Situation of the Venezuelan Oil Industry.Abstract

Venezuela has one of the most abundant geological endowments in the world. Oil proven reserves are among the largest globally, even if a more conservative criterion than the one used by the current government is applied. However, these resources are qualitatively different than those of other abundant regions such as the Middle East. The large majority constitutes extra-heavy oil, which generally requires higher oil prices to be extracted profitably.

During the last decade, the Venezuelan oil industry wasted a unique opportunity to increase investment and production. At the high oil prices that prevailed, the massive oil reserves could have been monetized by rapidly increasing production with a large margin of profitability. Quite to the contrary, production steadily dropped due either to lack of investment in the new unconventional oil projects or for failing to compensate the decline of the older conventional fields. It is a tragic story of great potential with dismal performance.

A series of trends were negatively impacting the Venezuelan oil industry even before the oil price collapse in 2014. From the revenue side, although oil prices showed an increase in real terms of 120% between 2000 and 2014, the barrels that effectively generate cash for Venezuela have shown a continuous decline. This is not just because production has been declining for the most part during the last eighteen years (a trend that has gotten significantly worse during the last year), but also because of a number of developments. First, during that period, total exports have declined more rapidly than production, and recently, net exports have declined more than total exports. Consumption in the massively subsidized domestic market increased until 2013 (when it started to decline likely because of the recession in the local economy), while imports of oil products for the domestic market have increased since 2012. The domestic market not only generates negative cash-flow for the national oil company (NOC), PDVSA, but also its expansion reduced the barrels available to export. More recently, there has also been an increase in imports of light oil and naphtha as diluents for the extra-heavy oil. Second, the Venezuelan production basket has become heavier and the share of unconventional production, generally less profitable, has increased. Third, the production wholly operated by PDVSA has been falling much more rapidly, while the production share of joint-ventures increased. Fourth, a significant share of the exports to Latin America and the Caribbean is subsidized (although these exports have declined recently). Fifth, some oil exports are committed to repay debts of PDVSA and specially the Venezuelan government, limiting the actual cash flow received by the company. In particular, the government’s debt agreements with China involve a significant and increasing amount of production, although recently those agreements were restructured, allowing for a grace period with no capital amortization. From the expenditure side, PDVSA was increasingly responsible of carrying social expenditures and activities not related to the oil industry, which limited the resources for highly profitable investments. That is in addition to the increased fiscal take due to changes in the tax legislation. Also, higher investment requirements due to an increase in the equity share of PDVSA in joint venture projects, has had an impact on its cash flow.

The explanations for the underperformance of the Venezuelan oil industry basically fall into two connected categories: the multiple problems facing PDVSA; and the increase in above-ground risks for foreign investors operating in the country. The deterioration of the institutional framework, led to radical fiscal and regulatory changes, and to the nationalization of the majority of the industry. In 7 addition, the substantial over-extraction of resources from the NOC, the significant macroeconomic distortions affecting the cost structure of oil companies, and the constraints imposed by the energy infrastructure and human capital availability; have combined to produce dismal results. The massive firing of the majority of the management and technical experts from PDVSA in 2003 following the political conflict that led to a strike, has left the company with limited capabilities to operate effectively.

The recent decline in oil prices, and the changes in the international market structure, have exposed more dramatically the difficulties facing the Venezuelan oil sector, and call into question its ability to prevent a continuation of the declining trend in oil extraction. This situation becomes particularly severe if we take into account the cash flow constraints facing PDVSA, as well as its multiple operational problems, power cuts, and conflicts with oilfield services providers. These challenges are proportional to the enormous investments required to finance the projects in the Orinoco Oil Belt, where most of the reserves in Venezuela are located, and where the quality of the crude and the lack of development of the region, are just two of the many issues that need to be addressed.

Since this paper is part of a wider project to understand the macroeconomic challenges facing the country in 2016-17, it focuses narrowly on the financial problems of the oil industry in the short-term and the operational challenges that could impede its recovery in the next couple of years. Within this context, it largely analyzes the upstream operations, i.e. oil extraction, rather than the downstream, given that in the former is where the oil rents are generated and constitutes the main source of foreign exchange and fiscal revenues of Venezuela. Other areas for further research are mentioned at the end of the document.2

Official figures are used to the extent that they are publicly available. An important aspect that prevents an exhaustive evaluation of the oil sector in Venezuela is the lack of available information regarding key performance indicators affecting the cost structure of oil projects, the cash flow of PDVSA, and the fiscal contributions of the oil sector to the government, among other important variables. Thus, on occasion, estimations for variables of interest and explanations for their divergence from official figures are provided.

The paper has two main sections. The first one analyzes the issues affecting the cash flow of PDVSA, the effects of macroeconomic and fiscal variables on both revenues and costs, as well as other financial issues affecting the performance of the company. The second section discusses some of the operational challenges facing the industry and mentions areas for further research.

2For a more general overview of the recent developments of the oil sector in Venezuela see Monaldi (2015).

Hausmann, R., et al., 2016. Towards a Prosperous and Productive Chiapas: Institutions, Policies, and Public-Private Dialog to Promote Inclusive Growth.Abstract

Since the Zapatista revolution of January 1994, enormous amount of resources coming from the federal government have poured over Chiapas. The gap in years and quality of education has been reduced significantly; and road, port and airport infrastructure have undergone a dramatic transformation. And yet, the income gap between Chiapas and the rest of Mexico has only widened. To understand why, a multi-disciplinary team of twelve experts have devoted significant time and resources to study different aspects of the development dynamic of Chiapas. As a result, 5 base documents have been published analyzing Chiapas:

- Complexity profile
- Growth Diagnostic
- Institutional Diagnostic
- Poverty profile
- Pilot of productive dialogs and inclusive growth in an indigenous community

This report resumes the findings from these and articulates their corresponding recommendations into a policy plan.

According to our hypothesis, Chiapas is wedged in a low productivity trap. A modern production system, responsible for productivity increases, income and development elsewhere in the world, requires a number of complementary inputs or capacities that are absent in Chiapas. As a result, its economy consists of a few primary products of little or no technological sophistication, and a vibrant service industry fueled by public expenditure in its larger cities. In this situation, there are no incentives to acquire additional education or skills because there is no demand for them in the economy. As we have proved, the few that manage to emigrate earn salaries elsewhere in Mexico slightly above other migrants with similar qualifications. As it turns out, it is not about the Chiapanecos, it is about Chiapas.

To overcome the current dilemmas and spark the engine of growth, Chiapas needs to resolve its issues of coordination, connectivity and gradually promote economic activities of higher complexity. Yazaki, one of the few manufacturers present in Chiapas, is an example of the role of the state in helping the economy to overcome the chicken-and-egg dilemmas, providing the public goods required - in an initial push – by a more complex economy. Our recommendations are based in identifying the productive capabilities embedded within the current productive structure of Chiapas four largest urban agglomerations, and leveraging on them to board on different potential, more complex industries that use a similar base of knowledge. To conquer those industries and diversify its economy, Chiapas needs a public-private agency empowered to iteratively solve the issues and bottlenecks these potential industries face in each particular place. Public transport and housing policy can be used as means to incorporating the surrounding communities into the increasingly modern economies of urban centers. Special economic zones and agro-industrial parks can be used to spur productivity in those areas where labor and appropriability are the most binding constrains.

Hausmann, R., Obach, J. & Santos, M.A., 2016. Special Economic Zones in Panama: Technology Spillovers from a Labor Market Perspective.Abstract

Special Economic Zones (SEZ) have played an important role in Panama's successful growth story over the previous decade. SEZ have attracted local and foreign investment by leveraging a business-friendly environment of low transaction costs, and created many stable, well-paid jobs for Panamanians. Beyond that, SEZ shall be assessed as place-based policy by their capacity to boost structural transformations, namely attracting new skills and more complex know-how not to be found in the domestic economy.

The aim of this paper is to evaluate the three largest SEZ in Panama:

  • Colon Free Zone
  • Panama-Pacific
  • City of Knowledge

Our results suggest that SEZ have been successful as measured by static indicators, such as foreign investment, job creation and productivity. We also find that SEZ have boosted inflows of high-skill immigrants, who are most likely generating positive knowledge spillovers on Panamanians productivity and wages. However, significant legal instruments and institutional designs are preventing Panama from taking full advantage of the skill variety hosted at the SEZ. Complex immigration processes inhibiting foreigners from transitioning out of the SEZ, a long list of restricted professions and even citizenships considered as a national security concern, are hindering the flow of knowledge, keeping the benefits coming from more complex multinational companies locked inside the gates of SEZ.

Originally published October 2016. Revised May 2017.

Hausmann, R., Morales, J.R. & Santos, M.A., 2016. Panama beyond the Canal: Using Technological Proximities to Identify Opportunities for Productive Diversification.Abstract

The economy of Panama has thrived for more than a decade, based on a modern service sector on the activities surrounding the Canal. Panama has inserted its economy into global value chains, providing competitive services in logistics, ship handling, financial intermediation, insurance, communication and trade. The expansion of the modern service sector required significant non-residential construction, including office buildings, commercial outlets, warehouses, and even shopping malls. Large public infrastructure projects such as the expansion of the Canal, the Metro, and Tocumen airport, have provided an additional drive and paved the road for productive diversification. But productive diversification does not spread randomly. A country diversifies towards activities that demand similar capacities than the ones already in place. Current capabilities and know-how can be recombined and redeployed into new, adjacent activities, of higher value added.

This report identifies productive capabilities already in place in Panama, as signaled by the variety and ubiquity of products and services that is already able to manufacture and provide competitively. Once there, we move on to identifying opportunities for productive diversification based on technological proximity. As a result, we provide a roadmap for potential diversification opportunities both at the national and sub-national level.

Hausmann, R., Espinoza, L. & Santos, M.A., 2016. Shifting Gears: A Growth Diagnostic of Panama.Abstract

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.

Obuchi, R., Lira, B. & Raguá, D., 2016. Microeconomic binding constraints on private investment and growth in Venezuela A. Guerra, ed.,Abstract

Venezuela’s business environment is systematically evaluated as one of the worst in the world. Producing and investing in the country imposes costs and risks arising from macroeconomic instability. Beyond the problems of inflation, fiscal deficit and trade balance; firms and entrepreneurs also face enormous difficulties and discouragement going from the uncertainty about property rights to lack of electricity. To identify binding microeconomic constraints for investment in Venezuela, we reviewed international rankings and experiences about key elements of the business environment and conducted interviews with members of guilds and managers at large companies in the country. We find that the most biding constraints to investment are within the functioning of institutions, including weak property rights, and arbitrary, unbalanced and unpredictable enforcement of the law. Also binding is the flawed functioning of markets, including access to inputs and price controls.

Levy, D., et al., 2015. Why is Chiapas Poor?.Abstract

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).

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