In The N Ews

A Solution to Africa's Problems

Economist Jeffrey Sachs has been a prominent adviser to governments seeking to reform their economies and raise economic growth. He has also been a critic of the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund (IMF), the international policy organizations that dispense advice and money to struggling countries. Here Sachs discusses how the countries of Africa can escape their continuing poverty.

Growth in Africa: It Can Be Done

By Jeffrey Sachs In the old story, the peasant goes to the priest for advice on saving his dying chickens. The priest recommends prayer, but the chickens continue to die. The priest then recommends music for the chicken coop, but the deaths continue unabated. Pondering again, the priest recommends repainting the chicken coop in bright colors. Finally, all the chickens die. "What a shame," the priest tells the peasant. "I had so many more good ideas."

Since independence, African countries have looked to donor nations— often their former colonial rulers—and to the international finance institutions for guidance on growth. Indeed, since the onset of the African debt crises of the 1980s, the guidance has become a kind of economic receivership, with the policies of many African nations decided in a seemingly endless cycle of meetings with the IMF, the World Bank, donors, and creditors.

What a shame. So many good ideas, so few results. Output per head fell 0.7 percent between 1978 and 1987, and 0.6 percent during 1987-1994. Some growth is estimated for 1995 but only at 0.6 percent—far below the faster-growing developing countries. . . .

The IMF and World Bank would be absolved of shared responsibility for slow growth if Africa were structurally incapable of growth rates seen in other parts of the world or if the continent's low growth were an impenetrable mystery. But Africa's growth rates are not huge mysteries. The evidence on cross-country growth suggests that Africa's chronically low growth can be explained by standard economic variables linked to identifiable (and remediable) policies. . . .

Studies of cross-country growth show that per capita growth is related to:

• the initial income level of the country, with poorer countries tending to grow faster than richer countries;

• the extent of overall market orientation, including openness to trade, domestic market liberalization, private rather than state ownership, protection of private property rights, and low marginal tax rates;

• the national saving rate, which in turn is strongly affected by the government's own saving rate; and

• the geographic and resource structure of the economy. . . .

These four factors can account broadly for Africa's long-term growth predicament. While it should have grown faster than other developing areas because of relatively low income per head (and hence larger opportunity for "catch-up" growth), Africa grew more slowly. This was mainly because of much

Economists differ in their views of the role of government in promoting economic growth. At the very least, government can lend support to the invisible hand by maintaining property rights and political stability. More controversial is whether government should target and subsidize specific industries that might be higher trade barriers; excessive tax rates; lower saving rates; and adverse structural conditions, including an unusually high incidence of inaccessibility to the sea (15 of 53 countries are landlocked). . . .

If the policies are largely to blame, why, then, were they adopted? The historical origins of Africa's antimarket orientation are not hard to discern. After almost a century of colonial depredations, African nations understandably if erroneously viewed open trade and foreign capital as a threat to national sovereignty. As in Sukarno's Indonesia, Nehru's India, and Peron's Argentina, "self sufficiency" and "state leadership," including state ownership of much of industry, became the guideposts of the economy. As a result, most of Africa went into a largely self-imposed economic exile. . . .

Adam Smith in 1755 famously remarked that "little else is requisite to carry a state to the highest degrees of opulence from the lowest barbarism, but peace, easy taxes, and tolerable administration of justice." A growth agenda need not be long and complex. Take his points in turn.

Peace, of course, is not so easily guaranteed, but the conditions for peace on the continent are better than today's ghastly headlines would suggest. Several of the large-scale conflicts that have ravaged the continent are over or nearly so. . . . The ongoing disasters, such as in Liberia, Rwanda and Somalia, would be better contained if the West were willing to provide modest support to African-based peacekeeping efforts.

"Easy taxes" are well within the ambit of the IMF and World Bank. But here, the IMF stands guilty of neglect, if not malfeasance. African nations need simple, low taxes, with modest revenue targets as a share of GDP. Easy taxes are most essential in international trade, since successful growth will depend, more than anything else, on economic integration with the rest of the world. Africa's largely self-imposed exile from world markets can end quickly by cutting import tariffs and ending export taxes on agricultural exports. Corporate tax rates should be cut from rates of 40 percent and higher now prevalent in Africa, to rates between 20 percent and 30 percent, as in the outward-oriented East Asian economies. . . .

Adam Smith spoke of a "tolerable" administration of justice, not perfect justice. Market liberalization is the primary key to strengthening the rule of law. Free trade, currency convertibility and automatic incorporation of business vastly reduce the scope for official corruption and allow the government to focus on the real public goods—internal public order, the judicial system, basic public health and education, and monetary stability. . . .

All of this is possible only if the government itself has held its own spending to the necessary minimum. The Asian economies show how to function with government spending of 20 percent of GDP or less (China gets by with just 13 percent). Education can usefully absorb around 5 percent of GDP; health, another 3 percent; public administration, 2 percent; the army and police, 3 percent. Government investment spending can be held to 5 percent of GDP but only if the private sector is invited to provide infrastructure in telecommunications, port facilities, and power. . . .

This fiscal agenda excludes many popular areas for government spending. There is little room for transfers or social spending beyond education and health (though on my proposals, these would get a hefty 8 percent of GDP). Subsidies to publicly owned companies or marketing boards should be scrapped. Food and housing subsidies for urban workers cannot be financed. And, notably, interest payments on foreign debt are not budgeted for. This is because most bankrupt African states need a fresh start based on deep debt-reduction, which should be implemented in conjunction with far-reaching domestic reforms.

Source: Economist, June 29, 1996, pp. 19-21.

especially important for technological progress. There is no doubt that these issues are among the most important in economics. The success of one generation's policymakers in learning and heeding the fundamental lessons about economic growth determines what kind of world the next generation will inherit.

Summary j

♦ Economic prosperity, as measured by GDP per person, varies substantially around the world. The average income in the world's richest countries is more than ten times that in the world's poorest countries. Because growth rates of real GDP also vary substantially, the relative positions of countries can change dramatically over time.

♦ The standard of living in an economy depends on the economy's ability to produce goods and services. Productivity, in turn, depends on the amounts of physical capital, human capital, natural resources, and technological knowledge available to workers.

♦ Government policies can influence the economy's growth rate in many ways: encouraging saving and investment, encouraging investment from abroad, fostering education, maintaining property rights and political stability, allowing free trade, controlling population growth, and promoting the research and development of new technologies.

♦ The accumulation of capital is subject to diminishing returns: The more capital an economy has, the less additional output the economy gets from an extra unit of capital. Because of diminishing returns, higher saving leads to higher growth for a period of time, but growth eventually slows down as the economy approaches a higher level of capital, productivity, and income. Also because of diminishing returns, the return to capital is especially high in poor countries. Other things equal, these countries can grow faster because of the catch-up effect.

productivity, p. 533 physical capital, p. 534 human capital, p. 534

Key Concepts natural resources, p. 534 technological knowledge, p. 535 diminishing returns, p. 539

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