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Article

Lawrence J. Lau

Chinese real gross domestic product (GDP) grew from US$369 billion in 1978 to US$12.7 trillion in 2017 (in 2017 prices and exchange rate), at almost 10% per annum, making the country the second largest economy in the world, just behind the United States. During the same period, Chinese real GDP per capita grew from US$383 to US$9,137 (2017 prices), at 8.1% per annum. Chinese economic reform, which began in 1978, consists of two elements—introduction of free markets for goods and services, coupled with conditional producer autonomy, and opening to international trade and direct investment with the rest of the world. In its transition from a centrally planned to a market economy, China employed a “dual-track” approach—with the pre-existing mandatory central plan continuing in force and the establishment of free markets in parallel. In its opening to the world, China set a competitive exchange rate for its currency, made it current account convertible in 1994, and acceded to the World Trade Organisation (WTO) in 2001. In 2005, China became the second largest trading nation in the world, after the United States. Other Chinese policies complementary to its economic reform include the pre-existing low non-agricultural wage and the limit of one-child per couple, introduced in 1979 and phased out in 2016. The high rate of growth of Chinese real output since 1978 can be largely explained by the high rates of growth of inputs, but there were also other factors at work. Chinese economic growth since 1978 may be attributed as follows: (a) the elimination of the initial economic inefficiency (12.7%), (b) the growth of tangible capital (55.7%) and labor (9.7%) inputs, (c) technical progress (or growth of total factor productivity (TFP)) (8%), and (d) economies of scale (14%). The Chinese economy also shares many commonalities with other East Asian economies in terms of their development experiences: the lack of natural endowments, the initial conditions (the low real GDP per capita and the existence of surplus agricultural labor), the cultural characteristics (thrift, industry, and high value for education), the economic policies (competitive exchange rate, export promotion, investment in basic infrastructure, and maintenance of macroeconomic stability), and the consistency, predictability, and stability resulting from continuous one-party rule.

Article

While traditional economic literature often sees nominal variables as irrelevant for the real economy, there is a vast body of analytical and empirical economic work that recognizes that, to the extent they exert a critical influence on the macroeconomic environment through a multiplicity of channels, exchange rate policies (ERP) have important consequences for development. ERP influences economic development in various ways: through its incidence on real variables such as investment and growth (and growth volatility) and on nominal aspects such relative prices or financial depth that, in turn, affect output growth or income distribution, among other development goals. Additionally, ERP, through the expected distribution of the real exchange rate indirectly, influences dimensions such as trade or financial fragility and explains, at least partially, the adoption of the euro—an extreme case of a fixed exchange rate arrangement—or the preference for floating exchange rates in the absence of financial dollarization. Importantly, exchange rate pegs have been (and, in many countries, still are) widely used as a nominal anchor to contain inflation in economies where nominal volatility induces agents to use the exchange rate as an implicit unit of account. All of these channels have been reflected to varying degrees in the choice of exchange rate regimes in recent history. The empirical literature on the consequences of ERP has been plagued by definitional and measurement problems. Whereas few economists would contest the textbook definition of canonical exchange rate regimes (fixed regimes involve a commitment to keep the nominal exchange rate at a given level; floating regimes imply no market intervention by the monetary authorities), reality is more nuanced: Pure floats are hard to find, and the empirical distinction between alternative flexible regimes is not always clear. Moreover, there are many different degrees of exchange rate commitments as well as many alternative anchors, sometimes undisclosed. Finally, it is not unusual that a country that officially declares to peg its currency realigns its parity if it finds the constraints on monetary policy or economic activity too taxing. By the same token, a country that commits to a float may choose to intervene in the foreign exchange market to dampen exchange rate fluctuations. The regime of choice depends critically on the situation of each country at a given point in time as much as on the evolution of the global environment. Because both the ERP debate and real-life choices incorporate national and time-specific aspects that tend to evolve over time, so does the changing focus of the debate. In the post-World War II years, under the Bretton Woods agreement, most countries pegged their currencies to the U.S. dollar, which in turn was kept convertible to gold. In the post-Bretton Woods years, after August 1971 when the United States abandoned unilaterally the convertibility of the dollar, thus bringing the Bretton Woods system to an end, the individual choices of ERP were intimately related to the global and local historical contexts, according to whether policy prioritized the use of the exchange rate as a nominal anchor (in favor of pegged or superfixed exchange rates, with dollarization or the launch of the euro as two extreme examples), as a tool to enhance price competitiveness (as in export-oriented developing countries like China in the 2000s) or as a countercyclical buffer (in favor of floating regimes with limited intervention, the prevalent view in the developed world). Similarly, the declining degree of financial dollarization, combined with the improved quality of monetary institutions, explain the growing popularity of inflation targeting with floating exchange rates in emerging economies. Finally, a prudential leaning-against-the-wind intervention to counter mean reverting global financial cycles and exchange rate swings motivates a more active—and increasingly mainstream—ERP in the late 2000s. The fact that most medium and large developing economies (and virtually all industrial ones) revealed in the 2000s a preference for exchange rate flexibility simply reflects this evolution. Is the combination of inflation targeting (IT) and countercyclical exchange rate intervention a new paradigm? It is still too early to judge. On the one hand, pegs still represent more than half of the IMF reporting countries—particularly, small ones—indicating that exchange rate anchors are still favored by small open economies that give priority to the trade dividend of stable exchange rates and find the conduct of an autonomous monetary policy too costly, due to lack of human capital, scale, or an important non-tradable sector. On the other hand, the work and the empirical evidence on the subject, particularly after the recession of 2008–2009, highlight a number of developments in the way advanced and emerging economies think of the impossible trinity that, in a context of deepening financial integration, casts doubt on the IT paradigm, places the dilemma between nominal and real stability back on the forefront, and postulates an IT 2.0, which includes selective exchange rate interventions as a workable compromise. At any rate, the exchange rate debate is still alive and open.

Article

David E. Bloom, Michael Kuhn, and Klaus Prettner

The strong observable correlation between health and economic growth is crucial for economic development and sustained well-being, but the underlying causality and mechanisms are difficult to conceptualize. Three issues are of central concern. First, assessing and disentangling causality between health and economic growth are empirically challenging. Second, the relation between health and economic growth changes over the process of economic development. In less developed countries, poor health often reduces labor force participation, particularly among women, and deters investments in education such that fertility stays high and the economy remains trapped in a stagnation equilibrium. By contrast, in more developed countries, health investments primarily lead to rising longevity, which may not significantly affect labor force participation and workforce productivity. Third, different dimensions of health (mortality vs. morbidity, children’s and women’s health, and health at older ages) relate to different economic effects. By changing the duration and riskiness of the life course, mortality affects individual investment choices, whereas morbidity relates more directly to work productivity and education. Children’s health affects their education and has long-lasting implications for labor force participation and productivity later in life. Women’s health is associated with substantial intergenerational spillover effects and influences women’s empowerment and fertility decisions. Finally, health at older ages has implications for retirement and care.

Article

The Indian Union, from the time of independence from British colonial rule, 1947, until now, has undergone shifts in the trajectory of economic change and the political context of economic change. One of these transitions was a ‘green revolution’ in farming that occurred in the 1970s. In the same decade, Indian migration to the Persian Gulf states began to increase. In the 1980s, the government of India seemed to abandon a strategy of economic development that had relied on public investment in heavy industries and encouraged private enterprise in most fields. These shifts did not always follow announced policy, produced deep impact on economic growth and standards of living, and generated new forms of inequality. Therefore, their causes and consequences are matters of discussion and debate. Most discussions and debates form around three larger questions. First, why was there a turnaround in the pace of economic change in the 1980s? The answer lies in a fortuitous rebalancing of the role of openness and private investment in the economy. Second, why did human development lag achievements in income growth after the turnaround? A preoccupation with state-aided industrialization, the essay answers, entailed neglect of infrastructure and human development, and some of that legacy persisted. If the quality of life failed to improve enough, then a third question follows, why did the democratic political system survive at all if it did not equitably distribute the benefits from growth? In answer, the essay discusses studies that question the extent of the failure.

Article

During the 18th and 19th centuries, medical spending in the United States rose slowly, on average about .25% faster than gross domestic product (GDP), and varied widely between rural and urban regions. Accumulating scientific advances caused spending to accelerate by 1910. From 1930 to 1955, rapid per-capita income growth accommodated major medical expansion while keeping the health share of GDP almost constant. During the 1950s and 1960s, prosperity and investment in research, the workforce, and hospitals caused a rapid surge in spending and consolidated a truly national health system. Excess growth rates (above GDP growth) were above +5% per year from 1966 to 1970, which would have doubled the health-sector share in fifteen years had it not moderated, falling under +3% in the 1980s, +2% in 1990s, and +1.5% since 2005. The question of when national health expenditure growth can be brought into line with GDP and made sustainable for the long run is still open. A review of historical data over three centuries forces confrontation with issues regarding what to include and how long events continue to effect national health accounting and policy. Empirical analysis at a national scale over multiple decades fails to support a position that many of the commonly discussed variables (obesity, aging, mortality rates, coinsurance) do cause significant shifts in expenditure trends. What does become clear is that there are long and variable lags before macroeconomic and technological events affect spending: three to six years for business cycles and multiple decades for major recessions, scientific discoveries, and organizational change. Health-financing mechanisms, such as employer-based health insurance, Medicare, and the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare) are seen to be both cause and effect, taking years to develop and affecting spending for decades to come.