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
Most 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