James Dzansi, Anders Jensen, David Lagakos, Henry Telli, 19 June 2022

Studies show that investing in a government’s capacity to collect tax revenues is beneficial for economic development of low-income countries. This column uses new census data from local governments in Ghana to provide descriptive and experimental evidence on the role of technology in improving government tax capacity. The pre-existing infrastructure for tax collection in the country is poor, and the technology increases the number of delivered tax bills by 27% and increases the amount of revenue collected by 103%. Despite these favourable impacts, the technology also increases the incidence of bribes, qualifying the policy rationale. 

Eoin McGuirk, Marshall Burke, 26 May 2022

The humanitarian catastrophe unfolding in Ukraine has rightly commanded the attention of policymakers worldwide. However, Russia’s invasion of Ukraine will likely have consequences that echo far beyond the borders of either country. This column draws on recent research to discuss how the war’s impact on food commodity prices may shape the distribution of violent conflict in Africa. The authors predict an overall increase in inter-group conflict, yet this encompasses large spatial variation across countries, with the top agricultural producers exhibiting a decrease in conflict due to higher wages.     

James Robinson, 05 May 2022

Although a key determinant of poverty in Africa is the under-provision of public services, the preference for lower taxation and fewer public goods remains widespread. This column proposes a new explanation for why African tax revenues are so low. Rather than rely on standard arguments about accountability and governance, the author uncovers deep-seated ideas about the nature of the state and its threat to the autonomy of society. Historically, social contracts in Africa rarely featured taxation. Building fiscal systems is therefore not simply a technical or human resources problem, but a political one.

Andrea Berlanda, Matteo Cervellati, Elena Esposito, Dominic Rohner, Uwe Sunde, 09 April 2022

Adverse health shocks fuel discontent. Social unrest can be driven by grievances with the provision of local public services. This column examines the effect of a large-scale health intervention – the expansion of HIV antiretroviral therapy – on violent events throughout Africa. Where the treatment was expanded, incidents of social violence dropped substantially at both country and sub-national levels. This finding shows that successful public health interventions can yield legitimacy to the state, help build trust, and serve as a ‘medicine’ against both ill health and conflict.

Rabah Arezki, 17 March 2022

Wheat and oil prices were already rising before the Russian invasion, so what might be the effect for people in low-income countries of a war far away, that may have a secondary impact much closer to home?

Part of a series of commentaries on the economic consequences of the conflict in Ukraine.

Taryn Dinkelman, Liwa Rachel Ngai, 17 February 2022

The entry of women into the labour force is central to the ongoing structural transformation of African economies. This column uses detailed time-use data to document the scale and nature of female participation in both unpaid work in the home and paid work in the market. While female labour force participation is high, most hours continue to be worked in the home, on tasks such as cooking and cleaning, rather than in the market. This suggests an important role for policy to address both technological and cultural barriers to paid market work for women. 

Nathan Nunn, Stelios Michalopoulos, Elias Papaioannou, Léonard Wantchékon, 27 January 2022

Since the 2000s, a vibrant stream of research on African political economy and economic history has emerged that has produced a plethora of insights and has uncovered the shadow that Africa’s past casts on contemporary economic, social, and political development. This column introduces a free online course on “African History through the Lens of Economics”, which will bring together the considerable volume of work in the economics literature of the past decades. The course is open to students with a background and interest in economics, political science, history, cultural anthropology, and psychology.

Leonardo Baccini, Matteo Fiorini, Bernard Hoekman, Marco Sanfilippo, 25 January 2022

The servicification of economic activity occurring across Africa has implications for the continent’s future. Using per capita nightlight luminosity as a proxy for economic development, this column finds a strong positive association between higher-skill services and economic growth that varies according to geography,  institutions, technology, and market conditions. Data on the structure of employment in African economies reveal significant shifts in the composition of employment towards services across and within countries, and towards growth in service-related occupations across all sectors of the economy.

Liwa Rachel Ngai, 18 January 2022

As an economy develops, more women take jobs outside the home. To what extent is this change happening in Africa, what factors slow this transformation down, and what could encourage it?

Read more about this research and download the free DP:
Dinkelman, T and Ngai, L. 2021. 'Time Use and Gender in Africa in Times of Structural Transformation'. CEPR

Pauline Rossi, 19 November 2021

Do we have children to provide for us in our old age? Pauline Rossi tells Tim Phillips about the impact on the size of families in Namibia after the government granted a state pension – research that might have important implications for economic development in Africa.

Read more about the research behind this podcast and download the Discussion paper for free:

Godard, M and Rossi, P. 2021. 'The Old-Age Security Motive for Fertility: Evidence from the Extension of Social Pensions in Namibia'. CEPR

Picture credit: [email protected]

Soeren J. Henn, James Robinson, 26 April 2021

Social science research has painted a dismal picture of Africa’s potential for sustained economic growth. But growth, such as that which happened in China after 1978, can be surprising and can tap into ‘latent assets’ in a society that might have not been previously evident. This column identifies three latent assets in Africa which the authors argue are highly propitious for its long run trajectory.

Luc Christiaensen, Joachim De Weerdt, Bert Ingelaere, Ravi Kanbur, 21 April 2021

Despite potentially greater income gains in big cities, migrants from rural areas in developing countries often move to small towns. This column uses survey data from Tanzania to show that distance drives destination in migration decisions, particularly for the poor and for those with no education. This finding explains the seeming paradox of greater migration to small towns than to big cities, and provides a strong argument for a more balanced orientation of development investment between the two. 

Ana Fernandes, Alejandro Forero, Hibret Maemir, Aaditya Mattoo, 14 April 2021

Under the African Growth and Opportunity Act in 2001, the US allowed duty-free entry of apparel products from eligible African countries. However, the end of the Multi-Fiber Arrangement in 2005 re-exposed African countries to significant international competition from Asia. This column finds that countries in Southern Africa and firms in Kenya that boomed during the period of high initial trade preferences went bust when the Multi-Fiber Arrangement expired. Subsequent growth was driven by new countries, notably Ethiopia, and by new firms in Kenya. These results are consistent with the complementary role of domestic reforms rather than the ‘infant industry’ benefits of trade preferences alone.

Noam Angrist, Simeon Djankov, Pinelopi Goldberg, Harry Patrinos, 09 April 2021

Human capital is a critical component of economic development. But the links between growth and human capital – when measured by years of schooling – are weak. This column introduces a better measurement, using a database that directly measures learning and represents 98% of the global population. The authors find that the link between economic development and human capital is strong when measured in this way. They also show that global progress in learning has been limited over the past two decades, even as enrolment in primary and secondary education has increased.

Xinshen Diao, Mia Ellis, Margaret McMillan, Dani Rodrik, 01 March 2021

Before Covid-19 struck, many economies in sub-Saharan Africa were expanding rapidly – faster than at any time since independence. Yet African growth accelerations were anomalous when viewed from the perspective of comparative development patterns; structural changes were accompanied by declining within-sector productivity growth in modern sectors. This column explores this anomaly in the context of African manufacturing using newly created firm-level panel data for Tanzania and Ethiopia. In both countries, there is a sharp dichotomy between larger firms that exhibit superior productivity performance but do not expand employment much, and small firms that absorb employment but do not experience any productivity growth. These patterns appear to be related to technological advances in global manufacturing which are making it more capital intensive.

Rabah Arezki, Simeon Djankov, Ugo Panizza, 23 February 2021

While most African countries have been largely spared so far from the direct health effect of the Covid-19 pandemic, the continent’s economy has been significantly hurt by the economic consequences. This is particularly concerning given Africa’s high prevalence of extreme poverty.  A new eBook from CEPR Press focuses on business and household responses to the Covid-19 crisis in Africa, as well as access to international finance, patterns in international borrowing, and country-specific experiences during the pandemic. 

Yohan Iddawela, Neil Lee, Andrés Rodríguez-Pose, 21 February 2021

Differences in the quality of local and regional governments and their implications for development have attracted considerable attention, especially in Europe and Asia. In Africa, the recent drive towards decentralisation has, however, neglected how variations in the quality of sub-national governments affect development prospects. This column addresses this gap in knowledge by measuring variations in subnational government quality in 22 African countries, and connecting these variations to differences in levels of development across the continent. The quality of sub-national governments is an important driver of economic development in African regions.

Philip Roessler, Yannick Pengl, Robert Marty, Kyle Sorlie Titlow, Nicolas van de Walle, 06 December 2020

The colonial history of Africa still casts a shadow on development in the continent. This column uses a new geospatial dataset to study the long-term effects of colonial cash crop extraction in Africa. It finds that cash crop production had a positive long-run effect on local development in terms of urbanisation, road infrastructure, night-time luminosity, and household wealth. However, this came at the expense of investments in surrounding areas, which appear worse off today than predicted by precolonial factors. The legacy of the colonial economy in Africa was a negative feedback loop of weak institutions and spatial inequities.  

Roberto Bonfatti, Steven Poelhekke, 03 December 2020

Africa’s interior-to-coast roads are well placed to export natural resources, but not to support regional trade. Are they the optimal response to geography and comparative advantage, or the result of suboptimal political distortions? This column investigates the political determinants of road paving in West Africa in 1965–2014. Autocracies focused more than democracies on connecting metal and mineral deposits to ports, resulting in more interior-to-coast networks. This deposit-to-port bias was only present for deposits located on the elite’s ethnic homeland, suggesting that Africa’s interior-to-coast roads were the result of ethnic favouritism by autocracies.

Steven Poelhekke, 27 November 2020

Africa's roads were originally built so that colonial powers could extract its natural wealth. What has happened since then? Steven Poelhekke of the University of Auckland examines the maps with Tim Phillips.

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