29 January 2015
2015 marks the 30th anniversary of UNU-WIDER. The Institute opened its doors in 1985. It has been quite a ride ever since. We have had thousands of economists and other social scientists through those Helsinki doors since 1985. Not only some of the most famous figures in the business, but many younger early-career economists-who have often gone on to have a big impact on research and policy. Our engagement with the developing world has been a constant, and it has been a real pleasure to dialogue with such a variety of research and practice from across the globe. We have all learnt so much: and together.
A defining characteristic of UNU-WIDER is its openness to a diversity of opinion. We don't have a party line. While UNU-WIDER research does not shrink from making recommendations on poverty reduction, climate change, and peace (to name three of the very biggest global goals) we recognize that policy-making takes place in the context of politics, history, and ethics. So we try not to be over-prescriptive. Development is littered with the wreckage of over-enthusiasm for the latest fad - often well-meaning, yet undertaken without enough knowledge of the countries concerned. We believe that good development economists can be identified by 'dust on their boots' - from real country experience - not just via the standing of their university.
UNU-WIDER was born at a time when intense ideological battles raged within economics. Many of you will say this has not changed. But in the 1980s, the battles - over public action versus the market as development drivers - were especially ferocious. The stakes were high (and still are). Many developing countries were a lot poorer than they are today, they had little access to private capital, and those who held the purse strings of official development finance could try and impose their own views (and some still try today). Sometimes this advice was wise, but often it gave too little respect to the experience and wisdom of practitioners and researchers in the developing countries themselves. The then 'orthodoxy' neglected the structural features of developing countries that hold growth back, it neglected the poor in favour of growth alone, and it paid scant attention to the environment. It reminded us of the importance of the market, yet neglected the institutions that enable markets to deliver both efficient and fair exchange.
Much has changed; a great deal has not. Poverty, climate, and...