Can middle income countries rise up to their citizens’ expectations?

By Mario Pezzini, Director of the OECD Development Centre and Special Advisor to the OECD Secretary General on Development[i]

A call for a new social contract

Despite significant economic growth over the past years, middle-income countries (MICs) face increasingly complex challenges related to, among others, a growing demand from their new and still vulnerable middle-classes. As middle-classes have grown in recent decades, so have citizens’ aspirations and demands for quality public goods, better services and a more responsive and transparent state. More educated, better informed, and more connected than ever before, citizens are asking for more voice in public decisions. In parallel, growing aspirations confronted with chronic vulnerability of middle-classes tend to generate frustration and, more and more frequently, social turbulence. Discontent has been erupting for several years in many of these countries, going back to the Arab Spring, with recent examples like Lebanon, and some Latin American countries, including high-income countries like Chile. Today, challenges are exacerbated as the COVID-19 crisis pushes members of the middle class who had previously escaped extreme poverty, back into it. Governments seem increasingly incapable of understanding how people perceive their quality of life.

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Beyond vested interests: Reforming international co-operation post COVID-19

By Imme Scholz, Deputy Director of the German Development Institute / Deutsches Institut für Entwicklungspolitik (DIE) and Deputy Chair of the German Council for Sustainable Development[i]


This blog is part of a series on tackling COVID-19 in developing countries. Visit the OECD dedicated page to access the OECD’s data, analysis and recommendations on the health, economic, financial and societal impacts of COVID-19 worldwide.


The world is now in the eighth month of the COVID-19 pandemic. When this was written, the highest daily infection rates were recorded in India, the US and Brazil, while the highest death rates (per 100,000 inhabitants) were registered in Europe and the Americas. Africa so far has not turned into a hotspot of the disease – good news that is attributed to effective public health workers and Africa’s young population. The COVID-19 pandemic has laid bare weaknesses and blind spots in societies, economies and policies worldwide. Notably that public services the world over take too long to understand their new responsibilities under changed circumstances and as a result act too slowly, at the expense of the most vulnerable. For example, infection and death rates are high in OECD countries despite good health care systems. And insufficient digital infrastructure and access in public administrations, schools and households, exacerbated by social inequalities, affect access to education in Germany or in Latin American countries alike.

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COVID-19: A game changer for the Global South and international co-operation?

By Debapriya Bhattacharya, Chair, Southern Voice and Distinguished Fellow, Centre for Policy Dialogue (CPD), and Sarah Sabin Khan, Senior Research Associate, CPD


This blog is part of a series on tackling COVID-19 in developing countries. Visit the OECD dedicated page to access the OECD’s data, analysis and recommendations on the health, economic, financial and societal impacts of COVID-19 worldwide.


In a short but seemingly never-ending time span, the COVID-19 crisis has propelled governments into the dilemma of balancing the response to immediate health, economic and social fallouts, with long-term recovery. Some remain vigorously engaged in saving lives. Others are seesawing between loosening restrictions and enforcing new ones to prevent a second wave. Countries from the Global South are among the worst affected by the pandemic. This is due to both their weak pre-crisis conditions as well as their disadvantaged position in global governance. There is a broad consensus that things will not and cannot go back to the way they were before. A “new normal” will emerge in terms of how governments, producers, businesses, consumers and other economic agents conduct themselves. This will be also true for global governance structures and the conventionally dialectical relationship between the North and the South.  

In this context, pessimistic views and optimistic outlooks on the post-COVID world confront one another. 

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COVID-19 and the human development crisis: what have we learnt?

By Pedro Conceição, Director of the Human Development Report Office and lead author of the Human Development Report and Mario Pezzini, Director of the OECD Development Centre and special adviser to the OECD Secretary-General on development


This blog is part of a series on tackling COVID-19 in developing countries. Visit the OECD dedicated page to access the OECD’s data, analysis and recommendations on the health, economic, financial and societal impacts of COVID-19 worldwide.


To say COVID-19 is unprecedented is no cliché. Its simultaneous impact on multiple development areas – education, health and the economy – sets it apart. As does its geographic reach: the pandemic, and its spillover, have touched every country.

Of course, the world has seen many crises over the past 30 years, including health crises from HIV/AIDS to Ebola, and economic crises such as the Global Financial Crisis of 2007-09. Each has hit human development, devastating the lives of millions. But overall the world has still made development gains year on year. What distinguishes COVID-19 is the triple hit to health, income and education, fundamental building blocks of human development. And as a result the global human development index is on course to decline this year for the first time since the concept was introduced in 1990 – something that can still be avoided or at least mitigated with strong policy responses.

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The COVID-19 Scourge: How affected are the Least Developed Countries?

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By Debapriya Bhattacharya, Distinguished Fellow, Centre for Policy Dialogue (CPD), and Fareha Raida Islam, Programme Associate, Centre for Policy Dialogue (CPD)


This blog is part of a series on tackling COVID-19 in developing countries. Visit the OECD dedicated page to access the OECD’s data, analysis and recommendations on the health, economic, financial and societal impacts of COVID-19 worldwide.


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Dhaka, Bangladesh – March, 2020:  Lockdown amid the COVID-19 outbreak. Photo: Shutterstock

The scourge of COVID-19 continues to devastate life and livelihoods across the world. While the global community assesses the possible impact of this pandemic and commits to take action, it is becoming evident that the consequences will be more pronounced in the weaker economies, and possibly catastrophic in the least developed countries (LDCs) – a group of countries that share multiple structural vulnerabilities. A targeted package of international support measures for LDCs, realigning existing programmes, is urgently needed.

Vulnerabilities of the least developed countries

About a quarter of the United Nations’ members (47 countries) are LDCs, accounting for 12% of world population, against less than 2% of global GDP and less than 1% of global trade and foreign direct investment (FDI). These countries, penalised by geography and history, host about 40% of the world’s poor. Almost all are climate-change affected nations, and a large number are fragile states. Only about 18% of the population in LDCs have access to internet – the vast majority are victims of the digital divide. LDC governments on average spend less than 2% of their country’s GDP on public healthcare. Continue reading

Covid-19: time to unleash the power of international co-operation

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By Mario Pezzini, Director, OECD Development Centre and Special Advisor to the OECD Secretary General on Development


This blog* is part of a series on tackling COVID-19 in developing countries. Visit the OECD dedicated page to access the OECD’s data, analysis and recommendations on the health, economic, financial and societal impacts of COVID-19 worldwide.


Development co-operationThe rapid spread of the dire human, social and economic impacts of the coronavirus crisis shows just how interconnected we are. International co-operation has become –literally– vital.

A health crisis has set off a global economic crisis, where shocks on the demand and supply sides are combining in an unprecedented scenario. Many developing countries are bracing themselves. While Europe is struggling to contain and cope with a spiralling number of cases and fatalities, the effects in countries where health systems are already weak, economies are highly dependent on global demand, and strict containment policies are more difficult to implement, could be even more disastrous.

Major outbreaks in developing countries could cause the collapse of weak health systems and expose gaps in social protection programmes, especially in Africa, where so many schemes rely on official development assistance. A humanitarian crisis may be in the making: travel restrictions affect the delivery of humanitarian assistance, and infections in refugee camps – largely hosted in developing countries – will be difficult to fight. The ILO estimates that 25 million jobs could be lost worldwide, possibly more, as the majority of workers in developing countries are in the informal economy. Continue reading

Can aid help countries avoid the middle-income trap?

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By Homi Kharas, Interim Vice President and Director – Global Economy and Development, Brookings Institution


This blog is part of an ongoing series evaluating various facets
of 
Development in Transition


Middle-income-trapMost aid agencies have tried to articulate a “middle-income” strategy for how to support client countries that are no longer poor. For example, see the Asian Development Bank Strategy 2030 and the World Bank’s approach to middle-income countries. In both cases, there is an emphasis on second-generation challenges, including those related to environmental, social and governance institutions. Failure to meet these challenges can trap countries in middle-income status.

The problem, however, is that there is no solid theoretical or empirical foundation on how to support growth in middle-income countries—the diversity of contexts and experiences is so large that robust policy conclusions are hard to draw, and useful interventions by aid agencies even harder to figure out.

Barro (2012) succinctly summarizes the limits of empirical work: “My view is that one has to accept the idea that pinpointing precisely which X variables matter for growth is impossible.” In a similar vein, Rodrik (2012) titled his paper “Why We Learn Nothing from Regressing Economic Growth on Policies.” Most researchers (see for example Jones (2016) and Kim and Park (2017)) find that middle-income growth is all about total factor productivity growth (TFP). TFP growth, in turn, is what is left over after accounting for the growth of all inputs. Jones breaks down TFP into two components: knowledge/ideas and M that he says stands for either misallocation or a measure of ignorance. Continue reading

Social discontent in Latin America through the lens of development traps

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By Sebastián Nieto-Parra, Mario Pezzini and Juan Vázquez, OECD Development Centre


This blog is part of an ongoing series evaluating various facets
of 
Development in Transition


LATAM-Social-discontent.jpgUntil recently, rising levels of citizen dissatisfaction with public services and institutions in Latin America might have merely been pictured as an upward line in a graph. However, it seems to have reached a breaking point. Growing social discontent has boiled over into protests across several Latin American countries over the past weeks. While these protests are complex and multifaceted, understanding the underlying causes is essential to defining policy priorities that may help address the structural sources of discontent.

GDP growth is not alone in driving social unrest, as protests have not necessarily taken place in countries with the lowest growth rates or at times of lower economic dynamism, like the 2008 crisis.  Furthermore, income gradually ‘delinks’ from well-being outcomes, as countries move up the income ladder. This has clearly been the case for most Latin American countries since the 2000s (OECD et al., 2019a). Continue reading

Overcoming the Challenges of the Transition and Exit from Aid

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By Annalisa Prizzon, Senior Research Fellow, Overseas Development Institute 


This blog is part of an ongoing series evaluating various facets
of 
Development in Transition


ODI transition finance
Flat stairs, Sao Paulo by Jared Yeh / Flickr CC-BY-NC-ND

Since 2000, the number of low-income countries (LICs) has more than halved — from 63 to 31 — and have now joined the ranks of middle-income countries (MICs). Typically, these economies have strengthened their macroeconomic management, played a stronger and more visible role in global policy, diversified their sources of finance and received less external development assistance (or ceased to benefit materially from it).

As developing countries become richer and address their own development challenges, donors usually reconsider their programming and interventions. And so, transition and exit from bilateral development co-operation programmes should rightfully be celebrated as an indicator of success in economic and social development.

Challenges facing financing for development

However, as countries graduate from soft windows of multilateral development banks or as bilateral donors cut their country programmes — or they shift to loans if that is an option — the financing mix changes. Reliance on tax revenues and commercial finance when aid starts falling inevitably expands, and so does the costs to service debt obligations. Tax revenues do not necessarily increase to fill the gap. Continue reading

Triangular, the shape of things to come?

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By Mario Pezzini, Alicia Barcena, Stefano Manservisi 


This blog is part of an ongoing series evaluating various facets
of 
Development in Transition


As the global community gathers in Argentina to mark the 40th anniversary of the United Nations Conference on Technical Cooperation among Developing Countries, we have an additional opportunity to discuss, debate, and design a reinvigorated international co-operation system.

And something as small as what is currently called “triangular co-operation” can take centre stage in that system. Just like few imagined that the European Coal and Steel Community created in 1950 would grow into what the European Union is today, we think triangular co-operation’s future potential could very well dwarf its current status.

Rather than rationalise business as usual, we believe triangular co-operation could give us, instead, wide space for unleashing new thinking about the promise and value of multi-partner engagements to advance inclusive and sustainable development.

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