Final day policy panel discuss lessons from the experiences of a region in transition
Chaired by Noha El-Mikawy (Ford Foundation and ERF), the third and final plenary session of the ERF Conference focused on lessons emerging from the experiences of Arab countries in transition. Four speakers, Gouda Abdel-Khalek, George Corm, Paul Salem and Zafiris Tzannatos addressed key issues surrounding the concept of social justice, each offering penetrating insights and unique perspectives on prevalent economic and social conditions in the Arab world and wider MENA region.
Social justice: the cornerstone of equitable development
Gouda Abdel-Khalek (Cairo University), presented on Social Justice: lessons of experience for Egypt. Seeking to elaborate on the meaning behind ‘bread, freedom and social justice’ – a slogan now widely recognised as articulating the desire for change in many Arab countries – Abdel-Khalek’s message was that building foundations for social justice in times of political turbulence is a tricky task; and one beset with challenges. He cited the steady increase in wage related protests before and after 2012 as evidence of the link between social unrest and the poorly performing Egyptian economy.
“Therein lies the problem with the idea of equal opportunity for all. Some people are simply better placed to take advantage of opportunity.”
In the first panel at the ERF 20th Annual conference Marc Fleurbaey (Professor of Economics and Humanistic at Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs, Princeton University) gave an interesting presentation on alternative approaches to comprehensive measurement of equality of opportunity and how it could be implemented in developing countries. We caught up with Fleurbaey after the session and recorded the short interview below.
Fleurbaey explains that despite the lot of interesting research on the measurement of equality of opportunities, the majority only looks at opportunities, but then one would wonder what happens to the people who fail to seize the opportunities. In fact, he argues, it is rather hard to measure opportunities if you want to encompass all the circumstances that constrain people.
The conference was closed with a panel discussion moderated by Ahmed Galal, Managing Director of the Economic Research Forum. The Panel included Abdullatif Al-Hamad, Director General and Chairman of the Arab Fund for Economic and Social Development; Ibrahim Elbadawi, Economic Policy and Research Center – EPRC, Dubai Economic Council & Economic Research Forum – ERF); and Alan Gelb, Center for Global Development, who provided a wrap-up of the discussions and highlighted the following steps.
Watch video interviews with Ahmed Galal, Abdullatif Al-Hamad and Ibrahim Elbadawi about the importance of the topic to the region and the role of ERF in producing knowledge about the important issues of natural resources and long-term development.
Ahmed Galal, Economic Research Forum (ERF)
Abdullatif Al-Hamad, Arab Fund for Economic and Social Development (AFESD)
Ibrahim Elbadawi, Economic Policy and Research Center (EPRC) & Economic Research Forum (ERF)
At the end of the first day, I had the opportunity to interview Paul Collier, Professor of Economics, Director of the Centre for the Study of African Economies at the University of Oxford. The following issues were addressed:
- Given that oil is a non-renewable resource, what will happen to the region when the oil is gone?
- How well do you believe the region is successfully trying to manage its oil wealth?
- What would you advise policymakers to do to intelligently manage their oil funds?
Collier stressed on the need to build up other assets than oil revenues, which could include capital, human skills, investment in the country and assets abroad. He also highlighted the diversity of the region; different countries having different degrees of success and different opportunities. According to him, Dubai presents a good example of a country who managed successfully to diversify away from oil by turning itself into a service economy. Following this example and given its good location, North Africa should diversify in manufacturers and services for the European market.
As for the risk of facing an oil curse, Collier considers it being very low given the amount of oil discoveries in other places (i.e. North America). According to him, the danger remains in the market becoming over-supplied to the extent that prices calm down, as well as the possible adoption of a regulatory regime that reduces the use of oil to save the planet; which makes the diversification of the economy even more urgent.
Finally, Collier pointed out the need for a decision-making structure to allow the use of oil funds for domestic investment and foreign asset accumulation.
Watch the full interview:
The third session of the conference featured two presentations while focusing on “International vs. Arab Country Experiences”. The first one was presented by Thorvaldur Gylfason, Professor of Economics at the Department of Economics – University of Iceland, on “International Experiences with the Management of Natural Resources”. (Click here to watch a video interview with Gylfason published under an earlier post)
The second presentation was delivered by Hoda Selim, Economic Research Forum (ERF), on “The GCC and Populous Oil-rich Economies in the Arab World: How Much in Common and How Much in Contrast?”.
Watch highlights from Hoda Selim about the key findings of the paper:
Given the significant role played by institutions with respect to oil management, the last session of the conference was dedicated to discuss “Institutions in Natural Resource-Rich Economies”.
Klaus Schmidt-Hebbel, Catholic University of Chile, addressed Fiscal Institutions in Resource-rich Economies while highlighting the lessons to draw from the Chilean and Norwegian experiences.
Klaus Schmidt-Hebbel (Catholic University of Chile); Ragnar Torvik (Norwegian University of Science and Technology) & Antoine Heuty (Revenue Watch Institute)
From his side, Ragnar Torvik, Norwegian University of Science and Technology, made a presentation on “Transparency and Accountability in Resource Rich Countries”. According to him, the potential answer to the question “why do some resource-rich countries do so well while others do so badly?” is politics. Therefore, the potential answer to “why do politics differ?” is transparency and accountability.
Watch highlights from Ragnar Torvik on the importance of checks and balances, transparency and accountability to guarantee a better use of natural resources:
Moderated by Hassan Hakimian, University of London, the fifth session at the “Understanding and Avoiding the Oil Curse in the Arab World” Conference featured two presentations from Ibrahim Elbadawi (Economic Policy and Research Center – EPRC, Dubai Economic Council & Economic Research Forum – ERF) and Sambit Bhattacharyya (University of Sussex). The focus was on “Turning the Curse into a Blessing : The Role of Good Governance”.
Ibrahim Elbadawi, (Economic Policy and Research Center (EPRC) - Dubai Economic Council)
Elbadawi presented the findings from his paper on “Resource Rents, Political Institutions and Economic Growth” which confirm that even though the resource curse has a short term positive effect, it has clear negative implications in the long run. More importantly, the curse is conditional on bad governance so that countries with high commitment to checks and balances and high inclusiveness (political democracy) use resource rents to grow or alternatively could escape the curse; and vice versa. This has important policy implications for the region: “Arab spring should not only bring democracy (…) but should also lay the foundations of a strong checks and balances system”.
Sambit Bhattacharyya (University of Sussex) & Hassan Hakimian (University of London)
From his side, Bhattacharyaa shared with the audience his research results on “Public Capital in Resource-Rich Economies: Is there a Curse?”. Given that poor countries typically have acute shortage of public capital (e.g. road network, railway lines, telecommunications network etc.), finance from resource depletion is an opportunity for financing much needed public capital. However, the reality is that resource rich countries systematically under-invest in public capital and therefore, all the wealth that comes out from the ground is not transformed into assets for the benefit of the citizens. Mineral and hydrocarbon resource rich countries suffer from the curse more relative to countries with agriculture and forestry. However, good institutions moderate the negative effect.
The focus of the fourth and last session of day 1 was “Natural Resources and Development”. Alan Gelb, Center for Global Development, made a presentation on “Economic Diversification and the Role of Government in Resource Rich Countries”. Gelb highlighted the possible reasons why countries seek to diversify away from advantage, among which: diversified economies do better in the long run; seek learning-by-doing opportunities and greater “self-discovery”; fear of resource exhaustion; fear that population growth would reduce natural rent/head; fear of potential substitution risk; need to generate jobs; desire diversification for greater macro stability; see higher return on domestic spending given that investing abroad has perceived risks. According to him, every country has different needs and potentials but motivation should be clear because it will shape policy. “There is no simple one thing that Governments need to do to diversify away from oil. They need to first understand why they want to” he said.
He also underlined the need to look at what successful countries have done. In this regard, he listed the following as lessons learned: long term goals for economic development and social stability; strong, stable and engaged technocracy with some continuity; exports, new entry, central to development strategy; constituencies for macroeconomic stability outside the resource sector; opportunities to diversify.
Gelb concluded his presentation by saying that although a strong, concentrated resource base makes economic diversification more difficult, it provides opportunities, including funding for investments in infrastructure, human capital and institutions. Most countries have options if they want to diversify. The question is how strongly they are prepared to push and whether they can do so against political pressure to use rents in other ways.
Watch highlights from Alan Gelb about what policymakers should do to make the structural transformation and to diversify away from oil; and the factors that have helped developing countries to avoid the most adverse effects of the “resource curse”:
Thorvaldur Gylfason, Professor of Economics at the Department of Economics – University of Iceland, was recently involved in the writing of the Constitution of Island after the 2008 crisis. With respect to oil management, Gylfason highlighted the importance of one of the clauses in the constitutional bill which reforms the resource management system that Iceland has had for the past 25 years. “If the constitutional bill with this clause is accepted by the population in the referendum, it will basically mean a radical change in the way Island manages its natural resources. People, the natural owner of the resource, will at long last get a fair share of rents from the resource” he said.
To learn more about the way the constitution was written and the issues relative to oil management, watch the full interview with Gylfason:
Gylfason presented a paper on “International Experiences with the Management of Natural Resource” at the third session of the conference “Understanding and Avoiding the Oil Curse in the Arab World” Conference which focused on “International vs. Arab Country Experiences”.
The second session of the conference “Understanding and Avoiding the Oil Curse in the Arab World” was dedicated to discuss “Optimal Exchange Rate Regimes and Dutch Disease in Resource-Rich Economies”. Magda Kandil, Executive Director and Director of Research, Egyptian Center for Economic Studies (ECES), presented her paper on “Oil Dependency and exchange Rate Regimes in the Arab Oil Economies: A time to Rethink the Paradigm?”.
Watch highlights from Magda Kandil sharing the key findings of the research:
Daniela Marotta, Country Economist, World Bank, presented a paper on “Rents, Dutch Disease and Services Sectors in MENA: Evidence from MENA Resource-Rich Countries” – part of a forthcoming World Bank publication on Natural Resources Abundance, Growth and Diversification in MENA (Diop, Marotta and De Melo eds). The report aims at pinpointing the macroeconomic factors behind MENA’s little diversification away from natural resources over the last 30 years, while looking at the role of the real exchange rate, fiscal policy, weak links and trade.
Watch highlights from Daniela Marotta sharing the key findings of the research: