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Posts Tagged ‘infrastructure’

Back to the past

The Preliminary Estimate of the UK Q2 GDP figures by the Office for National Statistics show that the UK economy grew by 0.6% in the second quarter of 2013: double the growth rate of the first quarter and almost back to the long-run average growth rate prior to 2008.

At first sight, this would seem to be good news – certainly from the government’s point of view. What is more, unlike the previous quarter, growth is spread relatively evenly across the three main sectors: the production (manufacturing, mining, water supply, etc.) and services sectors both grew by 0.6% and the construction sector by 0.9% (this sector fell by 1.8% in the previous quarter). (Click here for a PowerPoint of the chart below.)

But while growth in the latest quarter may be balanced between the broad sectors, the rise in aggregate demand is not balanced between its components. As an earlier news item (A balancing act) showed, the rise in aggregate demand has been driven largely by a rise in consumption, and a corresponding fall in saving. Exports are rising only slowly and investment is some 25% lower than in the boom years prior to 2008.

So will the latest growth be sustainable? Will investment now begin to pick up and what constraints are there on investment? The following articles consider some of the issues.

Articles
Economy firing on all cylinders as growth hits 0.6pc The Telegraph, Philip Aldrick (25/7/13)
The good, the bad or the ugly? How the UK economy stands up. The Telegraph, Philip Aldrick (25/7/13)
George Osborne’s 0.6% growth is good but unspectacular The Guardian, Larry Elliott (25/7/13)
The (not-so) green shoots of recovery The Economist, John Van Reenen (23/7/13)
Economic recovery slow to take root for some in UK Reuters, William Schomberg and Max De Haldevang (25/7/13)
GDP figures offer hard evidence for political narrative BBC News, Paul Mason (25/7/13)
Ignore the hype: Britain’s ‘recovery’ is a fantasy that hides our weakness The Observer, Will Hutton (21/7/13)
UK economy: Half-speed ahead BBC News, Stephanie Flanders (25/7/13)
BoE guidance can help sustain the UK recovery The Economist, Kevin Daly (22/7/13)
George Osborne’s description of the economy is near-Orwellian The Guardian, Ha-Joon Chang (26/7/13)
Economic growth: more must be done to encourage investment The Guardian, Phillip Inman (1/8/13)

Data
Gross Domestic Product: Preliminary Estimate, Q2 2013 ONS (25/7/13)

Questions

  1. Compare the macroeconomic situation today with that prior to the financial crisis of 2007/8 and subsequent recession.
  2. What factors will determine the sustainability of the UK economic recovery?
  3. What is meant by the ‘accelerator’ and what will determine the size of any accelerator effect from the latest rise in UK GDP?
  4. What supply-side constraints are likely to limit the rate and extent of recovery?
  5. Why do economies that are in recession ‘naturally bounce back’ without any government intervention? Have the macroeconomic policies of the UK government helped or hindered this bounce back? Explain.
  6. What monetary measures by the Bank of England are most appropriate in the current circumstances?
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The political dynamite of calm economic reflection

In a carefully argued article in the New Statesman, the UK Business Secretary, Vince Cable, considers the slow recovery in the economy and whether additional measures should be adopted. He sums up the current state of the economy as follows:

The British economy is still operating at levels around or below those before the 2008 financial crisis and roughly 15 per cent below an albeit unsustainable pre-crisis trend. There was next to no growth during 2012 and the prospect for 2013 is of very modest recovery.

Unsurprisingly there is vigorous debate as to what has gone wrong. And also what has gone right; unemployment has fallen as a result of a million (net) new jobs in the private sector and there is vigorous growth of new enterprises. Optimistic official growth forecasts and prophets of mass unemployment have both been confounded.

He argues that supply-side policies involving “a major and sustained commitment to skills, innovation and infrastructure investment” are essential if more rapid long-term growth is to be achieved. This is relatively uncontroversial.

But he also considers the claim that austerity has kept the economy from recovering and whether policies to tackle the negative output gap should be adopted, even if this means a short-term increase in government borrowing.

But crude Keynesian policies of expanding aggregate demand are both difficult to implement and may not take into account the particular circumstance of the current extended recession – or depression – in the UK and in many eurozone countries. World aggregate demand, however, is not deficient. In fact it is expanding quite rapidly, and with the sterling exchange rate index some 20% lower than before the financial crisis, this should give plenty of opportunity for UK exporters.

Yet expanding UK aggregate demand is proving difficult to achieve. Consumers, worried about falling real wages and large debts accumulated in the years of expansion, are reluctant to increase consumption and take on more debts, despite low interest rates. In the light of dampened consumer demand, firms are reluctant to invest. This makes monetary policy particularly ineffective, especially when banks have become more risk averse and wish to hold higher reserves, and indeed are under pressure to do so.

So what can be done? He argues that there is “some scope for more demand to boost output, particularly if the stimulus is targeted on supply bottlenecks such as infrastructure and skills.” In other words, he advocates policies that will simultaneously increase both aggregate demand and aggregate supply. Monetary policy, involving negative real interest rates and quantitative easing, has helped to prevent a larger fall in real aggregate demand and a deeper dive into recession, but the dampened demand for money and the desire by banks to build their reserves has meant a massive fall in the money multiplier. Perhaps monetary policy needs to be more aggressive still (see the blog post, Doves from above), but this may not be sufficient.

Which brings Dr Cable to the political dynamite! He advocates an increase in public investment on infrastructure (schools and colleges, hospitals, road and rail projects and housing, and considers whether this should be financed, not by switching government expenditure away from current spending, but by borrowing more.

Such a strategy does not undermine the central objective of reducing the structural deficit, and may assist it by reviving growth. It may complicate the secondary objective of reducing government debt relative to GDP because it entails more state borrowing; but in a weak economy, more public investment increases the numerator and the denominator.

He raises the question of whether the balance of risks has changed: away from the risk of increased short-term borrowing causing a collapse of confidence to the risk of lack of growth causing a deterioration in public finances and this causing a fall in confidence. As we saw in the blog post Moody Blues, the lack of growth has already caused one ratings agency (Moody’s) to downgrade the UK’s credit rating. The other two major agencies, Standard & Poor’s and Fitch may well follow suit.

The day after Dr Cable’s article was published, David Cameron gave a speech saying that the government would stick to its plan of deficit reduction. Not surprisingly commentators interpreted this as a split in the Coalition. Carefully argued economics from Dr Cable it might have been, but political analysts have seen it as a hand grenade, as you will see from some of the articles below.

When the facts change, should I change my mind? New Statesman, Vince Cable (6/3/13)
Keynes would be on our side New Statesman, Vince Cable (12/1/11)
Exclusive: Vince Cable calls on Osborne to change direction New Statesman, George Eaton (67/3/13)
Vince Cable: Borrowing may not be as bad as slow growth BBC News (7/3/13)
Vince Cable makes direct challenge to Cameron over economic programme The Guardian, Nicholas Watt (7/3/13)
Vince Cable Says George Osborne Must Change Course And Borrow More To Revive Growth Huffington Post, Ned Simons (6/3/13)
David Cameron and Vince Cable at war over route to recovery Independent, Andrew Grice (6/3/13)
Vince Cable: Borrowing may not be as bad as slow growth BBC News, James Landale (6/3/13)
David Cameron: We will hold firm on economy BBC News (7/3/13)
David Cameron: We will hold firm on economy BBC News (7/3/13)
Clegg Backs Cable Over Controversial Economy Comments LBC Radio, Nick Clegg (7/3/13)
It’s plain what George Osborne needs to do – so just get on and do it The Telegraph, Jeremy Warner (6/3/13)
Vince Cable’s plan B: a “matter of judgement” BBC News, Stephanie Flanders (7/3/13)
George Osborne needs to turn on the spending taps The Guardian, Phillip Inman (12/3/13)

Questions

  1. Why has monetary policy proved ineffective in achieving a rapid recovery from recession?
  2. Distinguish between discretionary fiscal policy and automatic fiscal stabilisers.
  3. Why has the existence of automatic fiscal stabilisers meant that the public-sector deficit has been difficult to bring down?
  4. In what ways has the balance of risks in using discretionary fiscal policy changed over the past three years?
  5. In what ways is the depression of the late 2000s/early 2010s (a) similar to and (b) different from the Great Depression of the early 1930s?
  6. In what ways is the structure of public-sector debt in the UK different from that in many countries in the eurozone? Why does this give the government more scope for expansionary fiscal policy?
  7. Why does the Office of Budget Responsibility’s estimates of the tax and government expenditure multipliers suggest that “if fiscal policy is to work in a Keynesian manner, it needs to be targeted carefully, concentrating on capital projects”?
  8. Why did Keynes argue that monetary policy is ineffective at the zero bound (to use Dr Cable’s terminology)? Are we currently at the zero bound? If so what can be done?
  9. Has fiscal tightening more than offset loose monetary policy?
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Macroeconomic policy and prospects for the global economy

What lies ahead for economic growth in 2013 and beyond? And what policies should governments adopt to aid recovery? These are questions examined in four very different articles from The Guardian.

The first is by Nouriel Roubini, Professor of Economics at New York University’s Stern School of Business. He was one of the few economists to predict the collapse of the housing market in the USA in 2007 and the credit crunch and global recession that followed. He argues that continuing attempts by banks, governments and individuals to reduce debt and leverage will mean that the advanced economies will struggle to achieve an average rate of economic growth of 1%. He also identifies a number of other risks to the global economy.

In contrast to Roubini, who predicts that ‘stagnation and outright recession – exacerbated by front-loaded fiscal austerity, a strong euro and an ongoing credit crunch – remain Europe’s norm’, Christine Lagarde, head of the IMF and former French Finance Minister, predicts that the eurozone will return to growth. ‘It’s clearly the case’, she says, ‘that investors are returning to the eurozone, and resuming confidence in that market.’ Her views are echoed by world leaders meeting at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, who are generally optimistic about prospects for economic recovery in the eurozone.

The third article, by Aditya Chakrabortty, economics leader writer for The Guardian, looks at the policies advocated at the end of World War II by the Polish economist, Michael Kalecki and argues that such policies are relevant today. Rather than responding to high deficits and debt by adopting tough fiscal austerity measures, governments should adopt expansionary fiscal policy, targeted at expanding infrastructure and increasing capacity in the economy. That would have an expansionary effect on both aggregate demand and aggregate supply. Sticking with austerity will result in continuing recession and the ‘the transfer of wealth and power into ever fewer hands.’

But while in the UK and the eurozone austerity policies are taking hold, the new government in Japan is adopting a sharply expansionary mix of fiscal and monetary policies – much as Kalecki would have advocated. The Bank of Japan will engage in large-scale quantitative easing, which will become an open-ended commitment in 2014, and is raising its inflation target from 1% to 2%. Meanwhile the Japanese government has decided to raise government spending on infrastructure and other government projects.

So – a range of analyses and policies for you to think about!

Risks lie ahead for the global economy The Guardian, Nouriel Roubini (21/1/13)
Eurozone showing signs of recovery, says IMF chief The Guardian, Graeme Wearden (14/1/13)
Austerity? Call it class war – and heed this 1944 warning from a Polish economist The Guardian, Aditya Chakrabortty (14/1/13)
Bank of Japan bows to pressure with ‘epoch-making’ financial stimulus The Guardian, Phillip Inman (22/1/13)

Questions

  1. What are the dangers facing the global economy in 2013?
  2. Make out a case for sticking with fiscal austerity measures.
  3. Make out a case for adopting expansionary fiscal policies alongside even more expansionary monetary policies.
  4. Is is possible for banks to increase their capital-asset and liquidity ratios, while at the same time increasing lending to business and individuals? Explain.
  5. What are the implications of attempts to reduce public-sector deficits and debt on the distribution of income? Would it be possible to devise austerity policies that did not have the effect you have identified?
  6. What will be the effect of the Japanese policies on the exchange rate of the yen with other currencies? Will this be beneficial for the Japanese economy?
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Asia’s moderate boom

Many developing Asian countries have experienced rapid and yet relatively stable economic growth over a number of years. In other words, this has not been a short-term unsustainable boom associated with the expansionary phase of the business cycle – with aggregate demand expanding more rapidly than aggregate supply. Rather it is the result of a rapid growth in aggregate supply.

Over the period from 2000 to 2011, several Asian countries experienced average annual growth rates of over 4% and some, such as China and India, much more than that, as the following table shows. The table also shows forecasts for the period from 2012 to 2017. The high forecast growth rates are based on a continuing rapid growth in aggregate supply as the countries invest in infrastructure and adopt technologies, many of which have already been developed elsewhere.

Average annual economic growth rates

2000–11 2012–17
China 10.2 8.4
India 7.2 6.3
Lao 7.1 7.9
Vietnam 7.1 6.5
Indonesia 5.2 6.5
Malaysia 5.0 4.9
Philippines 4.7 4.9
Thailand 4.0 5.1

Source: World Economic Outlook Database IMF (October 2012)

But for aggregate supply to continue growing rapidly there must also be a stable growth in aggregate demand. With the recession in the developed world, some of the more open economies of Asia, such as South Korea, Taiwan, Malaysia and Singapore themselves suffered a slowdown or recession as demand for their exports fell. The Malaysian economy, for example, contracted by 1.5% in 2009.

Given the continuing macroeconomic problems in the developed world, many Asian countries are seeing the need to rebalance their economies away from a heavy reliance on exports. China, for example, is putting more emphasis on domestic-led demand growth. Others, such as Indonesia, have already embarked on this route. As The Economist article states:

Household consumption contributed half of the growth of just over 6% Indonesia enjoyed in the year to the third quarter (its eighth consecutive quarter of growth at that pace). Exports have fallen from about 35% of GDP ten years ago to less than a quarter in 2011. Developing Asia’s combined current-account surplus, which reflects its dependence on foreign demand, more than halved from 2008 to 2011 and is expected to fall further this year.

The continuing success story of many developing Asian economies thus lies in a balance of supply-side policies that foster continuing rapid investment and demand-side policies that create a stable monetary and fiscal environment. A crucial question here is whether they can emulate the ‘Great Moderation’ experienced by the Western economies from the mid-1990s to 2007, without creating the conditions for a crash in a few years time – a crash caused by excessive credit and an excessively deregulated financial system that was building up greater and greater systemic risk.

Articles
Asia’s great moderation The Economist (10/11/12)
Asia Seen Nearing End of Slowdown on China Recovery: Economy Bloomberg, Karl Lester M. Yap and Michael J. Munoz (15/11/12)
An Insider’s China M&A Notes: What Economic Slowdown? CFO Innovation, Peter Hall and Yuan Peng, The Valence Group (31/10/12)
Building a stronger Asia The Star (Malaysia), Cecilia Kok (24/11/12)

Data and reports
World Economic Outlook Database IMF (October 2012)
OECD: south-east Asian economic outlook to return to pre-crisis levels Guardian datablog, Nick Mead (18/11/12)
Southeast Asian Economic Outlook 2013, Executive Summary OECD (18/11/12)
Asia Economic Outlook BBVA Research (Q3 2012)

Questions

  1. Why have developing Asian countries experienced much more rapid rates of economic growth than developed countries?
  2. In what ways are the structures of developing Asian economies likely to change in the coming years?
  3. What factors would support their continuing to achieve both rapid and stable economic growth in the coming years?
  4. What factors might prevent them from achieving both rapid and stable economic growth in the coming years?
  5. What structural policies are likely to enhance productivity?
  6. What is the Asean Economic Community? How will this benefit its member countries?
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Statement of the obvious?

On Tuesday 29 November, the Chancellor of the Exchequer delivered his Autumn Statement. This presented the outlook for the UK economy, with forecasts supplied by the independent Office for Budget Responsibility (OBR). It also contained details of government fiscal measures to tackle various macroeconomic problems, including economic slowdown and high levels of national debt.

The outlook for the UK economy came as no surprise. Things are looking much bleaker than a few months ago. The OBR, along with other forecasters, has downgraded its predictions of the UK’s growth rate. Although it is still forecasting positive growth of 0.9% this year and 0.7% in 2012, these rates are well below those it predicted just eight months ago. In March it forecast growth rates of 1.7% for 2011 and 2.5% for 2012.

To make things worse, its growth forecasts are based on the assumptions that the eurozone crisis will be resolved with little or no effect on the UK. But even if that were so, the debt reduction plans in the eurozone are likely to drive the eurozone back into recession. This, in turn, will impact on UK exports, more than 50% of which go to eurozone countries.

The OBR forecasts that national debt will be 67% of GDP this year and will rise to 78% by 2014/15 but then start to fall. Government borrowing is forecast to be £127bn this year, falling to £120bn in 2012/13 and then more substantially each year after that to £24bn in 2016/17.

So what measures were included in the Autumn Statement? These are detailed in the articles below, but the key ones were:

• a programme of credit easing, which will underwrite up to £40bn in low-interest loans for small and medium-sized businesses.
• £5bn of public money to be invested in infrastrucuture projects and a further £5bn in the next spending round. Agreement had been reached with two groups of pension funds to invest a further £20bn of private money in infrastructure projects.
• an additional £1.2bn for capital investment in schools.
• A cap on public-sector pay increases of 1% per year for the two years after the current two-year pay freeze.

The following videos and articles give details of the forecasts and the measures and give reactions from across the political spectrum.

Webcasts
George Osborne: Key points from chancellor’s speech BBC News, Andrew Neil 29/11/11)
Autumn Statement 2011: George Osborne – my plan to ‘see Britain through The Telegraph on YouTube (29/11/11)
UK economy slows to crawl Reuters (29/11/11)
George Osborne’s autumn statement – video analysis Guardian, Larry Elliott (29/11/11)
Autumn Statement: Osborne reveals state of UK economy BBC News, Nick Robinson (29/11/11)
Autumn Statement: Why is the deficit not shrinking? BBC News, Hugh Pym (29/11/11)
Autumn Statement: Robinson, Flanders and Peston analysis BBC News, Nick Robinson, Stephanie Flanders and Robert Peston (29/11/11)
Can the UK economy be ‘re-balanced’? BBC Newsnight, Paul Mason (29/11/11)

Articles
Autumn Statement 2011: main points The Telegraph, Rachel Cooper (29/11/11)
The Autumn Statement at a glance WalesOnline, Rhodri Evans (30/11/11)
Autumn Statement Summary 2011 TaxAssist Accountants (29/11/11)
Into the storm The Economist (3/13/11)
A battalion of troubles The Economist (3/12/11)
Weapons of mass construction The Economist (3/12/11)
Mr Osborne’s unwelcome statement BBC News, Stephanie Flanders (29/11/11)
£30bn of extra cuts keep Osborne on track, just BBC News, Paul Mason (29/11/11)
Autumn Statement 2011: Commentators give their verdict The Telegraph (30/11/11)
Autumn Statement 2011: concern remains but ‘Plan A-plus’ welcomed The Telegraph, Graham Ruddick (29/11/11)
Autumn statement: George Osborne’s cutting fantasy is over Guardian, Robert Skidelsky (29/11/11)
Hoarding for the apocalypse? I really wouldn’t blame you Guardian, Zoe Williams (30/11/11)

Reports and data
Autumn Statement 2011 – documents HM Treasury (29/11/11)
Economic and fiscal outlook – November 2011 Office for Budget Responsibility (29/11/11)
Autumn statement 2011: the key data you need to understand George Osborne’s speech Guardian DataBlog (29/11/11)
How much will the autumn statement cost and how will the economy change? Guardian DataBlog (29/11/11)

Questions

  1. Compare the OBR’s March and November 2011 forecasts.
  2. What factors explain the differences in the two sets of forecasts?
  3. For what reasons might national debt in the future turn out to be higher or lower than that forecast by the OBR?
  4. What will be the impact on aggregate demand of the measures announced in the Autumn Statement?
  5. What will be the impact on aggregate supply of the measures announced in the Autumn Statement?
  6. Why may a recession impact not just on aggregate demand but also on long-term aggregate supply?
  7. Why may increased pessimism by both consumers and producers make it more difficult for the government to meet its macroeconomic objectives?
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Footing the bill

Whenever a sporting event comes around, there is mad frenzy from countries across the world to enter a bid – this was entirely evident with the 2018 World Cup bids! And it’s not really surprising with the attention that the World Cup and the Olympics receive. Hundreds of thousands of spectators, billions of pounds worth of investment in infrastructure, thousands of jobs created and television deals in every country of the world.

However, why is it that every sporting event of this magnitude fails to come in on budget? The costs are always underestimated. The Athens Olympics was supposed to cost £1.5 billion, but ended up costing over 10 times as much. It is also suggested that it may have played a part in the current Greek financial crisis. The 2002 Japanese World Cup had little effect on the struggling Japanese economy. The London 2012 Olympics was estimated to cost £2.35 billion, but suggestions say it will now cost taxpayers some £20 billion, although budget cuts are inevitable. What about South Africa? Costs of $300 million were estimated for stadiums and infrastructure, with a boost to GDP of $2.9 billion. However, $300 million was not even sufficient to renovate Soccer City (where the first and final game will be held). Add on to this over $1 billion to rebuild the rest of the stadiums and then take into account rising inflation, which has caused inevitable cost over-runs.

On top of this, every country says ‘look at the benefits’ when they enter their bid. However, economists have suggested that there are actually minimal employment benefits in the long term. Obviously there is substantial investment in infrastructure leading up to the World Cup, which will benefit locals, but the overall boost to GDP is not expected to be significant. A similar thing can be seen with the London Olympics. In the study by PriceWaterhouseCoopers in 2005, there were estimates of a direct gain to London’s GDP of £5900 million between 2005 and 2016. However, UK GDP would only rise by £1936 million. Some of the costly stadiums that were built for the Portuguese European Championships were simply knocked down after the event.

So, what can we expect from South Africa? There have been many criticisms of poor ticket sales and that this World Cup is only for the rich. Street sellers have been booted out of their normal selling ground, as they do not have the necessary permits to sell and cannot afford to buy the permits anyway. Whilst transport has been improved, there are still concerns about the distance that has to be travelled between stadiums and this has put off many potential spectators. However, the Super 14 Southern Hemisphere Rugby tournament was staged in South Africa, with the final at the end of May and the event was successful. Transport worked perfectly, spectators arrived by the thousand and it is hoped that this is a positive omen for the fast approaching World Cup!

Articles
Saved by the Ball Times Online (5/6/10)
South Africa World Cup just for the rich BBC News (10/5/10)
Footing South Africa’s World Cup bill BBC News (4/6/10)
Will South Africa reap rewards from hosting the tournament? Peace FM Online (5/6/10)
Did 2004 Olympics spark Greek financial crisis The Associated Press (4/6/10)
Cost of 2012 Olympic pool triples BBC News (8/4/08)
Watchdog attcks ‘astonishing’ £5bn rise in cost of 2012 games Times Online (22/4/08)
South Africa World Cup costs above budget Reuters (13/8/08)

Reports and papers
Olympic game impact Study PriceWaterhouseCoopers December 2005
A Cost-Benefit Analysis of an Olympic Games Queen’s Economics Department Working Paper No. 1097, Darren McHugh, Queen’s University (Canada) (August 2006)

Questions

  1. Why do costs tend to be under-estimated and benefits over-estimated?
  2. What technique could be used to determine whether a sporting event, such as the World Cup, should go ahead? Can you apply this to the London 2012 Olympics?
  3. How is the multiplier effect relevant to a sporting event, such as the World Cup or the 2012 Olympics?
  4. To what extent do you think the Athens Olympics contributed to the Greek Financial Crisis? Could the same thing happen with London?
  5. What might happen to the South African exchange rate during the South African World cup and the sterling exchange rate during the London 2012 Olympics?
  6. How has inflation affected the budget of South Africa?
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The Russian economic powerhouse

Russia has been growing rapidly. Average earnings have recently been growing at 20% a year and consumption growth has not been far behind this. Moscow apparently has more ’6-series BMWs’ than any other city in the world. With Vladimir Putin now the prime minister he has promised to rein in inflation and boost social spending on housing and infrastructure. So what are the prospects for Russia in the next decade?

Russia: giant of a new economic world order Observer (25/05/08)
Vladimir Putin pledges to transform economy of Russia into a world leader Times Online (9/05/08)
Putin in 2020 pledge on economy BBC News Online (8/05/08)

Questions
1. Assess the recent economic performance of the Russian economy.
2. Examine the importance of oil to the Russian economy. What can the Russian government do to reduce the dependence on oil revenues?
3. Discuss the importance of infrastructure and spending on other social capital for the development of the Russian economy.
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