Economic Research Forum (ERF)


Policy for the Covid-19 crisis: survey of leading economists

How should governments respond to the global pandemic? This column reports the views of leading economists on seeming trade-offs between strict public health measures to save lives and the likelihood of a severe economic contraction. The respondents to the latest IGM Forum survey are also unanimous about the desirability of greater government investment in treatment capacity.

On Lebanon’s economic crisis and recourse to IMF assistance

Failures of fiscal policy, monetary policy and banking practices have led to economic crisis in Lebanon. This column argues that the focus of the new government’s plan for national recovery should be on fiscal governance and policy measures that constitute the bedrock for reforms in other areas of economic policy. Assistance from the International Monetary Fund can support their implementation and an effective rescue programme.

Dutch disease, developing oil-exporting countries and Iraq’s exchange rate

It is sometimes suggested that the Iraqi economy is similar to that of the Netherlands after the discovery of extensive reserves of natural resources: suffering from an overvalued currency that depresses exports and economic activity in other sectors – what is known as ‘Dutch disease’. This column argues that such analysis does not apply to Iraq – or indeed to the economies of any of the world’s developing oil-exporting countries – and leads to erroneous conclusions about the country’s exchange rate.

How COVID-19 could shape a new world order

The COVID-19 pandemic is a massive shock to the world economy and its impact will be wide-ranging across all domains of life. This column examines some of the potential effects – from the household level through societies’ priorities to international relations.

COVID-19 pandemic and the Middle East and Central Asia

The number of confirmed COVID-19 pandemic in the Middle East and Central Asia began rising sharply in late February. At the same time, oil prices have been forced downwards owing to falling global demand (due to the pandemic) and rising supply (stemming from a price war between suppliers). With the intertwined shocks expected to deal a severe blow to economic activity in the region, this column originally published on the blog of the International Monetary Fund, outlines the channels of economic impact and the policy priorities.

Countermeasures for the COVID-19 outbreak in Egypt

The COVID-19 outbreak interrupts a remarkable but short-lived improvement in Egypt’s economic performance following the implementation of recent reforms supported by the International Monetary Fund. This column outlines essential countercyclical measures to accommodate the likely economic damage from the pandemic, and emphasises the importance of sound institutions as a safeguard against potential misuse of the measures after the crisis and to ensure the sustainability of the reform outcomes.

Elections and economic cycles: evidence from Turkey’s recent experiences

It has long been understood that incumbent politicians are likely to have incentives to manipulate fiscal policy around election times to improve economic circumstances. This column reports evidence from Turkey indicating that election cycles in recent years may have taken a financial form rather than a fiscal form, notably in the contrasting corporate lending cycles of state-owned banks across provinces with different political affiliations.

Oil price wars in a time of COVID-19

A combination of supply and demand shocks has sent oil prices plunging and financial markets tumbling. This column argues that if the decline in oil prices persists, it will erode the fragile macroeconomic and social stability of countries – especially those in the Middle East and North Africa – that have been hit by the novel coronavirus.

Lebanon’s economic crisis: how to avoid a ‘lost decade’

An independent group of development specialists, economists and finance experts met in Beirut in late December to discuss Lebanon’s economic crisis and the way forward. This column summarises their ten-point action plan to arrest the crisis and place the country on a path of sustained recovery.

The Sustainable Development Goals as a framework for policy in MENA

ERF’s annual conference has become the premier regional event for economists of the Middle East and North Africa (MENA). This column previews the 2020 conference, which was due to take place in Luxor, Egypt, in March but has been postponed until later in the year. The central focus will be on the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) as a framework for MENA’s development policy.

What’s at stake in Libya?

The battle for Libya is a complicated affair involving not just the warring parties on the ground, but also a host of regional and global powers vying for regional influence and control of energy resources. As this Project Syndicate column explains, unless it ends soon, it could sow instability in neighbouring countries and trigger more waves of refugees fleeing to Europe.

The coronavirus: potential effects on the Middle East and North Africa

The novel coronavirus, which first emerged in China in late 2019, has the potential to disrupt the economies of the Middle East and North Africa through four distinct channels: directly through infections; and indirectly through oil prices, value chains and tourism. As this column explains, the infection and oil price channels are the most significant, with the virus having spread to Iran and other MENA countries and oil prices having dropped $20 per barrel since its discovery.

Tackling tax evasion: how an obscure statistical law can help

Benford’s law – which suggests that the leading digits in various types of numerical data are not uniformly distributed – can be used to detect tax evasion in international trade. This column reports an application to imports data and an unexpected trade policy change in Turkey, the results of which reveal an increase in evasion after a doubling of the tax on imports that use external financing. Based on such analysis, tax authorities could decide where to channel resources in their fight against evasion.

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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.