Economic Research Forum (ERF)

February

Informality during political turmoil: evidence from the Arab Spring

How was the balance between Egypt’s formal and informal economies affected by the political turmoil that accompanied the Arab Spring? This column reports research showing that the number of jobs with no contract or social security coverage has increased in recent decades, but particularly since the uprising in 2011. Educated young people have been hurt more than the less educated.

Investment climate and firms’ exports in Egypt: when politics matters

Despite significant reforms taken by the Egyptian government to liberalise markets and enhance the business environment, political factors continue to affect firms’ capacity to export. This column reports research on the impact of the overall investment climate on Egyptian exports in the manufacturing sector.

Dilemmas of public policy in resource-rich countries

Large endowments of natural resources can be both a blessing and a curse: the key to having them be the former rather than the latter lies in good institutions that limit the power of interest groups and kleptocrats. This column argues that reform-minded policy-makers must find ways in which practical and innovative policies can be carried out without invoking resistance from entrenched interests.

Education gains through compulsory schooling: evidence from Turkey

A policy reform in Turkey in 1997 extended the length of compulsory schooling from five to eight years, a measure that involved substantial public investment in school infrastructure. This column reports research on the effects of the extension on educational outcomes and, in particular, on the equality of these outcomes between men and women, and between residents of urban and rural areas.

Capital raising in the Arab world

How do firms in Arab countries use equity, corporate bond and syndicated loan markets to obtain finance? This column reports research that provides a first documentation of issuance in domestic and international markets over a 25-year period from the early 1990s.

The promise of Middle East sovereign wealth funds

A decade ago, Middle Eastern sovereign wealth funds (SWFs) burst onto the global financial scene, raising eyebrows as they gobbled up assets in Europe and North America. But, as this Project Syndicate column argues, the world in which SWFs invest has changed, and they must change with it.

Life satisfaction in Arab countries

How do people in Egypt, Jordan, Morocco and Tunisia feel about their lives? Summarising analysis of data collected in nationally representative surveys, this column highlights three core messages about their reported health, happiness and views of the future.

Healthcare reform in Turkey: achievements and challenges

Healthcare reforms in Turkey have aimed to reduce the potentially heavy burden of ‘out-of-pocket’ payments on household resources and to provide health insurance for the poor. This column outlines the policies, their impact and some of the future challenges for policy-makers.

Multidimensional poverty in the poorest parts of MENA: agenda for action

A new measure of household poverty in the Arab countries provides the basis for tailored solutions across the region. This column reports the key findings of the first Arab Multidimensional Poverty Report and outlines an agenda for policy action.

The politics of trade protection: evidence from Mubarak’s Egypt

Trade liberalisation in many developing countries has been pursued selectively, with a general reduction in tariffs counterbalanced by growing reliance on non-tariff measures. This column reports research on the political economy of such selective trade reform in Mubarak-era Egypt. The evidence shows that sectors with a greater concentration of politically connected business ‘cronies’ enjoyed systematically higher levels of non-tariff protection.

Protecting households from catastrophic health costs: evidence from Sudan

Out-of-pocket’ (OOP) healthcare expenditure is a heavy burden on household resources in developing countries like Sudan where poverty and illness are widespread. This column proposes a package of practical actions to protect households from becoming victims of OOP expenditure – and to reduce the impoverishment when such expenditure becomes catastrophic.

Most read

Egypt’s care economy needs to address deteriorating working conditions

A robust and high-quality care economy is critical for supporting women’s employment – as both an employer of women and a mechanism for redistributing unpaid care work to the market. Yet in Egypt, despite national goals of expanding care services, employment in the sector has been shrinking, while becoming increasingly privatised. As this column reports, care jobs have also experienced worsening conditions of work, including reduced formality and the emergence of a pay penalty for care workers.

Unemployment among young women in GCC countries

The average rate of unemployment among young women in the high-income countries of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) is far higher than the equivalent for young men. This column reports new evidence on the extent to which flexible labour markets, in the context of a generous social contract, can reduce female youth unemployment rates in the region.

Boosting trade through flexible rules of origin in preferential agreements

Rules of origin are critical components of preferential trade agreements designed to stop products coming in under insufficient transformation or through the partner that applies the lowest tariff. But in practice, these rules are often needlessly complex, undoing the benefits of market access associated with trade agreements. This column reports research showing that the adoption of more flexible product-specific rules of origin within preferential agreements would give a significant boost to global trade.

Challenges of GCC investment in the energy transition

The countries of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) have identified the energy transition as a crucial area of growth and are investing heavily in a diverse array of projects. However, as this column explains, the region faces a number of challenges in making a success of these investments, most notably its current dependence on fossil fuels, a lack of infrastructure and technical expertise, the high upfront costs, and geopolitical tensions.

The decline of social insurance in Egypt: directions for reform

The longstanding challenge for the Egyptian economy of providing its workers with decent, formal, socially insured jobs has become even more difficult. As this column explains, informality has been rising rather than falling, with a substantial reduction in social insurance coverage for the employed since the late 1990s. Reforms are needed to reverse this decline.

Social insurance in Egypt: between costly formality and legal informality

The rates of participation of Egyptian workers in contributory social insurance has continued to decline, even during times when the country has had positive annual growth rates. This column discusses key institutional elements in the design of the current social insurance scheme that have contributed to the growing gap in coverage, particularly the scheme’s cost and eligibility requirements.

Making trade agreements more environmentally friendly in the MENA region

Trade policy can play a significant role in efforts to decarbonise the global economy. But as this column explains, there need to be more environmental provisions in trade agreements in which developing countries participate – and stronger legal enforcement of those provisions at the international level. The MENA region would benefit substantially from such changes.

Jordan: navigating through multiple crises

Jordan’s real GDP per capita is today no higher than it was 40 years ago. While external factors have undoubtedly had an adverse effect on the country’s economic outcomes, weak macroeconomic management and low public spending on investment and the social sectors have also played a substantial role. This column explores what can be done to reduce high public debt, accelerate private sector development and enhance social outcomes.

Egypt and Iraq: amenities, environmental quality and taste for revolution

The Middle East and North Africa is a region marked by significant political turbulence. This column explores a novel dimension of these upheavals: the relationship between people’s satisfaction with, on one hand, the amenities to which they have access and the environmental quality they experience, and, on the other hand, their inclination towards revolutionary actions. The data come from the World Value Survey collected in 2018 in Egypt and Iraq.

Iran’s globalisation and Saudi Arabia’s defence budget

How might Saudi Arabia react to Iran's renewed participation in global trade and investment? This column explores whether the expanding economic globalisation of Iran, following the lifting of nuclear sanctions, could yield a peace dividend for Saudi Arabia, consequently dampening the Middle East arms competition. These issues have attracted increased attention in recent times, notably after a pivotal agreement between the two countries in March 2023, marking the resumption of their political ties after a seven-year conflict.