Economic Research Forum (ERF)

January

Tunisia is back on a knife edge – here’s why

While celebrating the seventh anniversary of the ousting of president Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali, Tunisians been demonstrating against their government. This column, which originally appeared on The Conversation website explores what is going on and where the country should go from here

Breaking Egypt’s unsocial contract

What have been the economic and political underpinnings of Egypt’s transition between social contract models? This column explores possible pathways to a new, more equitable and sustainable social contract, and the challenges such a contract would face. It examines the power structure in Egypt’s current ‘unsocial contract’ and whether it is possible to make the transition to a different but better social contract.

Financial inclusion, financial stability and inequality

Are programmes aimed at promoting financial inclusion in the countries of the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) leading to less poverty and income inequality and more financial stability? This column outlines the evidence from a study of eight MENA countries.

Fiscal management of oil resources in booms and busts

To manage the volatility of commodity prices, resource-rich countries are typically advised to adopt a fiscal policy framework that can be operated counter-cyclically. Drawing on Norway’s experience, this column explains that a fiscal spending rule will not necessarily shelter the economy: if the constructed rule is too lax over the commodity price cycle, fiscal policy may even exacerbate the business cycle.

Corporate ownership and performance in the United Arab Emirates

While state ownership of companies is widely thought to lead to inefficiencies, in the United Arab Emirates, it has proved to be a pillar of good corporate performance. This column describes the country’s experience over the period 2008-16, evaluating the performance of listed companies and banks, and comparing indicators across privately owned companies and those in which the government holds majority stakes.

Promoting better jobs for young people in Egypt

A young person’s first job has a huge impact on the rest of their working life. Today, Egyptian youth face big challenges in securing that first position. This column explains why active labour market policies are unlikely to help with the initial transition into employment. Instead, policy-makers in Egypt should focus on improving the investment climate for small firms, and creating safe and accessible jobs for young women.

When you’re stuck in quicksand, stop kicking

As the golden age of oil nears its end, incomes in the MENA region are destined to fall precipitously from their artificial petrodollar-boosted levels. Using the analogy of how to respond to being caught in quicksand, this column argues that the quick kicks of investment in big projects and misguided wars will drag the region down further. While structural reforms are slow and boring, they are also indispensable for economic progress.

Sticks rather than carrots to expand the formal economy

Reforms that get more firms and workers into the formal economy can come in the form of both inducements such as better information and lower costs – ‘carrots’ – and legal enforcement – ‘sticks’. This column surveys the research evidence on the potential of carrots, sticks and other development policies for promoting greater formalisation and the many benefits it can bring to the economy and wider society.

Women’s education: harbinger of another spring?

Cultural norms and the social environment in many Middle Eastern societies discriminate against women, limit their socio-economic opportunities and relegate them to a lower status than men. Can education bring a change? This column reports research on what happened to young women and their children when Turkey raised the period of compulsory formal schooling from five to eight years.

How to diversify oil-producing economies

Many oil- and gas-rich countries have either announced or put in place policies to reduce their dependence on oil by diversifying their economies. This column argues that the key is to shift the focus away from the end goal of diversification and towards the transformation process of how to get there.

Ageing and pensions coverage in Arab countries

Arab countries experiencing economic and humanitarian crises are paying insufficient attention to the demographic trend of ageing populations. This column argues that providing economic security and healthcare for the elderly is one of the key challenges for the region.

Getting more women into employment in Egypt

Despite significant increases in women’s education and health indicators in Egypt, their rate of labour force participation remains one of the lowest in the world. This column explains how marriage acts as an obstacle for women taking jobs in the private sector, and outlines potential remedies to the ‘marriage mismatch’.

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.