Ms. Emilia M Jurzyk, Medha Madhu Nair, Nathalie Pouokam, Tahsin Saadi Sedik, Anthony Tan, and Mrs. Irina Yakadina
The COVID-19 pandemic risks exacerbating inequality in Asia. High frequency labor surveys show that the pandemic is having particularly adverse effects on younger workers, women and people that are more vulnerable. Pandemics have been shown to increase inequalities. As a result, income inequality, which was already high and rising in Asia before the pandemic, is likely to rise further over the medium term, unless policies succeed in breaking this historical pattern. Many Asian governments have implemented significant fiscal policy measures to mitigate the pandemic’s effect on the most vulnerable, with the impact depending on the initial coverage of safety nets, fiscal space, and degree of informality and digitalization. The paper includes model-based analysis which shows that policies targeted to where needs are greatest are effective in mitigating adverse distributional consequences and underpinning overall economic activity and virus containment.
Mr. Philip Barrett, Maximiliano Appendino, Kate Nguyen, and Jorge de Leon Miranda
We present a new index of social unrest based on counts of relevant media reports. The index consists of individual monthly time series for 130 countries, available with almost no lag, and can be easily and transparently replicated. Spikes in the index identify major events, which correspond very closely to event timelines from external sources for four major regional waves of social unrest. We show that the cross-sectional distribution of the index can be simply and precisely characterized, and that social unrest is associated with a 3 percentage point increase in the frequency of social unrest domestically and a 1 percent increase in neighbors in the next six months. Despite this, social unrest is not a better predictor of future social unrest than the country average rate.
International Monetary Fund. Asia and Pacific Dept
This paper discusses selected issues related to the economy of Thailand. The economy of Thailand is largely dependent on China. A 1 percent decline in China’s GDP lowers Thailand’s output by about 0.2 percent. Population aging is another major issue in Thailand. This Association of Southeast Asian Nations country will face the dual challenge of increasing the coverage of the social security system and ensuring its long-term sustainability. Thailand’s financial sector has expanded rapidly over the last decade, and important changes in its structure have taken place. While corporate debt has remained broadly stable, household debt has increased to one of the highest levels among emerging markets, raising concerns about household debt overhang.
International Monetary Fund. Independent Evaluation Office
This report examines whether the IMF has effectively leveraged an important asset: data. It finds that in general, the IMF has been able to rely on a large amount of data of acceptable quality, and that data provision from member countries has improved markedly over time. Nonetheless, problems with data or data practices have, at times, adversely affected the IMF’s surveillance and lending activities. The roots of data problems are diverse, ranging from problems due to member countries’ capacity constraints or reluctance to share sensitive data to internal issues such as lack of appropriate staff incentives, institutional rigidities, and long-standing work practices. Efforts to tackle these problems are piecemeal, the report finds, without a clear comprehensive strategy that recognizes data as an institutional strategic asset, not just a consumption good for economists. The report makes a number of recommendations that could promote greater progress in this regard.
Ms. Sonali Jain-Chandra, Mr. Tidiane Kinda, Ms. Kalpana Kochhar, Shi Piao, and Johanna Schauer
This paper focusses on income inequality in Asia, its drivers and policies to combat it. It
finds that income inequality has risen in most of Asia, in contrast to many regions. While in
the past, rapid growth in Asia has come with equitable distribution of the gains, more
recently fast-growing Asian economies have been unable to replicate the “growth with
equity” miracle. There is a growing consensus that high levels of inequality can hamper the
pace and sustainability of growth. The paper argues that policies could have a substantial
effect on reversing the trend of rising inequality. It is imperative to address inequality of
opportunities, in particular to broaden access to education, health, and financial services.
Also fiscal policy could combat rising inequality, including by expanding and broadening the
coverage of social spending, improving tax progressivity, and boosting compliance. Further
efforts to promote financial inclusion, while maintaining financial stability, can help.
Thailand stands out in international comparison as a country with a high dispersion of productivity across sectors. It has especially low labor productivity in agriculture—a sector that employs a much larger share of the population than is typical for a country at Thailand’s level of income. This suggests large potential productivity gains from labor reallocation across sectors, but that process—which made a significant contribution to Thailand’s growth in the past—appears to have stalled lately. This paper establishes these facts and applies a simple model to discuss possible explanations. The reasons include a gap between the skills possessed by rural workers and those required in the modern sectors; the government’s price support programs for several agricultural commodities, particularly rice; and the uniform minimum wage. At the same time, agriculture plays a useful social and economic role as the employer of last resort. The paper makes a number of policy recommendations aimed at facilitating structural transformation in the Thai economy.