Interview with Paul Romer on Mauritius

Via Mark Thoma, here is an interview with Paul Romer about growth in Mauritius.  One question is how much Romer’s growth theory was needed to generate this advice.  Second, I am surprised how little attention he gives to Mauritius being a small country.  I don’t think that country size makes the advice much different, but perhaps expectations should be adjusted.  Most small countries aren’t well-diversified and their growth rates depend heavily on real shocks.  Singapore is an exception, most of all because its citizenry is obsessed with accumulating human capital and thus it depends upon a general flow of foreign capital rather than specific sectors.  I don’t see harm in Mauritius trying to follow this same path but I wouldn’t expect them to succeed to a comparable degree.

Speaking of small countries, Fred Sautet has an interesting blog post on what happened to the New Zealand reforms.  Since the reforms starting in the 1980s, New Zealand has had excellent economic policies, probably better than Mauritius can expect to implement.  But New Zealand has not had stunning rates of economic growth.  A big part of the answer is simply that New Zealand still depends on the demands for dairy and agriculture.  Yes, many parts of the country are booming but the worldwide demand for commodities is a big part of the reason why.  The deregulation of agriculture helped but without rising food prices growth would be lower yet.  Earlier, it was Britain’s removal of imperial preference in 1972 that sent the country tumbling over the edge in the first place.  Yes freedom is still better but in general small countries are less of an "economic laboratory" than we might think.  Conversely, while there are some good explanations for "the Irish miracle," a small country with a few million people can with good luck grow quite rapidly. 

Just think about the determinants of your own family income; probably for most years policy changes are not #1 on the list.  A country of 1.2 million people, such as Mauritius, is more diversifed than your family, but not as much more diversified as you might think.  When it comes to real factors, Say’s Law does hold.  Demand for your labor depends on the production decisions of 300 million mostly wealthy and often quite diversified Americans.  That offers your income a great deal of protection, relative to what suppliers on Mauritius can expect.


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