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Development economics, globalism and inequality, the aid system, international financial institutions, education, Latin America, climate financing
Nancy Birdsall is president emeritus and a senior fellow at the Center for Global Development, a policy-oriented research institution that opened its doors in Washington, DC in October 2001. Prior to launching the Center, Birdsall served for three years as senior associate and director of the Economic Reform Project at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. Her work at Carnegie focused on issues of globalization and inequality, as well as on the reform of the international financial institutions.
From 1993 to 1998, Birdsall was executive vice-president of the Inter-American Development Bank, the largest of the regional development banks, where she oversaw a $30 billion public and private loan portfolio. Before joining the Inter-American Development Bank, she spent 14 years in research, policy, and management positions at the World Bank, including as director of the Policy Research Department.
Her most recent work focuses on global governance and the international financial institutions, women’s empowerment and its relationship to reproductive choices, and the financing of global public goods for development.
Birdsall serves on the Board of Directors of the International Food Policy Research Council (IFPRI), the African Population and Health Research Center, and Mathematica. She is a member of the Williams College Center for Development Economics Visiting Committee. She has chaired the board of the International Center for Research on Women and has served on the boards of the Social Science Research Council, Overseas Development Council, and Accion. She has also served on committees and working groups of the National Academy of Sciences.
Birdsall holds a PhD in economics from Yale University and an MA in international relations from the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies.
Putting Education to Work in Egypt, by Nancy Birdsall and Lesley O'Connell. Prepared for Conference, Growth Beyond Stabilization: Prospects for Egypt, sponsored by The Egyptian Center for Economic Studies in collaboration with the Center for Institutional Reform and the Informal Sector, University of Maryland; the Harvard Institute for International Development, and the US Agency for International Development, February 3-4, 1999, Cairo, Egypt. March 1999.
"Intergenerational Mobility in Latin America: Deeper Markets and Better Schools Make a Difference," with Jere R. Behrman and Miguel Szekely, in New Markets, New Opportunities? Economic and Social Mobility in a Changing World (1999)
"The U.S. and the Social Challenge in Latin America: The New Agenda Needs New Instruments," with Nora Lustig and Lesley O'Connell, in The Search for Common Ground: U.S. National Interests and the Western Hemisphere in a New Century (W.W. Norton & Company, Inc., 1999)
"Deep Integration and Trade Agreements: Good for Developing Countries?" with Robert Z. Lawrence in Global Public Goods: International Cooperation in the 21st Century (Oxford University Press, 1999)
"No Tradeoff: Efficient Growth Via More Equal Human Capital Accumulation in Latin America," in Beyond Trade-Offs: Market Reforms and Equitable Growth in Latin America (1998)
"That Silly Inequality Debate," in Foreign Policy, May/June 2002
"Education in Latin America: Demand and Distribution are Factors that Matter," with Juan Luis Londoño and Lesley O'Connell in CEPAL Review 66, December 1998
"Life is Unfair: Inequality in the World," in Foreign Policy, Summer 1998
"Public Spending on Higher Education in Developing Countries: Too Much or Too Little?" in Economics of Education Review, 1996
A large proportion of revenue gains over the last two decades has come from countries’ efforts to improve the design and compliance of consumption and other indirect taxes, particularly the VAT (value-added tax); in doing so, the objective has been to minimize VAT’s regressive effects by exempting sales of small businesses below a threshold (where the poor typically tend to buy) as well as imposing zero tax on certain food and other products which take up a large proportion of consumption of poor households. Less attention has gone to expanding the coverage of potentially more progressive taxes, such as personal income and property taxes.
In May 2014, Nancy Birdsall, William Savedoff, and Frances Seymour visited Brazil as part of a three-country study to gain insights into the value of future expansion of performance-based payments in other countries. This brief is based on discussions with government officials, NGO staff, private entrepreneurs, and independent researchers in Brazil about the policies and programs that are associated with reduced deforestation and forest degradation in Brazil, with particular attention to the influence of the Brazil-Norway Agreement and the Amazon Fund.
The current size of the income-secure middle class and its likely future growth, suggest that
optimism is indeed warranted for many of today’s middle-income countries. But it is not warranted for all of them, and especially not for most of the
low-income countries of South Asia and sub-Saharan Africa — even if they continue to grow at the relatively healthy rates they have enjoyed in the last
decade and more.
In the last of a series of three blog posts looking at the implications of complexity theory for development, Owen Barder and Ben Ramalingam look at the implications of complexity for the trend towards results-based management in development cooperation. They argue that is a common mistake to see a contradiction between recognising complexity and focusing on results: on the contrary, complexity provides a powerful reason for pursuing the results agenda, but it has to be done in ways which reflect the context. In the 2012 Kapuscinski lecture Owen argued that economic and political systems can best be thought of as complex adaptive systems, and that development should be understood as an emergent property of those systems. As explained in detail in Ben’s forthcoming book, these interactive systems are made up of adaptive actors, whose actions are a self-organised search for fitness on a shifting landscape. Systems like this undergo change in dynamic, non-linear ways; characterised by explosive surprises and tipping points as well as periods of relative stability. If development arises from the interactions of a dynamic and unpredictable system, you might draw the conclusion that it makes no sense to try to assess or measure the results of particular development interventions. That would be the wrong conclusion to reach. While the complexity of development implies a different way of thinking about evaluation, accountability and results, it also means that the ‘results agenda’ is more important than ever.
The two economic developments that have garnered the most attention in recent years are the concentration of massive wealth in the richest one percent of the world’s population and the tremendous, growth-driven decline in extreme poverty in the developing world, especially in China. But just as important has been the emergence of large middle classes in developing countries around the planet. This phenomenon—the result of more than two decades of nearly continuous fast-paced global economic growth—has been good not only for economies but also for governance. After all, history suggests that a large and secure middle class is a solid foundation on which to build and sustain an effective, democratic state. Middle classes not only have the wherewithal to finance vital services such as roads and public education through taxes; they also demand regulations, the fair enforcement of contracts, and the rule of law more generally—public goods that create a level social and economic playing field on which all can prosper.
Protecting tropical forests is good for the global climate and good for development in forested countries. In the absence of robust carbon markets, performance-based funding to reduce emissions from deforestation is a key way donors can provide the incentives and commitment tropical countries need to curtail forest loss.
Tropical forests are undervalued assets in the race to avert catastrophic climate change. They deliver a global—and very public— benefit by capturing and storing atmospheric carbon.
The paper proposes a new narrative on climate equity that emphasize basic energy needs and the equality of access to energy opportunities rather than emissions. It advocates abandoning the setting of emissions targets and instead developing a framework where all countries contribute to maximizing technology creation and diffusion.
This working paper examines the relationship between high inequality and liberalization of the financial sector in Latin America from 1975 to 2000. Using panel data, the authors find that increases in financial liberalization were associated with bank crises and other domestic and external shocks, and that higher schooling inequality reduces the impetus for liberalization brought on by bank crises.
Shared growth—growth that helps to build a middle class—is now widely embraced as a central economic goal for developing countries. In this new working paper CGD president Nancy Birdsall reviews how macroeconomic policies shape incentives for inclusive growth, focusing on fiscal discipline; fair revenue and expenditure practices; and a business-friendly exchange rate. Relying heavily on the experience in Latin America and drawing lessons for other parts of the developing world, Birdsall argues that growth that strengthens the middle classes helps poor people, too.
In this new working paper, CGD president Nancy Birdsall reviews a large body of work, primarily of economists, that shows that high levels of inequality in developing countries are likely to inhibit growth. She argues that high income inequality can discourage the evolution of the economic and political institutions associated with accountable government and can undermine the civic and social life that sustains effective collective decision-making, especially in multi-ethnic settings. Learn more
Does aid to Africa undermine the emergence of a robust African middle class? If so, what can be done about it? In this new working paper, CGD president Nancy Birdsall argues that high and unpredictable aid flows could be making life harder for Africa's small and medium-sized businesses by, for example, inflating wages and making governments less reliant on domestic revenue—and hence less accountable to taxpayers. She urges that donors systematically monitor such impacts in aid-dependent countries and suggests ways that aid could help to bolster Africa's crucial but fragile middle-income groups. Learn more
The aid business has long grappled with the trade-off between showing results and supporting a country's own institution-building. Donors want to be sure that their money makes a difference, and often quickly. But close monitoring raises costs and pushing for quick results leads to projects that bypass or even undermine domestic institutions that are crucial to development. In Payments for Progress: A Hands-Off Approach to Foreign Aid, Owen Barder, now director of Global Development Effectiveness at the United Kingdom Department for International Development, and CGD president Nancy Birdsall propose solving this problem by having donors pay for proven progress towards such agreed goals as additional children completing school and additional kilometers of roads built. How to achieve these goals would be left to the aid recipient government. They suggest this approach may be particularly useful in fragile states. Learn more
Does openness in trade and the free flow of capital promote growth for the poor? In this new working paper, CGD president Nancy Birdsall describes asymmetries in globalization and their implications for poverty reduction. She argues that poor countries lack effective social contracts, progressive tax systems, and laws and regulations that rich capitalist societies use to manage markets so that free trade and commerce more equally benefit all. These asymmetries also exist at the global level, where poor countries are especially susceptible to the risks of free trade and the vagaries of volatile capital flows.
Nancy Birdsall and Kemal Dervis propose that a "Stability and Social Investment Facility" be housed either at the IMF or the World Bank to offer emerging market economies with high debt-burdens lonas on a concessional basis. Read this CGD Working Paper to see how this Facility would be a useful step forward in promoting pro-poor growth.