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  • Author: Arvind Subramanian, Josh Felman
  • Publication Date: 12-2019
  • Content Type: Working Paper
  • Institution: The John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University
  • Abstract: We examine the pattern of growth in the 2010s. Standard explanations cannot account for the long slowdown, followed by a sharp collapse. Our explanation stresses both structural and cyclical factors, with finance as the distinctive, common element. In the immediate aftermath of the Global Financial Crisis (GFC), two key drivers of growth decelerated. Export growth slowed sharply as world trade stagnated, while investment fell victim to a homegrown Balance Sheet crisis, which came in two waves. The first wave—the Twin Balance Sheet crisis, encompassing banks and infrastructure companies—arrived when the infrastructure projects started during India’s investment boom of the mid-2000s began to go sour. The economy nonetheless continued to grow, despite temporary, adverse demonetization and GST shocks, propelled first by income gains from the large fall in international oil prices, then by government spending and a non-bank financial company (NBFC)-led credit boom. This credit boom financed unsustainable real estate inventory accumulation, inflating a bubble that finally burst in 2019. Consequently, consumption too has now sputtered, causing growth to collapse. As a result, India is now facing a Four Balance Sheet challenge—the original two sectors, plus NBFCs and real estate companies—and is trapped in an adverse interest-growth dynamic, in which risk aversion is leading to high interest rates, depressing growth, and generating more risk aversion. Standard remedies are unavailable: monetary policy is stymied by a broken transmission mechanism; large fiscal stimulus will only push up already-high interest rates, worsening the growth dynamic. The traditional structural reform agenda—land and labour market measures—are important for the medium run but will not address the current problems. Addressing the Four Balance Sheet problem decisively will be critical to durably reviving growth. Raising agricultural productivity is also high priority. And even before that, a Data Big Bang is needed to restore trust and enable better policy design.
  • Topic: International Trade and Finance, Economy, Global Political Economy, Economic growth, Global Financial Crisis
  • Political Geography: South Asia, India
  • Author: Arvind Subramanian
  • Publication Date: 07-2019
  • Content Type: Working Paper
  • Institution: The John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University
  • Abstract: My recent research paper “India's GDP Mis-estimation: Likelihood, Magnitudes, Mechanisms, and Implications,” (hereafter “GDP paper”) and the associated op-ed in the Indian Express on June 11, 2019 have generated considerable debate. This is encouraging because serious argument and counter-argument are the basis for good policy-making. Since the issue itself is of great importance, the counter-arguments to my analysis warrant a considered response. That is the aim of this note, which is a complement to the original paper, addressing both the larger issues and some of the specific points that have been raised. The note is structured as follows. Section II describes my engagement with India’s GDP estimation when I was Chief Economic Adviser. Section III elaborates on the framework/approach underlying the GDP paper. Section IV makes explicit the key puzzle surrounding India’s growth estimates, and addresses the possible explanations for it. Section V explores the puzzle in greater detail. Section VI provides additional cross-country evidence on growth and price deflators, which support the findings of the original paper, namely that growth during 2011-16 was likely overestimated by a significant margin. Section VII addresses two broad objections to the main findings. Section VIII discusses some of the methodological critiques of the paper. Section IX offers some thoughts on the way forward.
  • Topic: Economics, Political Economy, International Development, Economic growth
  • Political Geography: South Asia, India
  • Author: Arvind Subramanian
  • Publication Date: 06-2019
  • Content Type: Working Paper
  • Institution: The John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University
  • Abstract: India changed its data sources and methodology for estimating real gross domestic product (GDP) for the period since 2011-12. This paper shows that this change has led to a significant overestimation of growth. Official estimates place annual average GDP growth between 2011-12 and 2016-17 at about 7 percent. We estimate that actual growth may have been about 4.5 percent with a 95 percent confidence interval of 3.5 - 5.5 percent. The evidence, based on disaggregated data from India and cross-sectional/panel regressions, is robust. Lending further credence to the evidence, part of the overestimation can be related to a key methodological change, which affected the measurement of the formal manufacturing sector. These findings alter our understanding of India’s growth performance after the Global Financial Crisis, from spectacular to solid. Two important policy implications follow: the entire national income accounts estimation should be revisited, harnessing new opportunities created by the Goods and Services Tax to significantly improve it; and restoring growth should be the urgent priority for the new government.
  • Topic: GDP, Global Political Economy, Economic growth, Global Financial Crisis
  • Political Geography: South Asia, India
  • Author: Erin K. Fletcher, Rohini Pande, Charity Troyer Moore
  • Publication Date: 12-2017
  • Content Type: Working Paper
  • Institution: The John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University
  • Abstract: Sustained high economic growth since the early 1990s has brought significant change to the lives of Indian women, and yet female labor force participation has stagnated at under 30%, and recent labor surveys even suggest some decline since 2005. Using a nationally representative household survey, we lay out five descriptive facts about female labor force participation in India that help identify constraints to higher participation. First, there is significant demand for jobs by women currently not in the labor force. Second, willing female non-workers have difficulty matching to jobs. Third, obtaining vocational training is correlated with a higher likelihood of working among women. Fourth, women are more likely to be working in sectors where the gender wage gap and unexplained wage gap, commonly attributed to discrimination, is higher. Finally, female-friendly policies, including quotas, are correlated with higher female participation in some key sectors. Combining these facts with a review of the literature, we map out important areas for future investigation and highlight how policies such as employment quotas and government initiatives focused on skilling and manufacturing should be better investigated and leveraged to increase women’s economic activity.
  • Topic: Gender Issues, Labor Issues, Women, Inequality, Economic growth, Public Policy
  • Political Geography: South Asia, India
  • Author: Lant Pritchett, Yamini Aiyar
  • Publication Date: 06-2015
  • Content Type: Working Paper
  • Institution: The John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University
  • Abstract: We combine newly created data on per student government expenditure on children in government elementary schools across India, data on per student expenditure by households on students attending private elementary schools, and the ASER measure of learning achievement of students in rural areas. The combination of these three sources allows us to compare both the "accounting cost" difference of public and private schools and also the "economic cost"—what it would take public schools, at their existing efficacy in producing learning, to achieve the learning results of the private sector. We estimate that the "accounting cost" per student in a government school in the median state in 2011/12 was Rs. 14,615 while the median child in private school cost Rs. 5,961. Hence in the typical Indian state, educating a student in government school costs more than twice as much than in private school, a gap of Rs. 7,906. Just these accounting cost gaps aggregated state by state suggests an annual excess of public over private cost of children enrolled in government schools of Rs. 50,000 crores (one crore=10 million) or 0.6 percent of GDP. But even that staggering estimate does not account for the observed learning differentials between public and private. We produce a measure of inefficiency that combines both the excess accounting cost and a money metric estimate of the cost of the inefficacy of lower learning achievement. This measure is the cost at which government schools would be predicted to reach the learning levels of the private sector. Combining the calculations of accounting cost differentials plus the cost of reaching the higher levels of learning observed in the private sector state by state (as both accounting cost differences and learning differences vary widely across states) implies that the excess cost of achieving the existing private learning levels at public sector costs is Rs. 232,000 crores (2.78% of GDP, or nearly US$50 billion). It might seem counterintuitive that the total loss to inefficiency is larger than the actual budget, but that is because the actual budget produces such low levels of learning at such high cost that when the loss from both higher expenditures and lower outputs are measured it exceeds expenditures.
  • Topic: Economics, Education, Government, Children, Youth
  • Political Geography: South Asia, India
  • Author: Seema Jayachandran, Rohini Pande
  • Publication Date: 04-2015
  • Content Type: Working Paper
  • Institution: The John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University
  • Abstract: India's child stunting rate is among the highest in the world, exceeding that of many poorer African countries. In this paper, we analyze data for over 174,000 Indian and Sub-Saharan African children to show that Indian firstborns are taller than African firstborns; the Indian height disadvantage emerges with the second child and then increases with birth order. This pattern persists when we compare height between siblings, and also holds for health inputs such as vaccinations. Three patterns in the data indicate that India's culture of eldest son preference plays a key role in explaining the steeper birth order gradient among Indian children and, consequently, the overall height deficit. First, the Indian firstborn height advantage only exists for sons. Second, an Indian son with an older sibling is taller than his African counterpart if and only if he is the eldest son. Third, the India-Africa height deficit is largest for daughters with no older brothers, which reflects that fact that their families are those most likely to exceed their desired fertility in order to have a son.
  • Topic: Health, Poverty, Children, International Development
  • Political Geography: Africa, South Asia, India