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Development economics, globalism and inequality, the aid system, international financial institutions, education, Latin America, climate financing
Nancy Birdsall is president emeritus and a senior fellow at the Center for Global Development, a policy-oriented research institution that opened its doors in Washington, DC in October 2001. Prior to launching the center, Birdsall served for three years as senior associate and director of the Economic Reform Project at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. Her work at Carnegie focused on issues of globalization and inequality, as well as on the reform of the international financial institutions.
From 1993 to 1998, Birdsall was executive vice-president of the Inter-American Development Bank, the largest of the regional development banks, where she oversaw a $30 billion public and private loan portfolio. Before joining the Inter-American Development Bank, she spent 14 years in research, policy, and management positions at the World Bank, most recently as director of the Policy Research Department.
Birdsall has been researching and writing on economic development issues for more than 25 years. Her most recent work focuses on the relationship between income distribution and economic growth and the role of regional public goods in development.
Birdsall is a member of the Board of Directors of the International Food Policy Research Council (IFPRI), of the African Population and Health Research Center, and of Mathematica. She has chaired the board of the International Center for Research on Women and has served on the boards of the Social Science Research Council, Overseas Development Council, and Accion. She has also served on committees and working groups of the National Academy of Sciences.
Birdsall holds a PhD in economics from Yale University and an MA in international relations from the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies.
Putting Education to Work in Egypt, by Nancy Birdsall and Lesley O'Connell. Prepared for Conference, Growth Beyond Stabilization: Prospects for Egypt, sponsored by The Egyptian Center for Economic Studies in collaboration with the Center for Institutional Reform and the Informal Sector, University of Maryland; the Harvard Institute for International Development, and the US Agency for International Development, February 3-4, 1999, Cairo, Egypt. March 1999.
"Intergenerational Mobility in Latin America: Deeper Markets and Better Schools Make a Difference," with Jere R. Behrman and Miguel Szekely, in New Markets, New Opportunities? Economic and Social Mobility in a Changing World (1999)
"The U.S. and the Social Challenge in Latin America: The New Agenda Needs New Instruments," with Nora Lustig and Lesley O'Connell, in The Search for Common Ground: U.S. National Interests and the Western Hemisphere in a New Century (W.W. Norton & Company, Inc., 1999)
"Deep Integration and Trade Agreements: Good for Developing Countries?" with Robert Z. Lawrence in Global Public Goods: International Cooperation in the 21st Century (Oxford University Press, 1999)
"No Tradeoff: Efficient Growth Via More Equal Human Capital Accumulation in Latin America," in Beyond Trade-Offs: Market Reforms and Equitable Growth in Latin America (1998)
"That Silly Inequality Debate," in Foreign Policy, May/June 2002
"Education in Latin America: Demand and Distribution are Factors that Matter," with Juan Luis Londoño and Lesley O'Connell in CEPAL Review 66, December 1998
"Life is Unfair: Inequality in the World," in Foreign Policy, Summer 1998
"Public Spending on Higher Education in Developing Countries: Too Much or Too Little?" in Economics of Education Review, 1996
In the wake of the global financial crisis, the IMF undertook a series of reforms to its lending facilities to manage volatility and help prevent future crises. The reforms included the adoption of two new lending instruments: the Flexible Credit Line (FCL), introduced in 2009, and the Precautionary and Liquidity Line (PLL), introduced in 2011. They are meant to serve as precautionary measures—effectively, as insurance—for member states with a proven track economic record. Yet, the IMF’s precautionary instruments remain underutilized.
This paper addresses four misconceptions (or ‘myths’) that have likely played a role in the limited utilization of the IMF’s two precautionary credit lines, the Flexible Credit Line (FCL) and the Precautionary and Liquidity Line (PLL). These myths are 1) too stringent qualification criteria that limit country eligibility; 2) insufficient IMF resources; 3) high costs of precautionary borrowing; and 4) the economic stigma associated with IMF assistance. We show, in fact, that the pool of eligible member states is likely to be seven to eight times larger than the number of current users; that with the 2016 quota reform IMF resources are more than adequate to support a larger precautionary portfolio; that the two IMF credit lines are among the least costly and most advantageous instruments for liquidity support countries have; and that there is no evidence of negative market developments for countries now participating in the precautionary lines.
In 2016 on the CGD Podcast, we have discussed some of development's biggest questions: How do we pay for development? How do we measure the sustainable development goals (SDGs)? What should we do about refugees and migrants? And is there life yet in the notion of globalism? The links to all the full podcasts featured and the work they reference are below, but in this edition, we bring you highlights of some of those conversations.
Is big money really necessary, or even sufficient, to improving learning outcomes for children in the developing world? CGD’s background research submitted to the Commission has convinced us that the key to faster progress is not incremental money; it is focused action in two critical areas. The first necessary, unavoidable step is for political leaders, education officials, and parents in low-income countries to recognize the depth of the problem (children’s lives and public money wasted) in their country, and have the information to design and implement local solutions. The second is to shift education funding to paying for results, rather than inputs and plans.
“We are going to have global markets still operating,” says Nancy Birdsall confidently, but “the big issue is, will we have a good global politics operating?" And that is indeed the question, as turbulent 2016 draws to a close and 2017 rolls into view. It’s one that will continue to occupy Birdsall, who is stepping down at the end of December as CGD’s first and only president, but will stay on as a senior fellow. No doubt she will join me on the CGD Podcast in the future, but the somewhat symbolic occasion of her last podcast as CGD president offers a chance to reflect on what’s changed, and what she hopes development folks will think about over the coming years.
While most technical assessments classify privatization as a success, it remains widely and increasingly unpopular, largely because of the perception that it is fundamentally unfair, both in conception and execution. We review the increasing (but still uneven) literature and conclude that most privatization programs appear to have worsened the distribution of assets and income, at least in the short run. This is more evident in transition economies than in Latin America, and less clear for utilities such as electricity and telecommunications, where the poor have tended to benefit from much greater access, than for banks, oil companies, and other natural resource producers.
The White House and the World: A Global Development Agenda for the Next U.S. President shows how modest changes in U.S. policies could greatly improve the lives of poor people in developing countries, thus fostering greater stability, security, and prosperity globally and at home. Center for Global Development experts offer fresh perspectives and practical advice on trade policy, migration, foreign aid, climate change and more. In an introductory essay, CGD President Nancy Birdsall explains why and how the next U.S. president must lead in the creation of a better, safer world.
This report is the third edition of our effort to measure the quality of Official Development Assistance (ODA), now updated to use 2012 data—the most recent available—from the OECD Development Assistance Committee (DAC).
Climate negotiations have focused on reaching a top-down international agreement and on mobilizing a pool of financial resources. This brief explains the urgent need for a new entity to provide nonfinancial services to faciliate and augment climate action that any nations and private actors take. It explores one possible path for filling the gap: the creation of a new arm of the World Bank.
In this new working paper, CGD president Nancy Birdsall reviews a large body of work, primarily of economists, that shows that high levels of inequality in developing countries are likely to inhibit growth. She argues that high income inequality can discourage the evolution of the economic and political institutions associated with accountable government and can undermine the civic and social life that sustains effective collective decision-making, especially in multi-ethnic settings. Learn more
Globalization is under attack in the West. The debate among pundits is no longer about whether globalization is to blame or not. It is about why globalization is now the bugaboo it has become. A common thread are changes, for the worse, in the economic and social standing of the Western middle class.
In this paper we argue that neither the level nor the change in a country's trade/GDP ratio can be taken as an indication of the "openness" of a country's trade policy. In particular, we examine the ways in which terms of trade shifts have affected trade/GDP ratio over the past two decades, and find that the empirical evidence offered by the existing literature overstates the importance of trade policy in economic growth.
The paper sets out two views of the facts about the effects of globalization on world poverty and inequality. The bottom line: globalization is not the cause, but neither is it the solution to world poverty and inequality. The paper then explores why and how the global economy is stacked against the poor, making globalization asymmetric, at least up to now. It concludes with some ideas about a new agenda of good global politics, an agenda to shape a future global economy and society that is less poor and less unequal—not only because it is more global and competitive, but also because it is more fair and more politically representative.
We assess the dynamic behind the high net resource transfers of donors and creditors, IDA, bilaterals, IBRD, IMF and other multilateral creditors to the countries of sub-Saharan Africa in the 1980s and 1990s. Analyzing a panel of 37 recipient countries over the years 1978-98, we find that net transfers were greater in poorer and smaller countries. The quality of countries' policy framework mattered little, however, in determining overall net transfers.
I suggest in this paper the logic of going beyond the standard, poverty-targeted, elements of good social policy to a modern social contract adapted to the demands and the constraints of an open economy. Such a contract would be explicitly based on broad job-based growth. Second, it would be politically and economically directed not only at the currently poor but at the near-poor and economically insecure middle-income strata.
In this paper I set out the economic logic for why good global economic governance matters for reducing poverty and inequality and argue that a step towards better global governance would be better representation of developing countries in global and regional financial institutions.
After a decade of economic reforms that dramatically altered the structure of economies in Latin America, making them more open and more competitive, and a decade of substantial increases in public spending on education, health and other social programs in virtually all countries, poverty and high inequality remain deeply entrenched. In this paper we ask the question whether some fundamentally different approach to what we call "social policy" in Latin America could make a difference — both in increasing growth and in directly reducing poverty. We propose a more explicitly "bootstraps"-style social policy, focused on enhancing productivity via better distribution of assets. We set out how this broader social policy could address the underlying causes and not just the symptoms of the region's unhappy combination of high poverty and inequality with low growth.
This paper applies a new approach to the estimation of the impact of policy, both the levels and the changes, on wage differentials using a new high-quality data set on wage differentials by schooling level for 18 Latin American countries for the period 1977–1998. The results indicate that liberalizing policy changes overall have had a short-run disequalizing effect of expanding wage differentials, although this effect tends to fade away over time.
In 1999, the United States and other major donor countries supported an historic expansion of the heavily indebted poor country (HIPC) debt relief initiative. Three years after the initiative came into existence, we are beginning to see the apparent impact that HIPC is having, particularly on recipient countries' ability and willingness to increase domestic spending on education and HIV/AIDS programs. Yet it has also become clear that the HIPC program is not providing a sufficient level of predictability or sustainability to allow debtor countries (and donors) to reap the larger benefits, particularly in terms of sustained growth and poverty reduction, originally envisioned. After reviewing some of the main critiques and proposals for change, we offer here a new way forward -- a proposal to deepen, widen, and most importantly insure debt relief to poor countries.