ERF to Hold Workshops on Education, Labor Market Dynamics and the Use of Labor Market Panel Survey Data in MENA

The Economic Research Forum (ERF) is organizing three workshops on “Education in the ERF Region,” “Labor Market Dynamics in the Middle East and North Africa,” and “The Use of Labor Market Panel Survey Data” from July 26-28, 2015, at ERF’s premises in Cairo.

During the workshops, participants will discuss the first drafts of a number of papers covering various topics related to incentives to learn in MENA, spending on education, returns to education, student achievements and the role of socioeconomic backgrounds, labor market dynamics, dynamics of informalization and household enterprises, migration and data collection methods, migration and labor market performance, labor mobility and employment outcomes, female participation and family dynamics, and inequality of opportunity in MENA.

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How “Private” are MENA Capital Markets?

This blog is written by Alissa Amico (Program Manager, MENA, Corporate Affairs Division, OECD).

Most stock exchanges in the Middle East, with the exception of the Palestine Stock Exchange, the Dubai Financial Market and a few broker-owned markets in North Africa are – unlike their largest global peers – state owned. While some exchanges in the Middle East have explored privatization or ownership restructuring, only the Kuwait Stock Exchange has moved in this direction. It is debatable whether and under what conditions other exchanges in the region will follow and if the timing is right, with the impending opening of Tadawul to foreign investors and the intense competition among financial centers in the region.

Even less known than the ownership model of exchanges, is the type of investors who dominate markets in the region. While the dependence of MENA markets on retail investors is no secret, less is known about the behavior and profile of institutional investors. And this is crucial as exchanges seek to attract foreign capital flows and encourage long-term investment. Institutional investors in the region are quite different in profile from developed or even other emerging markets, which are dominated by investment and pension funds and insurance companies.

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ERF Holds Workshop on the Political Economy of the Private Sector in the Middle East

The Economic Research Forum is organizing a workshop on “The Political Economy of the Private Sector in the Middle East,” June 5-6, 2015, in Oxford, UK. The workshop, being held in collaboration with the Oxford Center for Islamic Studies, will discuss the first drafts of a number of papers covering various topics related to cronyism in the banking sector and capital markets, corruption in the job market, firm ownership, rules versus deals and public private partnerships, among others.

The event comes in the context of the MENA region’s suffering from a fragile private sector that is weakly connected with global markets and thrives largely under state patronage. Although extensive state-business interactions can form the basis for dynamic capitalism, they can also  become sources of insider influence, corruption and other forms of rent-seeking that distort politics, regulation, judicial functioning and business incentives. In MENA, the system of de facto privileges and restrictions has created a corporate pyramid composed of a small number of connected firms at the top, where competition is muted, and a large base of small firms at the bottom. Continue reading

Navigating the Transitions to Democracy

This post is written by Ahmed Goher (Economic Research Forum)

The Economic Research Forum (ERF) brought together speakers Eva Bellin (Brandeis University), Erik Berglof (London School of Economics) and Larry Diamond (Stanford University) on the third and final day of its 21st Annual Conference to explore how MENA countries can best manage their transitions to democracy.

Bellin began the session, chaired by Bassma Kodmani (Arab Reform Initiative), by presenting on ‘Lessons for Democratic Transition in the Arab World.’ The core argument of Bellin’s presentation was that established findings in the literature that economic development better sustains democracy, that neighborhood democratization has a high chance of leading to transition, anHB__8914d that a professionalized military apparatus is more likely to ensure a smooth transition to democracy; none of these findings are actually deterministic. In this sense, per Bellin, identifying lessons of what has worked elsewhere will not provide a definitive roadmap for Arab countries’ successful transition to democracy. For instance, the idea that higher GDP is more conducive to democracy is not a set rule, since half of the poorest countries in the world are democracies, Bellin argues, adding that some authoritarian regimes can have high levels of economic development as happened in the cases of Chile and Argentina.

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Growth or equity: which comes first?

In any discussion of development, one dilemma invariably comes to the forefront: which should come first, growth or equity? Nowhere is this debate more pressing than in transitioning Arab countries, where a new social contract is in the making. It is a dilemma that mDebateust be resolved if the lives of these Arab citizens are to see any real improvement.

The debate took place on December 10th, 2014 in Cairo at 4.00 pm; and organized in collaboration with IDRC. To advance this public policy debate, two teams of debaters  argued for and against the motion: The Economics of Growth is a More Urgent Priority than the Politics of Equity.

Our four debaters are Shantayanan DevarajanWorld Bank-, Hoda SelimEconomic Research Forum-,  Ahmed GalalEconomic Research Forum– and Ravi KanburCornell University-; it was moderated by Khaled EzzelarabAswat Masreya-.results_debate

The debate was preceded by brief remarks by Bruce Currie-Alder, Regional Director of the IDRC office in Cairo.

The crowd voted at the end of the debate; 53.9% were convinced that equity is more important than growth; while 33.3% voted for growth over equity.

You can now watch the debate online

The Evolution of Thinking About Development – Part 2

This interview was published in the ERF “Forum“, Vol. 21 No.2 Autumn 2014

ERF keeping in tune with changing economic thought on development strategies and policies has interviewed Ravi Kanbur to solicit his views at this critical juncture in the history of the Arab World.

During the “market versus state” debate, civil societies have taken on an increasing role in providing public services. Can civil societies replace the role of the state in implementing development strategies?
As I noted above, a major shift in development thinking is indeed the broadening of the conventional market versus state disRavi_kanburcourse to take into account the role of civil society. This is important and crucial, but I do not think civil society is a substitute for the state. Sure, there is some implementation that can be better done by civil society organizations and, very importantly, they have a central role to play in making the voices of the poor and vulnerable heard, but there are some things that only the state can and should do. Let me illustrate this with what is known in the literature as “the Bangladesh paradox”, which is that despite having very low ratings for its state institutions from standard sources such a Transparency International, Bangladesh performs very well on social indicators such as girls schooling. Some analysts put this down to the successful and vibrant Bangladeshi civil society, of which the prominent Grameen Bank is only one example.

There is no doubting the vitality of civil society in Bangladesh, but we must also look at the enabling environment of laws, regulation and infrastructure which complements their functioning. There is of course huge room for improvement on the part of the state, but I think we would do well to look at state and civil society as partners rather than substitutes.

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The Evolution of Thinking About Development – Part 1

This interview was published in the ERF “Forum“, Vol. 21 No.2 Autumn 2014

ERF keeping in tune with changing economic thought on development strategies and policies has interviewed Ravi Kanbur to solicit his views at this critical juncture in the history of the Arab World.

Ravi Kanbur researches and teaches in development economics, public economics and economic theory. He is well known for his role in policy analysis and engagement in international development. He is also ranked in the top 0.5% of academic economists in the world.Ravi_kanbur

What in your opinion are the main shifts in thinking about development economics over the past century or so?
There are great constants and great shifts, in equal measure. The single great constant is the ever present tension and debate between “market” and “state” oriented development strategies. We may think that these debates are new, but they were present at the dawn of development economics as a separate sub-discipline in the 1940s and 1950s.

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