Economic Research Forum (ERF)


Accelerating Africa’s economic transformation

The Covid-19 pandemic is likely to exacerbate the move away from globalisation that began early this century and promote regionalisation around big economic blocs. This column, originally published at the LSE Business Review, explains how African countries have an opportunity to deepen regional integration and create their own value chains, transforming the raw materials that they have in abundance. Agribusiness could be as pivotal for Africa as coal and steel for Europe because of the benefits of food security and jobs for the continent.

Prospects for Sudan’s peace agreement in the shadow of the coup

The Juba Agreement for Power Sharing in Sudan (JAPS) signed in late 2020 raised hopes of ending almost two decades of internal armed conflict in Sudan, but the military coup of October 2021 has thrown doubt on whether the peace process can succeed. This column summarises research concluding that even without the coup, the JAPS alone would have been insufficient to bring peace and democracy to the country.

Getting the private sector to generate decent jobs in Arab countries

Formal private sector firms in Arab countries suffer from four overlapping labour market challenges: job creation, inequality, productivity and technology. As this column explains, proposed policy responses need to rise to the enormity of these challenges. They also need to take account of short-term interventions to address Covid-19, as well as medium and long-term solutions to structural problems.

MENA public healthcare systems: building resilience for future emergencies

The pandemic caught most countries in the Middle East and North Africa with underfinanced, imbalanced and ill-prepared healthcare systems. This column outlines what went wrong, the economic and health impacts, and the implications for policy. The authors conclude that together with a strong focus on building core public health functions, leveraging the power of data openness can help to promote the region’s recovery. It can also support resilient systems capable of responding to future health calamities arising from epidemics, wars and natural disasters driven by climate change.

Climate finance: poorer countries need it as a matter of urgency

Climate change will shrink the economies of rich, poor, hot and cold countries alike, and will make it more difficult and more expensive to raise the finance needed to decarbonise in the future. This column, which originally appeared on The Conversation website, argues that the cost of early action is far cheaper than the cost of delayed action. Mobilising climate finance is a win-win for both the developed and developing economies.

Energy subsidies: easy pickings for climate policy or political bombshell?

In the Middle East and North Africa, energy consumption is heavily subsidised, which has harmful environmental consequences. But reform of energy subsidies is politically difficult, not least because of limited government legitimacy and citizen distrust of authorities. This column argues for a new holistic approach to reform to account for the frail social contract that has prevailed for decades between elites and the broad population of the region.

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Sustaining entrepreneurship: lessons from Iran

Does entrepreneurial activity naturally return to long-term average levels after big economic disturbances? This column presents new evidence from Iran on trends in entrepreneurship among various categories of firm size, sector and location – and suggests policies that could be effective in promoting entrepreneurial activities.

Happiness in the Arab world: should we be concerned?

Several Arab countries have low rankings in the latest comparative assessment of average happiness across the world. But as this column explains, the average is not a reliable summary statistic when applied to ordinal data. The evidence from more robust analysis of socio-economic inequality in happiness suggests that policy-makers should be less concerned about happiness indicators than the core development objective of more equitable social conditions for citizens.

Financial constraints on small firms’ growth: pandemic lessons from Iran

How does access to finance affect the growth of small businesses? This column presents new evidence from Iran before and during the Covid-19 pandemic – and lessons learned by micro, small and medium-sized enterprises.

The economics of Israeli war aims and strategies

Israel’s response to last October’s Hamas attack has led to widespread death and destruction. This column outlines the impact thus far, including the effects on food scarcity, migration and the Palestinian economy in both Gaza and the West Bank.

It’s too early to tell what happened to the Arab Spring

Did the Arab Spring fail? This column presents a view the consensus view from ERF’s recent annual conference in Morocco: careful analysis of the fundamental drivers of democratic transitions suggests that it’s too early to tell.

Arab regional cooperation in a fragmenting world

As globalisation stalls, regionalisation has emerged as an alternative. This column argues that Arab countries need to face the new realities and move decisively towards greater mutual cooperation. A regional integration agenda that also supports domestic reforms could be an important source of growth, jobs and stability.

Gender differences in business record-keeping and planning in Iraq

Only one in every ten informal businesses in Iraq is led by a woman. Yet as research summarised in this column reveals, those businesses are more likely to set budgets and sales targets, and to keep business records. This may be evidence of the role of social exclusion in motivating greater reliance on the formal bureaucratic system.

Self-employment in MENA: the role of religiosity and personal values

How important are individual’s values and beliefs in influencing the likelihood that they will embrace the responsibilities, risks and entrepreneurial challenge of self-employment? This column presents evidence from 12 countries in the Middle East and North African region on the roles of people’s religiosity and sense of personal agency in their labour market choices.

Reformed foreign ownership rules in UAE: the impact on business entry

In an effort to stimulate economic growth and diversify the economy, the government of the United Arab Emirates has recently implemented regulatory reform that allows 100% foreign ownership of companies operating in the country. This column examines the implications of the reform for entry of new firms in Dubai, using unique data on new business licences in the emirate.

Conflict and debt in the Middle East and North Africa

With the global economy is in its third year of deceleration amid declining inflation and oil prices, the Middle East and North Africa grew by just 1.9% in 2023, with a forecast for growth in 2024 at 2.7%. In addition to heightened uncertainty brought on by the conflict centred in Gaza, many countries in the region are also grappling with pre-existing vulnerabilities, including rising debt levels. This column summarises a new report that unpacks the nature of debt in MENA – and explains the critical importance of keeping rising debt stocks in check.