The African Growth Miracle?

I had not previously read this 2009 paper by Alwyn Young (pdf):

Measures of real consumption based upon the ownership of durable goods, the quality of housing, the health and mortality of children, the education of youth and the allocation of female time in the household indicate that sub-Saharan living standards have, for the past two decades, been growing in excess of 3 percent per annum, i.e. more than three times the rate indicated in international data sets.

National income statistics, which in this context are untrustworthy, indicate a growth rate of only about one percent.  Contra Young, here is a much less positive perspective, excerpt:

Yet this is nothing like the required economic advancement built around an actual or dominant “middle-class” milieu as commonly and quite wrongly suggested.

Africa’s burgeoning demography will challenge this future. Subsistence economies remain its anchors, and the alleged “demographic dividend”, that some blithely portray as a “driver”, will mostly transform into one of rising unemployment and growing informalisation.

Those who observe the lack of significant gains in African agricultural productivity often prefer the negative interpretation.  Too many of the observed progress seems to come from mining wealth.  In a recent short essay, Michael Lipton sums it up:

1. Stop kidding ourselves. (a) Faster GDP growth in Africa since 2000 is mainly a mining boom, with dubious benefits. Staples yields (and labour productivity) have not reversed the dismal trends that Peter Timmer diagnosed two decades ago: big, credible rises are seen in only a few African countries (e.g. Rwanda, Ghana). The populous ones (Ethiopia, Nigeria, maybe Kenya, above all DR Congo) tell a sad tale.

That we don’t know who is right is perhaps the most interesting fact of all.


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