Mercedes Delgado, Christian Ketels, Michael Porter, Scott Stern, 18 September 2014

There is a consensus among economists that ‘deep roots’ – geography, natural endowments, and institutions – are important determinants of prosperity differences across countries. This column argues that deep roots matter, but they are neither the whole story nor an excuse for political inaction today. Current policies are important – especially the broad range of policies that shape the business environment and the sophistication of companies – and they are affected but not determined by the past.

Marco Annunziata, 16 August 2014

Africa has generated a lot of enthusiasm lately. The cynical view of the continent as a hopeless basket case has been replaced by the lofty narrative of Africa Rising. This column argues that Africa’s progress is impressive, and there is more to the story than a commodity boom. But Africa is at a crossroads. The opportunities are huge, but the road ahead is long, and will require persistent and patient effort from policymakers as well as business.

Patricia Ellen, Jaana Remes, 12 July 2014

Brazil has grown rapidly and reduced poverty over the past decade, but it has grown more slowly than other emerging economies and its income per capita remains relatively low by global standards. This column points out that sectors of the Brazilian economy that have been opened up to international competition have outperformed those that remain heavily protected. Deeper integration into global markets and value chains could provide competitive pressures that would improve Brazil’s productivity and living standards.

André Carlos Martínez, Aldo Musacchio, Martina Viarengo, 09 July 2014

Institutions are known to play a powerful and enduring role in countries’ divergent levels of economic development. This column presents evidence that institutions matter for within-country inequality, too. In Brazil, changes in export prices and export tax revenues led to an increase in education spending in states that experienced commodity booms, which increased the number of schools and improved educational outcomes such as literacy rates. However, the effect was limited in states where slavery was predominant in colonial times.

Julia Cagé, Valeria Rueda, 14 May 2014

African regions where Protestant missionaries were active had indigenous newspapers a century before other regions. This column argues, based on new research, that this difference has had lasting effects. Proximity to a mission that had a printing press in 1903 predicts newspaper readership today. Population density and light density (a proxy for economic development) is also higher today in regions nearer to missions that had printing presses. The results suggest that a well-functioning media – not Protestantism per se – was important for development.

Joachim De Weerdt, Kathleen Beegle, Jed Friedman, John Gibson, 18 February 2014

Whereas the Millennium Development Goal of reducing extreme poverty by half was achieved by 2010, the global hunger rate has only fallen by a third since 1990. Differences in survey design may account for part of this discrepancy. This column presents the results of a recent experiment in which households were randomly assigned to different survey designs. These different designs yield vastly different hunger estimates, ranging from 19% to 68% of the population being hungry.

Eugenio Proto, Aldo Rustichini, 11 January 2014

The link between higher national income and higher national life satisfaction is critical to economic policymaking. This column presents new evidence that the connection is hump-shaped. There is a clear, positive relation in the poorer nations and regions, but it flattens out at around $30,000–$35,000, and then turns negative.

Andrés Rodríguez-Pose, Roberto Ezcurra, 29 November 2013

Does government quality affect the size and evolution of regional inequality? This column approaches this question using regional data for 46 countries with different degrees of economic development over the period 1996-2006. We find that there is a strong negative association between quality of government and within-country disparities. Countries with better quality of government register lower levels of spatial inequality.

Lawrence Edwards, Robert Lawrence, 20 November 2013

Preferential import policies that allow developing markets to export to advanced economies are intended to dynamically promote development rather than just provide basic gains from trade. This column argues that the Africa Growth and Opportunities Act achieves the latter but not the former, distorting incentives along the value-added chain. While beneficial, preferential trade deals are not a panacea and are certainly not a replacement for pro-development policies.

David Dollar, Tatjana Kleineberg, Aart Kraay, 19 November 2013

A key Millennium Development Goal was to halve the number of people living on less than $1.25 a day. This was met five years ahead of schedule, and the World Bank is promoting a new goal of ‘shared prosperity’ defined in terms of the growth rate of incomes in the bottom 40% of households. This column discusses research showing that there is a strong one-for-one relationship between overall growth and average income growth in the poorest quintiles. Overall growth is thus still important.

Enrico Spolaore, Romain Wacziarg, 03 October 2013

There is now widespread agreement that ‘deep’ history matters for comparative development. Recent research has shown that ancestry – the transmission of genetic and cultural traits across generations – matters more than the history of geographic regions. This column argues that long-term divergences in inherited traits can create barriers to the diffusion of technology. The greater a population’s genetic distance to the population on the technological frontier, the lower its relative income will be. Development policies should aim at reducing barriers to exchange and communication.

Alberto Alesina, Stelios Michalopoulos, Elias Papaioannou, 18 November 2012

This paper explores the consequences and origins of contemporary differences in well-being across ethnic groups within countries. The authors show that ethnic inequality is strongly inversely related to per capita income, and that differences in geographic endowments across ethnic homelands explain a sizable portion of contemporary ethnic inequality. This deeply rooted inequality in geographic attributes across ethnic regions is also negatively related to comparative development.

Leander Heldring, James Robinson, 10 January 2013

Most of Africa spent two generations under colonial rule. This column argues that, contrary to some recent commentaries highlighting the benefits of colonialism, it is this intense experience that has significantly retarded economic development across the continent. Relative to any plausible counterfactual, Africa is poorer today than it would have been had colonialism not occurred.

Mohsin Khan, 08 November 2012

Since the Arab Spring, Egypt has seen some political transformation. But what of its economic policy? This column debates whether Egypt, under its newly elected president, will pursue both badly needed short- and long-term economic reform, or succumb to myopic populism.

Emmanuel Frot, Anders Olofsgård, Maria Perrotta, 26 October 2012

What does the Arab Spring mean for development in the region? This column looks at development aid during the political transition in East Europe in the 1990s. It argues that aid donors need to be aware of the potential pitfalls.

Alessandra Fogli, Laura Veldkamp, 21 October 2012

Does the pattern of social connections between individuals matter for macroeconomic outcomes? This paper uses network analysis tools to explore how different social structures affect technology diffusion and thereby a country’s rate of technological progress.

Bernardo Guimaraes, Kevin Sheedy, 05 July 2012

Institutions are a key determinant of economic development and indeed many developing institutions are deeply dysfunctional. This column presents a new model suggesting that those in power may prefer to keep bad institutions despite their anti-development effects since they alllow the elite to grab a bigger slice of a smaller pie.

Shimelse Ali, Uri Dadush, 02 June 2012

According to the broadest measure, anyone who is not poor is part of the middle class – that could mean that anyone living on more than $2 a day. This column suggests a more sensible measure: anyone who owns a car. Based on this measure, the global middle class looks quite different.

Michael Ross, 20 April 2012

Michael Ross of UCLA talks to Viv Davies about his book, ‘The Oil Curse: How Petroleum Wealth Shapes the Development of Nations’. They discuss the irony of how those countries with the greatest social and economic deficits are also the most vulnerable to the oil curse and as a result grow less quickly than might be expected given their wealth. [Also read the transcript]

Brandon Fuller, Matthew Kahn, 06 March 2012

In early 2010, two similar earthquakes struck Haiti and later, Chile. The difference in loss of life was stark. This column points to the importance of well-governed and economically developed cities for coping with natural disasters and climate change. The authors propose a novel idea – charter cities built from scratch in the world’s poorest countries with their own rules and, hopefully, their own fast track to development.

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