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The United Kingdom: Stronger growth needs significant productivity improvements across regions

By Daniela Glocker, OECD Economics Department

On the heels of the COVID-19 pandemic, the UK economy is again facing major challenges. A combination of substantially higher energy prices, increasing global prices of tradable goods and services and heightened uncertainty is dampening the economic outlook. The September Interim Outlook foresees annual growth for the United Kingdom of 3.4% in 2022 before stagnating in 2023. Inflation is expected to peak at just over 10% towards the end of 2022, driven by supply shortages and high global energy prices. Private consumption, a main driver of the recovery in 2021, is expected to slow as rising costs of living erode households’ income.

In this complex context, the Economic Survey of the United Kingdom 2022 argues that productivity must be strengthened to support growth and increase the country’s fiscal space. Already before the pandemic, productivity growth was lower than in many other advanced economies and has almost stagnated since the Global Financial Crisis (Figure 1). Productivity growth has stalled on the back of skill mismatches, low innovation and knowledge diffusion, as well as low investment. Regional disparities in productivity, income, work, education and health are high across UK regions and are weighing on aggregate productivity.

Raising productivity and living standards in lagging regions is at the heart of the government’s “Levelling Up” agenda and will require significant investment. The government plans for large scale investments in infrastructure, skills and innovations through its “Plan for Growth”. Public investment has increased in recent years and will remain close to a significant 2.5% of GDP over the coming years, however, large investments will be needed to compensate for years of underinvestment and to address long-term challenges such as the net zero transition. The Survey therefore recommends the government to continue its ambitious public investment as planned, and implement the Levelling Up White Paper proposals such as infrastructure investments and targeted spending in poorer areas outside London and the South East. The government should ensure funding is well targeted, better streamlined, and with a special focus on improving productivity in lagging regions.

A substantial rise in business investment, including in physical capital, innovation or new processes that would make labour more productive, is needed. Business investment has been slow on the back of Brexit and pandemic related uncertainty, contributing to low productivity growth. A policy environment that reduces uncertainty and provides a transparent and credible longer-term strategy could support business confidence and investment.

Figure 1. Productivity growth has almost stagnated

Average annual productivity growth rates, in percent

Note: Labour productivity is measured as GDP per hour worked in constant prices, USD purchasing power parities.
Source: OECD (2021), productivity database.

Raising skills across the population is the key to support productivity growth. On-going efforts to up-skill and re-skill are already significant, but digitalisation, automation and the transition to net zero will add to quickly rising demand for skills in an already tight labour market. The Survey welcomes the government’s focus on lifelong learning programmes, but stresses that it should be ensured that training opportunities for adults are of high quality and respond to identified skills need. It is equally important to make use of already existing skills. Women in the United Kingdom are highly educated, but many women reduce their working hours after they have children to take over care work. Reducing the high cost for good quality childcare, in particular for under 2-year-olds, could incentivise more women to work full-time and would be one way to grow the economy and reduce the gender gap in earnings.

As the United Kingdom readies itself to tackle the challenges ahead, it is not the time to repeat the old ways. It is the time to set the foundation for a new future. A future that is better and that is more productive.

Reference

OECD (2022), OECD Economic Surveys: United Kingdom 2022, OECD Publishing, Paris, https://doi.org/10.1787/7c0f1268-en.




Chile: How can growth be made more inclusive?

By Jens Matthias Arnold and Paula Garda, OECD Economics Department

Chile’s economy has been a poster-child of Latin America for a long time. As the new Economic Survey for Chile highlights, its solid institutions have delivered macroeconomic stability and rising living standards. Per-capita incomes have more than doubled since the 1990s and are among the highest in the region. But despite all this remarkable progress, cracks have emerged on the surface. In October 2019, widespread social unrest paralysed the country and revealed deep-rooted discontent with inequalities of economic conditions and opportunities.

After the social unrest, the Covid-19 pandemic took a steep toll on lives and livelihoods, and led to the sharpest contraction of economic incomes in 40 years. In 2021, the economy recovered swiftly on the back of exceptionally strong policy support, and eventually overheated significantly, as domestic demand pushed inflation well above target. Fiscal policy is rightly consolidating this year, including a strong reduction of public expenditure. The Russian aggression on Ukraine and global supply shortages in 2022 exacerbated inflationary pressures, with rising food and energy prices pounding hard on many families as inflation rose above 14%. Monetary policy reacted swiftly and forcefully, but the monetary policy stance will have to remain restrictive for some time to bring inflation back to the target and to firmly re-anchor inflation expectations.

In the face of these extraordinary shocks, Chile’s institutions have been resilient and helped to avert worse outcomes. The social unrest of 2019 eventually gave rise to an orderly and democratic process of rewriting the country’s constitution. In a national referendum, a majority of Chileans voted in favour of this step. A first new draft constitution was rejected in a second national referendum in September 2022, but another process for drafting a new constitution is being discussed.

Significant underlying growth and inequality challenges will have to be addressed over the next years. A long-standing process of income convergence to advanced economies has gone into reverse since 2014 (Figure 1). Productivity has been stagnant or even decreasing, and boosting it has now become a key priority. Investment in new technologies has been weak, and important parts of the economy could benefit from stronger competitive forces, as cumbersome regulations hold back new firm entry and investment.

Figure 1. Income convergence has reversed

Source: OECD, Productivity database; World Bank, WDI.

Besides boosting the engines of income growth, pressing social needs will require a growing attention to how incomes and opportunities are distributed. The quality of public education and health services needs to be improved to narrow the gap vis-à-vis private institutions. The pandemic has also highlighted significant gaps in social protection, particularly for the most vulnerable households. Ensuring some basic social protection coverage for formal and informal workers alike, while simultaneously reducing the cost of formal employment, is a key challenge. Only by addressing social protection and informality simultaneously will Chile be able to break the vicious circle where informal workers not entitled to most social protection benefits while the labour charges that finance these benefits raise the costs of creating formal jobs.

Few people have adequate old-age pensions, owing to low contributions and contribution gaps due to informal employment. Pension replacement rates were already low before the pandemic, but many pension accounts are now depleted following three rounds of extraordinary withdrawals during the crisis. A recently established universal basic pension is a key milestone: it will significantly improve pension benefits, particularly for many low-income earners. But future pension reforms should pay particular attention to formalisation incentives, while raising pension replacement rates. Income-support programmes for vulnerable households are highly fragmented, and unifying social assistance programmes into a single cash benefit scheme would allow increasing coverage and benefits.

Education is key for reducing inequalities and raising productivity at the same time. Learning outcomes remain well below the OECD average and pandemic-related school closures have exacerbated these longstanding challenges, as fewer students from vulnerable backgrounds used digital tools to remain connected. Expanding access to quality early childhood education would bridge early and often decisive gaps in cognitive and social progress and allow more women to work. Working conditions for teachers fall short of OECD average standards, with lower pay and longer working hours.

The small size of Chile’s public sector limits its ability to provide better public services and opportunities for all, and to reduce inequalities. Tax revenues of only 21% of GDP are insufficient to meet rising social demands while preserving necessary public investment in infrastructure, education and health (Figure 2). Personal income taxes, which only 20% of Chileans pay, are one explanation behind this low tax collection. Raising public revenues by several percentage points of GDP, as currently planned by the authorities, is ambitious but clearly within reach through a comprehensive tax reform.

Figure 2. Tax revenues are low

Note: LAC is a simple average of Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, Mexico and Peru.
Source: OECD, Global tax revenue database.

As Chile embarks on this path of reforms, many decisions are now being taken that are likely to shape the future of its society and economy for years to come. These reforms are an excellent opportunity not only for raising future incomes, but also for making future growth more inclusive and providing better opportunities for all Chileans, as discussed in the 2022 OECD Economic Survey of Chile.

Reference

OECD (2022), OECD Economic Surveys: Chile 2022, OECD Publishing, Paris, https://doi.org/10.1787/311ec37e-en.




Korea: Stunning success and work in progress

By Jon Pareliussen, OECD Economics Department

Walking in modern-day Seoul, you are easily struck by its modernity. You do not even have to go there if you own a Samsung smartphone, drive a Hyundai, listen to BTS (which recently announced a break) or Blackpink, watch Squid Game or Extraordinary Attorney Woo. It is hard to fathom the speed at which Korea has travelled the long road from poverty and devastation following the Korean War to strength and prosperity, with per capita GDP rising above the OECD average in 2020 (Figure 1). Since the 1960s, income growth and access to health care pushed life expectancy well above the OECD average, accompanied by an equally impressive transition from authoritarian rule to vibrant democracy. The 2022 OECD Economic Survey of Korea tells the tale of present strengths and skilful governance, but also points to current and future challenges which are to an extent rooted in Korea’s export-oriented growth strategy and its rapid ascent from poverty to prominence.

Figure 1. Rapid development and great economic success

GDP per capita, constant 2015 prices and PPPs

Source: OECD National Accounts Database.

Sound economic policies

In the recent past, skilful health management steered the country through the pandemic relatively unscathed, with a world-leading tracing system implemented early in spring 2020 and a vaccination campaign carried out with speed and efficiency. Building on a tradition of sound economic management, supportive policies protected people and businesses from hardship and bankruptcy. The strong exporting sector helped the economy rebound. The recovery is set to continue as pandemic-era restrictions on contact-intensive services are shelved, despite the Russia-Ukraine war raising inflation and highlighting the need to boost supply chain resilience.

K-ETS should be Korea’s best friend to reach climate pledges

Korea has committed to reducing emissions by 40% from the 2018 level by 2030, and to net zero by 2050. Its exporting sector and electricity generation are emission intensive, pointing to a challenging transition. However, this also leaves room for relatively low-cost emission reductions with considerable co-benefits from cleaner air. Korea’s emission trading scheme (K-ETS) was the first in East Asia and should be recognised by policymakers as the best tool to reduce emissions as much as possible at a lowest possible cost. K-ETS puts a price on carbon from a large share of emissions, but too many allowances are handed out for free and its overall emission limit is not yet aligned with the new and more ambitious emissions reduction targets. Deregulation is needed to allow the carbon price to pass through to electricity producers to actually incentivise emission reductions in this important sector.

Productivity gaps are mirrored in income, social protection and working conditions

Export-led growth and the nurturing of large exporting companies laid the ground for considerable and persistent productivity gaps to smaller companies. Large firms typically offer highly educated workers well-paid jobs, good working conditions, regular employment and social insurance coverage, but their share of employment has fallen as production has been automated and moved offshore. Low-productivity SMEs hire a larger share of non-regular workers, who earn less and are less protected. These firms find it hard to attract the skilled workers needed to boost productivity, for example by adopting digital technologies. A large number of policies have been put in place to support SMEs, including subsidies, favourable access to public procurement, regulations differentiated by company size, and even whole market segments reserved for SMEs. Each policy may have some justification if seen in isolation, but they sum up to a system that supports the survival of low-productivity firms against a backdrop of regulatory complexity.

Youths’ struggle for a golden ticket is unproductive

Korea’s high level of human capital is fundamentally a strength, but important aspects of the current status quo are unproductive. Entering a top university increases the chance to land a secure and attractive career in a large firm or the public sector rather than in a low-productivity SME. Competition is therefore fierce to score highly on the university entrance exam. This Korean “Golden ticket syndrome” has several negative effects, including low youth employment, a lot of time and money spent on private tutoring (hagwon), skill and qualification mismatches, high pressure on students and low life satisfaction.

Korea needs more children and more working moms

Over the past few decades, education and access to jobs have become increasingly equal between genders. The large-scale roll-out of publicly-funded day care and kindergartens has raised enrolment rates to the level of Nordic countries, but working life and social norms have not kept pace. Combining career and children is often not an option when facing norms and expectations based on traditional gender roles, and long working hours and limited flexibility in the workplace. Mothers returning to working life tend to find that only low-paid non-regular jobs are available. Young women therefore postpone family formation and have fewer children over their lifetime (Figure 2). This has put Korea on the path to rapid ageing which will lead to fiscal and labour market pressures going forward.

Figure 2. Women postpone childbirth

Source: OECD Economic Surveys: Korea 2022.

Work in progress

Building on its considerable strengths, Korea should harness the economic dividends of equal opportunity and fair competition to reduce productivity gaps, thereby narrowing gaps in pay and social protection and reducing the pressure to win a golden ticket. Wise climate policies can contribute to productivity and help secure equal opportunities for future generations. Making the workplace friendlier to both women and men along with a continued drive by the government to lead by example, facilitate the combination of career and family and change gender norms could lead to more children, more working moms and happier people.

Find out more:

Jones, R. (2021), “The Republic of Korea: Economy”, Routledge, London.

MOEF (2022), The new government’s economic policy directions, Ministry of Economy and Finance, Sejong.

OECD (2022), OECD Economic Surveys: Korea 2022, OECD Publishing, Paris, https://doi.org/10.1787/20bf3d6e-en.

OECD (2019), Rejuvenating Korea: Policies for a Changing Society, OECD Publishing, Paris, https://doi.org/10.1787/c5eed747-en.




Korea: Roadmap to narrow digital gaps

By Mathilde Pak, OECD Economics Department

When it comes to emerging digital technologies, Korea is a top player, with an outstanding digital infrastructure and a dynamic ICT sector. 5G has been introduced nationwide earlier than in any other country in the world and has spurred numerous projects supported by the governement to enhance competitiveness, innovation and the quality of life: smart factories, smart grids, smart healthcare, smart cities, smart roads. Korea also stands out for its swift and effective use of advanced digital tools to contain COVID-19 without shutting down the economy. For instance, artificial intelligence enables fast testing, mobile apps provide real-time information on locations visited by patients diagnosed with COVID-19 (Figure 1) and untact (contactless) lifestyle limits the spread of the virus. The recent New Digital Deal further supports the use of digitalisation with projects exploiting synergies between the government and the business sector, including strengthening data infrastructures, expanding data collection and usage, establishing 5G network infrastructure early, promoting untact industries and developing artificial intelligence.

However, the diffusion of digital technologies among firms and workers is slow. The digital gap between SMEs and large enterprises is wide because SMEs face obstacles to the adoption of advanced technologies, like cloud computing and big data: lack of innovation, lack of information and funds, lack of skilled workers and low access to training. This digital gap creates wide productivity gaps, weighing on economy-wide productivity, which is far below the OECD average. Moreover, the digital gap between generations is the highest among OECD countries (Figure 2). In an ageing and increasingly digitalised society, this exacerbates well-being inequalities, as part of the population is left behind.

Digital opportunities to boost productivity and well-being are numerous but are not used to their full potential. To promote the diffusion of technology, the 2020 OECD Economic Survey of Korea highlights recommendations focussing on three main areas.

First, regulations for product and service markets remain stringent, holding back innovation and new business models, as well as competition and productivity growth. The government has introduced regulatory sandboxes allowing firms in new technologies and new industries to test their products and business models without being subject to all existing legal requirements. The temporary lifting of the ban on telemedicine during the COVID-19 outbreak illustrates the potential benefits of a timely review of regulations. After four years at most, if a regulatory sandbox is considered effective and safe, it can lead to the permanent suppression of the regulation that was temporarily waived, its amendment, or the extension of the trial period. It can also lead to the creation of licences with a narrower scope, for example for FinTech companies, which could be allowed to provide some banking services without needing a full banking licence. Follow up on this strategy should allow identifying excessive regulation and revise or abolish it, notably in the case of telemedicine.

Second, subsidies to SMEs should better target innovative and productive companies. Extensive government R&D support still largely props up low-productivity companies and scale-up success is limited. Innovation vouchers in the form of a one-off payment should be provided to SMEs in manufacturing and services to commission R&D and studies on potential for new technology introduction from universities and research institutions. They would help develop innovation networks, which are still limited in Korea, and facilitate the diffusion of digital technology. In addition to promoting collaboration between SMEs and academia, collaboration between SMEs and large enterprises should be further strengthened to enhance innovation diffusion, for instance through open collaborative platforms to exchange new products, services and big data. Financial support for technology R&D should also be reallocated to commercialisation for SMEs that successfully developed new technology.

Third, addressing the lack of adequate skills and awareness of digital benefits or dangers is crucial. SMEs face a lack of skilled workers in digital fields, limited access to ICT training and insufficient awareness of managers of the potential of digital technologies. Older generations often lack digital and basic skills to participate in online activities like e-commerce. Most teachers feel they are not sufficiently prepared to use ICT for teaching, which has been a hurdle during the COVID-19 school closures. A relatively high share of individuals experience privacy violation and youth are at higher risk of cyber-bullying and addiction to ICT technologies. More specialists and high-level researchers are needed in fourth industrial revolution core technologies like artificial intelligence and big data, as well as next-generation security technologies like blockchains and quantum cryptography communication. Higher-quality ICT education and training should be provided to enable students, teachers, SME workers and older people to thrive in a digital society.

The COVID-19 outbreak is strengthening the existing trend towards digitalisation, with a growing use of artificial intelligence and remote services like telework, telemedicine and e-commerce by firms and households. Narrowing the digital gap between firms and between workers is key to bring about a more rapid diffusion of technology and to make the most of digital opportunities to raise productivity and well-being.

References:

OECD (2020), OECD Economic Surveys: Korea 2020, OECD Publishing, Paris.
https://doi.org/10.1787/2dde9480-en

Pak, M. (2020), “Promoting the diffusion of technology to boost productivity and well-being in Korea”, OECD Economics Department Working Papers, OECD Publishing, Paris, forthcoming.




How do you improve the durability of a Celtic Tiger?

By Ben Westmore and Yosuke Jin, Ireland Desk, Economics Department

The Irish economy is booming and is expected to continue expanding at healthy rates over the next few years. But as the 2018 OECD Economic Survey of Ireland highlights, the outlook is clouded with uncertainty.

Brexit could have serious implications for the Irish economy given the close economic relationship between Ireland and the UK (Figure 1). New OECD estimates suggest that a trade arrangement between the UK and EU governed by the World Trade Organisation’s Most-Favoured Nation Rules would reduce total Irish exports by 20% in some sectors such as agriculture and food.

Ireland 2018 Brexit1

In addition to Brexit risks, rising international tax competition is a concern for Ireland. The Irish economy has been highly successful at attracting foreign direct investment, with foreign-owned firms accounting for close to half the country’s gross value added over recent years. As a result, reductions in effective corporate tax rates in other countries may have a negative impact on the Irish economy if they encourage some multinational firms to relocate their operations elsewhere.

In this context, the importance of raising the resilience of the Irish economy cannot be overstated.

Public finances have improved noticeably, but government debt remains high and tax receipts have become more subject to volatility (Figure 2). Further reducing public debt would create scope for budgetary policy to support the economy in the event of a negative shock – such as a disorderly Brexit. This could be achieved by broadening the tax base in a growth-friendly way. For example, VAT preferential rates and exemptions should be phased out and the property tax yield raised through more regular revaluations of the tax base.

Ireland 2018 Brexit2

Financial sector vulnerabilities also need to be further addressed. While non-performing loans on bank balance sheets have declined by around 60% from their peak, the stock remains high. Measures that reduce judicial inefficiencies relating to the repossession of collateral and further encourage NPL write-offs will promote the efficient allocation of capital as well the ability of the banking sector to withstand any further adverse economic shocks.

Above all else, the long-term durability of the Irish economy will rely on policy reforms that encourage a broad-based recovery in productivity. Most Irish firms have experienced declining productivity over the past decade. This has largely reflected the poor performance of local firms, with the large productivity gap between foreign-owned and local enterprises having widened (Figure 3). New firm level analysis undertaken in tandem with this Economic Survey confirms this is the case (Department of Finance, 2018; the findings of this work will be discussed in more detail in a blog post over the coming days). The resilience of the Irish economy hinges on unblocking the productivity potential of these local businesses. Pruning back regulatory barriers to entrepreneurship, such as costly regulations related to commercial property and legal services, is a start. However, productivity spillovers between foreign-owned firms and local businesses also need to be fostered by encouraging the accumulation of high-level managerial skills and research and development intensity in the latter.

Ireland 2018 Brexit3

Creating a more sustainable growth environment will raise the ability of policymakers to confront key challenges that exist for the wellbeing of the population. Particular areas that should be a focus include health, housing and getting people into work. To address these challenges, universal healthcare coverage should be provided, stringent housing regulations that are constraining dwelling supply rationalised and some social benefits withdrawn more gradually as labour earnings rise.

References

Department of Finance (2018), “Patterns of firm level productivity in Ireland”, forthcoming.

OECD (2018), OECD Economic Surveys: Ireland 2018, OECD Publishing, Paris.




Towards a more prosperous and inclusive Brazil

By Jens Arnold and Alberto González Pandiella

Over the past two decades, strong growth combined with remarkable social progress has made Brazil one of the world’s leading economies. However, Brazil remains a highly unequal country, recent corruption allegations have revealed significant challenges in economic governance and the situation of its fiscal accounts is challenging with high and rising public debt (OECD, 2018). This calls for wide-ranging reforms to sustain and continue progress on inclusive growth. The government has started to put in place significant reforms, including a fiscal rule and a financial market reform that aligns directed lending rates with market rates. The long and deep recession is over and growth is projected to accelerate significantly this year. But more needs to be done to improve the living standards of all Brazilians.

The overall budget deficit is close to 8% of GDP driven by rising expenditures. Gross public debt has increased by approximately 20 percentage points of GDP over the last 3 years and stands around 75% of GDP.  Implementing the planned fiscal adjustment and achieving fiscal targets is crucial for restoring the credibility of fiscal policy and avoiding a fiscal crisis. A comprehensive social security reform has become the most urgent element of the fiscal adjustment, as much of the worsening of the deficits is due to rising pension spending. A pension reform is also an opportunity to make growth more inclusive through better targeting of benefits. Aligning Brazil’s pension rules with those practiced in OECD countries could be done in a way to preserve the purchasing power of pensioners while significantly improving the sustainability of the pension system. For example, in OECD countries people retire on average when they become 66 years old, while the effective retirement age in Brazil is 56 years for men and 53 for women. Establishing a formal minimum retirement age would help, in addition to rethinking the current benefit indexation mechanisms. Without reform, pension expenditure will more than double by 2060 (OECD, 2017), which would lead to unsustainable fiscal dynamics (Figure 1).

6_Public-debt-trajectory_blog

 

Improving the effectiveness of public spending, and in particular public transfers, will also be crucial for further social progress. At present a large and rising share of social benefits is paid to households that are not poor, which reduces their impact on inequality and poverty. Already, poverty is more than three times higher among children and youths than among those aged above 65 (Figure 2). Limiting future increases in those social benefits that do not reach the poor would be a first step. That would instead allow shifting more resources towards transfers that do reach the poor, such as Bolsa Família, which is highly regarded across the world and reaches the poor like hardly any other social programme in Brazil. This would help particularly children and youths. Currently Bolsa Família only represents 0.5% of GDP out of the 15% of GDP that Brazil spends on social transfers (OECD, 2018). There is also scope to reduce transfers to the corporate sector, which have increased markedly over recent years. These transfers, often granted in the form of tax exemptions or subsidised lending, have not been associated with visible improvements in productivity or investment, but they benefitted primarily the more affluent, besides creating fertile ground for corruption and political kick-backs.

9_Poverty

Further advances in living standards will also hinge on finding a new inclusive growth strategy, ensuring that the benefits of growth will be broadly shared across the population. Productivity will have to become the principal engine of growth in the future, because the demographic bonus that has supported growth in Brazil is reversing. But raising productivity will require significantly higher investment and trade. Brazil has one of the lowest investment rates among OECD and emerging market economies and it is also less integrated into global trade. Boosting investment and trade would raise productivity, helping Brazilians to access higher wages and living standards.

References:

OECD (2018), OECD Economic Surveys:Brazil, OECD Publishing, Paris.

OECD (2017), “Pension Reform in Brazil, OECD Policy Memo“, April 2017, https://www.oecd.org/brazil/reforming-brazil-pension-system-april-2017-oecd-policy-memo.pdf.




The Slovenian economy is bouncing back

by Rory O’Farrell, Slovenia Desk, OECD Economics Department

Slovenia would do well if its economy performed as well as its ski-jumpers. In 2015, Slovenian Peter Prevc became the first ski-jumper in history to jump 250 metres. As impressive has been his ability to land successfully, being among the few jumpers to receive a perfect 20 points for style. While the Slovenian economy has been successful in bounding forward, it has taken hard falls in the past, and a lack of resilience means it has taken a long time to recover.

Prior to the international crisis, the bounding Slovenian economy converged with advanced OECD economies, before suffering a double hard landing with the onset of the international financial crisis and a subsequent domestic banking crisis. However, thanks to recent structural reforms, business restructuring, supportive monetary conditions and improved export markets, Slovenia is leaping forward again. GDP growth is accelerating and broadening, unemployment is down, and both consumer confidence and the trade balance are reaching record highs. The government may need to step in early with tighter fiscal policy to ensure a controlled landing.

Slovenia

However, unlike its agile youthful ski-jumpers, Slovenia is not breaking any records in terms of productivity. Indeed, its growth has lagged that of regional peers. Labour productivity is low compared to the OECD average, in part due to large numbers of workers employed in relatively low-productivity small firms, and this has yet to show a strong improvement. Productivity gains were also held back by low investment, as the crisis-afflicted banking sector was unable to lend to domestic firms, and Slovenia has been less succcesful in attracting foreign direct investment than other countries in the region. In addition, a lack of competitive pressure, due to heavy regulation and ineffective competition policies and enforcement, has inhibited Slovenian firms from developing the efficiency needed to drive productivity forward.

The nimbleness of the Slovenian economy is also being reduced by a rapidly ageing population. Older workers with obsolete skills have tended to take early retirement rather than retrain, and a poor reallocation of labour is leading to labour shortages. In the past such shortages were filled by training young Slovenians, but a shrinking youth population means this is no longer possible. In addition, public spending pressures due to ageing (in terms of health and pensions) are mounting.

However,  with an improving economy Slovenia is in a good position to move ahead with reforms that will boost long-term growth. As with any ambitious endeavour, occasional mishaps are inevitable. The just released OECD Economic Survey of Slovenia highlights the need to maintain a fiscal cushion to soften future landings as well as the reforms needed to create a more agile economy to sustain incomes and well-being.

Find out more:

OECD (2017), OECD Economic Surveys: Slovenia 2017, OECD Publishing, Paris.




Latvia: time to reboot inclusive productivity growth

by Andrés Fuentes Hutfilter and Naomitsu Yashiro, Latvia Desk, OECD Economics Department

Latvia’s economy is growing strongly. Driven by the recovery of exports and investment as well as strong private consumption, real GDP growth is expected to strengthen from 2% in 2016 to around 4% this year and next. Exporters have gained market shares. More disbursement of EU structural funds is boosting investment. Real wage growth is supporting private consumption. Growth is also underpinned by the government’s strong track-record in pursuing pro-growth reforms. Administrative burdens to entrepreneurship have been reduced and the efficiency of the judiciary has been enhanced. The quality of education and training has improved and active labour market policies have been upgraded. Government finances are solid: The government budget was in balance in 2016 and government debt is 40% of GDP, lower than in most OECD countries.

Latvia2017thegapImportant challenges remain. Productivity is lower than in other Baltic or central European economies and the gap with leading OECD economies remains large (chart A). Yet, productivity growth has slowed after the financial crisis, as elsewhere. To converge to the living standards of high income countries, Latvia has to reinvigorate productivity. As the 2017 Economic Survey of Latvia argues, better integration in global value chains, especially in sectors characterised with rapid technology changes, is key. Latvia has made progress in diversifying its exports. For example, exports of ICT services have increased. But most exports still rely on low-value added activities, such as wood processing or transit transport services.

Latvia2017povertyPoverty is among the highest in OECD countries (chart B) and is concentrated in some regions in part reflecting high unemployment. Lack of access to good and affordable housing makes it more difficult for low-income workers to move to well-paying jobs. Access to health services and higher education are also uneven and limit access to economic opportunities for low income households. Many young Latvians emigrate. These issues and policies to address them are analysed in the 2017 Economic Survey of Latvia.

Further reading

OECD (2017), OECD Economic Surveys: Latvia 2017, OECD Publishing, Paris.