Historicising the Aid Debate: South Korea as a Successful Aid Recipient


‘The principal enemy is orthodoxy: to use the same recipe, administer the same therapy, to resolve the most various types of problems; never to admit complexity and try to reduce it as much as possible, while ignoring that things are always more complicated in reality.
Albert O. Hirschman (1998:110)

It’s clear from last week’s blog posts by Duncan Green that he is tired of academic critique against aid which have not been translated into concrete solutions (see here and here). However, the problem with his ‘marmite’ approach to addressing very complex problems is that it leads to reductive debates which are more symptomatic of the problem than constructive ways of finding solutions. Following Pablo Yanguas’ synthesis of research approaches I thought of taking a step back and analyzing the case of a successful aid recipient, South Korea.  I do this in hope of moving away from the ‘literature’ – which Duncan finds overbearing – as well as getting away from the linearity of the contemporary monitoring and evaluation approach used by the aid sector. Read More »

Revisiting Hirschman’s Tunnel Effect and Its Relevance for China


As within-country inequality is on the rise worldwide, considering how people actually perceive inequality in their societies and how they respond to it is a question worth asking. In 1973 Albert Otto Hirschman proposed an explanation of changing tolerance for inequality associated with different ‘stages’ of the development process. In this post I’ll revisit Hirschman’s theory and link it to emerging studies of how inequality is perceived in China. The Chinese people generally seem to be satisfied with rising inequality, yet it is unclear how long this tolerance will last.Read More »

Not just r > g but r + q >> g: Piketty meets Ricardo in the long run of Indian history

Wealth-income ratios are rising everywhere – they are not cyclical but rather unambiguously upward trending for the past three decades. Put simply, the accumulation of wealth is outpacing economic growth. This is true in America, Europe and Japan (Piketty and Zucman 2014), as well as China and Russia (Novokmet, Zucman & Yang 2018). In recent research (Kumar 2018), I found this same trend to persist in the world’s largest democracy – Indian wealth-income ratios have been rising since the 1970s. Why are these trends so similar in countries with such deep structural differences and distinct economic trajectories? By themselves, high wealth-income ratios are not necessarily a social dilemma – they may imply more wealth for everyone. But in general, there is a tendency for wealth to be more concentrated than income. As a result, a rise in wealth over income tends to increase wealth inequality. This is certainly the situation in most economies today. Thus, these trends and the mechanisms behind them need to be understood with careful attention.

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The BRICS and a Changing World

This July and August, I led an international group of experts in preparing an Economic Report on the role of the BRICS countries (Brazil, China, India, Russia and South Africa) in the world economy and international development.  The Report was commissioned as an input to the Summit of BRICS countries that took place in early September 2017 in Xiamen, China.

It surveys the BRICS countries’ sizable contribution to global growth, trade and investment, evaluates the prospects for this to continue in the future, and explores the possible role that these countries can play in bolstering the global economy, in reshaping international economic arrangements and in contributing to the Sustainable Development Goals and to international development generally. An important conclusion in the report is that continued BRICS growth as well as policy initiatives can substantially benefit other developing countries (the report uses the IMF category of Emerging Market and Developing Countries, or EMDCs) – and developed countries too.  I will  be pleased if the report will be circulated widely, and welcome all reactions.Read More »

The long run evolution of the rich in India 1937-2012


Inequality in India may be returning to levels last seen during British Rule. To understand this, it is necessary to put India’s elite at the center of macro-history.

One of the central questions in political economy is how wealth evolves, particularly at the top. In Europe and the USA, we now accept that progression of wealth inequality followed a “U” shape or what has been called the “Inverted Kuznets Curve.” Briefly put, on the eve of World War I, the richest few percentiles dominated Western society with their massive wealth holdings. Fast forward to a decade after World War II and we see that their wealth declined substantially, but then started rising again in the late 1970s. Much has been written on this since (and due to) the publication of Piketty’s (2014) Capital in the 21st Century. My new and revised paper (Kumar, 2017b) puts the rich at the center of India’s economic history over the last eight decades. The main question I want to ask is the following: Is the state of contemporary wealth concentration in India a continuation or a break from its history?Read More »

How India can benefit from FDI: lessons from China


by Ilan Strauss and Vasiliki Mavroeidi*

With the launch of India’s Make in India campaign, Karl P. Sauvant and Daniel Allman asked in their recent Perspective: “What can India learn from China?”, focusing on attracting FDI. However, the issue is not only attracting FDI, but benefitting from it fully. Liberalization alone will not enable Make in India to transform India into a manufacturing hub. Targeted industrial policies are required to ensure that FDI upgrades domestic capabilities.

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Is Competition Always the Answer? A Case Study of Vietnam’s Power Sector


Since 2001, the Vietnamese government has acknowledged the need to increase generation capacity in the electricity sector. With unprecedentedly growing demand of 14% per annum, the electricity industry, however, commonly fails to deliver, especially during peak hours and dry seasons. It is reported that ‘in the whole country there were 3,000 blackout incidents due to system overloading during the first 7 months of 2008’, equivalent to ’14 blackouts a day’ (Nguyen and Dapice, 2010). As a way to mitigate this chronic electricity shortage, the industry’s biggest player, Electricity Vietnam (EVN) has to buy in all that is produced domestically and import from neighbouring countries such as Laos and China. Yet, not only cannot EVN satisfy its primary objective of ensuring a secure electricity supply, but it also suffers significant annual financial losses of hundreds of million dollars. EVN claims that too low average pricing of electricity is the cause of this loss. In addition, audit reports reveal that EVN’s diversification policy had caused further losses.

The inefficiency in infrastructure investment and inadequacy in organizational management have caused anger amongst the public, creating an extremely negative attitude towards the traditional monopoly structure of the electricity sector. Utilising a popular measure, policy makers therefore choose to apply the ‘marketisation’ or liberalization model that is, in theory, similar to the liberalization model that has been implemented in the UK and EU since the 1990s. The main reasons behind the policy are: 1) to assist the government in infrastructure investment; 2) to expose EVN to competitive forces through encouraging private and foreign investment which would force it to improve its financial and operational performance; and 3) to provide affordable and stably-priced electricity. These 3 major objectives are thought to be the outcomes of introducing competition to the traditional monopolistic market structure. This causal link is, however, usually assumed rather than discussed and tested.Read More »

What do we know about the wealthy in India? A case study prior to liberalization

The first modern book in economics was called the “Wealth of Nations” because its writer, Adam Smith understood (and transmuted the idea) that the key to prosperity and growth was the generation and distribution of wealth – not just the flow of income. Recent interest in economics has started to return to this question especially in the context of today’s rich countries. The academic attention on the metamorphosis and concentration of wealth has so far excluded poor countries. In fact the study of the wealth of poor nations should be a core question in development economics (over income growth) because wealth tends to cumulate all past prosperity or disparity.

I found it notable that despite the detailed historical analysis in Piketty’s book Capital in the 21st Century, there was no mention of Indian wealth (Piketty did study top Indian incomes). To an extent this is understandable because data on India is so limited and unreliable that documenting it would require a book in itself. Till date, the Indian central bank (RBI) does not follow the tradition of publishing regular household and private sector balance sheets at market value, to assess accumulation and asset prices. And yet due to its sheer size and importance, India presents a unique challenge to the notion of prosperity – it is simultaneously home to some of the wealthiest and poorest global citizens. In the past, the question of India’s colonial subservience was related to the drain of wealth, rather than income – the British enriched themselves at the cost of their prized colony. What happened once India became independent?


My new paper “Capital and the Hindu rate of growth: Top Indian wealth holders 1961-1986” tries to answer this question for a particular historical phase in Indian history. Read More »