Friday, 30 December 2011

More top of the lists to you

And the round up of top 10's of 2011 continues. The first is the World Bank's top 100 blogs of 2011. There are quite a few good ones. There is some thorough development economics along with the blog on the impact of blogs (that got me interested at the start)!

For fun there is also Mail & Guardian's top 10 Zapiro cartoons of 2011. Enjoy.

To finish up, this is my first try using Blogsy on the iPad. Hopefully it will be easier as I get to know the app!

Trending #mandela

Thursday, 29 December 2011

More round ups of 2011

If you want a quick recap of events in 2011 (and like me, pretend that you have not fallen that far behind with everything) have a look at these links.

The Economist charts the year and I like this one: Google searches for "gold price" as a measure of uncertainty and volatility.

For some SA info, have a look at the Mail & Guardian's special report 2011-its-a-wrap. It mentions, amongst other things, the Wallmart deal, the Opperheimer family selling their stake of De Beers and the Nationalisation debate.

Thursday, 22 December 2011

Best of 2011

It is the time of the year when everyone is making lists of the best of 2011 - the best books (of which I have not read enough), the best albums (I've heard some of the songs), the top 10 iPad apps (I'm actually using a few!) and many more. The BBC, The Atlantic and the Washington Post's Wonkblog asked economists about the most important graphs of 2011. There are a few interesting ones, check them out:
As the ECB started its largest refinancing of banks yesterday, this is good one showing how interest rates reflect the Euro crisis:

Wednesday, 23 November 2011

Einde November en die spoed vir punte-admin, eksaminering van verhandelings en vergaderings in die algemeen raak nou min. So ek speel bietjie op die web. As iemand nie keer nie gaan ek my Klout score ook bereken!

Sunday, 20 November 2011

Colloquium on the National Development Plan

On the 11th of November the National Planning Commission (NPC) published the National Development Plan (NDP). After months of planning and consultation, the NPC Jam and numerous presentations across the country, they put forward a vision for South Africa in 2030.
Last week the School of Economics at NWU hosted the first Peet Strydom colloquium and the topic of discussion was perspectives on the NDP. The panel included Prof Strydom (an extraordinary Professor in the School) as well as Proff Philippe Burger, Raymond Parsons, Theo Venter and the discussion was moderated by Cees Bruggemans. The discussants presented macro, micro and political economy views on the NDP. Academic economists from the NWU, UJ, UP, UNISA and Monash South Africa were in attendance along with participants from the Reserve Bank, Planning Commission and the private sector.

The panel agreed that the NDP is centrist document on how to make a mixed economy work better and liked the absence of ideology and spirit of endowment, rather than entitlement. The challenges outlined by the NPC are the familiar ones of reducing unemployment, poverty and inequality and first and foremost this requires economic growth. Prof Strydom stressed that increasing economic growth rates from 3% to 5% per annum and more, requires that policymakers, business and labour do many different things right. The different elements of the plan that were discussed included export-led growth, education and training, infrastructure, the role of small business and the relationship between business and labour.

Prof Burger noted that although export-led growth will have to be part of the solution it is no panacea. The markets that we export to are not doing well and South Africa cannot compete as a low-cost manufacturer. Average hourly wages in South Africa are up to five times higher than in India and three times higher than in Mexico and Malaysia. There is a need to increase the productivity of low-skilled labour and this raises issues of education, training and innovation. It also links up with the need for infrastructure investment. Prof Strydom argued that South Africa has experienced the destruction of infrastructure capital and there is a clear need to improve the quality of railways infrastructure, electricity provision and water management. He was not, however, in favour of the wide spread use of user charges and argued that government needs to supply the infrastructure at growth points. Linked to the cost competitiveness of business the panellists spoke about a need for a re-think of the centralised bargaining model. In was noted that the NDP has interesting proposals on short-term employment contracts, rules regarding dismissals and foreign skills. The fact that the NDP makes no mention of the informal sector or second economy was also discussed. It was argued that the informal sector can be a job creator, but the challenge lies in turning survivalist activities into for-profit SMMEs. There is, however, limited South African research available on the barriers to entry, need for skills development and the roles of regulation and competition.

On the political economy-side of the panel Prof Parsons emphasised along with “doing many different things right”, a vision for 2030 implies a decades-long process involving some pain: forgoing consumption now for a better life later, businesses will have to prepare for more competition and labourers for wage moderation. For this to succeed, requires a credible vision, a strategy for getting there and policymakers that are trusted. Such criteria raises questions about the political sustainability of the NDP: Can minister Manual survive politically to see it through, is there institutional capacity, what can be the roles of the private sector, labour and civil society?
At the end of the colloquium the discussion centred around the issue of political will. The NDP is another in a long line of plans and strategies: the RDP, GEAR, the Jobs Summit, the Growth and Development summit, ASGISA, the work of the Harvard group an and the growth commission, but there may not be time left for another summit or plan. A lack of coherence or coordination of policies and ambivalent signals from government (think mining nationalisation and the Wallmart court case) can be particularly detrimental. We now require a reconciliation of the New Growth Path and the National Development Plan and the building of a social compact to face our challenges head-on.

All this being said, the NDP is a discussion document that will be talked about much more in months to come!

Wednesday, 26 October 2011

The mini-budget or MTBPS

Yesterday Minister Gordhan presented the so-called mini-budget in Parliament and today the Medium Term Budget Policy Statement or #MTBPS is trending on Twitter. I still want to write up something on the industrial policy ideas that are floating out there in policy circles and the media, but for now here is a quick word could on the MTBPS and a link to a Storify story.

Saturday, 15 October 2011

Om te meet is om te weet

Donderdagaand het ons ʼn paar sensus-opnemers hier is die straat gesien en Hanlie het besluit om nie te wag om getel te word nie, maar om sommer aan te meld. Ons het uitgevra oor die opnemers, die ure, die ontvangkilheid van mense en sommer daar in sterk skemer op hulle bakkie se seil die vorm voltooi. Dit het my opnuut laat dink aan die duisterhede van data en navorsing.

Vir navorsing oor ekonomiese geografie is die sensus onontbeerlik. Mense en ekonomiese aktiwiteite koek saam op plekke en die sensus is een van die min opnames wat mens ʼn idee kan gee van wat in die hele land aangaan. Dit gaan dan ook oor baie meer as om net die bevolking te tel. Navorsers wil weet waar trek hoogsgeskoolde mense saam, want hulle is van die dryfvere van ekonomiese groei. Beleidmakers moet weet wat die aard van plaaslike armoede is. In Ekonomie leer ons vir die eerstejaars dat dit groot vrae wat ons wil beantwoord is WAT, HOE en VIR WIE om te produseer, maar WAAR dit alles gebeur is ook van belang. Wanneer die resultate beskikbaar is sien ek uit om ondersoek in te stel in watter dorpe en stede die ekonomiese geleenthede en uitdagings is en hoe dit sedert die 2001 sensus verander het.

Om deel te wees van die proses wys egter ook die beperkinge van opnames en data wat ons wil gebruik om ingewikkelde vrae te antwoord. Mense twiet met verbasing dat hulle baie ernstig gevra word in watter bevolkingsgroep hulle hulself sal klassifiseer! Dit is dalk vir jou voor die handliggend, maar dit is juis daar sodat jou stem gehoor word en nie die opnemer se opinie nie. Hanlie vertel dat ʼn tannie in ons blok die volgende oggend luidkeels moeilik was met die opnemers oor hoekom hulle wil weet of sy ʼn yskas, stofsuier ensovoorts in die huis het – tannies julle maak navorsers se lewe moeilik met al daardie oop spasies in Excel!

My punt is dus dat ons almal vinnig kla oor die gehalte van die navorsing en beleid wat moet help om uitdagings soos werkloosheid, armoede en swak dienslewering aan te spreek, maar wanneer daar kans is om ʼn inset te maak is jy bang dit vat dalk tyd. Maak eerder navorsers se harte bly en doen jou beste om deel te wees van Sensus 2011. Volg hulle sommer ook op Twitter: @StatsSA en @Census2011SA

Saturday, 1 October 2011

Some thoughts on the NPC Jam

This week saw the National Planning Commission's NPC Jam and I enjoyed it a lot. The Jam was a large online forum, a policy consultation and crowd-sourcing effort towards a vision for South Africa in 2030. It is closed for new comments and discussions now, but you can still log in and read everyone’s comments.

I mainly followed the discussions about the economy and there were a few threads that had a lot of replies. The entrepreneurship and SME thread started by Mr Cyril Ramaphosa was active with a range of different proposal about the role that SMEs can play in addressing the challenges of low economic growth rates and unemployment in South Africa. There were posts about the ease of doing business, access to finance, skills and training. I added that the discussion still needs some clarity about what is meant by small and medium firms. There is also a need for more analysis of the barriers that prevent firms from growing and employing more people. New evidence out of the US shows that SMEs are not the job creators that many people argue (Justin Wolfers tweets that he is still getting hate mail on his comments about this).

Other interesting threads included John Robbie’s proposal for an economic CODESA 3 and discussions on taxes, nationalisation and rural development. The wage subsidy thread started by Kuben Naidoo drew an interesting response from Neil Rankin. Neil wrote that they have a project at AMERU that follows 4,000 young people over 4 years as they attempt to find jobs.  Things that stand out include:
  • there is a huge number of unemployed youth in SA and companies face large numbers of people wanting jobs,
  • to hear about and get jobs requires some link into companies and thus many young people are marginalised because they do not have these links,
  • the most trusted signal for the employer is previous work experience of the young person and a reference from a previous employer.
He concluded it is vitally important to get young people into jobs as early as possible, since this has a large impact on their lifetime work trajectory. Neil also argued that we need to think hard about what constrains companies from growing and particularly entering or expanding their sales in the international market where demand is much greater than in the local market.

Amongst the discussions about the labour market I also spotted contributions by two NWU-Pukke Economics students. Erich Wilgenbus (who wrote 19 comments!) discussed the importance of labour market flexibility and Tiaan de Kock linked onto Neil’s point about the importance of getting young people into jobs where they can get some work experience.

At the end of the day (RWC lingo is spilling over into my life as well) I enjoyed the Jam a lot and can see how it would be fun to be a full-time commentator, blogger, economist.

Tuesday, 27 September 2011

Die toekoms van onderrig en assessering is op jou selfoon

As mens eers ʼn blog het sien jy skielik oral berigte oor hoekom ʼn Prof moet tweet en blog. Daar is dalk ʼn mate van self-selection ter sprake, maar oral waar ek kyk is daar nuus oor die gebruik van tegnologie in onderrig. The Economist het ʼn lekker berig gehad oor die internet in die klaskamer en mens kan sommer direk na Salman Khan se TED lesing luister.

Op die NWU-Pukke kampus is ek self betrokke by ʼn loodsprojek waaroor ek baie opgewonde is: in-klas, intydse elektroniese terugvoer. Die ou grappie is dat op skool draai die Juffrou by die bord om, om seker te maak dat almal by is. In derdejaars ekonometrie hoop die Prof dat iemand by is! Maar die dae wat ek ʼn vraag uitgooi vir die gehoor is nou getel. Met die nuwe Quiz stelsel kan mens vooraf ʼn klomp vrae op die stelsel laai en studente kan hulle selfone se web browsing funksie gebruik om daar in die klas vrae te antwoord en terugvoer te kry. 

Die opsies is natuurlik uiteenlopend. Mens hoef nie net meervoudige keusevrae te vra nie.

Om seker te maak dat die uitkomste is bemeester word makliker. Die resultate is op die internet beskikbaar vir die dosent so as jy jou iPad of Galaxy tablet byderhand het kan jy vinnig sien waar die studente vashaak.

Daar is natuurlik nog groeipyne: almal se fone werk nie ewe lekker nie en 3G en wi-fi sein wissel oor kampus, maar ons is besig met die proof of concept. Die toekoms van onderrig en assessering is op jou selfoon.

Thursday, 22 September 2011

Analysis needed

This week we had some interesting meetings about economic policy with provincial government and a local investment promotion agency. We all agreed that growth and job creation happens in specific places and there is a need to consider the provincial or local implications of, for example, the IPAP2. What is amazing is how little we all know about which firms are producing WHAT, HOW and WHERE. Data on sub-national economic activity is limited to official annual estimates at provincial level or the databases build by private sector consultants. Almost no-one has any reliable firm-level information. Yet policymakers want suggestions for programmes that they can implement.

This brings me to the point that Johan Fourie raised on his blog today: the typical textbook/ foreign-expert recommendations for such programmes would be to build infrastructure, encourage on-the-job training or ensure a business-friendly environment for firms to grow. Ideas like wage subsidies and arguments for a weaker Rand exchange rate and import substitution strategies are also out there. However, to develop sensible interventions will require more work by academic researchers and an opportunity to make themselves heard.

As in the case of education research, there are a number of people who are doing excellent work. At firm-level Neil Rankin and his AMERU team at Wits are busy with a Youth Unemployment Intervention Evaluation project. Volker Schoër has examined the importance of social networks in finding employment, but considering the scope of the challenges, they need co-workers, collaborators, support. We don’t really know what the barriers that prevent firms to export are, how important links with the suppliers of intermediate goods are, how thick local labour markets are, or how firms are innovating.

Consider this something of a call for more research at the micro-level. We are making plans in the School of Economics, but if you want to join my project mayhem, give me a shout.