The future of work in developing economies – Pablo Egaña del Sol and Connor Joyce

Pablo Egana Del Sol, Research Affiliate,
International Faculty Fellows Program

From MIT Sloan Management Review

Much has been written about the rise of automation in developed countries. Economists have been busily creating models seeking to quantify the likely impact of automation on employment.1 However, far less has been written about the potential effects on work in developing nations. This is surprising, given that automation may be especially troublesome for developing economies.

We know that economic growth brings significant shifts toward higher-skilled occupations and that the economies of many developing nations rely largely on manual labor and routinized manufacturing work. Because some types of manual and routinized work can be easily handled by computers, machinery, and artificial intelligence, it’s clear that large-scale automation could have significant and wide-reaching effects on workers in developing countries.

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Brexit: epitaph for a national trajectory now lost – John Van Reenen

John Van Reenen, Professor of Applied Economics at MIT Sloan School of Management

From the London School of Economics and Political Science Blog

As I write on 31 January 2020, Britain leaves the European Union (EU). The loss I feel is almost as much as when my father died, almost a quarter century ago. He was 16 when he came to Britain with my grandfather who was a South African political refugee. After completing his UK national service, he married the daughter of a Merseyside dockworker. They moved to Carlisle where I was born, to run a new community centre. Then later back to Liverpool where I started school.

My secondary education was in Kelsey Park Comprehensive School. When I started it had just converted from a Secondary Modern, schools for kids who failed their 11+ exams. It was in the late 1970s and early 1980s – a brutal place in a brutal time. I remember our class having a mock vote in the 1979 election. The most popular two parties for our boys were Mrs. Thatcher’s Conservatives and the National Front, an overtly racist party promising to send foreigners ‘back to where they came from’.

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China has a big economic problem, and it isn’t the trade war – Yasheng Huang

Yasheng Huang, Epoch Foundation Professor of International Management & Faculty Director of Action Learning, MIT Sloan School of Management

From The New York Times

A decade ago, after the 2008 global financial crisis, China seemed to save its economy by decoupling it from the rest of the world’s with a massive domestic investment program. Today, it is progress on the trade war with the United States, or the recoupling of China’s economy with those of other countries, that is seen as the way for it to regain momentum.

But to think in these terms is to miss the main point: The trade war has merely compounded an economic slowdown in China that is substantially of the country’s own making.

The deceleration is serious. In 2018, China’s gross domestic product grew by about 6.5 percent, the lowest rate since 1990. And part of the slowdown is a predictable result of deliberate government decisions, in particular policies that favor the state sector at the expense of the private sector — even though the state sector is woefully inefficient, whereas the private sector has long been the country’s growth engine.

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How globalization may explain consistently low inflation rates – Kristin Forbes

Kristin Forbes, Jerome and Dorothy Lemelson Professor of Management and Global Economics, MIT Sloan School of Management.

From The Hill

Weak inflation is one of the “major challenges” of our time, according to Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell. Not only does persistently low inflation limit the scope of monetary policy, it may also have a damaging impact on the financial system. But the inflation forecasts used by the Federal Reserve to set monetary policy have not been performing very well lately. When the global financial crisis erupted in 2008 and growth collapsed around the world, why did inflation not fall further? As growth has picked up in the United States and unemployment has gone down, why has the inflation rate in this country remained so stubbornly low?

One key to the puzzle may be the forecasts themselves. The frameworks that macroeconomists have relied on to predict inflation primarily use domestic variables dating back to the “Phillips Curve” of the late 1960s which showed that inflation increases when unemployment falls. But the forces that drive our economy are not only confined within our national borders. The models miss what is happening across the rest of the world.

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With its belt and road projects, China risks falling into the biggest debt trap of all – Yasheng Huang

MIT Sloan Professor Yasheng Huang

Yasheng Huang, Epoch Foundation Professor of International Management and Faculty Director of Action Learning, MIT Sloan School of Management

From South China Morning Post

Critics often claim China is using its massive Belt and Road Initiative as a form of coercive debt-trap diplomacy to exert control over the countries that join its transnational infrastructure investment scheme. This risk, as Deborah Brautigam of Johns Hopkins University recently noted, is often exaggerated by the media. In fact, the initiative may hold a different kind of risk — for China itself.
At the recent belt and road summit in Beijing, Chinese President Xi Jinping seemed to acknowledge the “debt trap” criticism. In his address, Xi said that “building high-quality, sustainable, risk-resistant, reasonably priced, and inclusive infrastructure will help countries to utilise fully their resource endowments”.

This is an encouraging signal, as it shows that China has become more aware of the debt implications of the initiative. A study by the Centre for Global Development concluded that eight of the 63 countries taking part are at risk of “debt distress”.

But, as John Maynard Keynes memorably put it: “If you owe your bank a hundred pounds, you have a problem. But if you owe your bank a million pounds, it has.” In the context of the belt and road, China may turn out to be the banker who is owed a million pounds.

In particular, China may fall victim to the “obsolescing bargain model”, under which a foreign investor starts to lose bargaining power over time as it invests more in a host country. Infrastructure projects are a classic example, because they are bulky, bolted to the ground and have zero economic value if left incomplete.

Read the full post at South China Morning Post.

Yasheng Huang is the Epoch Foundation Professor of International Management and Faculty Director of Action Learning at the MIT Sloan School of Management.