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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
Modern contraception may be the single most important technology for development—it liberates women to think ahead, as men have always been able to do. Last month, CGD hosted the Third Annual Birdsall House Conference on Women: “Reproductive Choices to Life Chances: New and Existing Evidence on the Impact of Contraception on Women’s Empowerment.” The conference featured presentations from some of the world’s top scholars.
Numerous studies find that child health suffers when children are exposed to conflict, and armed conflicts are more likely to occur in poor countries with weak states. Nigeria is among the most conflict-prone countries in the world, experiencing the highest number of conflict-related deaths of all Sub-Saharan African countries in many of the years since 2000, with a peak in 2012. In this paper, researchers at the Urban Institute and the Center for Global Development are studying the relationship between child health and conflict in Nigeria by combining geo-coded data from the Demographic and Health Survey (DHS) of 2013 and the Social Conflict Analysis Database. In both urban and rural areas of Nigeria, they find significant increases in child wasting (acute malnutrition) in 2013 associated with proximity to violent conflict in 2012. In urban areas, infant mortality also increased significantly in 2003-2013, when the mother was exposed to conflict during pregnancy. They will discuss these findings and their implications, as well as some of the challenges to studying health in conflict-torn places.
What's going to happen in the world of development in 2018? Will we finally understand how to deal equitably with refugees and migrants? Or how technological progress can work for developing countries? Or what the impact of year two of the Trump Administration will be? Today’s podcast, our final episode of 2017, raises these questions and many more as a multitude of CGD scholars share their insights and hopes for the year ahead.
Researchers from many academic institutions and think tanks have studied the relationship between contraception and women's economic empowerment. In both the developing and developed world, the evidence suggests that access to contraception is not only correlated with but can even cause women’s economic empowerment and drive economic growth.
World Bank President Jim Kim is hoping the bank’s 189 shareholders will agree to increase the current capital of the bank’s “hard” window sometime in 2018. But the US wants to link any support for a recapitalization to World Bank “graduating” China—and perhaps other member countries with good access to private capital markets who don’t seem to “need” the World Bank. There are sensible arguments on both sides of this divide.
The Birdsall House Conference Series on Women seeks to identify and bring attention to leading research and scholarly findings on women’s empowerment in the fields of development economics, behavioral economics, and political economy. On December 7th, academics, private sector representatives, and policymakers will turn to an issue that affects women in rich and poor countries alike: the ability to make informed, voluntary, and autonomous choices about childbearing, and the implications of reproductive choice as a lever to expand women’s economic and life prospects. Until recently, there has been a lack of rigorous empirical evidence on the links between contraceptive access and women’s economic empowerment in low- and middle-income countries. The 2017 Birdsall House Conference will feature new findings on this relationship alongside existing evidence from the United States.
Inequality and inclusive growth were high on the agenda of the Annual Meetings of the International Monetary Fund and World Bank earlier this month. We are glad about that, but the under-reported story here is that this prominence marks a dramatic shift in the IMF over the last two decades in the IMF’s approach to the relevant challenges for the poorest countries, including on the issue of social safety nets and social expenditures.
Reliance on natural resource revenues, particularly oil, is often associated with bad governance, corruption, and poverty. Worried about the effect of oil on Alaska, Governor Jay Hammond had a simple yet revolutionary idea: let citizens have a direct stake. Thirty years later, Hammond’s vision is still influencing oil policies throughout the world.
Development progress has traditionally been measured in terms of reductions in poverty and increases in per capita GDP, that is, average income as calculated by dividing total income by the total population. My guests on this week’s Global Prosperity Wonkcast, Nancy Birdsall and Christian Meyer, argue that median income—the income at the middle of a country’s income distribution—is a better measure.
The current size of the income-secure middle class and its likely future growth, suggest that
optimism is indeed warranted for many of today’s middle-income countries. But it is not warranted for all of them, and especially not for most of the
low-income countries of South Asia and sub-Saharan Africa — even if they continue to grow at the relatively healthy rates they have enjoyed in the last
decade and more.
Globalization is creating fresh opportunities for hundreds of millions of people. But the gap between richest and poorest countries is widening and inequality within many countries is increasing. CGD president Nancy Birdsall will testify this week before a U.S. congressional committee on ways that the U.S. can help to support fair growth in Latin America, where inequality, long a problem, is getting worse.
Birdsall has written and spoken extensively on the relationship between globalization, inequality, and development. A new CGD initiative, Globalization and Inequality, provides an overview of the issues and brings together recent work by Birdsall and others on this important topic. On Friday, March 30th at 11:00 a.m. EST, Birdsall will answer questions live online about globalization and inequality via Ask CGD.
In a recent article in the Boston Review, Inequality Matters: Why Globalization Doesn't Lift All Boats Birdsall begins by describing how high inequality in Latin America has undermined growth and poverty reduction. She contrasts this with East Asia, where lower inequality was an important ingredient in the East Asian miracle of rapid, sustained, poverty-reducing growth.
Excerpts from Inequality Matters:
After spending the late 1980s working on Latin America for the World Bank, I became involved in a major study of East Asia's postwar growth. The contrast between the two regions was notable: Latin America was stagnating while East Asian economies were growing rapidly, with tremendously high rates of private and public investment and savings. The emphasis on exports and the pressure to compete in global markets seemed to have worked…
For economists… inequality has typically represented at worst a necessary evil and at best a reasonable price to pay for growth. So, for the most part, they have not been concerned with the apparent trend of rising inequality. Development economists in particular have focused instead on the reduction of absolute poverty. But in East Asia the textbook story seemed altogether wrong. One key to East Asia's success seemed to be its low initial levels of inequality, which were associated with the legacy of postwar redistribution of farm land in the northern economies and with subsequent high public investments in education, agricultural extension, and other programs in rural areas.
In 1993 I left the World Bank to become the executive vice president at the Inter-American Development Bank. By then I was persuaded that Latin America's high inequality was an economic problem, slowing its growth, as well as a social problem. I advocated more research on the issue…
Subsequent work by many economists has strengthened my conviction that while inequality may be constructive in the rich countries--in the classic sense of motivating individuals to work hard, innovate, and take productive risks--in developing countries it is likely to be destructive. That is especially true in Latin America, where conventional measures of income inequality are high. It also may well apply in other parts of the developing world, where our conventional indicators are not so high but there are plentiful signs of other forms of inequality: injustice, indignity, and lack of equal opportunity.
Now globalization is creating pressures that tend to increase inequality. We need to understand what those pressures are and how they operate as today's increasingly integrated global economy raises the bar of competitiveness. How might they best be managed, within countries and at the global level, to avoid their potentially destructive effects on growth?
We have a potentially powerful instrument to increase wealth and welfare: the global economy. But to support that economy we have an inadequate and fragile global polity. A major challenge of the 21st century will be to strengthen and reform the institutions, rules, and customs by which nations and peoples complement the global market with collective management of the problems, including persistent and unjust inequality, which markets alone will not resolve.
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 last time a global depression originated in the United States, the impact was devastating not only for the world economy but for world politics as well. The Great Depression set the stage for a shift away from strict monetarism and laissez-faire policies toward Keynesian demand management. More important, for many it delegitimized the capitalist system itself, paving the way for the rise of radical and antiliberal movements around the world.
Nancy Birdsall argues that the concept of inclusive growth should go beyond the traditional emphasis on the poor (and the rest) and take into account changes in the size and economic command of the group conventionally defined as neither poor nor rich, that is, the middle class.
With the Copenhagen climate talks finally underway, a CGD survey of 500 development and climate aficionados in 88 countries finds unexpected agreement about what should be done—and important differences between respondents from developed and developing countries about how an agreement should be financed and managed. Jan von der Goltz and CGD president Nancy Birdsall examine the survey results to shed light on some of the ingredients of a successful climate agreement.
The paper proposes a new narrative on climate equity that emphasize basic energy needs and the equality of access to energy opportunities rather than emissions. It advocates abandoning the setting of emissions targets and instead developing a framework where all countries contribute to maximizing technology creation and diffusion.
This working paper examines the relationship between high inequality and liberalization of the financial sector in Latin America from 1975 to 2000. Using panel data, the authors find that increases in financial liberalization were associated with bank crises and other domestic and external shocks, and that higher schooling inequality reduces the impetus for liberalization brought on by bank crises.
Shared growth—growth that helps to build a middle class—is now widely embraced as a central economic goal for developing countries. In this new working paper CGD president Nancy Birdsall reviews how macroeconomic policies shape incentives for inclusive growth, focusing on fiscal discipline; fair revenue and expenditure practices; and a business-friendly exchange rate. Relying heavily on the experience in Latin America and drawing lessons for other parts of the developing world, Birdsall argues that growth that strengthens the middle classes helps poor people, too.