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Weak and Unequal Recovery: Advanced Countries Need a New Growth Model

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The World Economic Forum today issued a report proposing a shift in economic policy priorities to respond more effectively to the insecurity and inequality accompanying technological change and globalization. The Inclusive Growth and Development Report 2017 concludes that most countries are missing important opportunities to raise economic growth and reduce inequality at the same time because the growth model and measurement tools that have guided policymakers for decades require significant readjustment.

The Report finds that annual median incomes declined by 2.4% or $284 per capita across 26 advanced economies between 2008 and 2013 (or most recent period available). Developing countries fared much better, with median incomes rising by an average of 10.7% or $165. However, 23% of them experienced a decline in median per capita income of 9%, as compared to 54% of advanced countries experiencing a decline of an average 8% or $1044 per person equivalent to $2,505 per average household.

The Report argues that sustained, broad-based progress in living standards, a concept that encompasses income as well as economic opportunity, security and quality of life, should be recognized by policymakers as the bottom-line objective of national economic performance rather than GDP growth. It proposes a new policy framework and set of measurement tools to guide the practice and assess the performance of countries accordingly.

Inclusive Development Index (IDI). The report ranks countries based on 12 Key Performance Indicators of inclusive development. Providing a more complete measure of economic development than GDP growth alone, the Index has three pillars: Growth and Development, including GDP growth, labour force participation and productivity, and healthy life expectancy; Inclusion, including median household income, poverty and two inequality measures; and Intergenerational Equity and Sustainability, including adjusted net saving (including natural capital depletion and human capital investment), demographic dependency ratio, public debt and carbon intensity.

51% of the 103 countries for which these data are available saw their IDI scores decline over the past five years, attesting to the legitimacy of public concern and challenge facing policymakers regarding the difficulty of translating economic growth into broad social progress. In 42% of countries, IDI decreased even as GDP per capita increased. A chief culprit was wealth inequality, which rose in 77% of economies by an average of 6.3%.

Some countries rank significantly higher in the IDI than GDP per capita, suggesting they have done a relatively good job of making their growth processes inclusive, including countries as diverse as Cambodia, the Czech Republic, New Zealand, South Korea and Vietnam. By contrast, others have significantly lower IDI than GDP per capita rankings, indicating that their growth has not translated as well into social inclusion; these include Brazil, Ireland, Japan, Mexico, Nigeria, South Africa and the United States.

According to Richard Samans, Member of the Forum’s Managing Board, “There is a global consensus on inclusive growth, but it has been far more directional than practical. To respond more effectively to social concerns, economic policy needs a new compass setting, broad-based progress in living standards, and a new mental map in which structural reform is reimagined and reapplied to this task, with chief economic advisers and finance ministers prioritizing it every bit as much their traditional focus on macroeconomic, financial supervisory and trade policy.”

New Framework or “Growth Model.” The Report suggests that 15 areas of structural policy and institutional strength together constitute the underlying “income distribution system” of modern market economies and are the crucial tools available to policymakers to strengthen economic growth and social inclusion in tandem. It argues that rising inequality reflects mainly “a lack of attention to this policy ecosystem rather than an iron law of capitalism.” Moreover, for many countries such a reimagined process of structural reform encompassing both demand- and supply-side elements also offers the best hope for boosting economic growth given their limited monetary and fiscal policy space in the aftermath of the 2008-09 financial crisis.

The Report also includes policy metrics — 140 Policy and Institutional Indicators across the 15 policy domains that have the potential to drive both stronger growth and wider social inclusion. These permit countries to benchmark their institutional strength and policy incentives in these areas against their peers.

Education and Skills Development – access; quality; equity

Basic Services and Infrastructure – basic and digital infrastructure; health-related services

Corruption and Rents – business and political ethics; concentration of rents

Financial Intermediation of Real Economy Investment – financial system inclusion; intermediation of real economy business investment

Asset-building and Entrepreneurship – small business ownership; home and financial asset ownership

Employment and Labour Compensation – productive employment; wage and non-wage labour compensation

Fiscal transfers – tax system; social protection

An Agenda for Global Inclusive Growth. Based on its findings, framework and tools, the Report proposes a coordinated international initiative to combat the prospect of secular stagnation and dispersion (chronic low growth and rising inequality) by placing progress in median living standards – people – at the heart of national policy and global economic integration:

· Major economies to undertake mutual effort to address their structural weaknesses within this Framework with support of OECD and other international organizations, potentially by expanding and reprioritizing the G20 Enhanced Structural Reform Agenda, launched during China’s recent presidency.

· All countries experiencing labour market challenges related to the Fourth Industrial Revolution to set national investment targets and public-private implementation strategies across five areas of human capital formation: active labor-market policies (training); equity of access to quality basic education; gender parity; non-standard work benefits and protections; and school-to-work transition. Data indicate few countries are well positioned.

· International financial institutions to embrace this reformulation and reprioritization of structural economic policy in their public signaling, country advice, and development cooperation programs as well as catalyze a scaling of blended, public-private financing of sustainable infrastructure – crucial for attainment of the SDGs — by shifting from direct lending to risk mitigation, co-investment, aggregation and project development.

· Trade and investment cooperation to be refocused from the negotiation of formal new norms such as free trade agreements to the facilitation of trade and investment activity within as well as among countries, particularly in respect of SMEs, services and value chains, encouraging convergence around best practices and standards to reduce frictions and boost development impact, while increasing capacity-building assistance for these purposes.

The Report was developed as part of the Forum’s multistakeholder System Initiative on Economic Growth and Social Inclusion and includes written contributions from five international organizations, three companies and one G20 government highlighting their contributions to this challenge.

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Fewer women than men will regain work during COVID-19 recovery

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Generations of progress stands to be lost on women and girls' empowerment during the COVID-19 pandemic. Photo: ILO

Fewer women will regain jobs lost to the COVID-19 pandemic during the recovery period, than men, according to a new study released on Monday by the UN’s labour agency.  

In Building Forward Fairer: Women’s rights to work and at work at the core of the COVID-19 recovery, the International Labour Organization (ILO) highlights that between 2019 and 2020, women’s employment declined by 4.2 per cent globally, representing 54 million jobs, while men suffered a three per cent decline, or 60 million jobs. 

This means that there will be 13 million fewer women in employment this year compared to 2019, but the number of men in work will likely recover to levels seen two years ago. 

This means that only 43 per cent of the world’s working-age women will be employed in 2021, compared to 69 per cent of their male counterparts. 

The ILO paper suggests that women have seen disproportionate job and income losses because they are over-represented in the sectors hit hardest by lockdowns, such as accommodation, food services and manufacturing. 

Regional differences 

Not all regions have been affected in the same way. For example, the study revealed that women’s employment was hit hardest in the Americas, falling by more than nine per cent.  

This was followed by the Arab States at just over four per cent, then Asia-Pacific at 3.8 per cent, Europe at 2.5 per cent and Central Asia at 1.9 per cent. 

In Africa, men’s employment dropped by just 0.1 per cent between 2019 and 2020, while women’s employment decreased by 1.9 per cent. 

Mitigation efforts 

Throughout the pandemic, women faired considerably better in countries that took measures to prevent them from losing their jobs and allowed them to get back into the workforce as early as possible. 

In Chile and Colombia, for example, wage subsidies were applied to new hires, with higher subsidy rates for women.  

And Colombia and Senegal were among those nations which created or strengthened support for women entrepreneurs.  

Meanwhile, in Mexico and Kenya quotas were established to guarantee that women benefited from public employment programmes. 

Building forward 

To address these imbalances, gender-responsive strategies must be at the core of recovery efforts, says the agency. 

It is essential to invest in the care economy because the health, social work and education sectors are important job generators, especially for women, according to ILO. 

Moreover, care leave policies and flexible working arrangements can also encourage a more even division of work at home between women and men. 

The current gender gap can also be tackled by working towards universal access to comprehensive, adequate and sustainable social protection. 

Promoting equal pay for work of equal value is also a potentially decisive and important step. 

Domestic violence and work-related gender-based violence and harassment has worsened during the pandemic – further undermining women’s ability to be in the workforce – and the report highlights the need to eliminate the scourge immediately. 

Promoting women’s participation in decision-making bodies, and more effective social dialogue, would also make a major difference, said ILO. 

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Global electricity demand is growing faster than renewables

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Renewables are expanding quickly but not enough to satisfy a strong rebound in global electricity demand this year, resulting in a sharp rise in the use of coal power that risks pushing carbon dioxide emissions from the electricity sector to record levels next year, says a new report from the International Energy Agency.

After falling by about 1% in 2020 due to the impacts of the Covid-19 pandemic, global electricity demand is set to grow by close to 5% in 2021 and 4% in 2022 – driven by the global economic recovery – according to the latest edition of the IEA’s semi-annual Electricity Market Report released today. The majority of the increase in electricity demand is expected to come from the Asia Pacific region, primarily China and India.

Based on current policy settings and economic trends, electricity generation from renewables – including hydropower, wind and solar PV – is on track to grow strongly around the world over the next two years – by 8% in 2021 and by more than 6% in 2022. But even with this strong growth, renewables will only be able to meet around half the projected increase in global electricity demand over those two years, according to the new IEA report.

Fossil fuel-based electricity generation is set to cover 45% of additional demand in 2021 and 40% in 2022, with nuclear power accounting for the rest. As a result, carbon emissions from the electricity sector – which fell in both 2019 and 2020 – are forecast to increase by 3.5% in 2021 and by 2.5% in 2022, which would take them to an all-time high.

Renewable growth has exceeded demand growth in only two years: 2019 and 2020. But in those cases, it was largely due to exceptionally slow or declining demand, suggesting that renewables outpacing the rest of the electricity sector is not yet the new normal.

“Renewable power is growing impressively in many parts of the world, but it still isn’t where it needs to be to put us on a path to reaching net-zero emissions by mid-century,” said Keisuke Sadamori, the IEA Director of Energy Markets and Security. “As economies rebound, we’ve seen a surge in electricity generation from fossil fuels. To shift to a sustainable trajectory, we need to massively step up investment in clean energy technologies – especially renewables and energy efficiency.” 

In the pathway set out in IEA’s recent Roadmap to Net Zero by 2050, nearly three-quarters of global emissions reductions between 2020 and 2025 take place in the electricity sector. To achieve this decline, the pathway calls for coal-fired electricity generation to fall by more than 6% a year.

However, coal-fired electricity generation is set to increase by almost 5% this year and by a further 3% in 2022, potentially reaching an all-time high, according to the Electricity Market Report. Gas-fired generation, which declined 2% in 2020, is expected to increase by 1% in 2021 and by nearly 2% in 2022. The growth of gas lags that of coal because it plays a smaller role in the fast-growing economies in the Asia Pacific region and it faces competition from renewables in Europe and North America.

Since the IEA’s last Electricity Market Report in December 2020, extreme cold, heat and drought have caused serious strains and disruptions to electricity systems across the globe – in countries ranging from the United States and Mexico to China and Iraq. In response, the IEA is establishing an Electricity Security Event Scale to track and classify major power outages, based on the duration of the disruption and the number of affected customers. The Texas power crisis in February, where millions of customers were without power for up to four days because of icy weather, was assigned the most severe rating on this scale.

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COVID-19 Crisis Lowers Thailand’s Growth, Continued Support for the Poor Needed

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Thailand’s economy continues to take a heavy toll due to the COVID-19 pandemic and is projected to expand modestly at 2.2 percent in 2021, revised down from the 3.4 percent growth projected in March, according to the World Bank’s latest Thailand Economic Monitor “The Road to Recovery” published today. Continued assistance to the poor and vulnerable, including informal workers, will be necessary as COVID-19 continues to impact Thailand’s economy.

The weaker outlook reflects the impact of the ongoing third wave of the virus on private consumption, and the likelihood that international tourist arrivals will remain very low through the end of 2021. Thailand recorded 40 million tourist arrivals in 2019, but the expected number of tourist arrivals in 2021 has been revised sharply downward from a previous forecast of 4-5 million to just 0.6 million.

“The economic shock associated with COVID-19 has adversely affected employment, incomes, and poverty, but the government’s comprehensive social protection response has been impressive in mitigating its impact,” said Birgit Hansl, World Bank Country Manager for Thailand. “Thailand’s fiscal space is still sufficient to allow supporting measures to protect the poor and most in need in the months to come.”

Thailand has performed relatively well in terms of the scale and speed of its fiscal response. The government expanded what was previously a relatively modest set of cash transfer programs to implement one of the largest such responses to COVID-19 in the world. Preliminary simulations suggest that more than 780,000 additional people could have fallen into poverty in 2020 if the government had not scaled up social assistance.

“The crisis in 2020 demonstrated Thailand’s ability to leverage its robust and universal digital ID, sophisticated and interoperable digital platform, and a number of administrative databases to filter eligibility for new cash transfer programs. Going forward Thailand would need to consolidate these efforts and be better prepared to respond to crisis through setting up a social registry.” said Francesca Lamanna, Senior Economist at the World Bank.

Economic activity is not expected to return to its pre-pandemic levels until 2022, with the GDP growth rate projected to rise to 5.1 percent. However, the pace of recovery will depend on Thailand’s vaccination progress, the effectiveness of fiscal support, and the extent to which international tourism resumes. Exports of goods are expected to support the Thai economy in 2021, due to recovering global demand for automotive parts, electronics, machinery, and agricultural products. Risks are further tilted to the downside as the COVID-19 recovery might be delayed due to new COVID-19 variants becoming resistant to treatments or vaccines.

“Adequate testing-tracing-isolation and further progress on vaccinations will be necessary to avoid the need for lockdowns, spur a sustained increase in domestic mobility and consumption, and allow the country to reopen to foreign tourists,” according to Kiatipong Ariyapruchya, World Bank Senior Economist for Thailand. “In the long-term, reforms that lower trade costs and barriers could help maximize the benefits of the ongoing recovery of global economic activity.”

The report also recommends that the government will need to invest in strengthening Thailand’s social protection system. In the years to come it should be a priority to provide adequate support to vulnerable people, while ensuring that this support is targeted effectively to limit the overall fiscal burden. The crisis also further underscores the need to ensure that the social protection system covers the large informal sector at all times, not only during crises.

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