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Zsoka Koczan and Mr. Thomas Helbling

Emerging Europe has undergone a major economic transformation over the past 25 years. Most countries experienced initial drops in output during transition, followed by recovery in the second half of the 1990s. The path of transition in the Western Balkans has however been particularly uneven. The effects of transition also seem to have been more traumatic and persistent in the Western Balkans, and nostalgia for the past appears to be more prevalent here than in other former communist regions. Such dissatisfaction has important implications for the political economy of further reforms. This paper aims to inform policy by complementing the analysis of standard macro-level measures of inequality and poverty with a household-level analysis of subjective perceptions of poverty. We find that many more people appear to feel poor than are classified as such using purely income-based measures. Uncertainty, in particular related to expectations of future income and vulnerability to shocks, appears to be a key driver behind this discrepancy.

Peter K. Cornelius and Mr. Adalbert Knöbl

The IMF Working Papers series is designed to make IMF staff research available to a wide audience. Almost 300 Working Papers are released each year, covering a wide range of theoretical and analytical topics, including balance of payments, monetary and fiscal issues, global liquidity, and national and international economic developments.

Mr. Ravi Balakrishnan, Sandra Lizarazo, Marika Santoro, Mr. Frederik G Toscani, and Mr. Mauricio Vargas
Over the past decades, inequality has risen not just in advanced economies but also in many emerging market and developing economies, becoming one of the key global policy challenges. And throughout the 20th century, Latin America was associated with some of the world’s highest levels of inequality. Yet something interesting happened in the first decade and a half of the 21st century. Latin America was the only region in the World to have experienced significant declines in inequality in that period. Poverty also fell in Latin America, although this was replicated in other regions, and Latin America started from a relatively low base. Starting around 2014, however, and even before the COVID-19 pandemic hit, poverty and inequality gains had already slowed in Latin America and, in some cases, gone into reverse. And the COVID-19 shock, which is still playing out, is likely to dramatically worsen short-term poverty and inequality dynamics. Against this background, this departmental paper investigates the link between commodity prices, and poverty and inequality developments in Latin America.
Mr. Kurt Annen, Mr. Luc Moers, and Ana Lucia Coronel

This paper shows that donors that maximize relative aid impact spread their budgets across many recipient countries in a unique Nash equilibrium, explaining aid fragmentation. This equilibrium may be inefficient even without fixed costs, and the inefficiency increases in the equality of donors budgets. The paper presents empirical evidence consistent with theoretical results. These imply that, short of ending donors maximization of relative aid impact, agreements to better coordinate aid allocations are not implementable. Moreover, since policies to increase donor competition in terms of aid effectiveness risk reinforcing relativeness, they may well backfire, as any such reinforcement increases aid fragmentation.

Mr. Gary G. Moser and Mr. Toshihiro Ichida

This study confirms a strong and robust relationship between economic growth and poverty reduction in sub-Saharan Africa. Employing a panel of 46 countries covering the period 1972-97, the analysis finds that a 10 percent increase in per capita GDP leads to a 1 percent increase in life expectancy, a 3-4 percent decline in infant mortality rates, and a 3½-4 percent increase in the rate of gross primary school enrollment. The results are robust for high- and low-income, as well as fast- and slow-growth, countries. The study also finds that quality of growth, civil conflict, HIV/AIDs, civil and institutional freedom, and island economies are important control variables that help explain the variability of poverty across Africa. A country's latitude is not found to be a significant factor explaining life expectancy or infant mortality rates, though it is a significant factor explaining gross primary school enrollments.

Mr. Mauricio Vargas, Santiago Garriga, and Mr. Krishna Srinivasan

We investigate the factors driving Bolivia’s success in reducing inequality and poverty during the last 15 years. Our evidence suggests that the reduction was driven mainly by labor income growth at the bottom end of the income distribution. Increases in non-labor income (rents, transfers, remittances) also played a role, but a smaller one, although the introduction of Renta Dignidad has made a big difference for the elderly poor. Labor income increases were concentrated in the informal, low-skilled service and manufacturing sectors. As the gains from the commodity boom go into reverse, and the fiscal envelope becomes much tighter, it will be essential that labor and social policies are well designed and targeted to preserve the poverty and inequality reduction of the last 15 years.

Sriram Balasubramanian and Mr. Paul Cashin

This paper examines the origins and use of the concept of Gross National Happiness (or subjective well-being) in the Kingdom of Bhutan, and the relationship between measured well-being and macroeconomic indicators. While there are only a few national surveys of Gross National Happiness in Bhutan, the concept has been used to guide public policymaking for the country’s various Five-Year Plans. Consistent with the Easterlin Paradox, available evidence indicates that Bhutan’s rapid increase in national income is only weakly associated with increases in measured levels of well-being. It will be important for Bhutan to undertake more frequent Gross National Happiness surveys and evaluations, to better build evidence for comovement of well-being and macroeconomic concepts such as real national income.

Mr. Alexei P Kireyev and Mr. Christopher J. Jarvis

The paper examines the poverty-reducing and distributional characteristics of Djibouti’s economic growth, and discusses policies that might help make growth more inclusive. It covers the period between 2002 and 2013, for which comparable household surveys are available. The main findings are that while in the past decade the overall level of poverty in Djibouti declined, there have been no clear signs of improvements in either equality or growth inclusiveness. Growth has not been inclusive and benefitted mainly those in the upper part of the income distribution. These conclusions should be treated as indicative. Progress in poverty reduction and inclusiveness would require not only sustained high growth but also the creation of opportunities in sectors with high earning potential for the poor. Better targeted social policies and more attention to the regional distribution of spending would also help reduce poverty and improve inclusiveness.

Ms. Valerie Cerra, Mr. Ruy Lama, and Norman Loayza
Is there a tradeoff between raising growth and reducing inequality and poverty? This paper reviews the theoretical and empirical literature on the complex links between growth, inequality, and poverty, with causation going in both directions. The evidence suggests that growth can be effective in reducing poverty, but its impact on inequality is ambiguous and depends on the underlying sources of growth. The impact of poverty and inequality on growth is likewise ambiguous, as several channels mediate the relationship. But most plausible mechanisms suggest that poverty and inequality reduce growth, at least in the long run. Policies play a role in shaping these relationships and those designed to improve equality of opportunity can simultaneously improve inclusiveness and growth.
Mr. Alexei P Kireyev and Hervé Joly

The paper examines Senegal’s growth performance from the perspective of its povertyreducing and distributional characteristics, and discusses policies that might help make growth more inclusive. The main findings are that poverty has fallen in the last two decades, but poverty reduction has slowed in recent years. Although available indicators sometimes give conflicting signals on distributional shifts, people in the middle of the income distribution have received the most benefit, mainly in urban areas. Further progress in poverty reduction and inclusiveness would require sustained high growth and exploration of growth opportunities in the sectors with high earning potential for the poor. Better-targeted social policies and more attention to the regional distribution of spending would also help reduce poverty and improve inclusiveness.