Sendai: A Tale of Natural Disaster, Resilience, and Recovery


in SendaiBy Christine Lagarde

Japan was struck, in the mid-afternoon of Friday, March 11, 2011,  by the country’s largest ever recorded earthquake. Within an hour, parts of Japan’s northeast coast were hit by a wall of water that swept away cars, boats, trains, buildings, roads—and thousands of lives.

It was with humility and respect, then, that I visited parts of the affected area more than 18 months on, in a special event this week in and around Sendai—the Japanese city most affected by the disaster, a couple of hours by train north of Tokyo. This “Sendai Dialogue,” cohosted by the Government of Japan and the World Bank, was part of the overall IMF/World Bank Annual Meetings being held in Tokyo this week.

Disaster turned to success

I went to two areas around Sendai—the first was the Arahama Elementary School, site of a successful evacuation during the disaster. The school is still in its wrecked state—just as it was straight after the tsunami struck. Debris is strewn all over the grounds–a mangled mass of vehicles resembling more a scrap yard than a school. The corridors and classrooms inside are also in ruins.

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Growing Institutions? Grow the People!


By Sharmini Coorey

(Version in Español)

“When you speak about institutions, in fact, you are speaking about the people.” These words, by Kosovo’s central bank governor Gani Gergüri at a recent conference in Vienna, capture an important truth that is often overlooked when we economists discuss amongst ourselves: without sound institutions, it’s very hard to achieve sustainable economic growth.

And the quality of those institutions hinges on the quality of the people running them―their educational background and training, and the prevailing business culture and approach to policymaking.

The work of Douglass North and the school of thought known as the new institutional economics has taught us that differences in deep institutions—defined as the formal and informal rules of economic, political and social interactions—are responsible for sustained differences in economic performance. This is also the central thesis in Acemoglu and Robinson’s fascinating new book, Why Nations Fail.

Inclusive (as opposed to extractive) economic and political institutions are central in nations’ efforts to avoid stagnation and ensure sustained prosperity. This is because sustained prosperity is a dynamic process of constant innovation and a never-ending cycle of Schumpeterian creative destruction, which can only be supported by open, inclusive institutions. Their thesis is certainly consistent with the contrasting experience of different countries in Central, Eastern and Southeastern Europe under communism and during the past two decades.

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Convergence, Crisis, and Capacity Building in Emerging Europe


by Nemat Shafik

Central, Eastern and Southeastern Europe has been through a lot. In two short decades, the region moved from a communist planned system to a market economy, and living standards have converged towards those in the West.

It has also weathered major crises: first the break-up of the old Soviet system in the early 1990s, then the Russian financial crisis in 1998, and finally the recent global economic crisis. How did these countries do it?

From the Baltic to the Balkans, the region’s resilience and flexibility are the result of hard work and adaptability. But more than anything, it is the strong institutions built over the last two decades that have enhanced the region’s ability to deal with the momentous challenges of the past, the present—and those to come.

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A Spotlight on the IMF’s Technical Assistance


By Nemat Shafik

(Version in عربي)

Of the three main pillars of the IMF’s work, technical assistance has been a sort of middle child; it doesn’t get the attention of the oldest and youngest children, yet in many ways is the glue that holds the family together.

The other two pillars are well known: we lend money to countries in times of need and crisis, and conduct annual check-ups of their economies and financial systems, known as surveillance.

As countries around the world cope with the global economic crisis, the IMF’s technical assistance is a vital part of the work that we do to help countries prevent, prepare for and resolve crises.  Technical assistance also helps countries master the form and details to govern themselves in an effective and legitimate way. Continue reading

Resolve and Determination—How We Get Out of This Together


By Christine Lagarde

(Versions in  عربي,  中文,  日本語 and Español)

This past weekend, 187 countries came together in Washington D.C. to focus on the economic crisis facing the world.

They were here for the 2011 Annual Meeting of the IMF and World Bank, at which finance ministers and central bank governors mix with businesspeople, civil society, labor leaders, and parliamentarians to discuss the critical issues we face.

Coming in to this Meeting, I had warned of a dangerous new phase now facing the global economy and had called for bold and collective action. Coming out of the Meeting, I feel strongly that the global community is beginning to respond.

Why? Three reasons: a shared sense of urgency, a shared diagnosis of the problems, and a shared sense that the steps needed in the period ahead are now coming into focus. Continue reading

Heartbreak and Hardship—Finding a Way Out for Fragile States


By Dominique Desruelle

War-torn Iraq, quake-ravaged Haiti, conflict-devastated Sierra Leone. So many countries around the world face the legacy of terrible hardships that have left them scarred and fragile.

Everyone agrees that countries need help to recover from these situations. But it is not easy to come to a shared understanding on what this really takes.

Some have questioned whether the IMF has a meaningful role to play. They argue that engagement in fragile states—countries with weak institutions and infrastructure, internal conflict, and governments that face difficulties delivering core services to the population—should mainly be left to bilateral donors and development institutions.

And they couldn’t be more wrong. Helping a country’s economy to work better—the IMF’s core expertise—is a central building block to move beyond fragile situations and achieve better lives for its citizens. Continue reading

Raising Government Revenue in Africa: A Road out of Poverty


By Mark Plant

(Version in Français. Listen to the podcast in English or Français.)

Governments in Africa have a prime objective—to reduce poverty. To improve living standards and create jobs, they need to provide their citizens with better health care, better education, more infrastructure. They need to build hospitals, schools, and to pay doctors, nurses, teachers.

All this costs money. How to pay for this—in a way that is both fair and efficient—is a question that all governments face.

There are limits to how much a government can receive as grants from donors or borrow from donors or the private sector. So raising tax revenues is a necessary element for governments to spend on providing more of these essential services and, in turn, reduce poverty. Continue reading

Today’s Bounty, Tomorrow’s Promise: Better Policies to Manage Natural Resources


By Leslie Lipschitz

(Version in Español | Français | عربي )

Countries rich in natural resources are often looked at with envy: they face few financial constraints and that should speed their development path. But the reality is less rosy.
Countries with an abundance of natural resources—typically oil, gas or minerals—have, on average, performed less well than comparable non-resource rich countries.

That raises one of the perennial questions in economic policymaking. How to manage the economic and social challenges that stem from resource wealth? Or, to borrow the words of Professor Thorvaldur Gylfason (University of Iceland), how to prevent “nature’s bounty” from “becoming the curse of the common people”? Continue reading

Topical Trust Funds—The New Assistance Vanguard


By Alfred Kammer

The IMF has begun implementing a new approach to financing its technical assistance by creating a series of topical trust funds that bring together interested donors.

The idea behind the new topical trust funds is to support broader initiatives on policy topics and engage donors on a broader, longer-term, and more strategic basis.

Let me illustrate this with two examples of trust fund programs that we are currently developing. A program on Tax Policy and Administration aims at helping countries mobilize more domestic resources in support of investment toward reaching the Millennium Development Goals, while also reducing their aid dependency.

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Help in the Neighborhood: ‘Just a Phone Call Away’


By Alfred Kammer

Regional technical assistance centers have gradually evolved to play a major role in IMF technical assistance. These centers, which are largely donor financed, have become important vehicles for helping countries carry out economic reforms.

Their objective is to assist countries in designing and implementing their poverty reduction and broader developmental strategies and help countries integrate into the world economy.

For example, they help strengthen public financial management, and so improve governance and transparency, facilitating donors’ use of budget support instruments. They help improve tax and customs administration, providing an environment that is more conducive to investment and growth, increasing the resource envelope for poverty reducing spending and reducing the opportunities for corruption. At the same time, such reforms facilitate trade and enable countries to take better advantage of the forces of globalization.

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