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Political impact of remittances

Posted in democracy, elections, labour, political economy, politics by jrahman on July 12, 2017

Along with the garments industry and the NGOs, there is a broad consensus that remittances have played a key role in Bangladesh’s economic development over the past decades.  Notwithstanding that broad consensus, the economic impact of remittances may be more nuanced than one might think, as I conjectured a long time ago:

Well, how about a stylised, and very speculative, story along this line — while RMG has meant women entering the formal workforce, migrant worker boom has sent a lot of risk-taking men overseas; aided by the NGOs and microcredit, households have smoothed consumption and invested in human capital of their children; but they have not invested in physical capital, avoided entrepreneurial activities, and have not pushed for a more investment-friendly polity.

We would want to explore this story further. We would also want to explore the income side of GDP, and tie it into a political economy analysis.

The remittance boom, for example, should see the labour share of the economy rise. Of course, the question is, what happens to the money that is remitted back? It’s reasonable to assume that unskilled labourers are from the poorer parts of the society. So, in the first instance, any remittance back to the villages is a good thing in that it reduces the direst type of poverty — that is it stops things like famine or malnutrition. But what happens after that? My tentative hunch is that a lot of remittance has been saved but not invested in a productive way, rather they ended up fuelling land/stock prices —this is an area that needs to be explored in detail.

Needless to say, I have not followed up on these questions.  But at least the economic impact of remittances is something people have thought about.  What about the political impacts?  That’s the question Shafiqur Rahman of Oregon University explores.*

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Political business cycle in Bangladesh

Posted in economics, governance, political economy, politics by jrahman on October 10, 2015

While looking for something else, I recently discovered that in 2013-14 financial year, Bangladesh government’s current expenditure — that is, money spent on salaries, procurement, subsidies and loan repayments — increased by 0.8 per cent of GDP.  On top of that, government investment also increased by 0.7 per cent of GDP.

That is a lot of spending.

Now, I haven’t been following economic and policy developments in as much detail as in the past, so I may well have missed great policy initiatives that underline the apparent spending binge.  But according to the work of IMF’s Christian Ebeke and Dilan Olcer of Riksbankrise in government expenditure of that magnitude is not uncommon in election years in developing countries.  More worryingly, they show that this kind of binge usually ends badly.

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Surviving the white crow

Posted in Bangladesh, democracy, economics, governance, macro, political economy, politics by jrahman on January 20, 2015

Nassim Nicholas Taleb popularised the term ‘black swan’ in his 2007 book.  It comes from the Latin expression rara avis in terris nigroque simillima cygno, meaning “a rare bird in the lands, very much like a black swan” — they didn’t have any black swan in Europe, and thought swans must be white.  That notion changed when the Europeans came to Australia.  Taleb pithily summarises his thesis as:

What we call here a Black Swan (and capitalize it) is an event with the following three attributes. First, it is an outlier, as it lies outside the realm of regular expectations, because nothing in the past can convincingly point to its possibility. Second, it carries an extreme ‘impact’. Third, in spite of its outlier status, human nature makes us concoct explanations for its occurrence after the fact, making it explainable and predictable.

In Bangladesh, perhaps we could think about ‘white crow’ events — our crows are black, we think crows must be black, but of course there are white crows Down Under.

Taleb’s work gained much popular acclaim after the 2008-09 financial crisis.  The thing about black swans / white crows, however, is that they are hard to predict ex ante.  That’s Taleb’s first attribute.  As such, for analysts and policymakers, it might seem that Taleb has little of practical value to offer.

His subsequent work seeks to address this concern.  In a widely read Foreign Affairs article*, Taleb and a co-author argues:

Thus, instead of trying in vain to predict such “Black Swan” events, it’s much more fruitful to focus on how systems can handle disorder—in other words, to study how fragile they are. Although one cannot predict what events will befall a country, one can predict how events will affect a country. Some political systems can sustain an extraordinary amount of stress, while others fall apart at the onset of the slightest trouble. The good news is that it’s possible to tell which are which by relying on the theory of fragility.

…..

For countries, fragility has five principal sources: a centralized governing system, an undiversified economy, excessive debt and leverage, a lack of political variability, and no history of surviving past shocks.

How does Bangladesh look through the prism of Taleb’s theory?  I’d argue we should be at least concerned about the possibility of things falling apart, though there are also things to be hopeful about.

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Books

Some time ago, there was a facebook meme about 10 books:

List 10 books that have stayed with you in some way. Don’t take more than a few minutes and do not think too hard. They do not have to be the great works of literature, just the ones that have affected you in some way. Tag 10 friends and me so I can see your list.

Over the fold, for archival purposes, are two lists — one general, the other economics related.

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Ideas that went nowhere…..

Posted in development, economics, labour, macro, micro, political economy by jrahman on January 12, 2015

….. because life got in the way.

Okay, that’s a bit melodramatic.  Let’s start again.  It used to be the case that to have a professional career as an economist in America, you needed a PhD.  That’s changing a lot.  There’s a general glut of PhDs.  And organisations such as the IMF are now more interested in people with practical experiences than half a decade or more of often impractical academic training.  In any case, outside America, PhDs were always for those who wanted to pursue an academic career.  So, other than the vanity of being addressed as Dr Rahman, I’ve never really seen much return from doing a PhD.

And yet, every now and then, I think about the ideas over the fold and wonder what might have been.

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The real record — inflation (continued)

Posted in economics, macro, political economy, Uncategorized by jrahman on December 24, 2013

For those coming in late, even though inflation has risen under the current government (Chart 1), real GDP per capita has grown by around 4½ per cent a year under successive governments over the past decade.

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Over the last couple of weeks, I have had a bit of correspondence about inflation. This post answers some of the questions.

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Decoding The Bangladesh Paradox — A Research Agenda

Posted in development, economic history, economics, institutions, labour, macro, political economy, trade by jrahman on December 2, 2013

The macroeconomic fact is, in the last decade, under all three governments, per capita GDP have grown by around 4½ per cent a year. At that rate, average real (that is, inflation-adjusted) income doubles in 16 years. …. This is impressive stuff, for which every recent government deserves some credit.

That’s the conclusion from the post on real GDP per capita growth under different governments. Of course, real GDP per capita is a means to the end, not the end in itself. What we really care more about is the standard of living that higher real GDP per capita entails —that is, it’s the development record, and not just the growth, under different governments that we want to know.

This, however, raises two questions. First, how do we attribute to any particular government the growth and development record when policies under any particular government are likely to have long term consequences? And second, how do we explain the Bangladesh Paradox:

The belief that growth brings development with it—the “Washington consensus”—is often criticised on the basis that some countries have had good growth but little poverty reduction. Bangladesh embodies the inverse of that: it has had disproportionate poverty reduction for its amount of growth.

That quote is from a November 2012 Economist article. That article, and accompanying editorial, had a go at explaining the paradox. Joseph Allchin had a crack more recently at the NY Times. The suspects are usual: garments, remittance, NGOs. But we economists are a parsimonious lot, or so we like to think. We would like to know exactly what contribution each of these factors made, what was the channel through which the factors affected growth and development, what role, if any, did government policy play, and what all that means for future.

I haven’t seen a comprehensive analysis of the Bangladesh Paradox. And no, I am not going to provide the answer in this post. Rather, over the fold is a research agenda on how to analyse the Paradox.

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Rajan and Zingales (2006) — reasons to be optimistic about Bangladesh

Posted in development, economics, political economy by jrahman on December 1, 2013

Raghuram Rajan is as close to a Bollywood star an economist is ever likely to be.  He may have saved the Indian rupee from a collapse by simply showing up to work — okay, that’s a slight embellishment, but only just (see here for a more nuanced take).  Before that, way back in 2006, he said that the global financial system was at risk of being in considerable trouble — that’s the closest to predicting the global financial crisis anyone has ever been.  Months before that celebrated paper, he wrote a paper with his Chicago colleague Luigi Zingales that may give us some reasons to be optimistic about Bangladesh.

To be sure, Bangladesh is never mentioned in The persistence of underdevelopment: institutions, human capital, or constituencies? — not even once.  But their neat little model doesn have some strong relevance for the present day Bangladesh (and no — this post has nothing to do with the current political crisis).

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Time for Atiur Rahman to deliver

Posted in economics, elections, macro, political economy, politics by jrahman on February 7, 2013

As far as I know, this blog is the only place that publicly criticised the appointment of Dr Atiur Rahman as the Governor of Bangladesh.  How has he performed in the last few years as the central banker?  Given the share market bubble and crash and several controversial developments — scams, ‘political’ banks, l’affaire Yunus — in the banking sector, it’s reasonably straighforward that he has failed in his task of maintaining financial stability.  On the other hand, Bangladeshi economy has shown remarkable resilience — growth has been steady around the 6% mark despite shocks such as the share market crash or the fiscal strains related to the rental power plants.  Inflation has been much higher than the Bank’s target picked up during most of the governor’s term, but has subsided recently to be within the Bank’s target (see the chart of inflation through the year, actual vs Bangladesh Bank target — source: CEIC Asia and BB). 

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So, on balance, a mixed record for the Governor so far.  And over the next few months, his record can swing either way.  Unfortunately, the latest monetary policy statement suggests that there is a high risk that my fears about him will yet come true. 

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সাতকাহন

Seven trashes collected by the senses.

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