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Technology, infrastructure, governance and anticorruption, human development, subjective wellbeing/happiness
Charles Kenny is a senior fellow and the director of technology and development at the Center for Global Development. His current work focuses on gender and development, the role of technology in development, governance and anticorruption and the post-2015 development agenda. He has published articles, chapters and books on issues including what we know about the causes of economic growth, the link between economic growth and broader development, the causes of improvements in global health, the link between economic growth and happiness, the end of the Malthusian trap, the role of communications technologies in development, the ‘digital divide,’ corruption, and progress towards the Millennium Development Goals. He is the author of the book "Getting Better: Why Global Development is Succeeding, and How We Can Improve the World Even More" and “The Upside of Down: Why the Rise of the Rest is Great for the West.” He has been a contributing editor at Foreign Policy magazine and a regular contributor to Business Week magazine. Kenny was previously at the World Bank, where his assignments included working with the VP for the Middle East and North Africa Region, coordinating work on governance and anticorruption in infrastructure and natural resources, and managing a number of investment and technical assistance projects covering telecommunications and the Internet.
On Wednesday, Angus Deaton published an op-ed in the New York Times that paints a compelling picture of the depth of poverty in America, and the need for more money and more policy attention to fix it. It's a sobering read, and we strongly agree that America’s most destitute deserve far more support. But in comparing US poverty to poverty in developing countries, we think he’s got his numbers wrong.
Since the publication of our paper on the IFC’s project portfolio last week, we have received several helpful comments from readers. They plausibly suggest that the portfolio may be (even) less risky than we suggested, with even more space to pivot towards the low income countries where the IFC can make the most difference. But until the IFC publishes more information, we won’t really know.
Public-Private Partnership models continue to proliferate, backed by multilateral development banks old and new. But the volume of PPPs in developing countries has stagnated since the global financial crisis, and they won’t deliver unless they are designed and implemented well. Making more and better public-private investments will take a far greater commitment to transparency from participants in the deals. Financiers—MDBs in particular—should take the lead.
Vijaya Ramachandran, Ben Leo, Jared Karlow and I have just published two papers looking at where and in what capacity the IFC, OPIC, and selected European development finance institutions (DFIs) are investing their money. The core of the papers is a dataset that Jared painstakingly put together by scraping public documentation about DFI projects. It wasn’t easy because DFIs are considerably behind many aid agencies in releasing usable data on their portfolios. And that lack of transparency presents a significant problem if those same DFIs spend aid money on subsidizing the private sector.
The IFC is designed to catalyze investments in countries that investors might consider too risky to invest in alone. But our recent analysis of IFC’s portfolio found that it is shying away from risky investments, raising serious questions about whether the IFC is focusing on the places where it can make the most difference.
Development Finance Institutions (DFIs)—which provide financing to private investors in developing economies—have seen rapid expansion over the past few years. This paper describes and analyses a new dataset covering the five largest bilateral DFIs alongside the IFC which includes project amounts, standardized sectors, instruments, and countries. The aim is to establish the size and scope of DFIs and to compare and contrast them with the IFC.
IFC’s portfolio is not focused where it could make the most difference. Low income countries are where IFC has the scale to make a considerable difference to development outcomes. While an excessive portfolio shift might imperil IFC’s credit rating, the evidence suggests that there is considerable scope for increasing commitments to low income countries without significant impact to IFC’s credit scores.
Do the fifteen year targets of the SDGs stand in the way of their vision of integration and sustainability? If you wanted to achieve long term development progress, you’d probably focus on technology change, learning and innovation in policies, and improving institutional functioning. If you wanted to improve outcomes in fifteen years, you’d probably focus on throwing money at technical solutions. The problems with the second approach include that we don’t have the money, and the technical solutions won’t necessarily work best over the long term.
Government contracts regarding the use of public property and finances should be published by default. Many jurisdictions already require that contracts be made public in response to requests for the information; some now publish contracts proactively. Doing so helps new entrants compete in the market for public contracts, helps governments model their projects on other successful examples, and allows citizens greater insight into how their taxes are being spent. This provides a practical outline for reaping the benefits of open contracts while addressing legitimate concerns about costs, collusion, privacy, commercial secrecy, and national security.
Nicola Gennaioli, Rafael La Porta, Florencio Lopez-de-Silanes and Andrei Shleifer have just published a fascinating paper in the QJE: “Human Capital and Regional Development”. They constructed a database of 1,569 subnational regions across 110 countries covering GDP, population, education levels, geographic and institutional factors, and looked at correlates with higher per capita income. They suggest that geography and education are significant correlates of regional GDP, while their measures of institutions and culture are less well correlated. They have followed up with a working paper using an expanded dataset, “Growth in Regions” that reports regional convergence of 2.5% a year and note that a rate so slow suggests “significant barriers to factor mobility within countries.”
The total scale of incremental investment requirements in infrastructure in developing countries has been estimated at around USD 1 trillion a year, with a range of related studies suggesting numbers between $815 billion to $1.3 trillion. While all such numbers are open to considerable debate, and were not designed to measure the cost of delivering the specific SDG infrastructure targets, they suggest the likely scale of the financing challenge for an SDG agenda which includes universal coverage to adequate housing, water, sanitation, modern energy and communications technologies.
In Navigation by Judgment, Dan Honig argues that high-quality implementation of foreign aid programs often requires contextual information that cannot be seen by those in distant headquarters. Tight controls and a focus on reaching pre-set measurable targets often prevent front-line workers from using skill, local knowledge, and creativity to solve problems in ways that maximize the impact of foreign aid.
Given the vital importance of child vaccination programs to US national security interests, intelligence-community participation in public health services should be explicitly banned. Doing so might help restore confidence in vaccination programs—benefiting those immunized and the health and security of Americans here at home.
The approach of 2015, the target date of the Millennium Development Goals, sets the stage for a global reengagement on the question of “what is development?” We argue that the post-2015 development framework for development should include Millennium Development Ideals which put into measurable form the high aspirations countries have for the well-being of their citizens.
Just as the evidence suggests that a more gender-inclusive political system may lead to better policies for women and girls and integrating women into corporate boards may mean reaching new consumers, there is a case to be made for increasing women’s presence in developing technology and innovation. Incorporating more women into technology sectors is likely to 1) increase productivity, 2) offers women a source of high-quality jobs, and 3) may have knock-on benefits for female consumers of technology, whose needs are more likely to be taken into account.
Funding the global public good of technology is a useful way for donors to leverage the impact of their aid. Different types of technologies appear to be important to development progress, and to spread, in different ways. ‘Lab coat technologies’ (inventions) spread easily and improve quality of life, ‘process technologies’ (institutions) spread with difficulty and are important to economic growth. For all donor interventions, however, it appears that context matters—the same technology or investment has varied impact in different environments. Donors should take the importance of context on board when designing their technology interventions.