Based on data from two recent waves of the Global Entrepreneurship Monitor (GEM), we demonstrate that the Coronacrisis gave birth to many new necessity-driven entrepreneurs who will likely alleviate the current challenges of unemployment and income losses in the short- and medium-term. The readiness and willingness of Belarusians to become entrepreneurs in a harsh business environment could be considered a good sign for the economy and society. However, such businesses may fail to deliver a positive long-term impact on the economy, while the detrimental consequences of the war in Ukraine undermine the potential and sustainability of growth-driving businesses with international and innovative orientation.
Crises and Entrepreneurial Activity in Belarus
During the past 15 years, the Belarusian economy and, in particular, Belarusian entrepreneurs have experienced several crises of different scopes, nature, and origins (in 2009, 2011, 2015-2016, 2020). During these periods, Belarusian private enterprises responded faster to both negative and positive trends in the economy compared to state-owned firms. This has for instance manifested itself in private sector firms being swifter in decreasing or increasing the size of the work force in recessions or recoveries (IMF, 2019). Stagnating demand also led to deteriorating business opportunities that in turn incited a decrease in the number of both nascent and matured entrepreneurs. In line with Cowling et al. (2015), these circumstances suggest the presence of a procyclical trend in the entrepreneurship development in the country. In the same vein, the period of economic growth brought new entrepreneurs to the market to pursue business opportunities.
However, results from two waves of the Global Entrepreneurship Monitor (GEM), conducted in May-June 2019 and June-July 2021 demonstrate that notwithstanding the Coronacrisis, political unrest, and worsening business climate, the Belarusian economy experienced an influx of entrepreneurs (not necessarily officially registered as a firm or sole proprietor). These findings contribute to the discussion on the motivation, potential, and effectiveness of this wave of entrepreneurs for the economy.
Belarusian Context for Entrepreneurs in 2019-2021
After the 2015-2016 economic crisis, 2019 represented the third consecutive year of moderate economic growth in Belarus. The gradual liberalization of the economic activity, as well as the give-and-take relationship with Eastern-European neighbors and the West, fueled the enthusiasm of Belarusian entrepreneurs, especially in the medium- and high-tech sectors. The year 2019 was supposed to be highly conducive to entrepreneurship. These conditions were captured by the GEM Belarus 2019/2020 (2020).
However, as in most other countries, small businesses were more affected by the pandemic than large enterprises in Belarus. Moreover, many of them were left to fend for themselves in dealing with COVID-related challenges, as only a small portion of enterprises benefitted from state support measures (Marozau et al., 2021). The recovery period was abrupted by the political crisis that broke out after the presidential elections in August 2020. This political unrest resulted in increased pressure on the private sector and NGOs as well as tensions with EU countries and Ukraine. Many famous entrepreneurs were forced to immigrate and re-locate their businesses. Consequently, GEM Belarus 2021/2022 (2022) captured a new reality of the Belarusian entrepreneurial ecosystem.
How the Entrepreneurship Indicators Changed
According to the GEM 2021/22 survey, Belarus experienced an increase in the percentage of the adult population (18-64 years old) involved in all stages of the entrepreneurial process (Figure 1). Nevertheless, the level of the total early-stage entrepreneurial activity (which includes nascent entrepreneurs – up to 3 months old businesses and baby businesses – 4–42 months old) is still lower than one might predict based on the country’s level of economic development (Figure 2).
These positive changes are paradoxical because, according to the survey, Belarusians were not enthusiastic about the opportunities to start a business – respondents reported a high level of fear of business failure, and that the entrepreneurial framework conditions had deteriorated.
Figure 1. Percentage of the adult population involved in the entrepreneurial process
Figure 2. Early-stage entrepreneurship rates and GDP per capita.
Moreover, the GEM survey reveals that the profile of early-stage entrepreneurs changed between 2019 and 2021 – the educational level of early-stage entrepreneurs increased, while their income level followed a negative trend. A plausible explanation for these changes could be that a relatively well-educated part of the population, employed in the sectors that were harshly hit by the pandemic (HoReCa, Sport & Leisure, etc), decided to start a business out of necessity due to wage shrinkages or layoffs. Therefore, neither a low level of opportunity perception nor an aggravating business climate kept them from starting an enterprise.
Support for this argument can be found if we examine the reasons why Belarusians started businesses in 2021 (Figure 3). The shares of both nascent entrepreneurs and owners of baby businesses that report ‘earning a living because jobs are scarce’ increased by about 20 percentage points. This phenomenon, when a depressive market reduces employment opportunities and forces individuals into becoming entrepreneurs, is regarded as necessity-driven entrepreneurship (Gonzalez-Peña et al., 2018).
Figure 3. Reasons to start a business
Keeping in mind that the unit of analysis in the GEM is on the individual and not the enterprise level, we can suggest a cautious hypothesis that the trend in entrepreneurship development in Belarus has changed from being pro-cyclical to countercyclical in the short term.
It is already obvious that the negative impact of the pandemic and political unrest on Belarusian businesses cannot be compared with the devastating effects of the Russian invasion of Ukraine. In this context, the countercyclical trend or, in other words, the readiness and willingness of Belarusians to become entrepreneurs against all odds, could be considered a good sign for the economy and society. However, such necessity-driven entrepreneurs are more focused on achieving a sufficient standard of living than on expansion and innovation. It is known that the growth and innovative orientations of businesses (product and process innovation, activity in technologically intensive sectors) are important predictors of technological change and total factor productivity (Erken et al, 2018). From this perspective, according to the GEM 2021/2022, Belarus is still doing relatively well in terms of impactful early-stage entrepreneurship (international and innovative orientation, growth expectations, and technological intensity). However, businesses with these characteristics are usually led by opportunity-driven entrepreneurs and are more sensitive to changes in the external environment. Therefore, the detrimental consequences of the Russian aggression against Ukraine (difficulties with payments and logistics, export/import restrictions, and tarnished reputation of Belarus) have already undermined the potential and sustainability of most such businesses and jeopardized the socioeconomic development of the country.
So, the answer to the question of whether Belarusian entrepreneurs will be able to reactivate the economy is rather ‘no’. Based on GEM 2021/2022 data, we argue that the augmented entrepreneurial activity rate will plausibly alleviate the problems of unemployment and income losses in the short- and medium-term, but may not have a strong and long-lasting effect on the economy as a whole.
The 2021 wave of the GEM survey has documented an increase in the share of the population involved in the different stages of the entrepreneurial process in Belarus. This, however, appears to be the outcome of the pandemic-related economic crisis, which manifests itself in income losses and layoffs. As a result, the crisis produced new necessity-driven entrepreneurs with vague prospects.
In this regard, policymakers should realize that stimulating self-employment and small-scale entrepreneurship may indeed be a temporary solution to unemployment issues. If this is the aim, the toolkit to support such businesses is well elaborated and accessible to the government (it includes educational & consulting services, easy access to finance, etc.).
As for impactful entrepreneurship, hardly anything can be done by the current government to retain innovative and international business in Belarus against the backdrop of the consequences and global reactions to the war in Ukraine.
- Cowling, M., Liu, W., Ledger, A., & Zhang, N. (2015). “What really happens to small and medium sized enterprises in a global economic recession? UK evidence on sales and job dynamics”, International Small Business Journal, 33(5), 488-513.
- Erken, H., Donselaar, P., & Thurik, R. (2018). “Total factor productivity and the role of entrepreneurship”. The Journal of Technology Transfer, 43(6), 1493-1521.
- GEM Belarus 2019/2020, (2020). “Global Entrepreneurship Monitor Report GEM Belarus 2019/2020”.
- GEM Belarus 2021/2022. (2022). “Global Entrepreneurship Monitor Report GEM Belarus 2021/2022”.
- González-Pernía, J. L., Guerrero, M., Jung, A., & Pena-Legazkue, I. (2018). “Economic recession shake-out and entrepreneurship: Evidence from Spain”. BRQ Business Research Quarterly, 21(3), 153-167
- Hill, S., Ionescu-Somers, A., Coduras, A., Guerrero, M., Roomi, M. A., Bosma, N., … & Shay, J. (2022). “Global Entrepreneurship Monitor 2021/2022 Global Report: Opportunity Amid Disruption”.
- IMF. (2019). “Reassessing the Role of State-Owned Enterprises in Central, Eastern, and Southeastern Europe”, 19/11.
- Marozau, R., Akulava, M., & Panasevich, V. (2021). “Did the Government Help Belarusian SMEs to Survive in 2020?” FREE Network Policy Brief Series.
Disclaimer: Opinions expressed in policy briefs and other publications are those of the authors; they do not necessarily reflect those of the FREE Network and its research institutes.
Capitalizing on the dataset obtained from five waves of the Covideconomy Project business survey, we explore how pandemic-related shocks and state economic policy responses influenced the performance of Belarusian small and medium enterprises (SMEs) in 2020. We find that Belarusian SMEs were left on their own with the COVID-related economic challenges, and only a small portion of enterprises could benefit from state support measures. Only two sectors (Manufacturing and Construction) derived advantages from soft loans provided to state-owned enterprises. The implementation of new, pandemic-adjusted business models did not result in an increase of revenues of Belarusian SMEs, at least not in the short run.
Small and Medium Enterprises During the Pandemic
According to OECD estimates (2020), the small and medium-sized enterprise (SME) sector has been more affected by the COVID-19 pandemic compared to large enterprises. Besides being highly concentrated in the most affected sectors, the main reasons for SMEs experiencing stronger COVID-related shocks are a lower level of cash cushion and limited access to external funds (Goodhart et al., 2021). Next, the stock of supplies and materials, as well as the range of suppliers, are usually lower for SMEs (WTO, 2020). This makes any price changes or abruptions more detrimental for them in comparison to large companies. Lastly, the availability of digital technologies and skills needed to implement new business formats appeared as an additional constraint for the SME sector during the pandemic. Indeed, per the World Bank’s business surveys, the most frequently mentioned effects of COVID-19 on SMEs in Central and Eastern European countries were a drop in sales, liquidity problems, limited access to finance, and breakdowns in supply. In this context, only 35% of SMEs in the region were able to adapt quickly to new conditions by introducing new business models such as online sales, delivery services, and remote work. At the same time, many SMEs in the region laid off employees, reduced wages, or initiated furloughs as alternatives to closing the business altogether.
In this regard, the SME support measures became an extremely important task for national governments to conduce to faster economic recovery and job creation. As a result, a wide range of monetary and non-monetary measures was implemented in various countries to support SMEs.
Internationally, direct support was provided in the form of wage subsidies, cash grants and transfers, tax holidays, reductions, or deferrals that could prevent unemployment growth. In addition, liquidity problems of SMEs were addressed by introducing rental fee deferral or reduction, repayment holidays as well as providing micro and short-term loans.
In many countries, specific measures were aimed to support the digitalization of SMEs (e.g., in China, France, Latvia, Italy, Slovenia, South Korea) by offering subsidies, financial support, training, and consulting services, developing e-commerce sales channels to respond to pandemic-related challenges (OECD, 2020).
Figure 1 demonstrates shares of SMEs in Central and Eastern European countries that benefitted from state support measures and SMEs’ perceived importance of these measures. Wage subsidies (65.1%) and direct cash transfers and grants (47.1%) appeared as the most commonly used measures, while fiscal exemption and reductions were regarded as the most important and relevant ones.
Concurrently, at the macro level, some governments eased requirements on banks’ emergency funds and reduced base rates to provide more and cheaper financial resources as loans for the enterprise sector.
Figure 1: Scope and importance of SME support measures
In general, the scope and target groups of the support programs depended on financial resources at the disposal of governments, access to capital markets, macroeconomic conditions (public debt, exchange rates, unemployment rates), as well as the structure of the economy.
In this brief, we discuss how the macroeconomic environment and the Belarusian government’s policy reaction to the pandemic affected revenues of Belarusian SMEs in 2020.
The Belarusian Economy in 2020
The official statistics reported outstanding results of the Belarusian economy, despite it being expected to be hit harder than other countries in the region. The COVID-19 pandemic-related shocks were aggravated in Belarus by endemic ones: the early-2020 oil-supply dispute with Russia, the sociopolitical crisis that broke out after the presidential elections in August (Bornukova et al., 2021), and the concomitant sharp devaluation of the Belarusian ruble (22.59% to US dollar in 2020) in March and August. Against this backdrop, the 0.9% decrease in GDP, 4.6% increase in real disposable incomes, and stable unemployment rate (at 4.0%) together look like an economic miracle. Some of the rationales behind these figures include the absence of lockdowns and substantial mobility restrictions throughout the year, as well as easy access to bank loans for state-owned enterprises (SOEs) that faced an export shock. At the same time, ad-hoc sampled population and business surveys documented income reductions of Belarusians and a substantial decrease in business revenues in many sectors (Covideconomy project, 2021). Figure 2 displays the shares of SMEs in different sectors whose revenues dropped by more than 20% in the month before being surveyed.
Figure 2. Share of SMEs with loss of revenue >20%
The Belarusian government was substantially restricted in terms of financial resources as well as fiscal and external loan opportunities to extensively support businesses suffering from the COVID-related economic crisis. According to experts’ estimations, Belarus lags behind other Eurasian Economic Union members (Russia, Armenia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan) in terms of the estimated share of GDP spent on crisis response measures – 1.5% (Russian Academy of Foreign Trade & Research Institute of VEB, 2020). While the most suffering sectors (trade, transportation, hotels, restaurants, tourism, education, leisure, sport, etc.) could benefit from the deferral of profit, real estate and land taxes, as well as rental fees till the end of 2020, obtaining any type of support appeared bureaucratically challenging and imposed exigent obligations for the future. Overall, the support was perceived as negligible and far below expectations both in terms of financial resources saved by businesses and coverage. Thus, in May-October 2020, about 50 thousand businesses (incl. sole proprietors) received cumulative support for a total amount of $26 Million or $536 per business (National Center of Legal Information of the Republic of Belarus, 2020). According to the Covideconomy project, in May-July, less than 5% of SMEs reported getting support from the state.
What Affected Belarusian SMEs?
Motivated by the specific reaction of the Belarusian government and its very limited support to SMEs, we explore what enterprise- and country-level factors affected SME revenues across industries during the pandemic. In pursuit of this objective, we use data obtained from five waves of the business survey conducted within the Covideconomy project (2020) on 359 SMEs amounting to 947 observations, and perform a regression analysis with a set of ordered logistic models. Particularly, we test whether the (i) self-isolation of population, (ii) currency devaluation, (iii) volume of loans provided to SOEs, and (iv) new business models implemented by Belarusian SMEs impacted their revenues.
These hypotheses are based on the following arguments:
- In the absence of restrictive measures and lockdowns, entrepreneurs and citizens made conscious decisions about self-isolation and remote work. To minimize personal contact, many people reduced the number of visits to public places as well as various group activities. Such responsible behavior could hurt business income, primarily in the areas of catering, hotels, entertainment, transport, and consumer services, in which SMEs are widely represented.
- The sharp devaluation of the Belarusian ruble is, and has traditionally been, a significant problem for Belarusian businesses. The rise in prices of imported goods and services, inflation, and the fall in household incomes in dollar terms harm domestic demand, leading to a drop in sales in many sectors. The exceptions could be export-oriented enterprises, which mostly use materials and supplies produced in Belarus, as well as enterprises that are suppliers and contractors of exporters.
- To minimize the impact of the pandemic-related shocks, the Belarusian government continued its habitual practice of providing soft loans for SOEs to maintain their production volumes and pay wages. Arguably, this could bolster demand for SMEs’ goods and services from the side of SOEs’ employees and prevent a deeper recession. In addition, SMEs that were suppliers and contractors of SOEs could also benefit from this policy measure.
- The pandemic significantly accelerated SMEs’ processes of finding and realizing opportunities to develop. This became key in the survival of many businesses. We thus expect that the implementation of new business models could have had a positive impact on revenues of SMEs.
In our models, we use the size of SMEs, location in the capital city, and whether a firm belongs to one of the most suffering sectors (HoReCa, Transportation, Leisure & Sport) as control variables. To capture the effect of factors across different sectors, we use interaction terms between the aforementioned factors and dummies indicating different sectors.
The results of the regression analysis (summarized in a stylized way in Table 1) demonstrate that the impact of the selected factors is not consistent across sectors and that none of the factors appear significant when considering the entire sample of SMEs.
Table 1. Impact on SMEs’ revenues
Not surprisingly, self-isolation behavior negatively affects only the HoReCa and Leisure & Sports sectors. Currency devaluation does not significantly influence the revenues of SMEs. Only the ICT sector, which is export-oriented and does not depend on imported materials, easily adapted to remote work and increased demand for IT-related services and experienced a positive shock. The state policy that provided soft loans to SOEs helped SMEs in the manufacturing and construction sectors that are, supposedly, contractors and suppliers of SOEs. The implementation of new business models did not result in an increase in the revenues of Belarusian SMEs, at least not in the short run. A possible explanation for this finding could be that firms responded by adopting new business models only if they experienced a very steep fall in revenues.
As for the control variables, we find that larger enterprises better adapted to the crisis and their decrease in sales appear smaller. Interestingly, SMEs located in the capital city – Minsk – suffered more from the crisis in 2020, likely, due to a higher concentration of SMEs in the most affected sectors and a quicker reaction of citizens to economic and political shocks.
Based on our analysis, we can deduce that Belarusian SMEs were left on their own with the COVID-related economic challenges. Only a small share of enterprises could benefit from the state support measures and only two sectors (Manufacturing and Construction) derived advantages from soft loans provided to SOEs.
At the same time, the absence of lockdowns and other restrictions – the laissez-faire approach (Bornukova et al., 2021) – propped up most of the sectors except those that suffered from voluntary self-isolation of customers (HoReCa, Leisure, Sport, Beauty).
The ongoing crisis substantially changes the economic landscape, management practices, and business models of SMEs. The most flexible, competitive, and proactive businesses have been capable of identifying and exploiting the emerged opportunities. From this point of view, Belarusian businesses and entrepreneurs have outstanding experience in surviving and developing during recurrent crises (Marozau et al., 2020). This must be an important pre-condition for the future economic recovery of Belarus.
- Bornukova, K., Lvovskiy, L., and Shymanovich, G., 2021, Laissez-faire Covid-19: Economic consequences in Belarus. Free Policy Brief, March 2021, Available at https://freepolicybriefs.org/2021/03/15/covid-19-economic-consequences/
- Covidonomy project by BEROC, 2020. Available at http://covideconomy.by/
- Goodhart, C., Tsomocos, D. P., Wang, X., 2020. Support for small businesses amid COVID-19, VoxEU CEPR Paper.
- National Center of Legal Information of the Republic of Belarus, 2020. Available at https://pravo.by/novosti/obshchestvenno-politicheskie-i-v-oblasti-prava/2020/november/56052/
- Marozau, R., Aginskaya, H. Akulava, M., 2020. Supporting measures for Belarusian SMEs: the context of the Covid-19 pandemic, May 2020 Available at https://freepolicybriefs.org/2020/05/25/supporting-measures-belarusian-smes/
- OECD. 2020. Covid-19: SME Policy Responses. OECD, Paris.
- Russian Academy of Foreign Trade & Research Institute of VEB, 2020. Consequences of the Pandemic for the Development of the Eurasian Economic Union’s Countries (in Russian).
- WTO, 2020. Helping SMEs navigate the COVID-19 crisis.
Disclaimer: Opinions expressed in policy briefs and other publications are those of the authors; they do not necessarily reflect those of the FREE Network and its research institutes.
Giant oil and gas discoveries in developing countries trigger FDI bonanzas. Across countries, it is shown that in the 2 years following a discovery, the creation of FDI jobs increases by 54% through the establishment of new projects in non-resource sectors such as manufacturing, retail, business services and construction. Using Mozambique’s gas driven FDI bonanza as a case study we show that the local job multiplier of FDI projects in Mozambique is large and results in 4.4 to 6.5 additional jobs, half of which are informal.
Natural Resources, FDI Job Multiplier and Economic Development
Large resource wealth has for several decades been associated with a curse, slowing economic growth in resource-rich developing countries (Venables, 2016). More recently, this wisdom has been questioned by several studies. Arezki et al. (2017) point out that giant discoveries trigger short-run economic booms before windfalls from resources start pouring in. And Smith (2017) provides evidence for a positive relationship between resource discoveries and GDP per capita across countries, which persists in the long term.
In a new paper (Toews and Vézina, 2018) we contribute to this research by showing that giant oil and gas discoveries in developing countries trigger foreign direct investment (FDI) bonanzas in non-extraction sectors. FDI has long been considered a key part of economic development since it is associated with transfers of technology, skills, higher wages, and with backward and forward linkages with local firms (Hirschman, 1957; Javorcik, 2015). Using Mozambique, where a giant offshore gas discovery has been made in 2009, as a case study, we estimate the local multiplier of FDI projects. We find that the FDI job multiplier in Mozambique is large, highlighting the job creation potential of FDI in developing countries.
Resource Discoveries and FDI Bonanzas
In our study we focus on jobs created by FDI bonanzas triggered by resource discoveries. Multinationals might invest in countries being blessed by giant discoveries for a variety of reasons before production starts. First, they might expect to benefit from the decisions of oil and gas companies to increase investment in local infrastructure and to increase demand for local services provided by law firms and environmental consultancies. Second, multinationals may also expect governments and consumers to bring forward expenditure and investment by borrowing. Finally, multinationals might invest since particularly large discoveries have the potential to operate as a signal leading to a coordinated investment by a large number of multinationals from a variety of industries and countries.
Using data from fDi Markets we show that, indeed, FDI flows into non-extraction sectors following a discovery. FDI increases across sectors and by doing so creates jobs in industries such as manufacturing, retail, business services and construction. Using Mozambique as a case study we show that following the gas discovery, multinationals decided to invest in Mozambique triggering job creation in non-extraction FDI to skyrocket (see Figure 1).
Figure 1. FDI Bonanza in Mozambique
Source: Author’s calculations using fDiMarkets data.
FDI Job Multiplier
Using the FDI bonanza in Mozambique as a natural experiment, we proceed by estimating the FDI job multiplier for Mozambique. The concept of the local job multiplier boils down to the idea that every time a job is created by attracting a new business, additional jobs are created in the same locality. In our case, FDI jobs are expected to have a multiplier effect due to two distinct channels. Newly created and well paid FDI jobs are likely to increase local income and in turn the demand for local goods and services (Moretti, 2010). Additionally, backward and forward linkages between multinationals and local firms increase the demand for local goods and services (Javorcik, 2004).
Using concurrent waves of household surveys and firm censuses we estimate the local FDI multiplier for Mozambique to be large. In particular, we find that every additional FDI job results in 4.4 to 6.5 additional local jobs. Due to the combined use of household survey and the firm census we are also able to conclude that only half of these jobs are created in the formal sector, while the other half of the jobs are created informally.
Our results suggest that giant oil and gas discoveries in developing countries lead to simultaneous foreign direct investment in various sectors including manufacturing. Our results also highlight the job creation potential of FDI projects in developing countries. Jointly, our results imply that giant discoveries do have the potential to trigger extraordinary employment booms and, thus, provide a window of opportunity for a growth takeoff in developing countries.
- Arezki, R., V. A. Ramey, and L. Sheng (2017): “News Shocks in Open Economies: Evidence from Giant Oil Discoveries,” The Quarterly Journal of Economics, 132, 103.
- Hirschman, A. O. (1957): “Investment Policies and “Dualism” in Underdeveloped Countries,” The American Economic Review, 47, 550 – 570.
- Javorcik, B. S. (2004): “Does Foreign Direct Investment Increase the Productivity of Domestic Firms? In Search of Spillovers Through Backward Linkages,” American Economic Review, 94, 605 – 627.
- Javorcik, B. S. (2015): “Does FDI Bring Good Jobs to Host Countries?” World Bank Research Observer, 30, 74 – 94.
- Moretti, E. (2010): “Local Multipliers,” American Economic Review, 100, 373 – 377.
- Smith, Brock. “The resource curse exorcised: Evidence from a panel of countries.” Journal of Development Economics: 116 (2015): 57-73.
- Toews and Vézina, (2018): “Resource discoveries, FDI bonanzas and local multipliers: An illustration from Mozambique” Working Paper.
- Venables, A. J. (2016): “Using Natural Resources for Development: Why Has It Proven So Difficult?” Journal of Economic Perspectives, 30, 161 – 84.
Disclaimer: Opinions expressed in policy briefs and other publications are those of the authors; they do not necessarily reflect those of the FREE Network and its research institutes.
Russians are heading to the polling booths on March 18, but where will the economy head after Putin has been elected president again? This brief provides an overview of the economic progress Russia has made since 2000 as well as an economic scorecard of Putin’s first three tenures in the Kremlin and uses this to discuss what can be expected for the coming six years. Although significant growth has been achieved since 2000, all of this came in the first two tenures of Putin in the Kremlin on the back of increasing oil prices. In order to generate growth in his upcoming presidential term, Putin and his team will need to address the significant needs for reforms in the institutions that form the basis for modern market economies. Otherwise, Russia will continue to be hostage to the whims of the international oil market and eventually lose most of its exports and government revenues as the world moves towards a carbon free future. Perhaps this is beyond the scope of Putin as president, but not beyond the horizon of young Russians that will be casting their votes on Sunday and in future elections.
Let’s assume that Putin will be elected president again on March 18 (for once a very realistic assumption made by an economist). What will this mean for the Russian economy in the coming six years given what happened during his previous and current tenures in the Kremlin? To assess the future as well as to understand Putin’s power and popularity, this brief starts by looking back at the economic developments in Russia since Putin first became president.
Although many different factors enter the power and popularity function of Putin, economic developments have a special role in providing the budget constrain within which the president can operate. A higher income level means more resources to devote to any particular sector, project, voting group or power base. This is not unique to Russia, but sometimes forgotten in discussions about Russia, that often instead only focus on military power or control of the security apparatus and media. These are of course highly relevant dimensions to understand power and popularity in Russia, but so is economic development, particularly in the longer run.
Russia’s economy in the world
The economic greatness and progress of a country is usually assessed in terms of the size of the economy, how much growth that has been generated, and how well off the citizens are relative to the citizens of other countries. So, by our common indicator gross domestic product (GDP), has Russia become a greater and more powerful country since Putin first became president? Table 1 shows two things, the absolute level of GDP measured in USD at market exchange rates and the rank this gives a country in a sample of 192 countries in the world that the IMF collects data on (this brief is too short for a long discussion of the most relevant GDP measure, but GDP at market exchange rates makes sense when comparing the economic strength of countries in a global context, Becker 2017 provides a discussion of alternative measures as well). When Putin become president for the first time in 2000, the value of domestic production was estimated at $279 billion, which implied a 19th place in the world rankings of countries’ GDP. In 2016, almost three presidential terms of Putin later, Russia’s GDP had increased by 4½ times to $1281 billion and its ranking improved to 12th place in the world. This clearly is an impressive record by most standards. However, the Russian economy is still the smallest economy of the BRIC countries and corresponds to only 7 percent of the US economy in 2016. In other words, impressive progress by Russia but the country is (still) not a global superpower in the economic arena.
Table 1. Russia in the world (GDP in USD bn)
For the average Russian, income per capita is a measure more closely connected to consumption and investment opportunities or ‘welfare’. Progress in this area is also more likely to affect how individuals assess the performance of its political leaders. Of course, progress in terms of overall GDP and GDP per capita is closely linked unless something unusual is happening to population growth. Therefore, it is not surprising that GDP per capita also increased by around 4½ times between 2000 and 2016 (Table 2). This is the first order effect of the economic development in Russia, but in addition, citizens of Russia moved up from a world income rank of 92nd to 71st. This has implications when Russian’s compare themselves with other countries and can in itself provide a boost of national pride.
It also directly affects opportunities and status for Russians visiting other countries. Being at place 71 may not be fully satisfactory to many, but we should remember that due to the rather uneven income distribution in Russia, many of the people that travel abroad are far higher up on the global income ranking than what this table indicate. Nevertheless, Russia is far behind the Western and Asian high-income countries in terms of GDP per capita. And although the picture would look less severe if purchasing power parity measures are used, the basic message is the same; Russia has still a lot of catching up to do before its (average) citizens enjoy the economic standards of high-income countries.
Table 2. Russian’s in the world (GDP/capita)
The macro scorecard of Putin
So what generated the impressive 4½ times increase in income in USD terms from 2000 to 2016 and can we expect high growth during Putin’s next six years in office? The short answer to the first question is the rise in international oil prices and to the second question, we don’t know. Table 3 provides a comparison of different economic indicators for Putin’s two first terms in office compared with his current term (where GDP data ends in 2016 so the sample is cut short by a year). It is evident that the impressive growth over the full period is entirely due to the strong growth performance in the first two presidential tenures. Rather than generating growth in the most recent period, the economy has shrunk. This is explained by the evolution of international oil prices, which quadrupled in the first eight years and instead halved in the more recent period. These swings in oil prices have also been accompanied by significant shifts in foreign exchange reserves, the exchange rate, and the value of the stock market.
In Becker (2017) I discuss in more detail the importance of international oil prices in understanding the macro economic development in Russia. In particular, it is important to note that it is changes in oil prices that correlate with GDP growth and other macro variables and that the problems with predicting oil prices makes it very hard to make good predictions of Russian growth.
Table 3. A macro scorecard of Putin in office
To break the oil dependence and take control of the economic future of Russia, the president will need to implement serious institutional reforms that constitute the basis for a modern, well-functioning market economy in his next term. Otherwise, Russia will continue to be hostage to unpredictable swing in international oil prices and nobody—including the president, the central bank, the IMF and financial markets—will be able to predict where the Russian economy is heading in the next couple of years.
Figure 1. Reforms (still) needed
In the longer run, the prediction is much easier. With the world moving towards a green economy, the price of oil will see a structural decline that will rob Russia (and other oil exporters) of most of its export and government revenues. The reforms which basically every economist agree are needed are related to market institutions and Figure 1 provides a clear illustration of key reform areas. The progress during Putin’s years in office has been modest at best. Swedish institutions in 2016 have been added to the figure as a comparison and it is clear that the institutional gap between Russia and Sweden is significant. Of course, all countries are different, but Russian policy makers that are interested in reforming its economy are most welcome to Sweden for a discussion of what we have done to build our institutions.
- Becker, T. (2017). ‘Macroeconomic Challenges’, in Rosefielde, S., Kuboniwa, M., Mizobata, S. and Haba K. (eds.) The Unwinding of the Globalist Dream: EU, Russia and China, Singapore: World Scientific Publishing.
- Becker, T. (forthcoming), ‘Russia’s economy under Putin and its impact on the CIS region’, Chapter 2 in T. Becker and S. Oxenstierna (eds.) Perspectives on the Russian Economy under Putin, London: Routledge.
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This brief discusses the importance of trust in economic development. In the aftermath of the 2008 financial crisis, many countries experienced a decline in the level of both general trust and trust and confidence in the government and market institutions. Trust is important for economic growth as it facilitates economic transactions by reducing uncertainty and risk. A lack of trust in the government hinders implementation of structural reforms needed for economic development. Hence, policies aimed at rebuilding trust in the government and institutions become especially important for countries like Ukraine.
Recent events in Ukraine have highlighted an acute crisis of trust in the Ukrainian society (such as trust in the government, politicians, institutions, etc.). Over the past two decades, in the absence of a fair and transparent legal and court system, Ukrainians have become accustomed to relying on informal and often corrupt ways of living and doing business. According to a poll conducted in December 2013, less than 20 percent of the Ukrainian population said that they trust the government, police and courts.
A low level of trust in society is not, however, limited to Ukraine; this problem is also pronounced in many other parts of the world. According to the 2012 Edelman Trust Barometer survey, the general level of trust in most countries surveyed decreased compared to 2011. The most notable decline was in Brazil (36.3%), Japan (33.3%) and Spain (27.5%). These countries also experienced large drops in the level of confidence in the government: Brazil went down by 62.4%, Japan by 51% and Spain by 53.5%. According to the OECD report, generally, less than half (40%) of the citizens trust their government (OECD, 2013).
General trust is important for economic life as it reduces uncertainty and costs associated with economic transactions. Trust affects the functioning of businesses, financial markets, and government intuitions. The level of general trust varies significantly across countries (see Figure 1). While only 3.8 percent of people in Trinidad and Tobago fully trust most people, the Scandinavian countries’ share of trusting people exceeds 60 percent (Algan and Cahuc, 2013).
Economists have in their studies repeatedly appealed to the problem of trust because there are several channels through which trust may influence economic development. First, trust creates favorable conditions for long-term investment and financial market development (Algan and Cahuc, 2013). Second, a higher level of trust in various regulatory authorities increases the level of compliance with the rules and regulations if citizens believe in the fairness of such rules and regulations (Murthy, 2004). In Tabellini (2010), the level of economic development (measured by GDP per capita) of different regions of the EU member countries is compared to their level of trust (defined as in the Figure 1) and respect (defined as the proportion of people who mentioned the quality “tolerance and respect for other people” as being important). Using data from the World Value Survey rounds conducted in the 1990s, he shows that regions with a high level of trust and respect are also the regions that are the most economically developed.
In his Master thesis, the graduate of the Kyiv School of Economics Oleksii Khodenko (Khodenko 2013) analyzed the relationship between the level of trust in the government and the attitude towards market economy (in particular, the attitude towards competition and private property). For this purpose, he used data from the World Values Survey and the European Values Survey. His results have different implications for developed and less developed countries. While a lack of trust in the government in developed countries is transformed into a desire to see more market mechanisms in the economy, this mistrust of the government in developing countries (including Ukraine) undermines the faith in the entire market economy.
Khodenko’s results highlight important policy implications for transition countries: people who grew up in a centrally planned economy tend to underestimate the benefits of the free market and, therefore, only puts confidence in the government and the state as a whole to achieve the development of market mechanisms. Thus a lack of trust hinders, or even prevents implementation of structural economic reforms, which are often “painful” for some groups or for society as a whole. In countries with a low level of trust, the long-term promise of the implemented reforms to improve the lives of people is not perceived as credible. Instead of being viewed by the general public as a today’s sacrifice in the name of future prosperity, they are rather viewed as a deadweight loss (Györffy, 2013).Figure 1. The Level of Trust in the World Source: Yann and Cahuc (2013), Figure 1. Note: Trust is computed as the country average from responses to the trust question in the five waves of the World Values Survey (1981-2008), the four waves of the European Values Survey (1981-2008) and the third wave of the Afrobarometer (2005). The question regarding trust asks: “Generally speaking, would you say that most people can be trusted or that you need to be very careful in dealing with people?” Trust is equal to 1 if the respondent answers ”Most people can be trusted” and 0 otherwise.
Moreover, low levels of trust affect all types of structural reforms. Elgin and Garcia (2012) show that the effect of the tax reform on the economy can significantly differ depending on the level of trust in the government; under low levels of trust the announced tax cuts do not lead to exit from the informal sector.
The question is then how to revive or rebuild trust? Knack and Zak (2003) argue that the most efficient policies for building general trust are policies that (1) reduce income inequality since people in countries with more equal income distribution tend to have higher levels of interpersonal trust, and (2) strengthen civil society to increase government accountability. Income inequality often resulting from unequal opportunities can be reduced via increases in educational attainment and income redistribution programs. The presence of a strong civil society with free press ensures that the government is accountable and responsive to its citizens. A government needs to be reliable, open and transparent to effectively address citizens’ demands (OECD, 2013). All these policies cannot be implemented without a fair legal system that guarantees equal treatment of all citizens.
- Algan, Y. and P. Cahuc (2013) “Trust, Growth and Well-being: New Evidence and Policy Implications”, IZA Discussion Paper No. 7464
- Elgin, C. and M. Solis-Garcia (2012), “Public Trust, Taxes and the Informal Sector”, Journal Review of Social, Economic and Administrative Studies, 26(1), pp. 27-44
- Györffy, D. (2013), Institutional Trust and Economic Policy: Lessons from the History of the Euro, Central European University Press
- Knack, S. and P.J. Zak (2003), “Building Trust: Public Policy, Interpersonal Trust, and Economic Development”, Supreme Court Economic Review, 10, pp.91-107
- Khodenko, Oleksii (2013). How Does Confidence in the State Authorities Shape Pro-market Attitudes?
- Murthy, K. (2004), “The Role of Trust in Nurturing Compliance: A Study of Accused Tax Avoiders”, Centre for Tax System Integrity, Working paper No49
- OECD (2013), Government at a Glance 2013, OECD Publishing.
- Tabellini, G. (2010), “Culture and Institutions: Economic Development in the Regions of
- Europe”, Journal of the European Economic Association, 8(4), pp. 677–71