How does public investment affect private investment?

Selim Raihan

The importance of investment in economic growth is well acknowledged both in theory and empirical literature. No country has been able to accelerate economic growth without significantly increasing the investment-GDP ratio. However, there are disagreements among economists and policy-makers about the composition of investment, i.e. the share of private and public investment in total investment. Two views dominate in this regard. One view argues that public investment has a crowding out effect on private investment. That means, with the rise in the public investment the private investment may fall. In contrast, the other view argues that public investment can be complementary to private investment. Thus, the rise in the public investment can be conducive to the rise in private investment. The inconclusive nature of the results of the empirical literature is, however, also driven by the differences in the methodology used in these studies in different country contexts.

The data on public investment share in GDP is available for 91 countries. Figure 1 presents the average percentage share of public investment in GDP for those 91 countries for the years during 2013-2017. With a share of 20.77%, Republic of Congo is at the top of this list, while with a share of 0.98%, Sudan is at the bottom of the list. The top ten countries with the high shares include Republic of Congo, Iraq, Rwanda, Equatorial Guinea, Venezuela, Ethiopia, Timor-Leste, Djibouti, Burkina Faso, and Mozambique. In contrast, the bottom 10 countries include Sudan, Yemen, Lebanon, Guatemala, Russia, El Salvador, Armenia, Serbia, Philippines, and Croatia. Among the five South Asian countries, Bhutan has the highest share (10.86%), followed by Bangladesh (6.82%), Nepal (5.78%), Pakistan (3.74%), and India (3.6%).

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While looking at the pattern of the cross-country differences of the share of public investment in GDP and GDP growth rate, as plotted in Figure 1, it appears that in the recent years (2013-2017), 19 countries exhibit having shares of public-investment in GDP of 5% or more as well as GDP growth rate of 5% or more. Among these countries, 10 are from sub-Saharan Africa, two from Latin America, two from South Asia (Bangladesh and Bhutan), and two from Southeast Asia (Malaysia and Myanmar). If we consider the 6% GDP growth rate as the cut-off mark with public investment share in GDP of 5% or more, there are only eight countries (Rwanda, Ethiopia, Djibouti, Lao PDR, Myanmar, Guinea, Bangladesh, and Cote d’Ivoire). This suggests that the association between public investment share in GDP and GDP growth rate is not straightforward.

Furthermore, the scatter-plot between the ratios of public investment to GDP and private investment to GDP (Figure 2) suggests that there are two different trends as far as the association between the public and private investments in a cross-country context is concerned. For the countries with public investment to GDP ratio of less than 7%, there seems to be a positive association between the ratios of public investment to GDP and private investment to GDP. However, for the countries with excessive public investment to GDP ratio (more than 7%), there seems to be a negative association between public and private investment.

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The aforementioned analysis underscores the need for a discussion on some critical factors which are important to make public investment conducive for private investment. While it is true that public investment is the main channel for the formation of public capital stock, an adequate level of public capital can have a positive impact on economic growth depending on the capacity and nature of public capital to attract or crowd-in private capital. The crowd-in effect can only occur when public investment furnaces such a public capital stock that increases the rate of return of private capital.

One of the critical channels through which public investment may play a role in increasing the rate of return of private capital is infrastructure development. The importance of infrastructure originates from the fact that it provides key intermediate consumption items in the production process for almost all activities in the economy. Therefore, an adequate supply of infrastructure through public investment has the potential to crowd-in private investment. However, when it comes to infrastructure development through public investment, there are two important issues which need to be in order to ensure the crowd-in effect of private investment.

First, not only the quantity but also the quality of the infrastructure is equally important. In many developing countries, due to institutional deficiencies, infrastructural projects suffer from huge cost and time over-run, which can discourage private investment. The high cost of infrastructural projects and uncertainty in the timely delivery of such projects may reduce the rate of return of private investment.

Second, while several supply-side constraints related to weak infrastructure can restrict potential private investments in new and emerging sectors, some of these constraints are broadly ‘general’ in nature and some are critically ‘sector-specific’. Interconnection and complementarities between general and sector-specific infrastructures are key elements for increasing service efficiency, supporting the adoption of innovative technologies, and the promotion of private investment in those sectors. However, there is a tendency in the developing countries to excessively emphasize on the broad general infrastructure, i.e., the enhanced supply of electricity, improvement in roads, improvement in port facilities, etc. that the development of critical sector-specific infrastructure is largely overlooked. Embarking on developing broad general infrastructure are relatively easy, whereas solving sector-specific infrastructure problems involves identifying priorities in the policy-making process and addressing a number of political economic issues. However, failure to deal with sector-specific infrastructure problems leads to a scenario where a large number of potential growth-enhancing sectors may fail to enjoy the benefit from the improvement in broad general infrastructure. This can discourage private investment.

Dr. Selim Raihan. Email: selim.raihan@gmail.com

First published at the Thinking Aloud on 1 November 2018

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How do public education and health spending reduce poverty?

Selim Raihan and Mehzabeen Ahmad

In recent decades, the developing world has made important progress in reducing extreme poverty. The data from the World Bank shows that the number of people living below the international poverty line of US$ 1.9 a day dwindled down from 1.85 billion people in 1990 to 768.5 million in 2016. However, the global share of the extreme poor population stands at over 10%, and there is uneven progress across different regions in the world. Therefore, eradicating poverty in all its forms and dimensions, including extreme poverty, remains the greatest global challenge and the most significant hurdle in the path of attaining sustainable development goals (SDGs) worldwide.

A majority of the global decline in poverty is explained by the reduction of poverty rates in East Asia and Pacific and even South Asia to an extent, due to the thriving economic growth experienced by these regions. However, a large population continues to suffer from poverty and a major portion of the rest remains vulnerable and at risk of falling back below the poverty line. A glaring spatial disparity can be perceived, accompanied by low levels of human development. If the qualities of health, education, employment and overall standard of living continually fail to cope with income growth, it may ultimately further hinder the capability of the masses; reinforce poverty and impede the process of growth. A similar picture can be admonished for Sub-Saharan Africa, which currently hosts the largest number of poor compared to other regions. This region’s multidimensional aspect of poverty is reflected in economic, human and social deprivation, explained by the very slow progress in Human Development Index (HDI) from the 1990s and the elevated rate of income poverty. Inequality also remains a significant crisis in the Latin American countries, in the form of chronic and transitory poverty, despite the recent upsurge of economic development in this region.

As the gap between the rich and poor widens, across and within nations, it becomes imperative to ensure a sustained resilience and global initiative against all dimensions of poverty. With that aim, the first SDG is assigned to “end poverty in all its forms everywhere” and its seven associated targets focus on various approaches to universal eradication of poverty and inequality, with a special attention to implementing necessary social protection programs, ensuring equal access to basic utilities, mobilizing global resources to extend cooperation towards the developing countries and constructing national and international policy and strategy frameworks.

In order to understand the current state of the cross-country differences in the poverty rates, we compared poverty rates across 72 developing countries (for which data is available from the World Bank’s World Development Indicators database) for the time period of 2010-15. Table 1 and Table 2 present the top 10 and bottom 10 performing countries with respect to poverty rates based on US$ 1.9 and US$ 3.2 poverty lines respectively.

Table1

Table2

Table3

According to Table 1, all the 10 countries with highest rates of poverty, in terms of US$ 1.9 poverty line, are from the Sub-Saharan African region, with Madagascar displaying the staggeringly highest rate of 77.8%. In contrast, the list of top countries with lowest poverty rates is dominated by the European countries, with countries such as Belarus, Poland, and Romania displaying almost no population below the US$ 1.9 poverty line. Few countries from Asia also make it to the top with minimal levels of poverty.

Table 2 provides a similar scenario for poverty rates calculated at a poverty line of US$ 3.2. Most countries on the list of bottom 10 or highest poverty rates remained unchanged. Madagascar and Burundi have almost 90% of the population below poverty line. Among the countries which possess the lowest rates of poverty at US$ 3.2, Belarus again tops the list, while Malaysia and Hungary make an entry in the top 10 rankings.

Table 3 illustrates the situation of all South Asian countries (except Afghanistan, due to unavailability of data), in terms of poverty. The countries have been ranked from the lowest to the highest rate of poverty for US$ 1.9 and US$ 3.2 poverty lines. Sri Lanka and Bhutan top both the lists, while India and Bangladesh stand at the bottom of the list with the highest share of the population living below the poverty line.

It has long been argued in the economic literature that public spending on education and health can be a powerful policy tool in the developing countries to reduce poverty, as these expenditures not only address the symptoms of poverty but also the causes of poverty. Public spending on education and health is argued to contribute to economic growth of a country by strengthening the human capabilities of the poor people. However, empirical literature to support this view has been limited due to the unavailability of time-series data on poverty. In this article, we use a cross-country panel data of poverty, constructed by Raihan (2017), to explore how public spending on education and health can affect poverty. This dataset has been constructed by considering periodic poverty rates (of US$ 1.9 poverty line) and average values of other variables for those corresponding periods. The constructed data has seven periods between 1981 and 2015. These are 1981-1985, 1986-1990, 1991-1995, 1996-2000, 2001-2005, 2006-2010 and 2011-2015. The missing values of the poverty rates have been filled-in using extrapolation and interpolation methods. This constructed data has 72 countries and the source of the data is the World Development Indicators of the World Bank.

The fixed effect panel regression results suggest that the coefficient of the per capita GDP is negative and significant suggesting that increase in the per capita GDP is strongly associated with a reduction in the poverty rate. Also, the ratio of remittance to GDP appears to have a positive and statistically significant association with the reduction in the poverty rate. After controlling for differences in per capita GDP and remittance-GDP ratios, one percentage point rise in the share of public spending on education in GDP is associated with 1.33 percentage points fall in the head-count poverty rate, and one percentage point rise in the share of public spending on health in GDP is associated with 2.4 percentage points fall in the head-count poverty rate. Both the fixed effect coefficients of public education and health spending are highly statistically significant.

Results from the aforementioned empirical exercises have important policy implications. A large number of developing countries, with the incidence of high poverty rates, are seriously lagging behind in terms of ensuring the critical levels of public spending on education and health in proportion to their GDPs. The business-as-usual scenarios of public education and health spending will not help these countries achieve the first SDG of ‘no poverty’ by 2030. There is thus a need for some extraordinary efforts in bringing large positive changes in the business-as-usual scenarios.

Raihan, S. (2017). “A cross-country panel dataset on poverty”, mimeo. SANEM

Dr. Selim Raihan, Professor, Department of Economics, University of Dhaka & Executive Director, SANEM: selim.raihan@gmail.com

Mehzabeen Ahmad, Research Associate, SANEM: mehzabeenahmad@gmail.com

First published in the Thinking Aloud on 1 December 2017

The arithmetic of poverty in Bangladesh

Selim Raihan

Bangladesh has made important progress in reducing poverty over the past one and half decades. According to the national estimates, the overall head-count poverty fell from as high as 48.9% in 2000 to 24.3% in 2016. Also, the extreme poverty fell from 34.3% to 12.9% during the same period.

Despite its progress in reducing poverty, there are some major concerns regarding whether Bangladesh will be able to achieve the targets set by Goal 1 of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) by 2030 with the business-as-usual scenarios. Goal 1 of SDGs sets the targets of eradicating extreme poverty and reducing at least by half the proportion of people living in poverty according to national definitions.

First, Bangladesh still remains a country with a very high incidence of poverty. In 2016, there were about 40 million poor people as per the national poverty line income. The number of extreme poor is also staggering with about 21 million people living below extreme poverty line in 2016. If we consider World Bank’s Lower Middle Income Class Poverty Line, which has a value of US$3.2 (PPP, in 2010), in 2010, 59.2% people in Bangladesh were under the poverty line income in contrast to 31.5% poor people as per the national poverty line income. This suggests that small adjustments in the poverty line income can change the poverty statistics quite significantly.

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table-poverty

Second, the annual average reduction in poverty rates has declined gradually over the past one and half decades. During 2000-2005, the annual reduction in overall poverty rate was 1.8 percentage points, which declined to 1.7 percentage points during 2005-2010, and further declined to 1.2 percentage points during 2010-2016. The most alarming trend is that while during 2000-2005, the annual reduction in extreme poverty rate was 1.8 percentage points, the rate declined to 1.5 percentage points during 2005-2010 and to 0.8 percentage points during 2010-2016. This suggests that the scope and success in reducing overall and extreme poverty rates in Bangladesh have become limited in recent years.

Third, the poverty elasticity of economic growth declined over the past one and half decades, indicating a declining effectiveness of economic growth in reducing poverty. The poverty elasticity of economic growth shows the percentage point change in poverty rate due to a percent change in real GDP (gross domestic product). In case of overall poverty, such elasticity declined from 0.32 in 2000-2005 to 0.16 in 2010-2016. For extreme poverty, the elasticity had a larger fall as it declined from 0.33 to 0.1 during the same period.

Fourth, despite that during 2010-2016, the country witnessed the highest average annual growth rate in GDP, both the annual reduction in poverty rates and poverty elasticity of economic growth had the lowest values. This suggests that economic growth alone cannot take care of reduction in poverty. As per the calculated elasticity values of 2010-2016, and with the business-as-usual growth rate of GDP, Bangladesh will have an overall and extreme poverty rates of around 10% and 4% respectively by 2030. Even with an accelerated average growth rate of GDP of 8%, overall and extreme poverty rates, by 2030, will be around 6.5% and 2% respectively. This means that, though there will be some progress in reducing overall poverty, neither the business-as-usual nor the accelerated growth scenarios will be able to eliminate extreme poverty by 2030. Under the business-as-usual growth scenario, there will still be around 8 million extreme poor, and under the accelerated growth scenario, there will still be around 4 million extreme poor by 2030.

Despite accelerated economic growth in recent years, why has there been much slower progress in poverty reduction? Three critical factors can be attributed to this. First, the annual average number of generation of employment declined from 1.7 million in 2000-2005 to 1.3 million in 2005-2010 and further to 0.9 million in 2010-2016. This means the accelerated economic growth during 2010-2016 was not ‘employment-friendly’. Second, the annual average share of public expenditure on education in GDP remained frustratingly unchanged at around 2% throughout 2000-2016. Bangladesh is among the bottom list of countries in the world with the lowest ratio of public expenditure on education to the GDP. In contrast, such ratio is around 5% for most of the Southeast Asian countries. Third, the annual average share of public expenditure on health in GDP declined from around 1% in 2000-2005 to 0.9% in 2010-2016. The public health expenditure as the percentage of GDP in Bangladesh is one of the lowest in the world, whereas, such ratio is around 2.5% for most of the Southeast Asian countries. All these three factors contributed to a rising inequality too in Bangladesh over this period. While in 2000, the ‘gini’ coefficient, a measure of income inequality, was around 0.45, it increased to as high as 0.48 by 2016. There are now strong global evidence that the effectiveness of economic growth in lowering poverty falls with the rise in income inequality.

What needs to be done? In order to increase the effectiveness of economic growth in reducing poverty, the ‘jobless’ growth phenomenon needs to be avoided. For this, the economic growth momentum needs to be tuned for ‘meaningful’ structural transformations of the economy where promotion of labor-intensive and high-productivity sectors would be fundamental. Also, poverty reduction is not simply about raising household income, but also about expanding human capabilities. In this context, Bangladesh has to increase the shares of public expenditure on health and education in GDP quite substantially in the coming years.

Dr. Selim Raihan. Executive Director, SANEM. Email: selim.raihan@gmail.com

First published in the Thinking Aloud on 1 December 2017

Can Bangladesh continue to grow without ‘good governance’?

Selim Raihan

If we look at the growth pattern of Bangladesh from 1990, we discover two specific characteristics: first, the growth rate has been on the rise, and second, it is less volatile compared to those of many other countries (for example, India, Vietnam, Cambodia, China, Malaysia, Thailand and Ghana) which are known as ‘high growth performing countries’. Bangladesh’s growth experience has often been termed as ‘Bangladesh paradox’ given that the country has been able to perform well despite ‘weak governance’. Now, the big question is: can Bangladesh continue to grow without ‘good governance’? If we look over the last three decades, obviously, Bangladesh had been growing without the so-called ‘good governance’. Then what does this ‘good governance’ mean?

Four contemporary analytical approaches can be linked to the discussion on ‘good governance’. The new institutional economics (contemporary lead presenters are Daron Acemoglu and James Robinson), representing a variant of the neo-liberal orthodoxy, argue for specific and well-defined rules and property right systems (‘good governance’) for economic growth. There are three alternative approaches to this new institutional economics. The approach by Douglass North, Joseph Wallis and Barry Weingast argues for ‘limited access order’ in a large number of developing countries in contrast to ‘open access order’ in the advanced economies. In ‘limited access orders’, political elites divide up control of the economy, each getting some share of the rents; and since outbreaks of ‘violence’ (conflicts among the elites) reduce the rents, the elite groups have incentives to reduce conflicts among them. The approach by Mushtaq Khan stresses on ‘political settlement’, which highlights on the relative holding of the power of different groups and organizations contesting the distribution of resources, and a ‘political settlement’ emerges when the distribution of benefits supported by its institutions is consistent with the distribution of power in society. Mushtaq Khan also emphasizes on ‘growth-enhancing governance’ (un-orthodox institutional arrangements) in contrast to ‘market-enhancing governance’ (orthodox institutional arrangements, as signified by new institutional economics). Finally, the approach by Lant Pritchett, Kunal Sen and Eric Werker emphasizes on ‘deals space’, ‘rents space’ and ‘political settlements’ for growth acceleration and growth maintenance in developing countries. The rents space is characterized by private sector firms who can be rentiers (securing rent from the export of natural resources), powerbrokers (securing rent from the regulated domestic market), magicians (firms participate in competitive export markets), and workhorses (firms participate in unregulated domestic markets). Deals, in contrast to rules, among the political and economic elites, can be open (access is open to all) or closed (access is restricted); and also they can be ordered (deals are respected) or disordered (deals are not respected). The countries are likely to exhibit high growth when deals are open and ordered.

Can we explain the growth experience of Bangladesh through these four approaches? The approach by new institutional economics cannot explain the growth of Bangladesh, since Bangladesh never had the so-called ‘good governance’ but the economy continued to grow. Furthermore, all these approaches have three major problems. First, approaches of ‘limited access order’ and ‘political settlement’ emphasize more on the ‘elite agreement’ at the macro level, thus ignore the perspectives at the sectoral level. However, the ‘deals-rent space’ approach has a better holding on the sectoral level analysis. Second, all these approaches emphasize on the process of ‘elite agreement’ rather than on the outcome, which does not convincingly show how such process affects economic growth. Third and most importantly, all these approaches emphasize on ‘elite agreement’, and overlook the critical nexus between elites and non-elites within the society. Only in ‘limited access order’ approach, such nexus is shown through the ‘power of violence’ of non-elites.

Empirical research suggests that there are four major drivers of growth in Bangladesh: exports of readymade garments (RMG), remittances, growth in agriculture, and microfinance.  Now, it is clear that we cannot explain these growth drivers of Bangladesh with the usual definition of governance or politics by the aforementioned four approaches.

From a political economy perspective, in my view, there must be some substances by which these growth drivers are fueled; and I want to name these substances as ‘political capital’. The usual meaning of ‘political capital’ is a feeling of trust that politicians build among the common people through which they exert their influence in the society. But, according to my opinion, ‘political capital’ is an outcome of agreements among the political elites and support from the non-elites on such agreements over certain growth drivers in the economy. In order to source such support, elites ensure some critical benefits for non-elites. Over the last three decades, Bangladesh has been able to generate crucial stock and flow of ‘political capital’ in favor of the aforementioned growth drivers. Bangladesh is not rich in natural resources, which did not help to generate substantial rents for the political elites. Elites, thus, found the RMG sector as a source of generation of rents, and they were able to draw support from the non-elite through the creation of large-scale employment opportunities in the RMG sector. In the case of remittances, international migration of a large number of people helped alleviation of poverty, and thus gathered support from the non-elites. For the agricultural sector, this ‘political capital’ is generated from the experience of the 1974 famine, as the political elites realized that the country like Bangladesh cannot afford anything like this in the future. Therefore, subsequent governments, focused on the development of the agricultural sector to ensure food security. Finally, as microfinance, another example of elite and non-elite nexus, played important roles in generating growth and alleviating poverty in Bangladesh, there had been a construction of significant stock of ‘political capital’ around microfinance over the last three decades.

Therefore, Bangladesh can continue to grow until the ‘political capital’ provides returns over the existing drivers of growth. Given the fact that there are growing challenges for these existing drivers, political elites in Bangladesh also need to find new drivers for growth acceleration. There are two new prospective drivers, for which critical ‘political capital’ is yet to be formed. The first one relates to the comprehensive economic and trade integration with neighboring countries, and the second one is government’s initiative of setting up 100 special economic zones (SEZs) by 2030 for rapid industrialization of the country through large-scale domestic and foreign investments. It is a high time that political elites in Bangladesh come out from their comfort zone of old drivers towards the journey of building ‘political capital’ for new drivers.

Dr. Selim Raihan. Executive Director, SANEM. Email: selim.raihan@gmail.com

Cross-country differences in income inequality: Where do South Asian countries stand?

inequality_graph

In recent years, there has been a growing interest among general people, researchers and policy makers in income inequality, its causes, and its effects. The most popular index of income inequality is the ‘Gini index’ which measures the inequality among levels of income of the people of any country. A Gini coefficient of zero means perfect equality, where everyone has the same income, and a Gini coefficient of 1 (or 100%) expresses maximum inequality.

For meaningful comparisons among different countries with respect to their levels and trends in income inequality we need comparable data. National surveys on households’ incomes and expenditures in different countries provide data on the Gini index of these countries for some years. However, we are not in a position to use these data for cross-country comparisons due to various reasons. In those surveys there are differences in the population covered, differences in coverage on geography, age and employment status, differences in the definition on welfare (whether to use market income or consumption data), differences in the use of equivalence scale (whether to use household per capita or household adult equivalence), and differences in the treatment of various other items, such as non-monetary income and imputed rents. The Standardized World Income Inequality Database (SWIID), introduced in 2008, provides a dataset on income inequality that facilitates comparability for the largest possible sample of countries and years. A custom missing-data algorithm is used to standardize data on cross-country income inequality using the data from national surveys (Solt, 2016). Using the SWIID database, the World Economy Database (WED) version 9.1 has generated a time series database on the “Gini index” for 207 countries over the period between 1970 and 2015 by filling missing observations with the help of different estimation methods.

Using the WED 9.1, we have produced a scatter plot diagram with data on Gini indices for 207 countries in 1980 in the horizontal axis and data on Gini indices of the same countries in 2015 in the vertical axis. In the scatter plot, dots around the 45 degree line are the countries with ‘no or very small’ changes in Gini indices during 1980-2015; dots above the 45 degree line are the countries which experienced an increase in the Gini index; and finally, dots below the 45 degree line are the countries which experienced a decline in the Gini index. Out of those 207 countries, 18 experienced ‘no or very small’ changes in Gini indices, 109 experienced increases and 80 experienced declines. Among the 8 south Asian countries, 5 countries (Afghanistan, Bangladesh, India, Pakistan and Sri Lanka) observed rises while the rest 3 countries (Bhutan, Maldives and Nepal) experienced declines. We also brought China and South Korea into the picture, and it appears that the Gini index in China increased quite astonishingly, whereas that of South Korea declined.

We have also categorized the values of Gini index as follows: a Gini index value lower than 30 is considered low; an index value between 30 and less than 40 is considered medium; an index value between 40 and less than 50 is considered high; and an index value above 50 is considered very high. Depending on these classifications, we can observe some interesting movements of the South Asian countries during 1980 and 2015. Afghanistan moved from a status of low inequality to medium inequality; Bangladesh moved from medium inequality to high inequality; though Nepal, Pakistan and Sri Lanka remained within the medium inequality range, Sri Lanka was at the border of high inequality; India moved from high inequality to very high inequality; and both Bhutan and Maldives moved from very high inequality to medium inequality. In comparison, China moved from low inequality to very high inequality, whereas South Korea moved from medium inequality to very close to low inequality.

We also explored the factors affecting inequality in the cross-country and over time contexts. Results from a fixed effect panel regression suggest that while rise in the real GDP per capita tends to have a small negative association with the Gini index, an increase in both life expectancy at birth and net secondary school enrollment are strongly associated with the decline in the Gini index. These suggest that, an increase in per capita real GDP is not a guarantee for the reduction in income inequality, whereas investment in social infrastructure with the aim of raising the life expectancy at birth and a rise in secondary school enrollment can be very instrumental in reducing income inequality.

Reference: Solt, F. (2016). “The Standardized World Income Inequality Database”. Social Science Quarterly.

First published at the Thinking Aloud on 1 September 2016

Published at The Daily Star on 1 September 2016

Dynamics of economic growth in Bangladesh

Selim Raihan and Wahid Ferdous Ibon

Rapid and sustained economic growth is very critical for Bangladesh economy in its way towards a middle income country. In this article, we have investigated the major determinants of economic growth in Bangladesh using time series data for 44 years (1972-2015). We start with a production function approach, which incorporates the features of neo classical and new-growth theories. Subsequently, we have investigated the impacts of trade policies, fiscal policies, FDI, interest rate, inflation, infant mortality rate, enrolment in secondary education, infrastructure and institution on growth in Bangladesh’s real GDP (gross domestic product). A new database (World Economy Database, version 9.1) has been used, which is complemented by data from the Peen World Table (PWT8.1) and World Bank’s World Development Indicators (WDI). Most of the variables under consideration are found to be non-stationary (integrated of order one). Two non-stationary time series may lead to a spurious relationship between them if they are not co-integrated. Therefore, we checked for the possibility of co-integrating relationship, using the Johansen co-integration test, and found at least one co-integrating relationship in all the regressions, which confirms that the long run estimates show causal relationships. We ignore bi-directional causality in the regression model, as this is not what we want to explore in this analysis.

The basic production function

With the aim of identifying the determinants of economic growth in Bangladesh, we start with a Cobb-Douglas production function. Along with employment and physical capital stock, we have incorporated human capital into the production function. We multiply the data on human capital with employment data to create the human capital adjusted employment variable. The regression results suggests that, in the long run, on average, one percent increase in the human capital adjusted employment leads to 0.25% increase in the real GDP. Furthermore, one percent increase in the physical capital stock leads to 0.12% increase in the real GDP. As the variables of the production function are co-integrated, there must be an Error Correction representation which shows the short run adjustments of the variables under consideration if there is any deviation from the long run equilibrium relationship. Error Correction term is -0.0197 which is statistically significant, negative and less than unity, as expected. About 1.97% error is thus being corrected each year following any deviation from the long run equilibrium.

Secondary school enrolment helps

There are both theoretical and empirical literature which provide evidence that the educational level and its quality are important causal determinant of income, both at the individual and national levels. A highly educated labor is more productive relative to his/her less educated counterpart, and this increased labor productivity helps a nation grow faster. Education is a key component of human capital. In terms of the net secondary school enrolment, though Bangladesh made a progress during 1972 and 2015 from around 16% to 52%, still there is a need for substantial further improvement. Here, we have investigated the effect of the net enrolment in secondary school on real GDP and have found positive effect, as expected. One percentage point rise in the net secondary school enrolment ratio leads to, on average, 0.013% increase in the real GDP.

Reduction in the infant mortality rate helps

Bangladesh has shown its capacity to reduce infant mortality rate rapidly over the past four decades. Among 1000 live births, the rate came down from 148 in 1972 to 30.7 in 2015. In the regression, the infant mortality rate appears with a negative and significant coefficient. On average, one point reduction in the infant mortality rate contributes to the rise in real GDP by 0.01%.

Greater trade-orientation promotes growth

Theoretically, trade liberalization results in productivity gains through increased competition, efficiency, innovation and acquisition of new technology. Trade policy works by inducing substitution effects in the production and consumption of goods and services through changes in prices. These effects, in turn, change the level and composition of exports and imports. In particular, the changing relative prices induced by trade liberalization cause a re-allocation of resources from less efficient to more efficient uses. Trade liberalization is also thought to expand the set of economic opportunities by enlarging the market size and increasing the effects of knowledge spill over.

Since its independence, Bangladesh underwent a variety of trade policy reforms, which resulted in the rise in trade-GDP ratio, import-GDP ratio and export-GDP ratio from 10.6%, 6.5% and 4.1% respectively in 1972 to 41.7%, 23.3% and 18.4% respectively in 2015. To identify the growth effects of these three trade-orientation variables, we incorporated them into the production function through three separate regressions. The regression results indicate that, these variables are statistically significant with positive signs. One percentage point increase in trade-GDP ratio, import-GDP ratio, and export-GDP ratio account for, on average, 0.014%, 0.023% and 0.029% increase in the real GDP respectively.

Larger FDI-orientation propels growth

Foreign direct investment (FDI) is another driver of economic growth, particularly for a least developed country (LDC) like Bangladesh. FDI contributes to transfer the technical knowhow from advanced countries to the less developed countries. In 2015, the FDI inflow in Bangladesh was only US$ 2.2 billion which was about 1% the GDP, whereas government, as stated in the 7th five year plan, aims to achieve a level of FDI inflow of US$ 9.6 billion by 2020. In the regression, the coefficient of the FDI-GDP ratio is found to be statistically significant and positive, as expected. One percentage point increase in the FDI-GDP ratio leads to the rise in real GDP, on average, by 0.12%. In order to attract more FDI, there is a need to maintain political stability, improvement in infrastructure and reduction in the cost of doing business. The planned 100 special economic zones, if they are implemented successfully, can be helpful in attracting FDI.

Positive effect of government transfer payments

The regression result confirms a positive significant impact of government transfer (social security payments, safety net programs, pension payments etc.) on the rise in real GDP in Bangladesh economy. On average, one percentage point rise in the ratio of government transfer to GDP leads to a rise in real GDP by 0.05%.

Reduction in lending interest rate helps

Interest rate is the price of fund that private investors lend from the banks. Therefore, more private investment takes place following a reduction in lending rate, which in turn promotes economic growth. This is evident from our regression analysis that one percentage point reduction in the lending rate, on average, increases real GDP by 0.03%.

Inflation hurts growth

Rise in the general price level hurts Bangladesh’s growth. An increase in the price level decreases the real wage earned by the laborers. This lower real wage is followed by a lower aggregate private consumption demand, which in turn affects national income badly. Our regression analysis suggests, one point increase in consumer price index accounts for, on average, 0.001% reduction in real GDP.

Infrastructure promotes growth

Infrastructure is a key ingredient for high and sustained economic growth. Better infrastructure helps total factor productivity to rise by lowering transaction cost and a more efficient use of inputs of production. Due to the lack of time-series data on different dimensions of infrastructure, here we consider total number of mobile and fixed line telephone subscriptions as a proxy for infrastructure. In the regression analysis, we find that one percent increase in total telephone subscription results in, on average, 0.12% rise in real GDP.

Quality of institution matters

We have considered an index of institution in the regression. We have constructed the index of institution using the data of six major ICRG (www.prsgroup.com) variables, namely bureaucracy quality, control of corruption, investment profile, democratic accountability, government stability, and law and order. As values of these six ICRG variables have different scales, we have rescaled them between 0 and 10. The aggregate institution index is the average of these six indicators with the range between 0 and 10, where 0 and 10 respectively indicate the lowest and highest levels of quality of institution. In 1980, the index value was 2.15, which increased to 5.5 by 2015. The regression suggests a positive significant role of institution on real GDP in Bangladesh. On average, one point rise in the institution index leads to the rise in real GDP by 0.05%.

What do we learn?

The analysis in this article suggests that, for further economic growth acceleration in Bangladesh, there is a need for reforms in economic policies and institutions, investment in infrastructure, and making most of the demographic dividend through investment in public health, education, and human capital development. All these will require increased domestic private investment and FDI targeting broader economic and export diversification. Reform of economic and political institutions for efficiency gains is critically important.

Transitions between growth episodes: Do institutions matter and do some institutions matter more?

Selim Raihan, Sabyasachi Kar and Kunal Sen

A large literature has examined the role of institutions in explaining economic growth. While the earlier literature has examined the role of institutions in determining long-run per capita income, a new literature examines the determinants of growth accelerations and deceleration episodes – which are large discrete changes in medium term growth rates that are common in developing countries. Some of these studies examine the onset of growth accelerations while others examine the onset of growth decelerations. However, these studies look at only the timing of the shift in the growth rate (either as an acceleration or a deceleration), and the econometric methodology they use are probit models (where the year of the break is taken as one, with other years as zero) to study the likelihood a growth break occurring in a given year, for a set of correlates. An important limitation of these studies is that they do not differentiate between the different growth episodes that a country is transitioning from or to. For example, when a country moves from a growth collapse to rapid growth, it is a different growth transition qualitatively than when it moves to an episode with slightly positive but slow growth rates.

In this paper, we investigate the role of economic and political institutions in determining the likelihood of a country transitioning from one growth episode to another. In contrast to the previous literature, in this paper, we provide a richer characterisation of the growth process where a country may move between six different types of growth episodes, ranging from growth collapses to rapid growth episodes. By doing so, we are better able to capture the episodic nature of growth and that many countries tend to switch frequently between growth collapses to slow growth episodes to rapid growth episodes.

We differentiate between six types of growth episodes – from growth collapses (where the episode specific per capita real GDP growth rate, g, is -2 per year), to negative growth (g between -2 and 0), stagnation (g between 0 and +2), stable growth (g between +2 and +4), moderate growth (g between +4 and +6), and rapid growth (g over +6). Using multinomial logit models, in the context of a panel dataset of 125 countries from 1984 to 2010, we examine the likelihood of switching from one growth episode to another growth episode. We examine the role of contract viability (as a measure of the quality of economic institutions) and the role of democracy and bureaucratic quality (as measures of political institutions) in explaining the switches that countries experience between different types of growth episodes. The data on contract viability, democracy and bureaucratic quality are derived from the ICRG database (www.prsgroup.com).

We find that though bureaucracy quality has a positive effect while switching from negative growth episode to positive growth episodes, it doesn’t matter in most of the cases while switching from lower order growth episodes to higher order growth episodes. Both contract viability and democratization can explain the switching from negative growth episode to positive growth episodes. Contract viability and democracy can also explain the movements from lower positive growth episodes to higher positive growth episodes. However, while contract viability is important for moving from stable growth episode to rapid growth episodes, democracy is not important in explaining this switch. This suggests that while better economic and political institutions matter in taking a country from growth collapses to stable growth, economic institutions matter more than the political institutions for the switching from stable growth to rapid growth.

Our results suggest that, democratic episodes do not necessarily witness transitions to rapid growth episodes from moderately positive growth episodes. However, democratic episodes do witness a transition from negative to positive growth episodes, indicating that democratization does prevent the worst type of growth episode that a country can experience. We also find that improving state capacity in the form of the quality of the bureaucracy can help in taking a country out of negative growth episodes but that higher state capacity does not increase the likelihood of rapid growth episodes. This finding suggests that previous research that has found a positive role of bureaucratic quality in fostering economic growth need to differentiate between phases of growth, and that the relationship between bureaucratic quality and economic growth may not be monotonic.

We find that the most important institutional determinant of switching to higher order growth episodes from lower ones, and in particular, to rapid growth episodes, is the nature of property rights institutions – that is, the extent to which investors trust the viability of contracts. In contrast to the previous literature on the determinants of growth accelerations, we find that not only does institutional quality matter in bringing about a growth acceleration, it is the case that the greater the quality of property rights institutions, the higher is the likelihood of a transition to a rapid growth phase.

Our findings have clear policy implications. For a country in a growth decline or collapse, it is important to stress improvements in both political and economic institutions, such as bureaucratic quality, viability of contracts and democratization to move into an episode of positive growth. However, once the country is in a stable or moderate positive growth episode, further movements into rapid growth episodes need larger emphasis on improving the quality of property rights institutions than enhanced democratization or state capacity. Economic institutions trump political institutions in bringing about rapid growth episodes, though they both matter in reversing growth collapses.

Dr. Selim Raihan (Professor, Department of Economics, Dhaka University, Bangladesh; Email: selim.raihan@gmail.com), Dr. Sabyasachi Kar (Research Fellow, Institute of Economic Growth, Delhi, India), Dr. Kunal Sen (Professor, IDPM, University of Manchester, UK)

First published at the Thinking Aloud on 1 August 2016

Published at The Financial Express on 2 August 2016

Published at ESID blog on 1 August 2016