Category Archives: Globalization

Where is the growth?

Mismeasuring Long Run Growth: The Bias from Spliced National Accounts

by Leandro Prados de la Escosura (Carlos III)

Abstract: Comparisons of economic performance over space and time largely depend on how statistical evidence from national accounts and historical estimates are spliced. To allow for changes in relative prices, GDP benchmark years in national accounts are periodically replaced with new and more recent ones. Thus, a homogeneous long-run GDP series requires linking different temporal segments of national accounts. The choice of the splicing procedure may result in substantial differences in GDP levels and growth, particularly as an economy undergoes deep structural transformation. An inadequate splicing may result in a serious bias in the measurement of GDP levels and growth rates.

Alternative splicing solutions are discussed in this paper for the particular case of Spain, a fast growing country in the second half of the twentieth century. It is concluded that the usual linking procedure, retropolation, has serious flows as it tends to bias GDP levels upwards and, consequently, to underestimate growth rates, especially for developing countries experiencing structural change. An alternative interpolation procedure is proposed.


Distributed in NEP-HIS on 2015 – 01 – 09

Reviewed by Cristián Ducoing

Dealing with National Accounts (hereafter NA) is a hard; dealing with NA in the long run is even harder…..

Broadly speaking, a quick and ready comparison of economic performance for a period of sixty years or more, would typically source its data from the Maddison project. However and as with any other human endevour, this data is not free from error. Potential and actual errors in measuring economic growth is highly relevant economic history research, particularly if we want to improve its public policy impact. See for instance the (brief) discussion in Xavier Marquez’s blog around how the choice of measure can significantly under or overstate importance of Lee Kuan Yew as ruler of Singapore.

The paper by Leandro Prados de la Escosura, therefore, contributes to a growing debate around establishing which is the “best” GDP measure to ascertain economic performance in the long run (i.e. 60 or more years). For some time now Prados de la Escosura has been searching for new ways to measure economic development in the long run. This body of work is now made out of over 60 articles in peer reviewed journals, book chapters and academic books. In this paper, the latest addition to assessing welfare levels in the long run, Prados de la Escosura discusses the problems in using alternative benchmarks and issues of spliced NA in a country with a notorious structural change, Spain. The main hypothesis developed in this article is to ascertain differences that could appear in the long run NA according to the method used to splice NA benchmarks. So, the BIG question is retropolation or interpolation?

Leandro Prados de la Escosura. Source:

Leandro Prados de la Escosura. Source:

Retropolation: As Prados de la Escosura says, involves a method that is …, widely used by national accountants (and implicitly accepted in international comparisons). [T]he backward projection, or retropolation, approach, accepts the reference level provided by the most recent benchmark estimate…. In other words, the researcher accepts the current benchmark and splits it with the past series (using the variation rates of the past estimations). What is the issue here? Selecting the most recent benchmark results in a higher GDP estimate because, by its nature, this benchmark encompasses a greater number of economic activities. For instance, the ranking of relative income for the UK and France changes significantly when including estimates of prostitution and narcotrafic. This “weird” example shows how with a higher current level and using past variation rates, long-run estimates of GDP will be artificially improved in value. This approach thus can lead us to find historical anomalies such as a richer Spain overtaking France in the XIXth century (See Prados de la Escosura figure 3 below).

An alternative to the backward projection linkage is the interpolation procedure. This method accepts the levels computed directly for each benchmark year as the best possible estimates, on the grounds that they have been obtained with ”complete” information on quantities and prices in the earlier period. This procedure keeps the initial level unaltered, probably being lower than the level estimated by the retropolation approach.

There are two more recent methods to splice NA series derived from the methods described above: the “mixed splicing” proposed by Angel de la Fuente (2014), which uses a parameter to capture the severity of the initial error in the original benchmark. The problem with this solution is the arbitrary value assigned (parameter). Let’s see it graphically and using data for the Maddison project. As it is well known, these figures were recently updated by Jutta Bolt and Jan Luiten van Zanden while the database built thanks to the contributions of several scholars around the world and using a same currency (i.e. the international Geary-Kheamy dollar) to measure NA. Now, in figure 1 shows a plot of GDP per capita of France, UK, USA and Spain using data from the Madison project.

GDP per capita $G-K 1990. France, UK, USA and Spain. 1850 – 2012

The graph suggests that Spain was always poorer than France. But this could change if the chosen method to split NA is the retropolation approach. Probably we need a graph just with France to appreciate the differences. Please see figure 2:

GDP pc Ratio between Spain and France. Bolt&vanZanden (2014) with data from Prados de la Escosura (2003)

GDP pc Ratio between Spain and France. Bolt&vanZanden (2014) with data from Prados de la Escosura (2003)

Figure 2 now suggests an apparent convergence of Spain with France in the period 1957 to 2006. The average growth rate for Spain in this period was almost 3,5% p.a. and in the case of France average growth shrinks to 2,2% p.a. Anecdotal observation as well as documented evidence around Spainish levels of inequality and poverty make this result hard to believe. Prados de la Escosura goes on to help us ascertain this differences in measurement graphically by brining together estimates of retropolation and interpolation approaches in a single graph (see figure 3 below):

Figure 3. Spain’s Comparative Real Per Capita GDP with Alternative Linear Splicing (2011 EKS $) (logs).

Figure 3. Spain’s Comparative Real Per Capita GDP with Alternative Linear Splicing (2011 EKS $) (logs).

In summary, this paper by Prados de la Escosura is a great contribution to the debate on long run economic performance. It poises interesting challenges scholars researching long-term growth and dealing with NA and international comparisons. The benchmarks and split between different sources is always a source of problems to international comparative studies but also to long-term study of the same country. Moving beyond the technical implications discussed by Prados de la Escosura in this paper, economic history research could benefit from a debate to look for alternative measures or proxies for long-run growth, because GDP as the main source of international comparisons is becoming “dated” and ineffective to deal with new research in inequality, genuine savings Genuine Savings, energy consumption, complexity and gaps between development and developed countries to name but a few.


Bolt, J. and J. L. van Zanden (2014). The Maddison Project: collaborative research on historical national accounts. The Economic History Review, 67 (3): 627–651.

Prados de la Escosura, Leandro  (2003) El progreso económico de España (1850-2000). Madrid, Fundación BBVA, , 762 pp.


1) This paper by Prados de la Escosura has already been published in Cliometrica and with the same title

2) Prados de la Escosura’s A new historical database on economic freedom in OECD countries | VOX, CEPR’s Policy Portal.

Neoliberalism: A Cultural Social Construction

Crisis Without End: Neoliberalism in a Globalized Environment

by Richard N. Rambarran (University of Hyderabad)

Abstract: Since the 1970’s, both politically and theoretically, neoliberalism as an ideology has been on a persistent rise to the point where, in the twenty first century, it has garnered hegemonic dominance. Despite several recurring crises in countries since the ascendance of neoliberalism, we yet remain reluctant to point out the political economy philosophy as a root cause of the crises. Instead, many of the academics within Economics prefer to offer bouts of highly technical reasons for the downturn – this is especially true and almost solely applicable to those who practice within the ‘neoclassical’ conjecture of Economics. In a typical Marxian sense, one would have to look no further than the economic system to determine both economic and social outcomes of a country. What dictates that economic system however is the political philosophy of the leaders who guide the economic system – the policy makers. This paper attempts to show the neoliberal political philosophy, as the common thread for major crises within the last two decades. It also proposes a societal trinity for which change is driven through complex interactions among the political, economic and social spheres.


Circulated by nep-his on: 2015-10-25

Revised by: Stefano Tijerina

Richard Rambarran joins an emerging group of scholars that are spearheading an aggressive global criticism of modern capitalism, and particularly the impact that neoliberalism has had on its most recent methods of implementation within the international system. Thomas Picketty’s Capitalism in the Twenty-First Century has lead the way in recent times. Nevertheless Rambarran’s contribution to the discussion is welcomed because it points out that the economic political philosophy behind the social construction of neoliberal ideals is the determinant factor in preserving <status quo, even after numerous economic crises.

Richard Rambarran Research Fellow at The Social Economy Research Group (SERG)

From Rambarran’s point of view, the neoliberal principles have become an “ingrained” ideology fomented by economists, local politicians and bureaucrats, domestic and multilateral institutions, academic institutions, mass media, corporations, and the consumer.[1] He further argues that today’s mainstream professional economist has perpetuated this social construction using its mathematical and econometric technical rhetoric to distance itself not only from the public sphere but also from the critical role once played by the “Classical economists.”[2] The complacency in the professional sphere has permeated the public sphere, where the collective political and social conscience is more concerned in pursuing the possibility of “wealth and great opulence,” occasionally reacting to economic crises like the one in 2008 only to quickly return to the initial passive approach once individual financial issues are partially resolved.[3]

Rambarran centers on the 1997 East Asian crisis and the 2008 Global Financial Meltdown in order to illustrate how the economic political philosophy has come to dictate “the very mechanics of our lives” through its systemic and institutional framework. He argues that contrary to the views of many scholars that the rise of neoliberalism came with the emergence of political leaders Ronald Reagan and Margret Thatcher, the foundations of the political philosophy and its social construction emerged in the post Great Depression era.[4] The solutions to the 1997 and 2008 crises therefore represent a series of theoretical models constructed since the first modern global financial crisis in order to scientifically justify the perpetuation of neoliberalism.

'Well what a coincidence! I'm a financial regulator too!'

‘Well what a coincidence! I’m a financial regulator too!’

The ingrained idea that “human well-being and social welfare” are best advanced by the deregulation of the institutions, programs, and norms that once regulated the capitalist machine, seems to be an unquestionable thought. [5] To get to this social reality, argues Rambarran, classic liberal ideas of John Locke, Adam Smith, David Ricardo and the like had to be dismantled in order to neoliberalism to surge. According to Rambarran, neoliberalism is “not simply a minutely revised version of classic liberalism,” it is a new version of capitalism that reduces the role of the state to its minimal.[6] The business-government alliance that pushed neoliberalism forward after the 1930s slowly twisted the idea that “liberating individual and entrepreneurial freedoms and skills” through institutions, programs, and a normative systems “characterized by strong private property rights, free markets, and free trade” were actually responsible for the debacle of the market system in 1997 and 2008, and that greater privatization of services and deregulation for the business sector was the only solution moving forward.[7] These are the principles of nation state building under globalization, the basic political economic structures of nations that welcome open market and free trade, the minimal parameters for participating in the global market system; ideas that, as indicted by Rambarran, are part of the subconscious decision making dynamic between politicians, the private sector, and consumers.[8]

The current realities of this “macroscopic trinity” indicate that the business class, defined by Rambarran as the “intellectual class,” heavily influences political, economic, and social perceptions of nation building under a globalized system.[9] An intellectual class responsible for the cultural social construction of neoliberal principles that originated in the industrial world during the first half of the twentieth century and that began to spread across the developing world after the Second World War.

Macroscopic TrinityNeoliberal economists obsessed with breaking the chains of state regulatory systems and interested in returning to the deregulated conditions of the pre Great Depression era used theoretical models to debunk Keynesian economics.[10] During the 1970s and 1980s neoliberal principles became the formula for stagflation in the highly developed countries, and the remedy for the increasing external debt crisis across the developing world. The effective release of the forces of the market justified the dismantling of the social welfare state and the institutional and programmatic bodies that awarded citizens levels of accountability within the triangular dynamic of government-business-constituent relationships across the world. Nationalist development models based on Import Substitution Industrialization were dismantled and replaced by the principles of deregulation, privatization, and the strengthening of private property rights.

According to Rambarran, the implementation of the neoliberal experiment across the world produced mixed results, but the ability of the intellectual class to market success stories through its propaganda machine in order to justify the long-term preservation and expansion of neoliberal principles across the world gave birth to the Asian miracle.[11] Foreign direct investment and the “inflow of speculative money” would be the driving force behind the miracle, as capitalists in the industrial world shifted their production and manufacturing operations to newly unregulated regions of the world while at the same time taking advantage of the liberalization of capital accounts, escaping the already fragile regulatory systems in their own nation states, and setting the tone for the initial stages of accelerated “neoliberal globalization.”[12] Once the “speculative bubble…popped” foreign investors quickly pulled their money from the region, decreasing confidence in the East Asian region.[13] The neoliberal experiment had revealed the need for regulatory systems in order to impede the emergence of new unregulated speculative markets across the world under a more interdependent global market system, but the reshuffling of capital back into the industrial economies allowed the neoliberal propaganda system to quickly market the success of Free Trade zones.

Crisis 1997 Rambarran misses the opportunity to explain the historical developments that took place between the Asian crisis of 1997 and the 2008 Global Financial Crisis that pushed neoliberalism further into the collective subconscious. Discussions about the emergence of the Canada-United States Free Trade Agreement, the North American Free Trade Agreement, and the consolidation of the European Union would have allowed the author an opportunity to illustrate how neoliberal intellectuals engineered and marketed to their constituents the illusion of a globalized economy for the sake of the consumer and the domestic worker.

The author’s lack of historical evidence makes his argument less convincing. The 1997 and 2008 crises help illustrate how neoliberal forces are able to perpetuate their principles even after severe global economic, political, and social damage, but he is not able to explain how the intellectual forces within his “macroscopic trinity” were able to create the social cultural construction that turned neoliberalism into an unquestionable economic political philosophy.

For example how neoliberal economists such as Milton Friedman and Lauchlin Currie together with multilateral organizations engineered the expansion of neoliberalism to markets across the world. How marketing and public relations intellectuals such as Philip Kotler and Daniel Edelman perfected the use of mass media in order translate the principles of neoliberalism to consumers, distancing them from their role as constituents and shifting their agency toward the world of consumption. How the roles of politicians and bureaucrats was redefined by Thatcher and Reagan in order to reinvent the democratic relationship between representative and constituent, and how the educational system at all levels was reengineered in order to replicate and export neoliberal ideals across the world.

A more detailed explanation of the concepts behind his “social trinity” would have clarified the dynamics between the intellectual class, and political, economic, and social actors. Why is there a one-way communication dynamic between economic actors and society? Why is the communication between political and economic actors a one-way dynamic? And why is the intellectual class not present within the political, economic, and social realms but separate from them? I would argue that the success of the expansion of neoliberal thought is that they now represent government, economic policy, and the collective social conscience. It is why it is more prevalent then ever before to see private sector representatives running for office, managing government institutions, and redefining the nature of once sacred social institutions such as universities. It is not a phenomenon of the industrial world but a common trend across the global system.


Duménil, G. & Levy, D. “Neoliberal (Counter) Revolution.” In D. Johnston & A. Saad-Filho, Neoliberalism: A Critical Reader. London: Pluto Press, 2004, pp. 9-19.

Harvey, D. A Brief History of Neoliberalism. London, United Kingdom: Oxford University Press, 2007.

Rambarran,R. “Crisis without End: Neoliberalism in a Globalized Environment Modeling the Historic Rise of Neoliberalism and its Systematic Role in Recent Economic Downturns,” Munich Personal RePEc Archive, October 22, 2015.

Palley, T. I. “From Keynesianism to Neoliberalism: Shifting Paradigms in Economics.” In D. Johnston & A. Saad-Filho, Neoliberalism: A Critical Reader. London: Pluto Press, 2004, pp. 20-29.

Picketty, T. Capitalism in the Twenty-First Century. Cambridge MA: Harvard University Press, 2014.

[1] Rambarran, “Crisis without End”, p. 1.

[2] Ibid.

[3] Ibid.

[4] For more information see Harvey 2007, Palley 2004 and Dumeril & Levy 2004.

[5] Rambarran, 2.

[6] Ibid.

[7] Ibid., 3.

[8] Ibid.

[9] Ibid.

[10] Ibid., 4.

[11] Ibid., 10.

[12] Ibid., 11.

[13] Ibid., 13.

By failing to prepare, you are preparing to fail

The European Crisis in the Context of the History of Previous Financial Crisis

by Michael Bordo & Harold James

Abstract – There are some striking similarities between the pre 1914 gold standard and EMU today. Both arrangements are based on fixed exchange rates, monetary and fiscal orthodoxy. Each regime gave easy access by financially underdeveloped peripheral countries to capital from the core countries. But the gold standard was a contingent rule—in the case of an emergency like a major war or a serious financial crisis –a country could temporarily devalue its currency. The EMU has no such safety valve. Capital flows in both regimes fuelled asset price booms via the banking system ending in major crises in the peripheral countries. But not having the escape clause has meant that present day Greece and other peripheral European countries have suffered much greater economic harm than did Argentina in the Baring Crisis of 1890.


Circulated by NEP-HIS on: 2015-01-26

Reviewed by: Stephen Billington (Queen’s University of Belfast)


In this paper Bordo and James seek to analyse the impact of the financial crisis of 2007-8 in the context of previous crisis. Specifically by comparing the experience of periphery countries of the Eurozone with those of the “classic” Gold Standard.


In their paper Bordo and James give a synopsis of the similarities which emerged between both monetary regimes. By adhering to a gold parity there was an expansion in the banking system, through large capital inflows, which was underpinned by a strong effective state to allow for greater borrowing. A nation was effective if it held an international diplomatic commitment, which in turn required them to sign into international systems, all the while this played into the hands of radical political parties who played on civilian nationalism[1]; these events combined lead to great inflows of capital into peripheral countries which inevitably led to fiscal instability and a resulting crisis. Similar dilemmas occurred within the EMU, but much more intensely.


This brings me to the main point that the authors emphasize, that of the contingency rule of the classic gold standard. The latter allowed member countries a “safety valve for fiscal policy”. Essentially this was an escape clause that permitted a country to temporarily devalue its currency in an emergency, such as the outbreak of war or a financial crisis, but would return to normalcy soon after, that is, they would return to previous levels. Bordo and James’ argument is that this lack of a contingency within the EMU allowed for a more severe financial crisis to afflict the periphery countries (Greece, Ireland and Portugal) than had affected gold standard peripheries (Argentina, Italy and Australia) as modern day EMU countries did (and do) not have to option to devalue their currency.


Bordo and James point out that crisis during the gold standard were very sharp, but did not last as long as the 2007-8 crisis. This because the exclusion clause during the gold standard enabled a “breathing space” and as a result most countries were back to growth within a few short years. The EMU story is quite different, say Bordo and James. Mundell (1961) argued that a successful monetary union requires the existence of a well-functioning mechanism for adjustment, what we see in the EMU are a case of worse dilemmas due primarily to this absence of an escape clause.

“Gold outflows, and, with money and credit growth tied to gold, lower money and credit growth. The lower money and credit growth would cause prices and wages to fall (or would lead to reductions in the growth rates of prices and wages), helping to restore competitiveness, thus eliminating the external deficits”

The above quote provided by Gibson, Palivos and Tavlas (2014) highlights how the gold standard allowed a country to adjust to a deficit. This point reinforces how Bordo & James argue that due to the constricting nature of the EMU there is no “safety valve” to allowed EU countries to release the steam from increasing debt levels. With respect to the Argentine Baring Crisis of 1890, while the crisis was very sharp in terms of real GDP, pre-crisis levels of GDP were again reached by 1893 – clearly a contrast with the Euro as some countries are still in recession with very little progress having been made as suggested by the following headline: “Greece’s current GDP is stuck in ancient Greece” – Business Insider (2013).

The following graph highlights the issue that in Europe most countries are still lagging behind the pre-crisis levels of GDP.


Bordo and James clearly support this argument. Delles and Tavlas (2013) also argue that the adjustment mechanism of core and periphery countries limited the size and persistence of external deficits. They put forward that the durability of the gold standard relied on this mechanism. This is reinforced by Bloomfield (1959) who states it “facilitated adjustments to balance of payments disequilibrium”.

Vinals (1996) further supports the authors’ sentiments by arguing that the Treaty of Maastricht restricts an individual member’s room to manoeuvre as the Treaty requires sound fiscal policies, with debt limited to 60% of GDP and annual deficits no greater than 3% of GDP – meaning a member cannot smooth over these imbalances through spending or taxation.

Gibson, Palivos and Tavlas (2014) state “a major cost of monetary unions is the reduced flexibility to adjust to asymmetric shocks”. They argue that internal devaluations must occur to adjust to fiscal imbalances, but go on to argue that these are much harder to implement than in theory, again supported by Vinals (1996).


Bordo and James focus primarily on three EU periphery countries which are doing badly, namely Greece, Ireland and Portugal. However they neglect the remaining countries within the EU which can also be classed as a periphery. According the Wallerstein (1974) the periphery can be seen as the less developed countries, these could include further countries such as those from eastern Europe[2]. By looking at a more expansive view of peripheral countries we can see that these other peripherals had quick recoveries with sharp decreases in GDP growth, as in the case of the Gold standard countries, but swiftly recovered to high levels of growth again while the main peripheral countries the authors analyse do lag behind.

Untitled2See note 3

Bordo and James do provide a strong insight into the relationship between an adjustment mechanism to combating fiscal imbalances as a means of explaining the poor recovery of certain peripheral countries (i.e. Greece, Ireland, Portugal) and highlight the implications of this in the future of the EMU. If the EMU cannot find a contingency rule as the gold standard then recessions may leave them as vulnerable in the future as they are now.


1) This process can be thought of as a trilemma, Obstfeld, Taylor and Shambaugh (2004) give a better explanation. In the EU the problem was intensified as governments could back higher levels of debt, and there was no provision for European banking supervision, the commitment to EU integration let markets believe that there were no limits to debt levels. This led to inflows in periphery countries where banks could become too big to be rescued.

2) Latvia, Lithuania, Slovakia, Slovenia, and even Cyprus can be included based on low GDP per capita which is equivalent to Greece.

3) Data taken from Eurostat comparing real GDP growth levels of lesser developed countries within the Eurozone who all use the euro and would be locked into the same system of no adjustment.


Bloomfield, A. (1959) Monetary Policy under the International Gold Standard. New York: Federal Reserve Bank of New York.

Business Insider (2013). Every Country in Europe Should be Glad it’s Not Greece. [Accessed 19/03/2015].

Eurostat, Real GDP Growth Rates [Accessed 21/03/2015].

Dellas, Harris; Tavlas, George S. (2013). The Gold Standard, The Euro, and The Origins of the Greek Sovereign Debt Crisis. Cato Journal 33(3): 491-520.

Gibson, Heather D; Palivos, Theodore; Tavlas, George S. (2014). The Crisis in the Euro Area: An Analytic Overview.Journal of Macroeconomics 39: 233-239.

Mundell, Robert A. (1961). A Theory of Optimum Currency Areas. The American Economic Review 51(4): 657-665.

Obstfeld, Maurice. Taylor, Alan. Shambaugh, Jay C. (2004). The Trilemma in History: Trade-Offs among Exchange Rates, Monetary Policies and Capital Mobility. National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER working paper 10396).

Vinals, Jose. (1996). European Monetary Integration: A Narrow or Wide EMU?. European Economic Review 40(3-5): 1103-1109.

Wallerstein, Immanuel (1974). The Modern World-System I: Capitalist Agriculture and the Origins of the European World-Economy in the Sixteenth Century. New York: Academic Press.


The Neoliberal Model is not Sustainable but State Driven Models have not Proven to be Any Better: How About We Just Redistribute the Wealth?

State Versus Market in Developing Countries in the Twenty First Century

by Kalim Siddiqui (University of Huddersfield)(

This paper analyses the issue of the state versus the market in developing countries. There was wide ranging debate in the 1950s and 1960s about the role of the state in their economy when these countries attained independence, with developing their economies and eradicating poverty and backwardness being seen as their key priority. In the post-World War II period, the all-pervasive ‘laissez-faire’ model of development was rejected, because during the pre-war period such policies had failed to resolve the economic crisis. Therefore, Keynesian interventionist economic policies were adopted in most of these countries.

The economic crisis in developing countries during the 1980s and 1990s provided an opportunity for international financial institutions to impose ‘Structural Adjustment Programmes’ in the name of aid, which has proved to be disastrous. More than two decades of pursuing neoliberal policies has reduced the progressive aspects of the state sector. The on-going crisis in terms of high unemployment, poverty and inequality provides an opportunity to critically reflect on past performance and on the desirability of reviving the role of the state sector in a way that will contribute to human development.


Revised by: Stefano Tijerina (University of Maine)

This paper was distributed by NEP-HIS on 2015-04-19. In it Kalim Siddiqui indicates that the global economic crisis that began in 2007 “provides an opportunity” to reconsider Keynesian interventionist models, thus “reviving the role of the state sector” for purposes of protecting the interests of the majority. Siddiqui centers his argument on the modern economic development experiences of the developing world, juxtaposing it with the experiences of advanced industrialized nations. He particularly emphasizes the economic development experiences of the United States and the United Kingdom, in efforts to advance the argument that Keynesian interventionist policies and protectionist agendas are instrumental in securing a transition into advance industrialization. He argues that the developing world needs to experience a similar transition to that of the UK and the US in order to achieve similar levels industrial competitiveness. However the neoliberal discourse promoted by the industrial powers and the multilateral system after World War Two, and the implementation of neoclassical liberal policies after the 1980s, impeded the developing world from moving in the right direction.


Siddiqui begins the construction of his argument by providing a brief history of the modern economic development patterns of both the UK and the US. This lays the foundation for his main argument that developing nations should return to the Keynesian patters of economic development in order to achieve advanced levels of industrialization that will eventually allow them to correct present market failures, reducing unemployment, poverty, and environmental degradation.

He points out that in the 1970s and 1980s the UK and US moved away from interventionist policies and adopted a neo-classical model of economic development in response to “corruption, favoritism, and other forms of self-seeking behavior,” that lead to the economic crisis of the times. This model would then be promoted across the international system by the economists of the World Bank and the IMF who found in the same neo-classical model an explanation for the failed Import Substitution Industrialization (ISI) policies implemented across the developing world to cope with the crisis of the 1970s and 1980s.

Kalim Siddiqui

Kalim Siddiqui

What Siddiqui does not address is that the failure of the implementation of the ISI policies across the developing world were the direct result of the same corruption and self-centered tendencies of leadership that forced a move away from interventionist policies in countries like the UK and the US. I agree with Siddiqui that the structural changes introduced by the multilateral financial agencies did more damage than good, however I disagree with his idea that the developing world should return once again to Keynesian solutions, since the implementation of these structural adjustment programs were in fact forms of interventionism that catapulted most of these economies into debt.

Siddiqui then lays down a series of reasons why the role of the state should be reconsidered across the developing world, highlighting that greater interventionism would be more beneficial than an increasing role of the market system. He uses the recent success stories of state driven capitalist experiments such as China’s, Brazil’s, India’s, and Malaysia’s, disregarding the fact that these state driven models continue to be tainted with problems of corruption and self-rewarding management styles that are inefficient and wasteful. For example, he points out the success of Petrobras in Brazil, not following up on the fact that the state-run oil company is now under investigation for high levels of corruption that has sent its stock price in a critical downward spiral.


At the end Siddiqui’s argument is debunked by more contemporary realities; including decreasing global unemployment patters, economic recovery, and the downfall of state run economies such as those that moved to the Left in Latin America during recent times. Moreover, the bailout policies implemented by the United States and the European Union during the peak of the latest financial crisis contradicts Siddiqui’s argument that neoliberal economies “do not countenance any economic intervention by the state.” I argue that interventionism is an integral part of the advancement of neoliberal agendas; the question that Siddiqqui should be asking is what degree of interventionism is ideal for the developing world under a global neoliberal reality that is inevitable to avoid?

Siddiqui’s work represents yet another criticism to neoliberal capitalism, centering on the agendas set by the administrations of Margaret Thatcher and Ronald Reagan in the 1980s. It does not provide a convincing method or strategy for reviving state driven capitalism under an increasingly intertwined global economic system. It is rich in criticism but short of offering any real solutions through state interventionism. Current case studies that have returned to interventionist models, as in the case of Brazil or India, have failed once again to resolve issues of poverty and income inequality. I agree with the author’s conclusion that the implementation of neoliberal models across the developing world has distorted inequality and social justice even further but disagree with the simplistic solution of increasing state interventionism in the management of market driven economies for the sake of it. More so when the historic evidence indicates that the leadership across the developing world has consistently pursued self-interests and not the interests of the masses. From my point of view, the revival of interventionist models across the developing world will just complete the vicious cycle of history one more time, particularly now that the interests of private global actors has permeated the internal political economy decision making processes of the developing world. If in the early stages of the modern economic development of the developing world foreign political and business interests directly and indirectly penetrated local decision making, thanks in part to the intervention of the World Bank and the IMF as it was pointed out by Siddiqui, then it is inevitable to impede such filtrations under a global system, unless the nation state is willing to pay the high costs of isolationism.


Siddiqui indicates that self-marginalization from the market system worked for the UK and the US, allowing them to strengthen their internal market and generate the technological and human capital capabilities necessary for advanced industrialization, but that was more than one hundred years ago when the globalization of the market had not reached the levels of sophistication of today. If these industrial powers were to try this same experiment today, the outcome would have been very different. In the past decade developing nations such as Venezuela, Argentina, Bolivia, and Ecuador have experimented with Siddiqui’s model and the results have been no different than the old experiments of Import Substitution Industrialization and other interventionist approaches of the post-Second World War Two era. Corruption, political self-interest, lack of internal will to risk investment capital, lack of infrastructure, lack of an internal sophisticated consumer market, the absence of technology and energy resources, and the inability to generate short-term wealth for redistribute purposes in order to guarantee the long-term projection of the interventionist model has resulted in failed revivals of the Keynesian model. It is the reason why Cuba is now willing to redefine its geopolitical strategy and reestablish relations with the United States; clearly the interventionist model is and was not able to sustain a national economy under a market driven international system.


The solution lies inside the market system. It is futile to denigrate neoliberalism unless the developing world leadership is willing to construct a parallel market system, as once envisioned by Hugo Chavez, but we are far from that reality. Instead each nation state should reevaluate its wealth distributive and resource allocation policies, moving away from defense spending and refocusing on infrastructure, technology, human capital, health, and the construction of a solid and self-sustainable middle class. Van Parijs’s pivotal work, Real Freedom for All speaks to this idea, indicating that the solution to securing policies that center on what Siddiqui calls the majority, lies in capitalism and not in socialism. If, through a more equal distribution of capital across all sectors of society, capitalism is able to outperform any socialist or interventionist model, then there is no need to attack capitalism and its neoliberal ideas. A replication of this model across the developing world would boost economies into a more sophisticated level of economic development. More competition among states’ private sectors would lead to a more efficient international system, a dynamic that would be enhanced even further by less and not more government intervention. However, the current realities pointed out by Siddiqui indicate that political and corporate elites are not willing to redefine their views on capitalism and therefore we need greater government intervention for redistribute purposes. The redistribution of the pie is the only way to avoid Marx’s inevitable revolution, I agree with Siddiqui. But I do not trust the role of the state as a redistributive agent. I am more in favor of what Michael Howard calls “basic income capitalism” that secures sustainable expendable income in the hands of all consumers through the market system. The dilemma of interventionism continues to be at the forefront, yet it could easily be resolved by the market itself, as long as the actors, workers and owners of capital, are willing to redefine the outreach and potential of capitalism; as long as the social construction of freedom of capital is redefined?


Michael W. Howard, “Exploitation, Labor, and Basic Income.” University of Maine (work in progress).

Kalim Siddiqui, “State Versus Market in Developing Countries in the Twenty First Century,” Institute of Economic Research (working paper), submitted at VIII International Conference on Applied Economics, Poland, June 2015, p.1.

Van Parijs, P. Real Freedom for All: What (If Anything) Could Justify Capitalism. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2005.

Northern Lights: Computers and Banks in Nordic Countries

ICT the Nordic Way and European Savings Banks

by J. Carles Maixé-Altés ( Universidad da Coruña

Abstract: This paper discusses the world industry of savings banks, a genuine world collaborative consortium, through which, from the 1950s, the International Savings Banks Institute (nowadays, the World Savings Banks Institute and European Savings Banks Group) was highly active in introducing ICT to retail banking. In this environment, Nordic savings banks, Sweden, Norway, Finland and Denmark, their Central Savings Banks and their industry associations occupied a separate place in European movements around developments of computerization and automation in retail financial services. The synergies in Nordic countries were superior to the rest of Europe and collaboration was intense. This paper highlights the leadership and the influence that the ICT development models of Nordic savings banks had on their European retail banking associates.


Review by Bernardo Bátiz-Lazo


In today’s world Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley with a hotbed of technology start-ups. Swedish success stories include familiar names such as file sharing site The Pirate Bay (established 2003), video chat and calls Skype (established 2003) and music streaming Spotify (established 2008). These developments have not gone unnoticed by the media (see article by Forbes) nor by historians. There is a growing and vibrant body of systematic studies on the economic, business and technological history of Nordic computing as reflected by the fourth edition of History of IT in the Nordics (HiNC4) confrence on August, 2014. All of these HiNC conferences have been followed by an edited book of accepted papers, published by Springer’s increasingly succcessful History of Computing series (a series under the stewardship of Martin Campbell-Kelly (Warwick)).



The paper by Joan Carles Maixé-Altés contributes to above mentioned literature and was distributed by Nep-His on 2014-11-1. In it he succesfully intertwined topics of great importance which, with the exception of Scott & Zachariadis (2012 and 2013), have been dealt in isolation, namely: not for profit financial institutions, technological innovation in the late 20th century and international competitive collaboration.

Maixé-Altés gained access to previously unexplored archival material from the International Savings Banks Institute (nowadays the World Savings Banks Institute and European Savings Banks Group). The focus of this first instalment of Maixé-Altés’ research deals with the efforts by Nordic savings banks (i.e. Denmark, Finland, Norway and Sweden) to gain scale in information and comunication technology (ICT) through co-operation. Savings banks were born in 1810 in Rothwell, Scotland as part of the 19th century “thrift movement”. This organizational form was replicated across Europe and British colonial dominions. Today savings banks have dissapeared from Australia, New Zealand, the USA and most European countries. This regardless of whether they had narrow (e.g. UK) or broad operations (e.g. Sweden, Spain). However, they remain important players in retail banking in Germany, Norway and Portugal.

Denmark, Norway and Sweden are considered to be the Scandinavian countries and the Nordic Countries are these three plus the Åland Islands, the Faroe Islands, Finland, Iceland and Greenland.

Denmark, Norway and Sweden are considered to be the Scandinavian countries and the Nordic Countries are these three plus the Åland Islands, the Faroe Islands, Finland, Iceland and Greenland.

Analytically, this paper proposes a double point of view. Firstly, Nordic countries are considered early adopters of computer technologies and, simultaneously, ingintegral to the processes of dissemination and appropriation of foreign business models. Secondly and whilst detailing the efforts by Nordic savings banks on computarisation, Maixé-Altés reminds us of the heteregoneity of organizatonal forms in retail finance during the 20th century. Also how the democratic principles behind these particular form of corporate governance led to an “open door” policy for the sharing of best organizational practice as well as to collaborate across borders with “sister institutions” to faclitate their economic and social objetives. But as was pretty much the case across retail banking in the 1960s and 1970s, savings banks in Nordic countries adopted computer technology with the twin hope of increasing efficiency of operation and counter attack the growth of commercial banks within the market for retail deposits.

With those analytical aims in mind the paper structures in four main sections while preceeded by an introduction and finalised by a concluding section. Maixé-Altés starts his story with the first steps of co-operation within national borders. These led, for instance, to the establishment of “central savings banks” or institutions that help gain critical mass in whole sale financial markets. This to substantiate his claim that collaboration is well embeded within savings banks. He then moves to explore co-operation within electronic data processing in general while providing details of an “emblematic case” of this collaboration: Nordisk Spardata.

J. Carles Maixé-Altés

J. Carles Maixé-Altés

Critique / Comentary

I very much liked the paper. However, I will advance a couple of ideas which future work on these archives could bear in mind.

First, Maixé-Altés’ emphasis on changes in hardware as an index for co-operation in data processing suffers from a common shortcoming in this literature (an issue shared by many econometric studies of technological change in financial institutions), namely its focus on back-office transaction processing and an over reliance in hardware and central processing units while “missing .. the choices being made between operating systems, programming languages, network technologies, databases, or the source of application software.” (Gandy 2013: 1228). More could then be said about these choices and the formation of standards and computer networks.

Secondly, I fundamentally disagree with Maixe-Altes’ claims around the use of “real time” computing. As I have argued in Bátiz-Lazo et al. (2014) as well by Martin (2012) (and evidence in Scott & Zachariadis (2012 and 2013)), in the late 1960s and throughout the 1970s distant devices and computers could be connected but the nature of the banking business meant that form of “on line” communitation still required human intervention and therefore it was not “real time”. Moreover, Haigh’s (2006) seminal contribution documents how database and database management systems were still in its infancy in the 1970s. This effectively meant there was no random access to electronic data. Updates had to be run in “batches”. Full digitalization of customer accounts was “work in progress” and very much an effort that starts in the late 1950s in Sweden (as documented by Bátiz-Lazo et al., 2014) but doesnt materialise until at least the late 1980s.

There is some indirect evidence of this in, for instance, the fact that in the 1980s, human tellers at retail branches supplied indiviuals with balance of available funds “as of last night”, that is, once a central processing unit had been able to gather and sort through all the transactions earlier in the working day (Indeed, I have personal recollections of programming with COBOL in the mid 1980s and having to script sorting programmes). Another telling example is that automated teller machines (ATM) relied on combination of information stored on the activation token’s magnetic stripe and a list of overdrawn or otherwise delinquent and cancelled accounts stored on a cassette tape inside the machine itself (see image below). In short, Maixe-Altes’ claims around the use of “real time” computing’could be tone down a notch.

Back of RT650 by Burroughs Corp. (undated)

Back of RT650 by Burroughs Corp. (circa 1980). Source: Charles Babbage Institute (Ascension 90, Series 75, Box 44, Folder 2).)

In summary, Maixe-Altes’ is an interesting part of the history of computing, banking and financial history. It points out there is much more to be said about understanding the technologies of the late 20th century as well as the economic history of competition, cross-border collaboration and not-for-profit financial institutions. On top of this Maixe-Altes ventures into histories of networking and real-time computing, and, more importantly, puts the historical discussions in the context of banking strategy. As such, an intersting new addition to this growing literature.


Bátiz-Lazo, B., Karlson, T. and Thodenius, B. (2014) “The Origins of the Cashless Society: Cash Dispensers, Direct to Account Payments and the Development of On-line, Real-time Networks, c. 1965-1985”, Essays in Economic and Business History 32(May): 100-137.

Gandy, A. (2013) “Book Review: Technological Innovation in Retail Finance (2012, Routledge)”, Economic History Review 66(4): 1227-12278.

Haigh, T. (2006) “’A Veritable Bucket of Facts’:Origins of the Data Base Management System”, ACM SIGMOD Record 35(2): 33-49.

Martin, I. (2012) “Too Far Ahead of Its Time: Barclays, Burroughs and Real-Time Banking”, IEEE Annals of the History of Computing 34(1): 2-16.

Scott, S., Zachariadis, M. (2012) “Origins and Development of SWIFT, 1973–2009” Business History 54(3): 462-483.

Scott, S., Zachariadis, M. (2013) The Society for Worldwide Interbank Financial Telecommunication (SWIFT): Cooperative Governance for Network Innovation, Standards, and Community. London: Routledge (Global Institutions Series).

Putting Round Pegs in Square Holes

Economía Neoinstitucional: Prueba Falsable a las Hipótesis de Douglass North en Colombia
(Neoinstitutional Economics: The Falsification of Douglas North Hypothesis in Colombia)

by Fernando Estrada (Universidad Externado de Colombia)

Abstract: This article aims to propose a reading of political (dis) order in Colombia, using as a theoretical source Douglass North’s reflections on the economic formation of political institutions. The contributions of this letter are very preliminary in nature and can better be understood taking into account two objectives of the research project: (1) explain why, in Colombia there are very limited conditions for coordinating collective action, (2) what direct and indirect effects has the armed conflict and civil war had on the political (dis) order.


Revised by Stefano Tijerina

This paper was distributed by NEP-HIS on 2014-11-17. In it Fernando Estrada argues that a historically weak state, the prolonged civil war, political corruption, institutional failure, the lack of political accountability, a culture of dishonesty, and the numerous armed conflicts currently succumbing Colombia have led to citizen’s loss of credibility on its institutions, thus today’s “political (dis) order.” He uses the case of Colombia to test the falsifiability of the theory on political order developed by Douglass North, William Summerhill, and Barry R. Weingast in Order, Disorder, and Economic Change, concluding that there is an urgent need for political and institutional structural change, accountability, and an effective and firm implementation of the rule of law, in order to achieve the political and economic stability necessary for the effective implementation of a market economy. If these positive initiatives are achieved, says Estrada, then it will be possible for Colombians to construct a long-term political order that will “foment credible commitments” between citizens and their political institutions.

Throughout the paper Estrada focuses on current issues that illustrate why Colombia is suffering from a systemic political (dis) order. Through the use of commentaries from Colombian public and academic figures, he points out that private-public relations within the market system have failed due to political corruption and institutional failure, and that there is an urgent need for social, political, and institutional reform that sets the course for what North, Summerhill, and Weingast refer to as consensus based political order that provides the necessary conditions for the advancement of a market economy.

Fernando Estrada

Fernando Estrada

Implicitly, Estrada reveals that the theory of political order withstood the falsifiability test since his conclusions on citizenship rights, the absence of economic, political and judicial guarantees, the predominance of political corruption and dishonesty, and the lack of “productive and entrepreneurial” incentives, have resulted in a complete loss of credibility on the political system. Colombia, according to the theory on political order, is not democratic or able to effectively function within a market economy, it is a country with an “authoritarian” political order where “political officials cannot sustain a set of universal rights, and instead abuse the rights of a major portion, if not all of the citizenry.”

Estrada however does not question the reasons why the nation’s economic, social, and political development has followed the “authoritarian” path for the construction of political order. His disregard for historical evidence impedes him from better understanding and explaining the realities of the development of Colombia’s political order. An analysis on Path Dependency would have allowed Estrada to center on the historic constrains imposed on the definition of citizenship, why economic, political and judicial status quo has prevailed over time, why political corruption and dishonesty has been perpetuated over time, and why economic and political regional elites have opposed the expansion of the market economy. The historical analysis would have provided a local explanation to a local reality and would have allowed Estrada to move away from the generalizations of imported models and theories that only partially explain the outer layers of the nation’s realities.

Douglass North

Douglass North

A historical analysis would have provided clarity that seems to be missing in Estrada’s argument. This would have provided empirical evidence that showed that Colombian citizens distrust their institutions because they were never part of the process of creating them in the first place. It was the case of democracy, policy, and the majority of the key institutions that have shaped the national distributive, financial, and security policies, including the Departamento Nacional de Planeación (DNP), Banco de la República, and the Departamento Administrativo de Seguridad (now known as Agencia Nacional de Inteligencia Colombiana – ANIC); all the result of foreign mandates to fit the needs of both domestic “power individuals” and the international system.

Walter Kemmerer and President Pedro Nel Ospina during the Kemmerer Mission 1923

Walter Kemmerer and President Pedro Nel Ospina during the Kemmerer Mission 1923

It is important to look at theoretical models but it is more important to contextualize the theory and situate it within its local reality. There is a need to develop local theoretical models and explanations based on a self-evaluation of the nation’s particular historical trajectory and experiences. The solution lies in analyzing the uniqueness of Colombia’s institutional and programmatic development and the historical implementation of the idiosyncratic definition of democracy and capitalism.

Political (dis) order has been one of the pillars of nation building since independence. It has been the political and economic elite’s way of securing their own personal sources of livelihood, and it has been the formula used by foreign capitalist interests to secure resources and influence in Colombia. Their preservation over the control of the political order has relied on the state, its institutions, and policies that throughout the twentieth century achieved a high level of sophistication and arte now capable of disenfranchising sectors of society and limiting the rights of citizenship and personal security vis-à-vis one of the most progressive and pluralist constitutions in the international system.

Contrary to North, Summerhill, and Weingast fundamental requirements for the creation of political order within a market economy, Colombia’s historical trajectory shows that political order may also be achieved by constricting and limiting citizen’s access to institutions that guarantee their personal security, economic security, and that of their families, yet capable of guaranteeing institutional security to local elites and foreign interests. For example the land use policies of the 1920s that guaranteed access of the Colombian subsoil to Tropical Oil or the current mining policies and the supportive institutions and programs that provide access to foreign transnational corporations while at the same time limiting the rights of local artisan miners; past and present realities that allow the effective operation of the market system while at the same time limiting the actions of citizens within the political order.

Colombia’s founding fathers, the leaders that carried the nation into modernity, and those of the present time have never had as their central objective the construction of an open society or political order based on consensus. Citizen’s credibility on the political system and its institutions never impeded economic and political elites from insisting on the implementation of their own and unique political order, even after the emergence of guerrilla movements in the 1950s, the escalating pressure of labor unions throughout the Cold War, the indigenous movements, the emergence of narcotics trafficking as a parallel economy, the emergence of highly sophisticated criminal organizations, and the current array of armed conflicts that are asphyxiating Colombia’s society. Surprisingly, what seems to have mounted pressure on Colombia’s elites to consider moving toward a political order based on consensus has been the international system and their demand for a change in the political order that will allow Colombia to effectively integrate itself into the market system.

Foreign investors, transnational corporations, global resource extraction companies, and the powers of the global market system require new nurturing grounds for the expansion of capitalism, narrowing in on nations such as Colombia. It is these forces that are pushing for changes in the structural nature of the nation’s political order. Aware or unaware, Estrada advocates for changes that could transform Colombia’s political and institutional system into North, Summerhill, and Weingast’s consensual based political order.

Following a neoliberal line of thought, Estrada concludes that Colombia needs to move toward the consensus model in order to effectively navigate the international system and fully immerse in the complexities of a market economy, and that it must bring to an end the civil war and the numerous other armed conflicts that impede the nation from moving forward. What is ultimately recommended is that Colombia finds its own unique ways of establishing and securing political order, even it if means constructing a reality that projects institutional and programmatic order, and that generates civil credibility under a system that favors the interests of the international system.

The problem of constructing realities that project institutional and programmatic order.

The problem of constructing realities that project institutional and programmatic order.

Estrada uses the falsifiability test on North, Summerhill, and Weingast’s theory on political order to justify the promotion of neoliberal institutional change in Colombia. He suggests changes that apply to the particular idiosyncrasies of Colombia, including greater accountability, eliminating clientelism from political relations, the establishment of a system that fosters political and economic competition, consensus among elite groups, society’s unquestionable trust on the consensus based political order, a decreasing role of the state in economic and social matters, cultural change toward a model of meritocracy and self-discipline, and judicial, programmatic, and institutional adjustments aimed at improving investor’s confidence. These changes however do not guarantee the “creation of credible commitments” that, according to North, Summerhill, and Weingast, are necessary for the transition from an authoritarian political order to a consensus based political order.

The theorists suggest that in order to achieve this transition, citizens’ own belief systems must “translate into the institutions that shape performance.” Legitimacy and credibility may only be achieved if constructed by the majority; in other words, if Colombian’s collectively decide to move forward with a market economy. However this is impossible to achieve under current distributive realities. Politicians, representatives, and the bureaucracy must “honor” the rights and norms that regulate the consensus based political order, leading to the “self-enforcement” of the model. This, in the Colombian context, is impossible based on current realities and it would require a revision of the status quo, something that has historically lead to armed conflict. According to the theory, credibility on political and economic policies and institutions may only be achieved if the system guarantees citizens the rights and freedoms to prosper economically; security of income and investment become the crucial drivers of national economic growth. This again would require political and economic elites to accept a change in the status quo as well as the international system’s acceptance of a non-commodity supply role for Colombia, changes that seem utopic at this time.

The implementation of consensus based political order in Colombia seems unrealistic today. The foreign model does not fit with the nation’s current reality. Estrada’s approach forces us to question how effective is the implementation of foreign models and theories to explain local phenomena, knowing well that theorists like North are developing ideas and solution to complex problems that depart from their own cultural and social biases? Why rely on foreign solutions and explanations to resolve and transform local realities when it is clear that they are not a perfect fit? As in the case of Colombian political institutions, the dependency on foreign models at the end result in a frustrating experience of “putting round pegs in square holes.” The falsifiability test fails when one does not compare apples with apples; when one tries to force external realities into local contexts. The consensus-based model of political order fits well with the realities of the United States but not in Colombia. This is a country in the early stages of nation building, in the one hand closing the long chapter of a civil war while on the other juggling the complex realities of the market system.

The problems of importing foreign models to solve local problems of economic development.

The impact of importing foreign models to solve local economic development problems.

Further Readings

North, Douglass C.; William Summerhill, and Barry R. Weingast. (2000) ‘Order, Disorder, and Economic Change: Latin America Versus North America’. In Bruce Bueno de Mesquita and Hilton L. Root (eds) Governing for Prosperity. New Haven: Yale University Press, pp. 17-59.

North, Douglass C.; John Joseph Wallis, and Barry R. Weingast. (2012) Violence and Social Order: A Conceptual Framework for Interpreting Recorded Human History. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Page, Scott E. (2006) ‘Path Dependence’ Quarterly Journal of Political Science, 1: 87-115.

#Productivity, #Employment and #Structural Change in #Developing Countries

Patterns of Structural Change in Developing Countries

by Marcel Timmer (University of Groningen), Gaaitzen de Vries (University of Groningen), Klaas de Vries (The Conference Board, Brussels)

Abstract This paper introduces the updated and extended Groningen Growth and Development Centre (GGDC) 10-Sector database. The database includes annual time series of value added and persons employed for ten broad sectors of the economy from 1950 onwards. It now includes eleven countries in Asia (China has been added compared to the previous release), nine in Latin America and eleven in Sub-Saharan Africa. We use the GGDC 10- Sector database to document patterns of structural change in developing countries. We find that the expansion of manufacturing activities during the early post World War II period was related to a growth-enhancing reallocation of resources in most countries in Asia, Africa and Latin America. This process of structural change stalled in many African and Latin American countries during the mid-1970s and 1980s. When growth rebounded in the 1990s, workers mainly relocated to market services industries, such as retail trade and distribution. Though such services have higher productivity than much of agriculture, they are not technologically dynamic and have been falling behind the world frontier.


Review by Sebastian Fleitas

As economies evolve and develop tremendous changes in the composition of goods and services take place. For instance, by start of World War II, one in three workers in the United States were employed in manufacturing and agriculture. A steady shift towards the service sectors since then, means that today manufacturing and agriculture only employ approximately one in eight workers. These structural changes imply the reallocation of resources and particularly labor across sectors with different productivity levels. The rate and intensity of these process has important impact on economic growth. Structural changes, therefore, have important implications for economies mainly because of three factors:

a) technological changes occur at different paces for different goods,

b) there are different patterns of demand for different goods, and

c) relative prices in the world economy do not fully reflect relative marginal productivities and marginal utilities among goods.

Industrialised nations have, generally speaking, closely followed the United States in increasing the weight of the service sector since the 1980s (if not before). It is also widely known that during the same period, recently industrialised nations such as Brazil, Mexico China, Korea or other Asian Tigers expanded employment in their domestic manufacturing sector at the same time as their GDP was increasing. But what happened with the rest of the world? The short answer is that it is remarkable how little we know about the process in the rest of the world.

Structural Change in the US Economy (taken from The Atlantic

Structural Change in the US Economy (taken from The Atlantic

In the paper distributed by NEP-HIS 2014-09-25, Timmer, Vries and Vries describe similarities and differences in the patterns of structural change across developing countries in Asia, Africa, and Latin America since the 1950s. In order to do that, Timmer and colleagues created, updated and (more than once) expanded the Groningen Growth and Development Centre (GGDC) Sector database. This database includes data from 1950 onwards on value added and persons employed for ten broad sectors of the economy for a group of countries. In its current version, the database includes eleven Asian countries (with the good news that China is now included!), nine Latin American countries, and eleven from Sub-Saharan Africa.

There are some important stylized facts that can be learned from the paper. First, since the 1950s workers relocated from agriculture into the manufacturing and to a lesser extent the (formal and informal) services sectors. Second, employment in manufacturing grew in the 1960s and early 1970s in the three continents. These changes responded to policies through which individual countries pursued to promote industry development. Along the same lines, an result from the study by Timmer and colleagues is that there has been a clear decline of the manufacturing employment share in Africa and Latin America since the mid 1970s while production and employment increasingly originate from services activities. In 2010, only 7 percent of the African and 12 percent of the Latin American workforce was employed in manufacturing. These figures contrast with what happened in Asia, where the share of manufacturing in value-added was on average 20 percent of GDP for the same year.

According to the productivity measures by Trimmer et al., the gaps for developing countries are still huge and increasing for most countries. On one hand, the authors find that labor productivity in agriculture is much lower compared to services and even lower in relation to manufacturing. In 2010, for example, the agricultural value added share in Africa was 22 percent, while the employment share was 51 percent. This suggests agricultural labor productivity is about half of that of the average in the economy. In contrast, the services value added share was 50 percent while the employment share was 37 percent, and the shares for manufacturing are 10% and 7% respectively. On the other hand, productivity levels in manufacturing and market services have been falling behind the technology frontier (US in this paper) in Latin America and Africa, and they have been increasing (at a lower rate than I would expect, though) in Asia.

Word Cloud of the introduction of the paper (made using

Word Cloud of the introduction of the paper (made using

Finally, Timmer et al. follow Fabricant (1942) in decomposing the change of productivity in three factors namely:

a) the change in productivity of the sector holding the share of employment fixed (within-effect),

b) the change of employment in sectors with different productivity holding the productivity fixed (static-effect), and

c) the effects of the interaction between the changes in sector productivity and employment share per sector (dynamic effect).

Their results suggest that the within-effect as well as the static reallocation effect are both positive. However, the authors find that the dynamic effect is substantially negative in Africa and Latin America suggesting the reallocation of employment to sectors (services) where the productivity increase is lower. In other words, this fact suggests that the marginal productivity of additional workers in these expanding sectors was below the productivity of existing activities.

this_is_file_name_1700The paper has two main contributions. First, it is hard to stress enough how valuable the contribution of these authors is of constructing this new database. This task is not always valued at its worth. Creating a new database from different sources takes a large amount of work in order to achieve the consistency of concepts and definitions used in various primary data sources. Thanks to the authors, these data and documentation are now freely and publicly available online and it encourages us to continue the study of these issues. Second, the authors focus on the comparison of the productivity among these developing countries with the productivity of the technological leaders. This is the main point in this literature given that we still observe dynamic losses of relative productivity in many countries. The main challenge in order to make productivity comparisons is how to convert real value added into common currency units. To do this, the authors use this database and combine it with previous work or their own (mainly Inklaar and Timmer, 2013) to construct sector specific purchase power parity (PPP) prices. In their comparisons, they use United States as the frontier country and measure labor productivity relative to the frontier using the sector-specific PPPs.


1171bwcThe bottom line of the paper is that most of these developing countries have failed to generate dynamic increases in relative productivity since they reallocated workers into the sectors where productivity grows at a lower rate. Thus, the main challenges are to reallocate excess agricultural workers if they exist, and to increase the productivity in the manufacturing and services sectors. With the agricultural and (sometimes) manufacturing sectors shrinking in their employment share, the relative dynamic productivity performance of the sectors where these workers are going to locate is the crucial part of the process of convergence. The decomposition of the economies in ten sectors provides a necessary step to understand the process of structural change and its effects on productivity. However, the change in the composition of what a country produces is a result of changes at the firm level in particular markets. This stresses the need for more studies at the firm level on the determinants of the productivity relative to the frontier by sector. This is even more important in the services sector where the evidence seems to suggest the existence of a duality, where some services have a high productivity level and others are informal activities with very low productivity that just hide unemployment.

In sum, this paper adds to other excellent previous work from the same authors and gives us the big picture of structural change over the last 60 years for a larger set of developing countries. In addition, the authors have made available a new database that, combined with other data sources, can help to answer important development questions. As usual, we have made progress but still more work is needed to understand the key topic of structural change. This knowledge is necessary to implement policies that boost the productivity of firms in developing countries and, therefore, to improve the standard of living of their populations.