Monthly Archives: February 2014

Does educational stratification put toffs at the top?

Social mobility at the top: Why are elites self-reproducing?

by Elise S. Brezis (Azrieli Center for Economic Policy, Israel) & Joël Hellier (EQUIPPE, Univ. de Lille, Bar-Ilan University, Israel and LEMNA, Univ. de Nantes, France)


This paper proposes an explanation for the decrease in social mobility that has occurred in the last two decades in number of advanced economies, as well as for the divergence in mobility dynamics across countries. Within an intergenerational framework, we show that a two-tier higher education system with standard and elite universities generates social stratification, high social immobility and self-reproduction of the elite. Moreover, we show that the higher the relative funding for elite universities, the higher the elite self-reproduction, and the lower social mobility. We also analyse the impacts of changes in the weight of the elite and of the middle class upon social mobility. Our findings provide theoretical bases for the inverted-U profile of social mobility experienced in several countries since World War II and to the ‘Great Gatsby Curve’ relating social mobility to inequality.

Reviewed by Mark J Crowley

This paper was circulated by NEP-HIS on 2014-01-10, and was of particular interest to me, primarily since I spent my formative years attending primary and secondary school in an area of the South Wales valleys prioritised by the European Union for what was then termed as ‘Objective One funding’ in recognition of its lack of social inclusion and opportunity – a position precipitated by the closure of the coalmines in the 1980s, which deprived thousands of their livelihoods. It stored up numerous social problems for the future, primarily owing to the absence of a cogent plan to replace and maintain the community’s employment following the completion of the area’s pit closures in the late 1980s, but was exacerbated, following the removal of these employment opportunities, by the deeply-embedded mindset of the coalfield communities vis-à-vis academic and/or cultural education, symptomatic of that seen in the movie ‘Billy Elliot’ (2000). Although disliked, inequality was largely accepted almost as a fait-accompli. For the Conservative Party of the 1980s, as Peter Dorey has argued, it was regarded as inherently necessary and positive in contemporary Thatcherite political thought (Dorey, 2010).Economic inequality became deeply clear from the 1908s in Britain


Citing the fact that society has been ‘constructed’ since medieval times, enforcing people’s ‘place’, whether it be as a member of the Feudal society or as a designated member of a particular ‘social class’, scholars have traditionally argued that inequalities have primarily been enforced according the socially-assigned opportunities during childhood. In the UK, the frequent use of the vernacular such as ‘toff’ and ‘poshboy’ by those of the opposition Labour Party (despite many of them, too, having received an elite education) in response to the perception of the British government’s inability to connect with the grassroots, picks up on the main concerns of this paper, that being that the current social and educational construct in many advanced European economies helps to perpetuate the development of an elite social class who, despite forming the smallest percentage of the nation’s overall population, receive the greatest power and highest chances of success.

This paper claims that the stratification of universities according to ‘elite’ and ‘secondary’ categories propagates an inequality that helps nurture the protection and development of an ‘elite’ through better resources afforded to those universities according to their finances and staffing. The transition of graduates to a higher social class, facilitated by their better education, and affording them with the skills maybe not available to their parents to secure a middle-class, white collar job enforces, at least superficially, the so-called ‘New right’ rhetoric of an ‘upwardly mobile’ society, but one which is fundamentally and inherently contradictory.

The methods used by the authors to convey their point are very persuasive.  The use of the intergenerational earnings elasticity model, with the use of gender and parental income as the variable helps to demonstrate the extent of the ‘elite construction’ which is the main theme of this paper, and is used as a method to measure intergenerational social mobility. Their findings suggest a constant increase in intergenerational social mobility in the countries where the so-called ‘dual’ (i.e. elite and secondary) education exists, namely France, the UK and the USA, but are contrasted with Nordic countries that do not have this system to show that such a trend does not exist here.  However, they are also keen to emphasise that a range of factors could have contributed to these changes, with sociological factors after the Second World War being cited as a major example of changes to the demographic of society in the post-1945 period, such as the number of blue collar workers entering the elite class in the USA during the 1960s being double that of countries such as Britain, France and Germany, although after the 1980s, the extent of their social mobility was severely decreasing. (Brezis & Hellier, 2013:6)

Yet the authors believe that the growth of tertiary education is possibly one of the largest reasons to explain this shift, with this form of education accounting for 60% of students in the present period, compared with 10% in the post-war period, representing an increase of 525% in enrolment to the ‘non-elitist colleges’ in the USA between 1959-2008, and an increase of 250% in elite colleges for the same period.  (Brezis & Hellier, 2013: 7)  Coupled with this of course is the fact that elite universities (Ivy League), particularly in the USA, have become more selective in their recruitment, recruiting only those with the highest grades and thus creating a small student body, and in turn spending treble the money per head  compared to secondary universities.  On the other hand,  recruitment to secondary universities has increased, largely, according to what the authors believe to be a more lenient admissions policy, but one that has led to a larger student body, and less money per head being spent on students.( Brezis & Hellier, 2013, 8)

However, the authors are also keen to correlate educational attainment with family background.  Citing the fact that at its highest, children of upper class families were 40 times more likely to enter an elite educational institution compared to those from lower social classes clearly demonstrates this class divide, and that, to a large extent, this divide is possibly ever-increasing.  (Brezis & Hellier, 2013, 8)

Using the idea that a two-tier education system prevailing in many advanced economies could be considered as a major source pertaining to rising inequality and reduced social mobility, this paper asserts that stratification of universities has also affected the level of spending per head on students, and thus influenced their educational opportunities and attainment. Declaring that the so-called ‘elite universities’ tend to recruit students from the higher social classes, it implicitly suggests that those from the lower social orders are disadvantaged at the recruitment stage, despite possessing requisite, identical and in some cases better evidence of academic attainment. Although the latter issue remains controversial, the authors have certainly identified a phenomenon that the universities concerned attempt to rebuff, and policymakers try to ‘level out’, but one that remains virtually impossible to eradicate, especially in view of the fact that many of the elite universities are in receipt of significant funds from rich benefactors, many of whom are alumni.

Those with the most power in society have appeared to be in the minority - a position influenced by growing affluence in the higher classes


The authors have engaged in a very deep analysis of the social class and its impact on entry into elite universities, and have also clearly shown the divergence between social class and educational attainment at university level. Drawing on a large range of quantitative methods and materials, this research clearly attests to the ‘Gatsby Curve’ pertaining to social mobility and inequality, demonstrating that this is relevant across several nations in developed economies.

To further amplify the impact of this research, perhaps the authors could consider exploring the difficulties faced by universities today in terms of marketing themselves to students? In the UK, and also in the US, this has become especially pertinent over recent years, and has, superficially at least, made the distinction of ‘elite universities’ more blurred, particularly in view of the spike in tuition fees implemented in the UK by the Conservative-Liberal coalition. Tied with these was the option for universities to level fees within a prescribed range, leaving many universities, even those considered among the ‘secondary’ level, to charge higher fees to avoid enforcing, or indeed accepting a position both statistically and in the public mind, as a lower-level institution. In fact, this position does raise deeper questions concerning the definition of ‘elite’ institutions. Is it based on its historical tradition, research output (as is often used as the arbiter of much government funding), student satisfaction, quality of teaching, or student attainment after graduation?

Additionally, in an age where having staff whose capabilities extend beyond the traditional realms of research and teaching has become ever-more necessary in view of the growing commercialisation of universities in the twenty-first century, with its leaders becoming more financially-savvy, and turning more towards international outreach to attract large external funding, perhaps the authors could explore whether they think the growing commercialisation of universities has deepened the class divide, thus forcing many away from pursuing a university education on the grounds of cost, or whether the growing competition among educational institutions, much of which now has a strong business-orientated approach, especially with the creation, in some universities, of the position of ‘Chief Executive’, will work to level out the ubiquitous class divide.


Dorey, Peter (2010) British Conservatism : The Philosophy and Politics of Inequality , London : I.B. Tauris.

David Cameron and Boris Johnson in the livery of the Oxford University Bullingdon Club (crica 1986)

David Cameron and Boris Johnson in the livery of the Oxford University Bullingdon Club (crica 1986)

“As in the modern world.” Foreign and Domestic Equities in the London Stock Exchange, 1869-1928

Interior of the London Exchange, The Illustrated London News, March 25, 1854.

Interior of the London Exchange, The Illustrated London News, March 25, 1854.

Bloody Foreigners! Overseas Equity on the London Stock Exchange, 1869-1928.

by Richard S. Grossman, Wesleyan University (
Abstract: This paper presents data on quantity, capital gains, dividend, and total returns for domestic and overseas equities listed on the London Stock Exchange during 1869-1928. Indices are presented for Africa, Asia, Europe, Latin America, North America, Australia/New Zealand and for the finance, transportation, raw materials, and utilities sectors in each region. Returns and volatility were typically highest in emerging regions and the raw materials sector. Dividend yields were similar across regions and differences in total returns were due largely to disparities in capital gains. Returns of firms in more industrial markets were relatively highly correlated with each other and with developing regions with which they had substantial colonial or trade connections. Contingent liability was most extensively employed where leverage was high and the physical assets were either meager or inaccessible to creditors.


“The nominal value of the securities listed [in the London Stock Exchange] went from £2.3 billion in 1873 to £11.3 billion in 1913; in other words, more than the New York Stock Exchange and the Paris Bourse combined. As evidence of its highly cosmopolitan character, foreign stocks, which represented between 35% and 45% of the total in 1873, exceeded 50% from 1893 onwards. By 1914 one-third of all negotiable instruments in the world were quoted on the London Stock Exchange” (Cassis 2007: 98)
Since it was established in 1801 and most notably during the period commonly referred as the first globalization, the London exchange was the most important market for securities in the world. In this paper, distributed by NEP-HIS on 2014-01-17, Richard Grossman presents an analysis of newly assembled data on UK and foreign equities listed in the London Stock Exchange between 1869 and 1928.
The study of the performance of equities in London by Grossman offers an unparalleled register of the rhythms of the world economy, from the late nineteenth century until the start of the Great Depression. It thus offers an excellent portrait of the role of the London equities market as the chief financial intermediary for capital flows within the British empire and the rest of the world.
Data to construct annual equities indicators from 1869 to 1929 was sourced from the  Investor’s Monthly Manual, which was digitized by the International Center for Finance (ICF) at the Yale School of Management. Grossman describes with detail the problems of determining the industrial sector of each firm in question, the criteria used by the staff of the Manual and the ICF to ascertain the domestic or foreign nature of the firms therein listed, and accounting issues arising from several other situations, such as a share’s volume of trade and differences between the nominal and market value of shares at different points in time. Grossman uses end-of-January data from 77,248 observations of equity securities, as “equity, a claim on firm profits, may be more likely to reflect expectations about future corporate profits than bonds” (Grossman 2014: 4).

Models of Safe Banking? The European Savings and Cooperative Banks

Savings banks and cooperative banks in Europe

By: Dilek Bülbül, Reinhard H. Schmidt and Ulrich Schüwer (all at Goethe University Frankfurt am Main)

Abstract: Until about 25 years ago, almost all European countries had a so-called three pillar banking system comprising private banks, (public) savings banks and (mutual) cooperative banks. Since that time, several European countries have implemented far-reaching changes in their banking systems, which have more than anything else affected the two pillars of the savings and cooperative banks. The article describes the most important changes in Germany, Austria, France, Italy and Spain and characterizes the former and the current roles of savings banks and cooperative banks in these countries. A particular focus is placed on the German case, which is almost unique in so far as the German savings banks and cooperative banks have maintained most of their traditional features. The article concludes with a plea for diversity of institutional forms of banks and argues that it is important to safeguard the strengths of those types of banks that do not conform to the model of a large shareholder-oriented commercial bank.


Review by Anthony Gandy

In recent years I have had the pleasure of teaching banking strategy and banking regulation to professional bankers, the vast majority from the Anglo-Saxon sphere. This is a real challenge, they have greater experience of retail, business and corporate banking than I will ever obtain. However, one thing I do know is that they struggle to cope with the concept that the listed, publicly traded, universal bank is not the only institutional model in town. It is of course not the dominant model in many countries. There are real rivals many different backgrounds that challenge the listed banks and have many strengths; to a large degree these strengths maybe due to the restrictions placed upon them.


The paper Bülbül, Schmidt and Schüwer is a White Paper (No. 5) on Policy from the Center of Excellence SAFE – Sustainable Architecture for Finance in Europe (Goethe University Frankfurt) and was distributed by NEP-HIS on 2014-01-17. It outline the characteristics of savings banks (those with a public ownership foundation, even if that is no longer the whole case) and cooperative banks across Europe and detail the history of these two institutional forms in German, Austria, France, Spain and Italy. Clearly the primary example is Germany where the three-tier banking structure is live and well (if we exclude a few issues!). In Germany there is a co-existence of public savings banks, cooperative banks and private banks. In other regimes the model has changed, but in the case of say France, the cooperatives are incredibly strong even if some of the localism of these institutions has now been lost.

The authors define seven features of savings banks; however, through the passage of reform (some they argue may have been misguided) only the first two are now common across the markets they have reviewed:

  1. A focus on savings and savings mobilization
  2. A clear regional and even local focus
  3. They were/are “public” banks owned or sponsored by a public body in a specific region or locality, and those authorities had/have “obligations” in respect of these local institutions
  4. They are organised under a “public” law, though the authors do not really define this
  5. They were expected to support the local economy and the local people and financially sustainable enterprises
  6. They were expected to adhere to the region or locality of the sponsoring public body – thus avoiding competition between such banks
  7. Maybe most importantly they were part of a “dense and closely cooperating networks of legally independent institutions that constitute a special banking group”

While, to all intense and purposes the seven criteria still hold good in Germany for savings banks, elsewhere it now tends to be just the cooperative banks which maintain the sense of locality, network and non-competition between local and regional players. Even here though, many cooperatives look and act like major national banking groups, some are even competitors in the investment banking markets.

The authors review the two hundred year history of the German savings and cooperative banks, and that of other nations. Though, of course, this is done very swiftly given the space limitations they have. They also try to illustrate how changes in the system has led to weaknesses in some industries which have moved away from the German model. As is outlined in the discussion below, the end of cooperation and coordination of between savings banks in Spain, where local savings banks did not compete in other regions, has had enormous consequences.

While the history is brief, it is informative. I for one was not aware that Raiffeisenbank was named in honour of Friedrich Wilhelm Raiffeisen who in the 19th Century established the concept of rural cooperative banks networked to centralised services organisations. The name is also common to Austrian cooperative banks and is the foundation of the movement elsewhere. I feel I should have known this. The history, especially in recent years is also important in showing why Germany has performed differently in this sector than other countries which ostensibly had similar three-tier frameworks in the past.

In the other country reviews, the focus is more on the last twenty five years. In France for example the cooperative banks have come to dominate much domestic and even international banking. They absorbed the smaller French public savings institutions (through the mergers which resulted in Banque Populaire Caisse d’Epargne (BPCE)) while Crédit Mutuel (CM) and incendie-du-credit-lyonnais[1]Crédit Agricole (Credit A) have acquired a number of private banking groups building corporate and investment franchises. Of course the ultimate expression of this was Credit A’s acquisition of, how shall we put it, the accident prone Crédit Lyonnais giving it stake in corporate and international banking in France.

The author conclude by reviewing (as they do also in the country reviews, especially in the German one) past and current literature on whether public savings banks and cooperatives are inefficient, not incentivised to be competitive or even whether they carry higher risk. Their conclusion is that older research which support these points have now been supplanted by newer research which invalidates these arguments, especially in the light of recent events.


One could argue that the case they make in their paper that German local public savings banks did not suffer to any large degree in the financial crisis could be countered by two points. Firstly, while the local savings banks had little exposure to securitised markets or to southern European debt, the structure of their industry would not really allow this anyway. These banks are local, however, they also provide funds to the Landesbanken which act as the central services and, effectively, the centralised treasury. It is they which then use funds to access corporate, investment and international markets. As the authors have point out, the Landesbanken have been hard hit in the financial crisis. Effectively the savings bank and the cooperative banking sector disaggregate the banking activity network into those which take in deposits and fund local projects and those which play a centralised role supporting the local institutions with an infrastructure and acting as their representatives in international wholesale markets. So they do not make perfect comparators to the more integrated large commercial banks. Secondly, while German has suffered from exploring the deposits of its savings banks and other banks abroad to fund various assets, the local German economy has not suffered, so the savings and cooperative banks have not been tested at local level, not this time around anyway.cartoon120621_2_full_600x400[1]

Secondly, the Italian section is a maybe little brusque. While savings banks and cooperatives along the German model have existed since the late 19th century, it is stated that they have not really established themselves to such a large extent and have been privatised. However, some of the arguments put forward for the benefits of public savings and cooperative banks are that they maintain localism. While Italy has clearly done much to privatise and get local politics out of their banks, they still certainly maintain more local banks than say a UK or Ireland as a proportion of their banking industry. In addition, while the word “Foundations” is mentioned iceberg-montepaschi[1]once, we rather skip over the important role they play in the governance and ownership of certain Italian banks in which the Foundations play such a large role and which still own a large proportion of the bank, including and rather notably the oldest of them all, Banca Monte dei Paschi di Siena, which so obviously faces an existential crisis.

Policy and Teaching

The public savings industry which the authors really find was badly hit by financial crisis was the Spanish one. However, they make a very interesting point that the industry in Spain had already abandoned many of the seven characteristics of public savings banks the authors identified. Indeed they make the very strong case that by allowing the savings banks in Spain to become national and to expand in areas they had little experience, they were attracted to the booming area of commercial mortgages, the vast majority used to fund the property bubble which would so damage Spain when it burst.

This last point is an interesting one as it shows the consequences of changing a system of ownership and governance under pressure to reform for only one reason, in this case the European standardised view of competition. Given banks are at the heart of the monetary system, consequences elsewhere in the economy have to be considered. Until the 1970s the Spanish savings banks were public institutions and somewhat politicised. Accession to the EU in 1986 brought pressure to reform and to liberalise, and yet while elements of competition were reformed, the governance of these institutions was not improved; fiefdoms remained, spurred on by growing competition. Of course the EU is hardly to blame for house price falls of up to 53.5% in Spain, but it does emphasise the importance of working through the long term consequences of policy changes which may interact with other events.

This paper not only gives teaching staff the opportunity to expose students to other banking governance and ownership possibilities, it discusses how changes to the model once common to all public savings and cooperative banks have potentially undermined some of their advantages and led to unintended consequences. It will be in the student reading list next year for sure.

Past and Present: Brazil’s Unfulfilled Expectations

Industrial Growth and Structural Change: Brazil in a Long-Run Perspective

by Dante Aldrighi ( and Renato P. Colistete (

Abstract: This paper presents a long-run analysis of industrial growth and structural change in Brazil, from the coffee export economy in the nineteenth century to the present day. We focus on Brazil’s high economic growth in most of the twentieth century and the disruption caused by the collapse of debt-led growth in the early 1980s. We then examine the recent trends in economic growth and structural change, with a sectoral analysis of output, employment and productivity growth. Employing new data and estimates, we identify a sharp break with the earlier period of high output and productivity growth in Brazil’s manufacturing industry before the 1980s. From the 1990s, the relatively successful process of learning and technological advance by manufacturing firms that took place since the early industrialization has lost strength and Brazil’s productivity growth has declined and stagnated.


Review by Sebastian Fleitas

They are playing soccer here.
There is much samba, much crying and rock’n’roll.
Some days it rains, on others, it shines.
But the thing I want to tell you is that things are really bad*

Chico Buarque, Brazilian musician, 1976

In four months time Brazil will be in everyone’s mind. Love it or hate it, coming June the FIFA World Cup 2014 will be in full swing and held in South America for the second time. According to Goldman Sachs, host nations can typically expect a 54pc increase in medals at the Olympic games. Assuming the relationship holds for football, this further increases the odd for the home team, which more often than not is marked as favourite by pundits across the globe, to win later this year in its home turf. Indeed, we are already hearing about Brazil because of the anti-World Cup protests. Protest which are more likely driven by unfulfilled economic expectations of Brazilians than by their rejection of the tournament.

Brazil occupies the biggest landmass in South America and has often been thought of as a big economic promise. For instance, large GDP growth rates in the late 1960s and early 1970s led people to talk about the “Brazilian miracle”. More recently, in 2009, Brazil was again a sound bite for big economic promise and the financial press coined the term “BRICs” to denominate it plus Russia, India and China as the “bright stars” in an otherwise gloomy world that was facing recession following the financial crisis. Such expectations, both in the past and today, have been fuelled by the idea of Brazil achieving a higher rate of development than others on the back of a big and highly productive manufacturing sector and long standing (and dynamic) agriculture. But Brazil has consistently failed to deliver on expectations. Even more, there is already talk of the “BIITS” to referrer to Brazil, India, Indonesia, Turkey and South Africa, while focusing on their current-account deficits and structural weaknesses (as exposed by the cooling of demand from China and the potential of the Federal Reserve hiking interest rates in the USA). But just as the Brazilian manufacturing industry has fuelled expectations, it has also been a large part of the reason behind these apparent failures.

Patrick Chappatte, Protests in Brazil, New York Times (

Patrick Chappatte, Protests in Brazil, New York Times (

Dante Aldrighi and Renato Colistete in this paper, circulated by NEP-HIS on 2013-08-31, offer a very detailed long-run description of industrial growth and structural change in Brazil: from the coffee export economy in the nineteenth century to the present day. They examine the recent trends in economic growth and structural change, with a sectoral analysis of output, employment and productivity growth.  Their estimates show that the expansion and diversification of Brazil’s manufacturing industry from the nineteenth century until the late 1970s was a remarkable process. Despite distortions and inefficiencies, the experience of accelerated industrialization provided the country with a diversified and relatively complex industrial structure. In the 1980s and 1990s, the debt crisis and the ensuing macroeconomic imbalances undermined the manufacturing industry’s performance, weakening the incentives to invest and to improve technological capabilities.

A point of particular importance in the paper by Aldrighi and Colistete is the study of productivity. The authors show that in the last two decades the productivity growth of Brazil’s manufacturing industry has been much lower that that achieved during the earlier period of accelerated industrialization. Moreover, using a shift-share analysis they suggest that before the 1980s productivity gains within industries were a stronger driving force for aggregate productivity growth than shifts of labor to higher productivity activities. However, since the 1980s the role of structural change has become relatively more important to explain productivity growth in Brazil’s manufacture. For the economy as a whole, structural change also revealed to be more important than sectoral productivity growth in the 1990s and 2000s. They conclude that there is evidence that the relatively successful process of learning and technological advance by manufacturing firms that took place since the early industrialization has lost strength as a major source of economic growth in Brazil during the recent decades. Most of productivity growth has now been coming from agricultural activities. They also show that, during most of the period of accelerated industrialization, industrial workers saw their wages, measured in local currency, lagging consistently behind labor productivity, which led to a declining share of wages in the total income of the manufacturing sector. Later, the unit labor costs adjusted by the exchange rate increased, mainly as a result of currency appreciation and lower productivity growth. However, the authors show that labor compensation growth was modest in real terms and had a minor role in increasing unit labor costs.

FIFA World Cup 2014

FIFA World Cup 2014

The paper concludes that the main sources of concern about the performance of the manufacturing sector in Brazil rests in its very low productivity growth and the tendency to currency appreciation, which together affect unit labor costs and competitiveness. They understand that the competitiveness of manufacture might be significantly higher if the costs of inputs and services other than labor (such as capital, taxes, infrastructure, bureaucracy and innovation) were lower or declining. However, they are not optimistic about the prospect of this happening. Some of the factors that they understand have conspired to reduce efficiency and productivity growth are the complex and burdensome tax system that tends to push firms to the informal, low-productivity sector; high and unstable real interest rates; a relatively low-skilled workforce; and expenditures on R&D below the levels attained in the most dynamic developing countries, which limits the technological spillovers that might benefit the whole economy. They also state that innovation activities have been negatively affected by uncertainty and the inability to make long-horizon investment plans, increased by low and volatile public investments and economic growth rates. All these factors explain why Brazil’s investment rates remain much lower than those prevailing in most developing countries. As a consequence, the authors think that it is unlikely that Brazil’s manufacturing sector’s low productivity growth is being offset by appropriate incentives or reductions in the costs of key components that affect competitiveness in the long run.

In my opinion, the authors’ description and conclusions clearly point out the need to go beyond description and embrace new lines of research that address the specific causes of the low productivity in Brazil. These new venues of research will lead to a better understanding of the Brazilian situation and will provide a better understanding of the policy instruments that could enhance Brazil’s development. This agenda would be very beneficial for other countries in Latin and South America too, which face similar problems. Focusing on the behavior of the productivity and from a microeconomic perspective.

I would like to very briefly mention here two recent lines of research that may shed light on the causes of low productivity. The first line is related to the productivity via labor supply. Productivity seems to be affected by the poor performance of Latin American students at school. In a recent paper, Hanushek and Woessmann (2012) find that in growth regressions, the positive growth effect of educational achievement fully accounts for the poor growth performance of Latin American countries. In addition, they find through a development accounting analysis that, once educational achievement is included, human capital can account for between half and two thirds of the income differences between Latin America and the rest of the world. More efforts than those already in place (see among others Carvalho Filho and Colistete, 2010; Colistete, 2013) are necessary to better understand the links between the development of education in the region and its impact on productivity in Brazil and the region as a whole.

Picture of the city of Sao Paulo, Brazil

Picture of the city of Sao Paulo, Brazil

The second line I would like to mention is related with the productivity of firms in Brazil (and Latin America), especially managerial abilities and their impact on productivity. Managerial abilities were for long time considered in the residual of the productivity or production function equations and no consistent efforts to measure managerial abilities had been carried out. Recently, Nicholas Bloom and John Van Reenen with different coauthors have been working on surveys, based on interviews to firms, to determine management practices scores**. They have conducted interviews to more than 10,000 firms in 20 countries in the period 2004-2010. They have used this data to publish several papers on the issue that are worth looking at. Their general conclusions are that management practices scores in manufacturing vary significantly across countries and are strongly linked to the level of development. In particular, the average management practices score appears in the place 18th in the ranking only above China and India and below countries like Mexico, Chile, Argentina and Greece. The methodology the authors use for these surveys is not easy to replicate for other periods. However, this type of study provides a good insight to causes of low productivity that are often forgotten in Latin American countries and in our historical explanations and that, when measured, show our relative backwardness.

To sum up, Colistete and Aldrighi do a great job describing the evolution of the manufacturing industry in Brazil in the long run. They show how, even with very important problems, Brazil’s period of import substitution generated increases in productivity and structural change. They also document the problems that Brazil has had since the early 1980s in terms of growth and productivity. Fortunately, in all aspects besides football (ie soccer in the US), samba and rock and roll, the Brazil we have now is not the Brazil that Chico Buarque described in 1976. Among other examples, income inequality in a country that has one of the worst income distributions in the world has been improving consistently during the last few years. However, the challenges of productivity remain. Focusing in understanding the causal relationships between microeconomic factors (e.g. education achievement or managerial abilities) and productivity could help to a better understand the historical evolution of economic development and to design better policies oriented to overcome these problems.


*Aqui na terra tão jogando futebol, Tem muito samba, muito choro e rock’n’roll,  Uns dias chove, noutros dias bate o sol, Mas o que eu quero é lhe dizer que a coisa aqui tá preta.

** Check Nicholas Bloom website at Stanford University (


Hanushek, A. and Woessmann, L (2012): Schooling, educational achievement, and the Latin American growth puzzle, Journal of Development Economics 99 (2012) 497–512

Carvalho Filho, I and Colistete, R (2010): Education Performance: Was It All Determined 100 Years Ago? Evidence From Sao Paulo, Brazil, MPRA working paper

Colistete (2013): A Política do Atraso Educacional: Visões e Conflitos sobre a Instrução Pública em São Paulo entre 1851 e 1892, Departamento de Economia, FEA-USP, working paper