Economic growth is not an antipoverty policy martin ravallion development research group world bank
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Conference: “Taking Action for the World’s Poor and Hungry People” Beijing, October 2007. Economic Growth is Not an Antipoverty Policy Martin Ravallion Development Research Group World Bank. Two influential paradigms for anti-poverty policies. Paradigm 1 : “Growth is sufficient”

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Economic growth is not an antipoverty policy martin ravallion development research group world bank l.jpg

Conference: “Taking Action for the World’s Poor and Hungry People”

Beijing, October 2007

Economic Growth is Not an Antipoverty PolicyMartin RavallionDevelopment Research GroupWorld Bank

Two influential paradigms for anti poverty policies l.jpg
Two influential paradigms for anti-poverty policies Hungry People”

Paradigm 1: “Growth is sufficient”

  • “The only thing that really matters to fighting poverty is economic growth”

  • Rising inequality is the unavoidable by-product of the economic growth needed to reduce absolute poverty

  • “Inequality should not be a concern in poor countries”

Paradigm 2: “Growth PLUS”

  • Rapid poverty reduction requires a combination of economic growth with pro-poor social policies.

Questions for this talk l.jpg
Questions for this talk Hungry People”

What does theory and evidence now suggest about the validity of paradigms 1 and 2?

Is there an aggregate equity-efficiency trade off?

What policies are needed for rapid and sustained poverty reduction?

Can those policies be neatly separated into “pro-growth” and “pro-equity”?

What about policy implementation? Can we make sense of systematic governmental failure, even when we know what to do?

Inequality and growth revisited l.jpg
Inequality and growth revisited Hungry People”

Two stylized facts have emerged from the data

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Stylized Fact 1: Hungry People”

Little or no correlation (either way) between changes in inequality and rates of growth amongst developing countries

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Stylized Fact 2: Hungry People”

Poverty measures tend to fall with aggregate economic growth

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Empirical caveats on SF1 and SF2 Hungry People”

  • Some signs of a positive correlation since the early 1990s, though not very robust

  • Churning under the surface; gainers and losers at all level of living

  • Measurement errors galore! However, seems robust.

  • Conceptual confusions, e.g., relative vs. absolute inequality =>

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Relative inequality Hungry People”

Absolute inequality

Dubious policy inferences from sf1 and sf2 l.jpg
Dubious policy inferences Hungry People”from SF1 and SF2

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Growth is not a policy! Hungry People”

  • Stylized Facts 1 and 2 do not tell us that growth-promoting policies will reduce poverty and have no effect on inequality.

  • For that we need to establish that those policies:

    • do in fact promote growth, and

    • do not have systematic and strong distributional effects favoring the non-poor

Nor do sf1 and sf2 tell us anything about redistributive policies l.jpg
Nor do SF1 and SF2 tell us anything about redistributive policies

  • Stylized Fact 1 does not imply that policy makers aiming to fight poverty in any given country can safely focus on economic growth.

  • All SF1 tells us is that, on average, there as been little effective redistribution in favor of the poor.

    • It does not tell us that re-distribution rarely happens

    • or that distribution is unimportant to the outcomes for poor people from economic growth

    • or that social protection policies are unnecessary.

The extent to which growth is pro poor has varied enormously between countries and over time l.jpg
The extent to which growth is pro-poor has varied enormously between countries and over time

  • With 95% confidence, a 2% rate of growth will bring anything from

    • a modest drop in the poverty rate of 1% to

    • a more dramatic 7% annual decline

  • Two proximate reasons:

    • Distributional changes during growth spells

    • Differences in initial inequality

1 distribution changes a lot and the changes matter to progress against poverty l.jpg
1. between countries and over timeDistribution changes a lot, and the changes matter to progress against poverty

  • The median rate of poverty reduction is 10%/year in the countries with falling inequality

  • and barely 1%/year in those with rising inequality



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The pattern of growth matters between countries and over time

  • Growth can be far more pro-poor in certain sectors

    • Agricultural growth in China, helped by low land inequality

    • Agriculture and (esp.) services sector growth in India

    • Services sector growth in Brazil

  • Geographic imbalances in the growth process can also stall overall rates of poverty reduction.

    • India’s growth since early 1990s has not favored the areas where poor people are concentrated

    • China’s growth has favored coastal areas over inland

2 even if distribution does not change high initial inequality impedes poverty reduction l.jpg
2. Even if distribution does not change, high initial inequality impedes poverty reduction

How long will it take to bring the poverty rate down from 40% to 20% with 2% annual growth rate?

  • Low-inequality country (Gini=0.30): 11 years.

  • High inequality country (Gini=0.60): 35 years.

  • Note: the argument works in reverse: high inequality protects the poor from negative macro shocks.

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A growth-equity trade-off? inequality impedes poverty reduction

Will the PLUS policies undermine growth and

(hence) poverty reduction?

Do growth policies have adverse distributional


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Theory: High inequality can be inefficient and (hence) retard growth

Economic theory now questions the old presumption that there will be an aggregate trade-off.

Two main arguments:

1. Credit-market failures

=> inequalities in wealth create inefficient allocations of investment opportunities.

  • More poor people means more credit-constrained people and hence lower investment and growth

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Theory: High inequality can be inefficient and (hence) retard growth

2. Political economy

  • High inequality also makes it harder to achieve efficiency-promoting economic reforms that require trust and cooperation

  • In the long-run, resilient economic inequalities are reflected in political inequalities.


    The institutions that develop in very unequal contexts are less conducive to the protection of property rights, innovation and growth (WDR, 2006)

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Good and bad inequalities retard growth

  • Good inequalities reflect and reinforce market-based incentives that foster innovation, entrepreneurship and growth

  • Bad inequalities prevent certain segments of the population from escaping poverty; inequality of opportunity (WDR, 2006)

    • Geographic poverty traps,

    • patterns of social exclusion,

    • inadequate levels of human capital,

    • lack of access to credit and insurance,

    • corruption and uneven influence

  • Bad inequalities are rooted in market failures, coordination failures and governance failures

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Evidence 1 retard growth

  • Countries with higher initial inequality experienced lower growth controlling for other factors

    • Concerns about these tests (aggregation biases, omitted variables)

    • Sub-national and micro evidence still coming, but so far more supportive of the hypothesis that high inequality is inefficient.

  • But none of this is about policies per se!

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Evidence 2 retard growth

  • Mixed evidence on the distributional effects of growth-promoting policies

    • Trade reforms: Aggregate distribution neutrality (China, Morocco,…) though strong horizontal inequality effects

    • Other reforms: Still much we do not know, though methodological problems abound

  • Even weaker is our knowledge about the aggregate efficiency impacts of successful redistributive policies

  • The jury is still out

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Revisiting the separabilty case for retard growth“Growth PLUS”

  • Neat if we could have one set of policies for growth and one set for redistribution.

  • The claim: More rapid poverty reduction is possible by combining the two.

    • Growth policies create economic opportunities

    • And growth makes it easier to finance progressive policies.

    • The PLUS policies help assure that the poor are able to take up the new opportunities in a growing economy or to compensate those who can’t.

  • However, the separability assumption is a strong one

    • We know that some growth promoting policies have distributional effects

    • And that distributional policies have potential efficiency implications

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Two country examples retard growth

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China: “Growth is sufficient” at work? retard growth

  • Yes, rapid growth with rapid rise in inequality =>

  • But China’s story does not vindicate Paradigm 1

  • No sign of a poverty-inequality trade off

    • The time periods of falling inequality saw more rapid growth

    • The provinces with more rapid growth did not see a more rapid rise in inequality

  • Pattern of growth was key:

    • Agriculture and rural development is far more poverty-reducing than industry or services

    • The bulk of the poverty reduction came from AGR reforms (household responsibility system, price reforms, lower taxes)

  • Arguably there is a counterfactual development path for China with more rapid poverty reduction

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Brazil: Growth PLUS at work? retard growth

  • Services sector growth is more pro-poor than agriculture or industry

  • Change in policy regime around 1994

    • stabilized prices + trade liberalization

  • Pattern of growth switched away from the services sector; higher growth but less pro-poor pattern of growth

  • A combination of higher overall growth and redistributive social policies meant a higher rate of poverty reduction post-reform

  • However, overall pace of poverty reduction is still low.

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Implementation is probably easier in low-inequality countries

  • We can probably identify pro-poor policies appropriate to a given setting

  • Political implementation is the real issue

  • In low-inequality countries, high poverty will tend to generate a demand for sound policies to fight poverty



the policy impact curve

the political



pro-poor policies

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A “high poverty + poor policies” trap countriesin high inequality countries?

  • High poverty and inequality can be self-perpetuating by impeding pro-poor policies

    => Multiple equilibria are then possible:



the political


curve may well be

downward sloping

in high inequality


the policy impact curve


pro-poor policies

The big policy challenge: How do we move from A to B?

Growth is sufficient misses the point and growth plus is a patch up at best l.jpg
“Growth is sufficient” misses countriesthe pointAnd “Growth PLUS” is a patch-up at best

In conclusion:

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Neither paradigm constitutes an adequate poverty reduction strategy

  • Given the diverse impacts of growth on poverty, it is clear that something else is needed.

    => Growth PLUS

  • However, this is still incomplete without a deeper understanding of:

    1. the distributional impacts of growth-promoting policies.

    2. the growth impacts of the PLUS policies.

How to achieve more pro poor growth l.jpg
How to achieve more pro-poor growth? strategy

  • Develop human and physical assets of poor people

  • Help make markets work better for the poor, esp., for credit, land and labor

  • Remove biases against the poor in public spending, taxation, trade and regulation

  • Promote growth in key sectors (agriculture and rural development; services)

  • Invest in local public goods in poor areas with economic potential

  • Provide an effective safety net; short term palliative and (possibly) a key instrument for long-term poverty reduction

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Monitoring and evaluation is key; strategyso is flexibility

  • Sensitivity to country context is crucial for assessing what set of policies is pro-poor.

  • Continuous monitoring of progress and evaluation of specific policies/programs is a crucial input to effective domestic and international efforts against poverty

  • Lesson from China: Experiment with policy options; scale up the success, and drop the failures.