How do Nations Learn? Why Development is First and Foremost About Learning

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By Dr Arkebe Oqubay, Senior Minister and Special Advisor to the Prime Minister of Ethiopia 


This blog is part of a series marking the upcoming 
19th International Economic Forum on Africa 


Photo-by-Nathan-Dumlao-Unsplash
Photo by Nathan Dumlao on Unsplash

Policy makers and academics alike puzzle over why some countries achieve economic ‘growth miracles’ while others lag behind. Of the 100 middle-income economies in 1960, fewer than a dozen transitioned into high-income economies. Economic history and empirical observations show that progress is linked to how nations learn and more specifically to the processes of technological learning, industrial policy, and catch-up. By looking at the cases of Japan, the United States, China and Ethiopia, I argue that commitment to learning by governments and dynamic technological learning by firms are key to economic catch-up. How these and other nations learn can provide valuable insight for African countries.

How did Japan overtake Europe in the mid-20th century?

The key driver of catch-up in Japan was technological learning and an active industrial policy. Japan’s learning experience involved the transfer of skills and knowledge, the importation of equipment and the acquisition of turnkey projects to develop technological capability. Japan also developed industrial infrastructure, including railways and the telegraph, by deploying state-owned enterprises. Continue reading

Industrial Policy: Not a bad word

By Annalisa Primi, Senior Economist and Head of the Policy Dialogue Initiative on Global Value Chains, Production Transformation and Development at the OECD Development Centre

Today, economic transformation is a concern in OECD and non-OECD countries alike. The Action Plan for Accelerated Industrial Development in Africa, included inAgenda 2063 or the Africa Union’s vision for the continent’s development, states that:”No country or region in the world has achieved prosperity and a decent socio-economic life for its citizens without the development of a robust industrial sector.” Similarly, the United Nations Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean has long called for diversifying production and promoting innovation to achieve higher equality in the region. Chile, an OECD country, is aiming at raising productivity by promoting the creation of domestic innovative enterprises. The national corporation for industrial development (CORFO) is investing in improving technology transfers, start-ups and social innovation. Continue reading