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The Lost Decades: Developing Countries' Stagnation in Spite of Policy Reform 1980–1998

Abstract

I document in this paper a puzzle thathas not received previous attention in the literature. In 1980–98,median per capita income growth in developing countries was 0.0percent, as compared to 2.5 percent in 1960–79. Yet I documentin this paper that variables that are standard in growth regressions—policieslike financial depth and real overvaluation, and initial conditionslike health, education, fertility, and infrastructure generallyimproved from 1960–79 to 1980–98. Developing countrygrowth should have increased instead of decreased according tothe standard growth regression determinants of growth. The stagnationseems to represent a disappointing outcome to the movement towardsthe ``Washington Consensus'' by developing countries. I speculatethat worldwide factors like the increase in world interest rates,the increased debt burden of developing countries, the growthslowdown in the industrial world, and skill-biased technicalchange may have contributed to the developing countries' stagnation,although I am not able to establish decisive evidence for thesehypotheses. I also document that many growth regressions aremis-specified in a way similar to the Jones (1995) critique thata stationary variable (growth) is being regressed on non-stationaryvariables like policies and initial conditions. It may be thatthe 1960–1979 period was the unusual period for LDC growth,and the 1980–98 stagnation of poor countries representsa return to the historical pattern of divergence between richand poor countries.

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Easterly, W. The Lost Decades: Developing Countries' Stagnation in Spite of Policy Reform 1980–1998. Journal of Economic Growth 6, 135–157 (2001). https://doi.org/10.1023/A:1011378507540

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  • Economic growth
  • policy reforms
  • economic stagnation
  • debt crisis