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December 13, 2011

Ethiopia's lost wealth; climate change adaptation in action; Busan and Durban unpacked; Britain v Europe; who needs leaders? NGOs send emails: links I liked

December 13, 2011

The next World Development Report is on Jobs, and I'm worried about it

December 13, 2011
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market trader africaHere we go again. Last week, a bunch of us NGO types had an initial discussion with the World Bank on its next flagship World Development Report, the 2013 edition of which will be on jobs (defined as ‘productive activity that is remunerated’), to be published in late 2012. Great subject, and one that is horribly neglected. Income from work is one of the best ways to reduce poverty; decent jobs play a vital role in improving self-esteem and a sense of well-being; and unemployment is rising across the world (and underpinned the uprisings of the Arab Spring).

Dena Ringold, from the WDR team, whizzed us through a 50 slide powerpoint based on the 48 page outline of the report, which is already up on the website. She set out the main messages of the report:

“Jobs are transformational. We tend to neglect jobs when thinking about growth, while in reality they are at the center of development. Jobs connect improvements in living standards, productivity gains and social cohesion.

What is a “good job”? Some jobs do more for economic and social development than others, because they reduce poverty and inequality, strengthen value chains and production clusters, or help build trust and shared values.

Policies through the jobs lens. Understanding how labor markets interact with government and market imperfections, and how this interaction affects development goals, is the key to identifying and evaluating policies for the creation of good jobs.”

In terms of the big picture debate, putting jobs (rather than growth or productivity) at the centre of development (see pic) is a big deal, WDR jobs at the centreand may be more important than all the detailed analysis that follows.

As for typically neuralgic NGO issues:

• Yes, the WDR will discuss how jobs affect subjective wellbeing (not just income)

• Yes, there will be lots on the importance of women’s earnings in terms of their bargaining power within households and the way they spend income on food, health and education

• Yes there will be a link to the rights agenda

• But no, not much sign of links to the unpaid/care economy or to planetary boundaries/green economy agendas. Nor much discussion on the power relationships/political economy issues that determine what kinds of jobs are created. I’m also a bit worried that the discussion on social cohesion, while welcome, could become a substitute for talking about inequality.

So if there is so much good stuff, plus the Bank’s ability to synthesize mountains of academic literature and generate new data and insights, along with its laudable commitment to transparency, why did my heart sink as the conversation progressed?

Firstly, it’s the insistence on economic ‘analytics’ as the only permissible source of evidence. This pushes the discussion towards seeing jobs in terms of short-run efficiency. I raised the importance of looking at history, and studying how successful economies (Germany, Korea etc) have created and upgraded jobs over decades, but had the familiar sensation of NGOs and World Bank talking past each other.

This feeling recurs in almost every such exercise, and was brilliantly discussed by Ravi Kanbur, in a paper written after he resigned from directing the Bank’s 2000 WDR on poverty. He argued that the Bank and its critics disagree because of profound ‘differences of perspective and framework on Aggregation, Time Horizon and Market Structure’. By aggregation, he meant the Bank’s preference for large data sets v NGOs’ preference for case studies and specific historical episodes. By time horizon, he meant that the Bank typically works with medium term (2-3 years), whereas NGOs think both more short-term (what’s happening to people now?) and long term (where will they be in ten years’ time?).

By market structure, which Ravi presented as ‘the most potent difference in framework and perspective’, he meant that ‘the implicit framework of [the World Bank] in thinking through the consequences of economic policy on distribution and poverty is that of a competitive market structure of a large number of small agents interacting without market power over each other. The instinctive picture that [NGOs have] of market structure is one riddled with market power wielded by agents in the large and in the small.’ In the intervening decade, I think there has been a bit of convergence on the first two – aggregation and time horizon – but the market structure issue remains a major source of disagreement.

That’s linked to a second issue, the lack of multi-disciplinarity. Work is steeped in cultural, social, historical and political meaning way beyond the question of income, as the report partly acknowledges. But judging by the website, the team is 100% economists. Don’t get me wrong, some of my best friends are economists (really) and they obviously have to be central to any discussion about jobs. But where are the anthropologists to discuss the deeper cultural and social meaning of work, or historians to show how it evolves over time (think of the changing attitude to women’s work or child labour – in 1724 Daniel Defoe said that all children over the age of 4 or 5 could earn their own bread)? Or political economists to discuss the link between the nature of production and political and economic power (for example, how the move away from large-scale Fordist production has undermined both trade unions and the social democratic parties they helped create)? The WDR team will doubtless commission some papers from other disciplines, but if the core staff come from an academic monoculture (OK, I know there’s lots of different kinds of economists, but still….), the danger is that insights from other disciplines will only be adopted if they can pass through the filter of ‘economic analytics’  – a potential missed opportunity to think more deeply about the nature, purpose and human value of work.

garment workers bangladeshOne example of why multi-disciplinarity matters: how deeply will the report explore the links between anxiety/insecurity and work? My colleague Moussa Haddad attended the discussion and reckons this is a key area of difference – NGOs focus (sometimes too much, in my view) on highlighting and avoiding the ‘destruction’ in creative destruction, whereas the Bank thinks more about the ‘creation’ part. Moussa asks ‘if the reallocation of jobs across sectors, and increasingly countries is happening quicker and quicker, due to the exponential growth of technological innovation – then at some point are the productivity gains outweighed by the social damage they do?’ 

Third, great that jobs are presented as the ‘hinge’ of development. But from the presentation, it looks like that hinge will then be explored almost entirely in terms of improving the enabling environment for employers. That could easily end up producing a kinder, gentler tweak of the standard Washington Consensus: make it easier to hire and fire and otherwise ‘flexibilize’ the workforce; trade unions are a ‘distortion’ to the efficient workings of labour markets etc (see Kanbur’s point three). Why not, as Christina Weller from CAFOD suggested in the meeting, focus on the enabling environment for workers, starting by asking them what makes for decent, life-enhancing jobs? Perhaps the Bank could conduct a ‘Voices of the Workers’ exercise – a miniature version of their great Voices of the Poor project – and build the WDR around the priorities it reveals, which would probably be very different from the standard ‘economic analytics’ focus on rigidities, flexibility, productivity etc? (CAFOD did a small exercise on this and found issues like health, social protection and childcare were central concerns). Could the Bank develop a metrics for the ‘social return on employment’ to sit alongside more conventional indicators?

Fourth (and I don’t really have an answer on this), the danger is that the report will trigger another round of an unproductively polarized ‘quantity v quality’ argument. To caricature ‘what we need is jobs, millions of them – even a bad job is better than no job’ versus ‘a rights-based approach means we have to focus on creating decent jobs and avoiding a race to the bottom’. Maybe the previous points could help avoid this, I’m not sure – any suggestions?

To see what I’m talking about, try listening to and critiquing this 6 minute video for the ‘Jobs Knowledge Platform’ that the Bank is launching in the New Year. Excellent on training, skills, partnership, but I couldn’t find a single reference to trade unions, power, inequality or political economy – just a reassuring but highly misleading world of apolitical fluffy bunny collaboration that ignores the role of organized labour in fighting for labour rights and decent jobs.

Brendan Martin of Public World was at the meeting and wrote this commentary on the WDR process. The WDR Team does of course have right of reply……


  1. Thanks for the summary of the discussion and some debates. I had a worry from the moment I saw the World Bank’s definition – ‘productive activity that is remunerated’.
    Some of the essential differences in perspectives around ‘jobs’ are about WHAT a worker (and her family)should get remunerated for? Is it really ‘a job’ if you are paid only for what you produce (piece rate) or time worked (hourly)… or, as many readers of this blog will aspire to, should ‘a job’ pay for the time the worker needs to rest (holiday pay), recover from illness, care for dependents and retire (pensions)? The blog mentioned the debate about the quality-quantity of jobs and the care economy, but not the link between the two. The fundamental argument here is that the costs involved to get a worker to work each day are not only her/his time, but the education, health and care required to make her/him productive. If the Bank doesn’t include all of this ‘remuneration’, the solutions to ‘job creation’ will never address deep gender inequalities and the problems of human development.
    I/we in Oxfam’s labour rights teams have long been addressing the question of ‘WHO Pays for a Workforce’ (I’ll send a link ) drawing on the work of Kerry Rittich, Marty Chen and others. ‘Who Pays?’ highlights the ongoing tensions and power relations, in every country: how much employers pay? the state? unions?… and that costs not covered are usually ‘paid’ by unpaid labour of families and women. Will the WB address these debates? And will the argument go beyond the ‘visible’ costs of salary and pensions, to the full costs of the workforce? As Mary Sue Smiaroski and I wrote (2007):
    “For a short time in history, a few privileged workers have won the right to be compensated for most costs of maintaining the labor force and of caring for past and future workers (producing the workforce): health care, a monthly salary (paying one for rest time on weekends), compensation for injury and old age, and paid leave for illness, maternity/paternity, funerals, religious events and holidays. In some cases, employers and the state pay for training/ retraining, job search, or removal costs when workers are transferred or in the case of economic restructuring. Mostly these costs are placed on workers.
    As long as ‘precarious employment’ is considered ‘real jobs’ (paying workers a piece rate, as if labour is naturally occurring), there will be massive inequality, because the producers of labor (often women) are not compensated by the employers of the labour.”

    “Changes in labor market policy and practice are an indicator of much larger, strategic policy debates about who will pay the costs of human development. The situation of women workers in global industries is a battleground between competing visions of economic development, with much wider consequences for all workers, for long-term gender equality and poverty reduction. One vision recognizes caring work as a significant, vital component of economies, and affirms the responsibilities of the state and employers to contribute ‘employment benefits’ and taxes as investments in maintaining a healthy, trained and productive workforce. In another vision, the caring economy is invisible and undocumented. When companies or governments implement policies to ‘shed’ the costs of workers’ health, leave time, incapacity or old age, this is treated solely as ‘savings’ and ‘efficiency’. But, the costs of participating in the labor market don’t go away. “Trading Away Our Rights” documented the way those costs merely shift, with women paying the price through their unpaid caring labor and in their role as cheap labor.

    So, who pays for the creation of the labour force, for creating the base of prosperity, for the possibility of human development? For years, ILO conventions and the welfare state used a model of shared responsibility for labour force costs (divided between the state, the private sector and the worker) that served as a standard mechanism to channel the necessary inputs to establish and sustain the workforce. The employment relationship was the vehicle through which the responsibilities were assumed. In today´s context, where employment relationships are often informal, unstable or oral, the vehicles, mechanisms and inputs are no longer available; as a result, the debate is being obviated. Who do you think wins and who loses by ignoring this debate?”

  2. And the other reason to be depressed is that yet again the World Bank thinks it has the right to jump in an occupy the space formally given to UN social agencies, this time the ILO.

    It also simply seems to ignore the call made by the G20 in Cannes for “internatioanl organisations, especially the UN, WTO, the ILO, the WB, the IMF and the OECD, to enhance their dialogue and coperation, including on the social impact of economic polices, and to intensify cooperation”.

    Duncan: Dena said the Bank is engaging a good deal with the ILO, so I may be at fault for not making that clear Bob

  3. Have you read Simon Szreter on ‘History, Historians and Development Policy: A Necessary Dialogue’. Published in September. More necessary than ever I think – and Simon does take history into account and is bound to be stimulating (I haven’t read it yet).

  4. ‘..putting jobs (rather than growth or productivity) at the centre of development (see pic) is a big deal..’

    Yes but what do those sort of diagrams mean? Those two categories of two-way arrows really give me the hump – what substance or property is flowing back and forwards?

    And why those three factors? Why not oil prices, womens’ education, globalisation and the Euro crisis?

    Really, you bang on about complex systems one day and then talk about putting something at the centre the next, when there is no centre and when selecting jobs as a putative attractor seems completely arbitrary!

    Duncan: yep, you got me there, but it does matter that the Bank is portraying jobs as central, not a happy side effect of growth

  5. Dear Duncan —

    Many thanks for your post and the chance to discuss the 2013 World Development Report on Jobs in the blogosphere. We’re glad that the idea of moving jobs to the center stage in development is resonant and provocative in the development community.

    You raise important points, many of which we have been debating inside and outside of the World Bank. We welcome the chance for a broader conversation.

    Your concern on the need to focus on the unpaid/care economy relates to a central question — What is a job in the first place? In developing countries, the majority of people work, but most are not in wage employment. This suggests that to be relevant to developing countries, the Report needs to consider variety of forms of jobs, including farm employment, unpaid family work in household enterprises, self-employment, and casual labor.

    In the Report we define jobs as market and non-market income activities that are voluntary. While this definition may leave some gray areas, say at the border between the time allocated to household chores and child and elderly care on the one hand, and that to home production for own consumption on the other, it encompasses what people in developing countries actually do for a living, and is consistent with the ILO approach. We’re looking at household surveys to come up with a new set of indicators (that will be made publicly available) which will reflect this definition.

    As you note, the Report looks at jobs as transformational in three dimensions — living standards, productivity, and social cohesion. The links with social cohesion are perhaps the most new and analytically challenging. Here we would like to consider the relationships jobs have with who we are and how they connect us with others. We don’t see this as avoiding a discussion on inequality. Rather social cohesion relates to social inclusion, inequality, and fairness, and whether people perceive that they have a stake in society.

    You rightly highlight the need for a multidisciplinary approach to jobs. Considering the multiple ways jobs contribute to development is taking us on a journey through many disciplines. Narratives from sociology, anthropology, and ethnography provide insights into how jobs change societies over time, literature from psychology suggests how jobs shape our mental health, individually and collectively, and points us to non-cognitive skills (e.g. discipline, creativity) which may contribute to worker’s well-being and productivity. Even economics is taking interesting turns in considering how jobs relate to identity and happiness – for example, work by the economist David Blanchflower finds pulse rates to be a robust measure of well-being and happiness.

    We are starting new qualitative and quantitative analysis in a sub-set of countries to identify what people in different countries and contexts consider to be good jobs. This is analogous to the Voices of the Poor research, which you mention, that was undertaken for the 2000 WDR on Poverty. The recently released 2012 WDR on gender also provides a rich source of information –they held 500 focus group discussions in 20 countries to define good jobs. This is a great starting point for understanding of what jobs mean to people across a diversity of contexts.

    Looking at trade-offs between the ways in which jobs can reduce poverty and inequality, raise productivity, and contribute to social cohesion will hopefully contribute to a more integrated and multi-sectoral discussion of how jobs contribute to development, and help to identify obstacles to the creation of good jobs beyond the labor market.

    Thanks again for opening the conversation. We would welcome further suggestions and ideas that you and others would like to share at –

    Dena Ringold, WDR Team

  6. Duncan, if you’re interested in the prospects for conversation with the World Bank, I suggest you keep an eye out for the following account of ‘dialogue’ on the WDR 2012.

    Chant, Sylvia (forthcoming) ‘The Disappearing of ‘Smart Economics’? The World Development Report 2012 on Gender Equality: Some Concerns About the Preparatory Process and the Prospects for Paradigm Change’, Global Social Policy.

  7. Thank you Alice — and thanks too Duncan for the many pertinent points..!

    One issue I raise in my article re WDR 2012 on gender – which is undergoing editorial screening at GSP – is the report’s limited and disproprotionately self-referential (WB-own) bibliography. Some brilliant reflections on WDR 2011 on conflict, security and development, including comments regarding the selective economics-dominated nature of sources, are made in:

    Jones, Gareth A. and Rodgers, Dennis (2011) ‘The World Bank’s WDR 2011 on Conflict, Security and Development: A Critique through Five Vignettes’, Journal of International Development, 23, 980-995.

  8. many thanks, Duncan, for this very informative post. It is obviously a topical time to highlight concerns about the need for jobs in the light of recent political and economic events. As commented above, the G20 has been helping to move the agenda forward to some extent (which was elaborated initially at Seoul last year).

    This year’s Education for All Global Monitoring Report is on a related theme of skills and work for disadvantaged young people(see This builds on our previous work on marginalisation in education. From our consultations, it is apparent there is a lot of demand amongst policymakers for the topic, not just to understand how to create jobs (which tends to preoccupy a lot of the discussions at the moment, understandably), but also how to ensure young people have the right kinds of skills to enable them to get decently-paid, secure work, in ways that can help narrow inequality gaps. Any thoughts on this would be welcome, too!

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