Ricardo Hausmann has a nice article on the topic. There is always this uneasy relationship between big businesses and government.
Both believe that they are distant from each other which is just that – a belief:
So Maybury explains why it is celebrated and why much of the traditional wisdom is plain myth. The real story is vastly different:
In a longish piece he points how development world gets crazy about an idea and then oversells it to rest of the world. So we keep seeing fads come and go with overall development remaining unchanged. What is worse is that just because we see some positive result in a really small experiment in a small place, the experts sell it as the solution. The hype is built up for some years only to see plenty of dollars wasted and no progress.
The idea is not to shun these dev programs. But just have much smaller targets (dreams) and be really humble over its claims. Starts with this interesting example of Playpump:
A nice interview of Prof. Robert Solow in McKinsey Quarterly (MQ). The interview celebrates 50 years of both the model and MQ.
The best thing about the interview is that it discusses how Solow model was actually applied to the real industries. What is Solow model? Well it says what matters for growth is not labor or capital but technology. What did the actual evidence show?
The Quarterly: What, if anything, surprised you about the findings of the early MGI studies?
Robert Solow: What came as something completely new to me was that if you looked at the same industry across countries, there were almost always dramatic differences in either labor productivity or total factor productivity. To my surprise, it turned out that most of the time, certainly more often than not, the difference in productivity—in the auto industry or the steel industry or the residential-construction industry in the US and in countries in Europe—was not only substantial but couldn’t seriously be explained by differences in access to technology.
We also found that the productivity differences could not be traced to differences in access to investment capital. The French automobile industry, much to my surprise, turned out to be more capital intensive than the American automobile industry. So it was not that either. The MGI studies instead traced these differences in productivity to organizational differences, to the way tasks were allocated within a firm or a division—essentially, to failures in managerial decisions.
I was, of course, instantly suspicious of this. I figured to myself, “What do you expect a bunch of management consultants to find but differences in management capacities? That’s in their genes. That’s not in my genes.” But MGI made a very convincing case for this. And I came to believe that it was right.
:-) Gave some legitimacy to the consulting industry..
What drove management? Competition..
The Quarterly: So management was the primary factor in productivity differences?
Robert Solow: Yes, and there was another surprise, for which there was partly anecdotal, partly statistical evidence. If you asked why there were differences that could be erased or diminished by better management, the answer was that it took the spur of sharp competition to induce managers to do what they were in principle capable of doing. So the idea that everybody is everywhere and always maximizing profits turned out to be not quite right.
MGI made a very good case that what was lacking in these trailing industries in other countries—or in the US, in cases where the US trailed—was enough exposure to competition from whoever in the world had the best practice. And this, of course, can apply within a country. We know that in any industry, there is a whole distribution of productivity levels across firms and even, sometimes, across establishments within a firm. And much of that must be due to the absence of any spur to do more.
So an interesting conclusion to me was that international trade serves a purpose beyond exploiting comparative advantage. It exposes high-level managers in various countries to a little fright. And fright turns out to be an important motivation.
The Quarterly: So competing against the global best-practice leaders is a way to encourage your own industry to use best practice?
Robert Solow: Yes, and it goes beyond that, even. Competing as part of the world economy is an important way of gaining access to scale. If you’re a Belgian company or even a French company, it may be that best practice requires a scale of production larger than the French domestic market will provide for French producers.
So it’s important for such companies to have access to the international market. That was not something I had thought of. And I don’t think anyone had—at least I had no reason to think, within economics, that there had been much thought about management activities as a big difference between best practice and less good practice. We had always thought, “Well, people seek profits. And if they seek profits, they’ll have to adopt best practice.” Not so.
He says the future research shd look at productivity in services sector:
The Quarterly: Looking toward the future, are there other issues in economics that MGI’s sector-level approach might be helpful for?
Robert Solow: I would like to see more work on the determinants of productivity and productivity increases within the service sector. To begin with, I don’t think we even have a very clear idea about the relative capital intensity within the service sector or between the service sector and goods-producing sector.
I remember I was once writing something in which I was describing the service sector as being of relatively low capital intensity. And then I stopped and remembered that the following day I had an appointment with my dentist and that my dentist’s office was as capital intensive a 500 square feet as I had ever seen in my life.
So I think the place where the MGI approach is most needed right now is in the service sector. There has been service-sector work within MGI, and outside of it as well, but not as much as is warranted in view of the 70 percent or more of all employment in advanced economies that’s in service industries.
The Quarterly: Are there particular places in the service sector where you’d look first?
Robert Solow: Well, that brings me to another MGI result that I found fascinating. At one point, we were trying to understand the industrial basis, the sectoral basis, for the acceleration and deceleration of productivity growth. And one of the things we found was that the two largest sectoral contributions to the acceleration of productivity growth when it was accelerating and, presumably, to the deceleration when it was decelerating came from wholesaling and retailing.1 Both of them, at the time, were low-productivity sectors and low-productivity-growth sectors. But they employ so many people that a slight improvement in the productivity of retailing makes a large contribution to the increase in national productivity.
There has been some work on that, but I think the work is needed now more in personal services. God knows, in healthcare. And education. Or child care. All sorts of things.
Nice bit..Calls himself an ordinary macroeconomist…hope most of us really ordinary economists also believe the same..
I was completely unaware of this thing called NADRA Card (National Database and Registration Authority) which serves as an identity card for Pakistan people.
This speech by Tariq Malik, former chairman, National Database and Registration Authority is quite a fascinating one. He explains how this idea of unique identity for Pakistan people came about and was then implemented in a vigorous fashion. There are not many poisitive stories from Pakistan but this one looks like quite a successful one. How the identity card eventually got integrated with all kinds of services and also helped in conducting a transparent election in 2013 is quite a story.
There are questions raised on this identity system but the speech is much more than that. It also explains how one goes around developing a good public organisation in countries like Pakistan.
Even more interesting is how NADRA is now doing similar/related projects in other countries as well. So, the quality of work is accepted at an international level as well.
Timely piece by Arnaud Chevalier and Olivier Marie. Anything on Berlin Wall is likely to be read at this hour.
In this article, authirs show how children born during the fall are facing several issues:
Children born in crises face different initial conditions. Data on children born in East Germany just after the Berlin Wall came down confirms that this corresponds to worse adult outcomes. ‘Children of the Wall’ have 40% higher arrest rates, are 33% more likely to have repeated a grade by age 12, and are 9% more likely to have been put into a lower educational track. This column argues that these negative outcomes can be explained by the lower average parenting skills of those who decided to have children during a period of high economic uncertainty.
The authors get hold of a survey to tease these relationships:
To explore if these negative outcomes are driven by negative parental characteristics, we make use of very detailed survey data from the German Socio Economic Panel (SOEP) and the Deutsches JungedInstitut survey (DJI). Women who gave birth in East Germany just after the end of the communist regime were on average younger, less educated, less likely to be in a relationship, and less economically active.
Importantly, they also provided less educational input to their children even if they were not poorer. The Children of the Wall also rated their relationships with their mothers and the quality of parental support they received by age 17 much less favourably than their peers. Both these children and their mothers were also far more risky individuals compared with individuals who did not give birth (or were not born) in East Germany between August 1990 and December 1993.
While these results are in line with negative parental selection, they could also be driven by timing-of-birth effects. Due to the economic turmoil prevalent at the time, these children may have experienced higher levels of maternal stress in utero and during early childhood, which may have shaped their future behaviour.
To assess this hypothesis, we examine the same set of outcomes for the older siblings of the Children of the Wall who were born in the non-uncertain times of East German communism. They also similarly report having a poor relationship with their mothers, lower educational attainment, and are more risk-taking individuals. We thus reject the possibility that the Children of the Wall have worse outcomes due to being born in ‘bad times’ and instead conclude that the negative outcomes observed for this cohort can be explained by the lower average parenting skills of those who decided to have children during a period of high economic uncertainty.
A possible reason for this negative parental selection is that the fertility decision of these women did not react as strongly to changes in the economic environment. Indeed, further analysis of the SOEP reveals that less educated mothers were far less likely than more educated ones to reduce their fertility when they perceived a bad economic environment.
:-) Importance of parenting..
He looks at how these countries are faring and data shows nothing much has happened. The hyped convergence to west has been an illusion for most. Only in case of Poland has some kind of development and convergence happened:
This book says industrial revolution basically happened as there was certain knowledge creation which allowed the revolution to happen. The book is around this process of knowledge creation. How small things added up over a period of time which led to the so called revolution. These small things were added to a super set called Omega (Ω) and how they were applied becomes lambda (λ). The entire book explains how this Omega expanded overtime and then with easier access became part of lambda. Easier access to these technologies made a huge change from the previous episodes where the activity started but could not become a revolution. There was far more investment and application towards sharing and making the knowledge of Omega and Lambda to others.
Andres Velasco reflects on the recent Brazil elections. I mean how quickly things turn around. Just three years back, people were praising the outgoing President Lula who had left a strong economy. And now we are discussing how Brazil will fight its recession.
Anyways, Prof. Velasco points to this interesting story. Brazil was named as Belindia by one of its econs 40 years ago:
It is kind of funny to imagine how quickly an economy declines once the whole world (read economists) start praising the growth rates, models etc. We have seen this across host of countries.
China is one such example. What was once touted as Chinese strength – undervalued currency, limited growth of finance sector, role of government, industrial policy etc. – is becoming its weakness as well.
Keyu Jin of LSE writes on how Chinese have entered the vicious cycle:
Most economists have a reason to be worried about China’s economy – whether it be low consumption and large external surpluses, industrial overcapacity, environmental degradation, or government interventions like capital controls or financial repression. What many fail to recognize is that these are merely the symptoms of a single underlying problem: China’s skewed growth model.
That model is, to some extent, a policy-induced construct, the result of a deep-rooted bias toward construction and manufacturing as the leading drivers of economic development. This predilection harkens back to the Great Leap Forward of the 1950s, when scrap metal was melted to meet wildly optimistic steel-production targets, thereby advancing Mao’s dream of rapid industrialization.
Today, China’s proclivity for industrial production is manifested in large-scale manufacturing and infrastructure projects, encouraged by direct and indirect government subsidies. By boosting investment and generating tax revenue for local governments, this approach has a more immediate positive impact on GDP than efforts to develop the service sector.
But the model also carries considerable costs. Indeed, China is now locked in a vicious economic circle, sustained by seemingly unrelated distortionary policies that are, in fact, deeply interconnected, even symbiotic.
And the story has started in another direction. How convenient economics is really. Argue on both sides with ease.
I have another side of the story. Countries and companies which wish to grow and in a sustained manner should avoid all the hype and buzz. The policy-makers should maintain a low profile and not be too bothered about what the world has to say. The more you avoid all the attention and photo-ops better are the chances for growth and sustenance. But this is so difficult to practice..