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Focus on GDP Fuelling Inequality and Short-Termism

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Photo by Benny Jackson on Unsplash

Decades of prioritizing economic growth over social equity has led to historically high levels of wealth and income inequality and caused governments to miss out on a virtuous circle in which growth is strengthened by being shared more widely and generated without unduly straining the environment or burdening future generations. These are the findings from the World Economic Forum’s Inclusive Development Index 2018, which is released today.

Excessive reliance by economists and policy-makers on gross domestic product as the primary metric of national economic performance is part of the problem, since GDP measures current production of goods and services rather than the extent to which it contributes to broad socio-economic progress as manifested in median household income, employment opportunity, economic security and quality of life.

The Inclusive Development Index is an annual assessment that measures how 103 countries perform on 11 dimensions of economic progress in addition to GDP. It has three pillars: growth and development; inclusion; and intergenerational equity – sustainable stewardship of natural and financial resources.

According to this year’s index, over the past five years, the 29 advanced economies included in the study have on average flatlined in terms of inclusion, which is measured by median household income, poverty, and wealth and income inequality, despite boosting their Growth and Development score by over 3%. The four indicators that make up the index’s Growth and Development pillar are: GDP per capita; labour productivity; employment; and healthy life expectancy.

Over the same period, only 12 of the 29 advanced economies were successful in reducing poverty and only eight saw a decrease in income inequality.

More worrying still: rich and poor countries alike are struggling to protect future generations. The index’s Intergenerational Equity and Sustainability pillar – which takes into account public debt; carbon intensity of GDP; dependency ratio and adjusted net savings (which measures savings in an economy after investments in human capital, depletion of natural resources and the cost of pollution) – actually deteriorated in upper-, middle- and low-income economies since 2012 and improved only marginally (0.6%) in advanced economies.

Top performing countries

According to the index, the most inclusive advanced economy in the world in 2018 is Norway. The Nordic nation ranks second overall for intergenerational equity and third for the two other pillars of the index: Growth and Development, and Inclusion. Small European economies dominate the top of the index, with Australia (9) the only non-European economy in the top 10.

Of the G7 economies, Germany (12) ranks the highest. It is followed by Canada (17), France (18), the United Kingdom (21), the United States (23), Japan (24) and Italy (27). In many countries, there is a stark difference between individual pillars. For example, the US ranks 10 out of 29 for Growth and Development; however, it ranks 28 on Inclusion and 26 on Intergenerational Equity. France, on the other hand, fares less well on Growth and Development (21 out of 29); however, it ranks 12 for Inclusion. Its low ranking on Intergenerational Equity (24) suggests it may be storing up problems for the future.

Six emerging European economies are located in the top 10 spots in the emerging economies’ ranking: Lithuania (1), Hungary (2), Latvia (4), Poland (5), Croatia (7) and Romania (10). These countries perform well on Growth and Development, benefiting from EU membership, as well as on inclusion indicators, as median living standards rose and wealth inequality declined significantly. Latin America also performs well, with three countries featured in the top 10: Panama (6), Uruguay (8) and Chile (9).

Performance is mixed among BRICS economies, with the Russian Federation ranking 19th, followed by China (26), Brazil (37), India (62) and South Africa (69). Although China ranks first among emerging economies in GDP per capita growth (6.8%) and labour productivity growth (6.7%) since 2012, its overall score is brought down by lacklustre performance on Inclusion. Other emerging countries such as Mexico (24), Indonesia (36), Turkey (16) and the Philippines (38) show more potential on Intergenerational Equity and Sustainability but lack progress on Inclusion indicators such as income and wealth inequality.

Key findings and policy implications

IDI data suggest that relatively strong GDP growth cannot be relied upon by itself to generate inclusive socio-economic progress and rising median living standards. All but three advanced countries have experienced GDP growth over the last five years, but only 10 of 29 have registered clear progress in the IDI’s Inclusion pillar. A majority, 16 of 29, have seen Inclusion deteriorate, and the remaining three have remained stable. A majority of those countries with the best GDP growth performance failed to improve on Inclusion. This pattern is repeated in the relationship between GDP growth and performance on Intergenerational Equity and Sustainability with 11 of 29 showing clear progress and 18 of 29 deteriorating.

Emerging -country data show a similar disconnect between GDP growth and Inclusion. Of the 30 emerging economies with the highest GDP per capita growth over the past five years, only six have scored similarly well on a majority of the Inclusion indicators, while 13 have been no better than mediocre and 11 have registered outright poor performance. With respect to Intergenerational Equity, only eight have scored similarly well on a majority of the Intergenerational Equity and Sustainability indicators, while 12 have been no better than mediocre and 10 have registered outright poor performance.

This evidence suggests that GDP growth is a necessary but not sufficient condition for achievement of the broad-based progress in living standards by which most people judge countries’ economic success. This message is particularly relevant at a time when global economic growth is returning to a more robust level and policy-makers could do more to future-proof their economies and make them more equitable. Political and business leaders should not expect higher growth to be a panacea for the social frustrations, including those of younger generations who have shaken the politics of many countries in recent years.

“Economic growth as measured by GDP is best understood as a top-line measure of national economic performance. Broad, sustainable progress in living standards is the bottom-line result societies expect. Policy-makers need a new dashboard focused more specifically on this purpose. It could help them to pay greater attention to structural and institutional aspects of economic policy that are important for diffusing prosperity and opportunity and making sure these are preserved for younger and future generations,” said Richard Samans, Managing Director and Head of Global Agenda at the World Economic Forum.

About the Inclusive Development Index

The IDI is a project of the World Economic Forum’s System Initiative on Shaping the Future of Economic Progress, which aims to inform and enable sustained and inclusive economic progress through deepened public-private cooperation, thought leadership and analysis, strategic dialogue and concrete cooperation, including by accelerating social impact through corporate action.

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Improved Skills and Job Opportunities for Youth in Maldives

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The World Bank Board of Directors today approved a $20 million financing to provide market relevant skills and increase employment opportunities for youth in Maldives.

Basic human development indicators are high in Maldives, with the adult literacy rate at 98.6 percent and life expectancy at 77.6 years. The new project will help the Government of Maldives accelerate human capital accumulation, increase employment opportunities for young people, promote equitable economic and social progress in the country, and fulfill the vision for a climate sensitive Blue Economy.

“The Maldivian youth hold the key to the country’s future prosperity,” said Idah Z. Pswarayi-Riddihough, World Bank Country Director for Maldives, Nepal and Sri Lanka. “We are happy to partner with the Government to develop ‘A 21st Century Skills Development Strategy’ and test a diversified approach to skills and entrepreneurship that are responsive to the demand-led labor markets and the needs of the local population, particularly the most vulnerable groups.”

This project will also focus on improving female labor-force participation in Maldives by fostering new skills development, such as programming bootcamps to empower young women to pursue home-based work in ICT-related services.

Shobhana Sosale, Adja Mansora Dahourou, and Harsha Aturupane, Project Task Team Leaders from the World Bank highlighted that “Diversified skills and entrepreneurship development will help Maldivian youth to become more employable, harnessing their contribution to the development of the country and promoting the well-being of their communities. We hope that the project can contribute to setting up strong decentralized skills and entrepreneurship ecosystems for accountable, effective and responsive lifelong learning and opportunities for youth.”

The new Enhancing Employability and Resilience of Youth Project will be co-implemented by the Ministry of Higher Education and Ministry of Economic Development along with island administrative councils, city councils, and women’s committees participating in the project. The total project cost is $20 million, including a $10 million grant and a $10 million credit from the International Development Association.

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IEA takes part in G20 Energy and Environment Ministerial in Japan

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The IEA's contributions to the G20 this year include a major report on hydrogen as well as work on innovation gaps and investment in low-carbon power. (Photograph: IEA)

The International Energy Agency has provided in-depth support for this weekend’s meeting of G20 energy and environment ministers, including the publication of a major new study on hydrogen’s potential role in global energy transitions.

Under Japan’s G20 presidency, the ministerial meeting took place in the town of Karuizawa.

The IEA report on hydrogen – The Future of Hydrogen: Seizing Today’s Opportunities – analyses hydrogen’s current state of play and offers recommendations for its future development and how it can help to tackle critical energy challenges. The IEA carried out the study at the request of Japan’s G20 presidency. It was launched Friday by Dr Fatih Birol, the IEA’s Executive Director, alongside Mr Hiroshige Seko, Japan’s Minister of Economy, Trade and Industry.

The IEA provided several other important contributions to the G20 this year at the presidency’s request, including an analysis identifying more than 100 innovation gaps across the energy system and recommendations for how to fill them; a report on securing investment in low-carbon power generation; and other activities and analyses to encourage greater international collaboration on data gathering.

The IEA’s G20 work also involves tracking progress towards phasing out inefficient fossil fuel subsidies that encourage wasteful consumption. This is done through an annual update in the World Energy Outlook, the IEA’s flagship publication, and a joint report with the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development.

At the ministerial meetings in Karuizawa, Dr Birol presented findings from the new reports and spoke about other important topics, including energy access in Africa, tracking progress towards clean energy goals and developments in the global trade in liquefied natural gas (LNG). (Slides from his two presentations are available here and here.)

On the sidelines, he held bilateral meetings with ministers from several countries, including Australia, Brazil, India, Indonesia, Japan, Saudi Arabia and Singapore.

The IEA also supported the official side events of the ministerial meetings: the G20 Natural Gas Day, the G20 Energy Efficiency Financing Summit and hydrogen investor events in Japan. The IEA’s contributions to this year’s G20 are the latest instance of the agency’s active support for a range of G20 meetings and work streams over the past 10 years.

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Special Course on “China’s Foreign Policy and Economy-2019” Launched in Armenia

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The “China-Eurasia” Council for Political and Strategic Research in cooperation with the Armenian State University of Economics, started the “Rethinking China’s Foreign Policy and Economy-2019” Special Course.

The main aim of this special course is to introduce China’s Foreign Policy to those who are interested in China and its politics, providing them with solid knowledge and information about this great power, which increases its economic and political influence in the world through its Belt and Road Initiative.

The special program conducted by Armenian, Chinese and foreign scholars, who cooperate with the “China-Eurasia Council for Political and Strategic Research, Foundation and have solid professional background of doing research on issues related to China’s foreign policy and economy.

As a result of competition only 32 young specialists won the opportunity to be invited to participate as students in this significant course.

During the opening ceremony of Special Course, Vice-President of the National Assembly of the RA Lena Nazaryan spoke about the importance of deepening Sino-Armenian relations. She mentioned that the current government stresses the importance of further development of relations with China. Mrs. Nazaryan talked about the visit of the Prime Minister of Armenia Nikol Pashinyan to China. During her speech, she introduced also the results of the negotiations with the Vice Chairperson of the Standing Committee of the National People’s Congress of the of the People’s Republic of China (PRC) Shen Yueyue during her official visit to Armenia. The Vice-President talked about the necessity of further cooperation with the academicians particularly stressed the importance of the Initiative of special course “Rethinking China’s Foreign Policy”.

In turn, His Excellency Chinese Ambassador to Armenia Mr. TianErlong presented the main directions of China’s foreign policy, spoke about the goals and success of the “Road and Belt” initiative. Mr. Tian Erlong mentioned about peculiarities of the Chinese foreign policy: Five principles of peaceful coexistence. Talking about the Armenian-Chinese relations, he mentioned about the great potential of two countries that still must be used and developed.

The head of the “China-Eurasia” Council for Political and Strategic Research-Dr. Mher Sahakyan noted that considering the growing role of China in the current world order, it is a necessity to study and understand this country, deepen relations between Armenia and China. He expressed hope that the participants of the course “Rethinking China’s Foreign Policy and Economy” will use the knowledge gained within the framework of this program to further develop Armenian-Chinese relations for the sake of Motherland.

In turn, professor, Dr. Ruben Hayrapetyan stated: “I think that organizing such kind of trainings is of great importance for our country. It is now that we must decide how and with what kind of effectiveness, we will pursue our foreign policy as human resource is the most important one. For the development of the latter we are obliged to transfer and disseminate the skills and capacities that will provide a significant result in long term prospective throughout such kind of trainings. Cooperation with China has always been and will continue to be one of the priorities for our country. Thus, as a result of the course, we expect that participants will have a greater opportunity to contribute to the development of Armenian-Chinese relations in all directions thanks to their knowledge gained.

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