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Ahluwalia - Structural Adjustment and Reform in Developing Countries

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Structural Adj ustment and Reform i n Devel opi ng Countries Montek S Ahluwalia ã (Paper presented at the Conference sponsored by G-24 on the occasion of the Fiftieth Anniversary of the Bretton Woods Conference at Cartagena, Columbia, April 1994 The past ten years have seen a remarkable convergence of views among all segments of the development community - policy makers, academics and the major multilateral institutions - on what policies are good for development. The c
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  Structural Adjustment and Reform in Developing Countries Montek S Ahluwalia   (Paper presented at the Conference sponsored by G-24 on the occasion of the Fiftieth  Anniversary of the Bretton Woods Conference at Cartagena, Columbia, April 1994 The past ten years have seen a remarkable convergence of views among all segments of the development community - policy makers, academics and the major multilateral institutions - on what policies are good for development. The convergence is reflected in the near universal trend towards trade liberalisation and greater openness to foreign investment, greater reliance upon market forces in both the real and financial sectors, reduction in the role of the public sector in favour of the private sector, all underpinned by a sustained pursuit of macro-economic stability through low fiscal deficits. These are the common ingredients of programmes of structural adjustment and economic reform being implemented all over the developing world. 2. Impressive though the convergence is, it is not quite the consensus which is sometimes claimed. There are variations across countries in the intensity with which different elements are pursued, and there are unsettled issues about the optimal pace and sequencing of reforms. The experience with reforms in several countries has also created greater awareness of some of the problems that may arise in the course of implementation and these have implications for the design of reform programmes. This paper attempts to define the areas of consensus and identify some of the issues which remain unsettled and controversial. I. Factors Underlying The Convergence 3. It is useful to begin with a brief review of how the convergence on policy came about. Several factors were at work affecting each of the constituents of the development community, and these have obviously interacted with each other, making it difficult to disentangle their separate contributions. /) The Retreat From Structuralism  4. The convergence was clearly influenced by a shift in intellectual opinion away from the earlier structuralist view of development, which emphasised structural constraints and rigidities in developing countries and therefore underplayed the role of price and market signals, towards the view that many of these rigidities are the result of policy distortions which can be overcome through policy reform. In fact much of what is today called structural reform is essentially a market based response at overcoming constraints which earlier structuralists thought could not be overcome except through much longer term developmental processes 1 .  5.  The earlier structuralist focus on the inherently unfavourable external environment, and consequent export pessimism, for developing countries had given rise to the concept of a foreign exchange constraint and a consequential foreign exchange gap . This provided the early intellectual  justification for official resource transfers to developing countries which were expected to have large multiplier effects by relaxing the foreign exchange constraint. By the end of the seventies, as a result of influential studies by Little, Scitovsky and Scott (1970), Balassa (1971), Bhagwati (1978), Kreuger (1978), the structuralist view had given way to the perception that foreign exchange scarcity as largely a consequence of the anti-export bias of protectionist policies which led to poor export performance. The multiplier effect of injecting foreign exchange through concessional resource transfers was seen to be less important than the potential multipliers from expanding exports which operated through ã   The author is currently serving as Finance Secretary in the Government of India. The views expressed in this paper are those of the author. Acknowledgements are due to Shankar Acharya, Isher Ahluwalia,  Armeane Choksi, Vijay Joshi, Sarwar Lateef C Rangarajan, Javad Shirazi, NK Singh and Arvind Virmani for helpful comments. The usual disclaimers apply.   1   Helleiner (1994) rightly points out the debasement of the term structural reform which is increasingly employed to denote whatever policy package that a Government receiving a World Bank 'structural adjustment loan' was either being asked to undertake or actually did . There is no doubt that the term has acquired the flavour of Humpty Dumpty 's dictum. When I use a word it means just what I choose it to mean - neither more nor less.” 1  faster absorption of technology and the impact of greater competitive pressure arising from exposure to world markets. 6.  Where structuralists emphasised the need for massive domestic investment to build capacity, especially in infrastructure but also in industry generally, using the state as an entrepreneurial agent to stimulate investment, later academic work focussed much more attention on efficiency of resource use and factor productivity growth as key elements in economic dynamism. The focus on efficiency as a source of growth forced consideration of the economic environment most likely to encourage efficiency. In this context, several studies e.g. Kreuger and Tuncer (1982), Nishimizu and Robinson (1984) and Nishimizu and Page (1991) emphasised greater export orientation and lower levels of protection as key determinants of efficiency. The focus on efficiency has over the years also led to a much greater concern about human resource development which was typically neglected in the earlier capital investment oriented approach. 7.  The concern with efficiency also moderated the earlier enthusiasm about public sector investment as an engine of growth since experience in most countries showed the public sector to suffer from low levels of efficiency and inadequate profitability. Individual examples of efficient public sector units could always be found, ranging from the celebrated example of the Pohang Steel Plant in Korea to individual examples in other countries such as Mexico, Indonesia and India. However, the performance of the public sector as a whole in most developing countries clearly suffered from serious weaknesses which militated against efficiency and growth. 2) The Fund/Bank Role  8. The International Monetary Fund and the World Bank have been actively involved in the convergence and are often credited with its principal authorship. Williamson (1991), with embarrassing geo-centrism, has even christened the convergence as the Washington consensus ! There is no doubt that over the past ten years, the two institutions, which had somewhat distinct approaches earlier, have unified these approaches and become influential advocates of structural reforms in developing countries. 9.  The advocacy of structural reforms by the Bretton Woods twins came about in the aftermath of the second oil shock and was intensified after the debt crisis which revealed large external imbalances facing many countries. The traditional Fund approach of correcting balance of payments disequilibria through reduction in aggregate expenditure levels, supplemented by exchange rate depreciation, was increasingly seen to be ineffective in view of the size of the external adjustment needed in most debt burdened countries. It was recognised that reliance on this approach alone could produce stagflationary outcomes with a disruption in the growth process. The traditional Bank approach, focussing on providing long term project finance and thus indirectly filling critical foreign exchange gaps, was equally circumscribed in dealing with the post debt crisis situation because of the limited volume of resources which could be mobilised by the Bank and other aid donors in response to the greatly expanded need. The technical work of both the Bank and Fund Staff during the 1980s repeatedly endorsed the need for larger concessional resource flows and easier debt reschedulement for developing countries. However, political realities were such that additional resources were not made available. 10.  Adjustment to the post debt crisis world without significant access to additional resources implied that growth would suffer significantly unless substantial improvements in efficiency could be somehow triggered. It is in this context that the Fund and the Bank embarked upon ajoint advocacy of stabilisation aimed at achieving macro-economic stability in the short term, combined with structural reforms aimed at accelerating growth through supply side responses. The focus on structural reforms was partly a reaction to the widespread intellectual awareness of the importance and extent of policy distortions, but it was also partly a response to the inability to restore growth through provision of additional external resources. To some extent therefore structural reform had to be invented because it had become necessary! 11.  The rationale for structural reforms as advocated by the World Bank and the IMF has been spelt out in an impressive range of research studies based on experience in several countries. The World Development Report 1991 provided a summary statement of the World 2  Bank's case for structural reforms. It has also provoked counter statements by neo-structuralist critics such as Fanelli, Frenkel and Taylor (1993) and Singh (1992). An earlier and more detailed critique of the Fund-Bank approach to macro-economic policy is presented in Taylor (1988). 3) Policy Makers in Developing Countries   12.  Policy makers in the developing countries were obviously influenced by the retreat from structuralism in the academic world and could hardly ignore the consensus emerging in the multilateral institutions. But they were also changing their views on the basis of their own experience in the seventies and eighties. Latin America's experience was dominated by the difficulties in adjusting to the oil shock in the seventies and the subsequent, and related, debt crisis of the eighties. The failure of the partial liberalisation experiments of the Southern Cone countries in the 1970s, and the equally disappointing results from the heterodox stabilisation packages in Brazil, Argentina and Peru in the first half of the 1980s, created conditions which forced a rethinking of earlier strategies. In this they were undoubtedly influenced by the exemplary performance of East Asian countries which were able to bring about much greater export orientation in their economies and were also able to maintain a high degree of macro- economic stability all of which led to spectacular growth rates of GDP as well as employment. 13.  South Asian countries did not perform badly in the eighties but here too, the stellar performance of East Asia including the performance of China as a late reformer, led to a reorientation of strategy away from excessive Government control and high protection. A process of rethinking on economic policies began in India in the eighties when several steps were taken to reduce Government controls and liberalise foreign trade, though it was not until 1991 that India embarked on a programme of accelerated reform. Policies in Pakistan, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka were also moving in the same direction. The collapse of the centrally planned economies at the turn of the 1990s, and their wholesale adoption of market orientation and global integration, became an additional factor strengthening the push towards deregulation, greater openness and adoption of market friendly policies. 14.  An important feature of process of convergence is the modification of puristic or ideological positions on all sides. Among academics, including even structuralists, there is widespread recognition of the need to move away from earlier policies of excessive protection, persistent interference with market mechanisms and unquestioning belief in the efficacy of state intervention in achieving its stated and usually well meant objectives. In turn, the structuralist critique of conventional Fund-Bank programmes has created greater awareness in these institutions of possible adverse effects of reforms in certain circumstances calling for greater care in the design of the reform programme. Experience with structural reform programmes in many countries has also produced a more realistic assessment of the pace at which results can be expected. The experience of successful performers in East Asia has also influenced the convergence in important ways. While these economies have been highly successful in achieving outward orientation and high export growth, many of them are also economies where the Government has played an active role in many aspects of the economy including especially the provision of basic education and health. Recognition of the positive role of Government and its implications for the design of a reform programme are important elements of the current convergence. II. Some General Issues: Pace, Sequencing and Credibility  15. A characteristic feature of structural adjustment and reform programmes implemented by most developing countries in the past ten years is that the agenda of reforms ranges over a number of sectors, macro-economic as well as micro- economic or sectoral issues and managing policy change in so many dimensions poses special problems. The typical reform programme includes the following elements: i) Macro-economic stabilisation. ii) Domestic deregulation of investment production and prices, iii) Liberalisation of foreign trade, iv) Privatisation of the public sector, v) Financial Sector Reforms, vi) Tax reforms, 3   vii) Labour Market Reforms, viii) Social Safety Nets. Managing policy changes in so many dimensions poses special problems especially when the reforms are obviously inter-related in the sense that the effectiveness of each element in the package depends upon other elements being successfully implemented. This inter- relationship raises several issues about the design of the programme. 16. The first issue relates to the pace of reform or the choice between a big bang approach, also known as shock therapy in its Eastern European incarnation, in which all the reforms are implemented in a very short time, or a more cautious gradualist strategy. Opinions vary on the advantages of the two approaches and a good case can be made for either depending upon particular circumstances. In the idealised frictionless world of neo-classical theory, without political and social constraints, it may be optimal to implement the entire package immediately and achieve the adjustment to the new equilibrium in the quickest possible time so that the benefits of the reforms are evident as soon as possible. In practice there are lags in adjustment which affect the speed with which the economy will respond to different initiatives. If benefits take time to surface the constituency in support of reforms will also take time to emerge. The choice of pace of reform is also influenced by political constraints arising from the fact that all structural reforms involve some distributional changes in favour of some groups and against others, and there are limits on the extent of distributional change that can be tolerated. Such changes may not be adverse in a normative sense. For example a reduction in protection and a shift in incentives towards exports may benefit labour intensive export industries and low wage labour employed in these industries at the expense of highly protected capital intensive industries with high wage organised labour, and such a shift may even represent an improvement in total employment and income distribution. However distributional changes are bound to be resisted and especially so in democracies with active and participative political purposes. Such considerations could justify a gradualist strategy in which reforms are phased over several years to limit the distributional burdens on particular groups in the initial years until the benefit of the reforms in other dimensions become fully evident and generate necessary support. 17.  Earlier writers e.g. Little, Scitovsky and Scott (1970) had recommended gradualism as a logical strategy to minimise adjustment costs and ensure that the reforms are allowed to proceed at an acceptable pace. More recently, there has been greater support for a more rapid implementation of reforms on the grounds that it does not allow time for opposition to build up and also because it gives a clearer signal about future policies. Bruno (1992) has also argued for a rapid pace of implementation to counter reform fatigue which can otherwise build up. In practice the choice of pace is less a choice between polar opposites and more a decision of where to locate in a spectrum of possibilities. Experience with the big bang approach in Eastern Europe has been far from salutary. By contrast, the much more successful performance in East Asia is typically associated with reforms implemented in a measured way over a longer period. The balance of advantage would therefore seem to lie in a phased implementation of reforms where the pace is sufficiently fast to ensure reasonable results without risking excessive disruption in the short run. 18.  The second issue in managing reforms relates to optimal sequencing which is especially important if the pace of reform is gradualist. If the reforms are interdependent but their implementation is stretched out over time then certain elements of the reforms may not be successful unless accompanied by, or even preceded by, action in other areas. This raises typical second-best type problems since an otherwise sensible reform may not only be ineffective, but may actually prove counterproductive, if other elements are not in place. Trade policy reform aimed at reallocating productive resources in line with comparative advantage will not be effective if controls over production and investment prevent such reallocation from taking place. The problem of sequencing was first perceived in the context of the Southern Cone experiments in relation to the sequencing of capital account liberalisation but it is extremely relevant in all reform programmes. These issues are comprehensively reviewed in Edwards (1992) and Funke (1993). Not surprisingly, this is an area which throws up many more interesting questions than definitive answers. 4
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