Thursday, June 24, 2010

The Development Trap

In his weekly column Cielito Habito has been following the jobless growth phenomenon that plagues a number of developing states like the Philippines. This was evident in the first quarter figures for 2010 which showed that just as the economy expanded by 7.3%, unemployment rose by 300 thousand. The country's growth did not translate into a lower unemployment rate. Habito rhetorically poses the question
Where did the impressive first-quarter growth come from? (...M)oslty from petroleum refining, electronics and processed food (...P)etroleum refining is (...) an industry not particularly known to be job-rich (...) Electronics (...) is an industry with almost zero linkages elsewhere in the economy. 
(...) The message is clear: We need economic growth that widely involves and benefits more industries, more geographical areas and more sectors of society—not the narrow, shallow and hollow growth ... in recent years (emphasis added).
This paints the picture of a dual economy where growth and opportunity are restricted to a few enclaves to the exclusion of the vast majority of participants. In recent years, the Philippine macro economy has been on solid footing. Just as some beleaguered European nations were applying for IMF assistance, the Philippines was exiting from its supervision after a thorough process of market liberalization, privatization and deregulation.

Having finally weened itself off the assistance of the DC-based institution, the country can now begin to chart its own development path without the policy impositions of the Washington Consensus. One silver lining  from the recent North Atlantic crisis according to Robert Wade is the opportunity to re-examine strategies for promoting industrial development, a recognition that other paths, for instance the BeST consensus (from Beijing, Seoul and Tokyo), are equally if not more viable. He explains that
(o)n the face of it, raising the state's capacity to coordinate a selected set of economic agents is a more feasible task than across-the-board formalization and enforcement of the rules - a task which requires high fixed costs and many decades, and which often provokes fierce resistance, especially from those already in the elite.
(...) Concrete manifestations of this kind of institutionalized coordination include Japan's MITI, Taiwan's Economic Planning Council and its Industrial Development Bureau, South Korea's Economic Planning Board, Singapore's Economic Development Board; and also numerous industry associations.
In contrast to "developmental state" forged by its East Asian neighbors, the Philippine state in its post-independence, pre-martial law incarnation was corrupted from the bottom-up as
the big landed families (...) used personalized rules of the game to obtain political protection in order to oppose industrial transformation, and used corruption to protect their existing sources of rents.
(...D)emocratization has somewhat restrained a state which under Marcos plundered from the top down, and has moved the nation a little way in the direction of a joint state-business project of a developmental state.
A typical developmental state would not score highly against the World Bank governance indicators based on the experience of East Asia. This is because in a bid to foster more inclusionary growth, state officials may have to actively steer the value stream of investors who might otherwise not source from local firms. This might require gentle nudging and incentives to begin with to strong arm tactics to get their message across as in the case of Taiwan, where
(t)he Industrial Development Bureau (IDB) officials in charge of ... specialised glass considered that at least two Taiwan glass makers could meet the price and quality of the glass imported by the Philips TV factory if given a long-term supply contract and some technical help.
(...) Philips (...) refused to consider the idea, saying it was happy with its existing arrangement to import from a Philips factory elsewhere. But then Philips began to experience delays in authorization to import the glass, which previously had been granted without delay. Philips protested. The delays lengthened. The IDB officials reminded Philips of the advantages of switching to domestic suppliers ... eventually Philips got the message, entered into a long-term supply contract with a domestic producer and in so doing built up goodwill in the IDB.
This example demonstrates that while generous tax concessions and free trade areas might foster foreign direct investments in specific industry sectors, they do not inevitably lead to greater industrial diversification. Pro-active and sometimes robust engagement with industry is required in order to accomplish that.

Among the organizational features of a developmental state observed by Wade are the targeted improvement of state agencies in charge of industrial policy, the fostering of a public service mindset among its officials, the bifurcation of political patronage channels and economic bureaucracy so that the former do not affect the latter and an industrial extension service with tight limits on the use of discretionary resources.

With the weak fiscal position awaiting the incoming government of Benigno Aquino, the immediate task of shoring up the budget situation is imperative. But in order to simultaneously pursue his vision of good governance and the rule of law, a more targeted approach than would otherwise be recommended by the good governance (GG) adherents of the Washington Consensus is required. One which would make more judicious use of limited public resources in building up state capacity towards more inclusive development.

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