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Fiscal Policy, Inequality, and Poverty in Iran: Assessing the Impact and Effectiveness of Taxes and Transfers

May 15, 2017

By Ali Enami (PhD Candidate, Department of Economics, Tulane University), Nora Lustig (Samuel Z. Stone Professor of Latin American Economics, Tulane University; director of the Commitment to Equity institute; nonresident fellow of Center for Global Development and Inter-American Dialogue), and Alireza Taqdiri.

Policy Brief

In December 2010, Iran’s government replaced its energy and bread subsidies with a lump-sum cash transfer known as the Targeted Subsidy Program (TSP) (Guillaume et. al. 2011). The transfer was set at about $40 (current 2011 dollars) per person per month for all Iranians, including children of any age. The government justified this reform on two main grounds: the high fiscal burden of the energy subsidies, which amounted to 20% of GDP in 2010 (or $70 billion US dollars), and the fact that fiscal resources disproportionately were benefitting the non-poor (Guillaume et. al. 2011; Salehi-Isfahani et al. 2015). In this paper, we examine the components of Iran’s fiscal system in general and TSP in particular in order to evaluate the impact and effectiveness of each component in reducing inequality and poverty. We pay a special attention to TSP, because of its important role in reducing inequality and poverty, and through simulation we show how it could have a greater impact if it is targeted better toward the lower deciles of income distribution.

Fiscal incidence analyses usually rely on estimating the effect of taxes and transfers on various indicators of inequality and poverty. What is generally missing in these studies is to put these estimation in a proper context. Given the size of taxes raised and transfers, is a 0.02 Gini points reduction in inequality or 5% percentage points reduction in poverty headcount ratio big or small? The simple solution, which is to divide these values by the size of the corresponding tax or transfer is not correct. Many inequality and poverty indicators do not have a linear relationship with the size of programs and, therefore, big programs appear to have a lower “bang for the buck” than they actually have. Therefore, in our study not only we measure the impact of various components of Iran’s fiscal system on inequality and poverty, but also we use a proper set of effectiveness indicators to determine how successful various taxes and transfers are in achieving their maximum potential.

To measure the contribution of taxes and transfers to fiscally-induced changes in inequality and poverty, we use the marginal contribution approach (Lambert, 2001; Enami, Lustig, and Aranda, forthcoming). By this method, the contribution of a tax or a transfer to a change in inequality is measured by comparing the existing fiscal system to a counter-factual that excludes the tax (or transfer) of interest. For example, the marginal contribution of direct taxes to reducing inequality is measured by comparing the Gini of the system with direct taxes to the Gini of the same system without direct taxes. One also can think of this counter-factual as having the tax or transfer replaced with an alternative tax or transfer of the same size but with no effect on inequality or poverty. This approach is superior to using progressivity indicators (such as the Kakwani index) for determining whether a tax (or transfer) is inequality-increasing (or decreasing). That is because standard progressivity indicators can yield the wrong prediction, in terms of the impact of a particular intervention, when the number of fiscal instruments is greater than one. When a fiscal system is composed of multiple taxes and transfers (strictly, more than one), a progressive tax (or transfer) can actually increase inequality and a regressive tax (transfer) can reduce inequality.

To measure the effectiveness of taxes and transfers in reducing inequality and poverty, we follow Fellman et al. (1999) and Enami (forthcoming(b)), and define effectiveness by comparing how close the actual marginal contribution of a tax (transfer) comes to achieving its optimal effect. The optimal effect is obtained as follows: a given amount of taxes (or transfers) can be collected (allocated) in such a way as to maximize the impact on inequality (or poverty) reduction. In the case of the Gini coefficient, for example, the maximum effect comes from collecting taxes from the richest individual until his/her income becomes equal to that of the second richest; then taxing both of them until their income becomes equal to that of the third richest person. This process continues until all of the required tax is collected. This procedure maximizes the reduction in Gini while keeping the size of the collected tax constant. An “optimal” transfer would follow a similar procedure, but would start with the poorest individual and move him/her up the income distribution.

In our analysis, we use the Iranian Household Expenditure and Income Survey for 2011/12 (1390 Iranian calendar). We find that the combined effect of direct and indirect taxes, cash transfers, and indirect subsidies is a decline of 0.0854 points in the Gini coefficient and 10.5 percentage points in the poverty headcount ratio. Transfers are relatively more effective in reducing inequality than taxes. For example, direct transfers together realize about 40% of their potential to reduce inequality while direct taxes together only realize about 20% of their potential. Direct and indirect taxes are especially effective in raising revenue without causing poverty to rise, a desirable property of fiscal systems. While transfers are not targeted toward the poor, they reduce poverty significantly. The main driver is the Targeted Subsidy Program (TSP), a universal cash transfer program implemented in 2010 to compensate individuals for the elimination of energy subsidies. In spite of its large poverty reducing impact, the effectiveness of TSP is rather low because of its universality. We show through simulations that given the amount spent on TSP, the poverty reducing impact could be enhanced, almost two times, if resources were more targeted to the bottom deciles while keeping the program budgetary neutral.


Lambert, Peter. 2001.“The distribution and redistribution of income”. Manchester University Press.

Enami Ali, Nora Lustig and Rodrigo Aranda Balcazar. Forthcoming. “Analytic Foundations: Measuring the Redistributive Impact of Taxes and Transfers”. A chapter in N. Lustig (Ed.) “Commitment to Equity Handbook. A Guide to Estimating the Impact of Fiscal Policy on Inequality and Poverty”. Brookings Institution Press and CEQ Institute of Tulane University.

Enami Ali. Forthcoming (b). “Measuring the Effectiveness of Taxes and Transfers in Fighting Poverty and Inequality in Iran”. A chapter in N. Lustig (Ed.) “Commitment to Equity Handbook. A Guide to Estimating the Impact of Fiscal Policy on Inequality and Poverty”. Brookings Institution Press and CEQ Institute of Tulane University.

Fellman, Johan, Markus Jäntti, and Peter J. Lambert. 1999. “Optimal Tax-Transfer Systems and Redistributive Policy.” Scandinavian Journal of Economics 101, no. 1. pp. 114-126.

Guillaume, Dominique M., Mohammad Reza Farzin, and Roman Zytek. 2011. “Iran: The chronicles of the subsidy reform”. International Monetary Fund.

Salehi-Isfahani, Djavad, Bryce Wilson Stucki, and Joshua Deutschmann. 2015.“The Reform of Energy Subsidies in Iran: The Role of Cash Transfers.” Emerging Markets Finance and Trade 51, no. 6: 1144-1162.


This paper was produced under the research program on fiscal incidence in low and middle income countries of the Commitment to Equity (CEQ) Institute at Tulane University ( and the Economics Research Forum (ERF). An earlier version of this work was partly published as ERF Working Paper Number 1020 ( and partly published as CEQ Working Paper Number 58 ( The authors are very grateful to ERF for its financial and intellectual support. The contents and recommendations do not necessarily reflect ERF’s views and any remaining errors are the sole responsibility of the authors.



The impact of emigration on MENA labor markets

April 18, 2017

By David Anda (DIAL) and Mohamed Ali Marouani (Paris 1 – Panthéon-Sorbone and DIAL)

  1. Introduction

Migration has emerged as a major global policy issue in 2015 following the massive influx of Syrian and other refugees in Europe. However migration has always been a major phenomenon in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA), which is among the first regions in terms of origin and destination for migrants. The MENA region also ranks first in terms of unemployment rate in the World (ILO, 2015). It thus seems particularly relevant to study the interactions between labor mobility and employment outcomes.

  1. Overview of labor mobility in the region

The MENA region is at a crossroad in terms of migration patterns, with significant flows of labor migrants and of forced migrants. According to the latest UNDESA figures (ESCWA, 2015), the international stock of migrants living in Arab countries more than doubled between 1990 and 2013, going from 14.8 million to 30.3 million migrants. While the proportion of migrants coming from Arab countries relative to migrants coming from non-Arab countries significantly decreased over the period 1995-2010, Arab countries’ nationals make up to 40% of the stock of migrants in the Arab region. In terms of flows, it was estimated that 21.9 million people emigrated from Arab countries in 2013[1], representing 5.9% of the total population of the Arab region.

Emigration patterns

In terms of emigration rates, Lebanon ranks first by far, with a stock of emigrants reaching 11.4% of its population. Morocco ranks second with an emigration rate of 7.8%. Despite the expectations of a surge in emigration from Tunisia and Egypt during and post-Arab Spring and a complete shift in patterns, Fargues and Fandrich (2012) and De Haas and Sigona (2012) show that the “large-scale” migration to Europe was no more than a myth. However, in the wake of the ongoing civil wars in Libya (2011 and since 2014), Syria (since 2011) and Yemen (since 2015), significant waves of migration occurred, within the region, which render existing statistics obsolete.

Where MENA migrants go

Although most countries in both Maghreb (North Africa west of Egypt) and Mashreq (the Arab world to the east of Egypt) are labor exporters, the destinations vary considerably between the two groups of countries. Migrants originating from the Mashreq region mainly choose Gulf countries as destinations, while those from Maghreb migrate more to Europe. Egypt is the largest labor exporter in the MENA region (Wahba, 2014), with 50% of its emigrants living in Saudi Arabia. Globally, Egyptian migration is relatively homogenous in terms of educational distribution, but strong differences appear by region of destination. While migration to Europe and North America is predominantly highly educated (95%), migration to Libya, Jordan and Iraq is far less educated, with a quarter of migrants being illiterate.

Indeed, in the case of Jordan, migration is characterized by inflows of low-skilled foreign workers and outflows of high-skilled Jordanians going to GCC countries (David and Marouani, 2013b). Wahba (2012) points out the high skill intensity of outmigration, with 62% of emigrants holding a university degree, and finds evidence of an increase in local wages due to emigration. However, Jordanian emigration is mainly of temporary nature, with the majority of Jordanians going to Gulf countries (60%). The high skill intensity of outmigration should also be put in perspective with the unemployment rates that average 13% and reach 30% for the high skilled youth. According to a study from the World Bank (2008), this particular situation has multiple origins such as massive low-skilled immigration, skilled unemployment due to an investment policy that favors low-skill low-wage job creation and geographical mismatch between high unemployment areas and job creation areas.

A completely different migration profile is that of Tunisia, where migrants often have long stays abroad and almost 83% of them live in Europe. Although not of the same magnitude as the Jordanian migration, the Tunisian migrant stock accounted for 5.9% of the total population in 2013. The most important share of Tunisian migrants (48.1%) has a secondary education, while university graduates represent 14.1% of migrants.

  1. Labor mobility impacts domestic labor markets via four key channels

Migration flows across MENA affect domestic labor markets in four distinct ways. The first channel is the impact of outmigration on domestic labor markets in terms of both numbers of workers and on the structure of the labor market. The second channel is the return of migrants either due to a one-off shock or more gradual return migration. The third channel is the positive impact on education and skills levels as a result of workers’ plans to migrate. The final channel is the way that remittances are used by receiving households and the impact that money has on domestic labor markets. These factors also have interactions with each other.

  1. Outflows of labor supply

Emigrants represent an exit of labor supply from the labor market. Predicting future the volume and structure of migration flows requires an understanding of the factors that shape migrants’ intentions. Using the 2009 Survey of Young People in Egypt, El Badawi (2011) investigates the determinants of youth migration intentions. Unemployment does not seem to be a significant determinant of emigration in Egypt, while discouraged unemployment does. However, using the TLMPS2014 David and Marouani (2016) find that more than half of Tunisian migrants are unemployed.

General uncertainty about the future seems to play an important role for young people in Egypt. However, the effect of this variable on migration aspirations is not linear but follows a U-shaped pattern. It is very high for youth with great uncertainty; it drops with average uncertainty; and increases again for the youth with marked certainty about their future. For the latter this may be due to a higher probability of finding goods jobs abroad. The impact of uncertainty on the migration decision is confirmed by David and Marouani in Tunisia as more than the two thirds of migrants were irregular workers prior to migration. Finally having migrants in their social network has a very high impact on migration in both countries. In Tunisia highly skilled migrants rely much less on families and friends.

Another interesting finding from El Badawi’s paper is that most of the youth who intend to migrate are willing to accept a job which does not correspond to their skills or specialization. This means that even the skilled among them will probably seek jobs in the unskilled segment of destination countries, rather than the more competitive skilled segments. Finally, the more educated or from wealthier family background they are, the more they aspire to migrate to Western countries.

The composition and volume of the flows will entail structural effects in terms of employment/ unemployment outcomes. A sudden outflow of individuals might cause a shortage of key workers, or might alleviate the pressure on the labor market depending on their labor status. An outflow of skilled migrants could have a positive or negative impact on the domestic labor market depending on the substitutability or complementarity of those staying behind. Thus, the skill composition of emigration is a significant element to be taken into account when analyzing the impact of labor mobility.

Wahba (2014) finds that Egyptian migrants are more educated than non-migrants, but the predominant temporary nature of the Egyptian migration removes some of the eventual concerns for the existence of a brain-drain phenomenon. Along these lines, she also points out that, since education is free in Egypt, the outflow of migrants might represent a loss of investment in education for the country. However, given the high unemployment rates among educated workers, migration simply relieves the pressure on the labor market.

The situation is different in Maghreb countries where migration is more often permanent, the main destination Europe, and migration increasingly high-skilled. As Natter (2015) points out, given the decline of legal opportunities to migrate to Europe, Tunisians increasingly rely on student migration channels. Thus the risks of “brain drain” are higher although, as Clemens’ (2011) literature review shows, the issue is complex as there are also positive externalities, particularly on investment in education.

Moreover, the impact of pull factors on labor supply is different between one MENA country and another. In the case of Tunisia, using a dynamic general equilibrium model, David and Marouani (2015) show that an outflow of migrants due to an increase in foreign wages has a limited impact in terms of reducing the working age population (although there is a strong positive effect on unemployment through remittance, which will be elaborated in a following section). When applying the same model to Jordan, the impact is stronger since migrant outflows represent a higher share of the total labor force in Jordan (David and Marouani, 2013b).

One interesting area is the cross-border mobility of services workers that can arise from a Mode 4[2] agreement. David and Marouani (2013a) find evidence of a skill bias regarding unemployment reduction in Tunisia and Jordan. Indeed, when increasing Mode 4 exports, which tend to be skill intensive, the outflow of skilled workers tends to reduce more the unemployment rate of the skilled population and has limited impact on the unemployment rates of the other skills. Interestingly, the results also show a decrease in migration outflows, suggesting a tradeoff between Mode 4 type mobility and migration.

The outflows of labor supply can significantly impact the labor participation of those left behind and, particularly, women’s labor market outcomes. This topic is even more relevant in the context of MENA countries where male migration remains the norm, labor market gender segmentation is more marked and women’s participation rates very low (World Bank, 2014). The first direct consequence of the migration of a household member is the need to reallocate labor within the household in order to replace the migrant’s labor and/or income. Therefore, given the magnitude of the migration phenomenon in the region, we expect to observe an impact on female activity rates. For instance, in rural Morocco, Sorensen (2004) argues that harvesting – a typically male task in the 1950s – has progressively been feminized following male emigration and has become regarded as women’s work.

Binzel and Assaad (2011) look at the impact of emigration on the labor market participation of women left behind in Egypt and David and Lenoël (2016) study the case of Morocco. Both papers find that the strict gendered division in these countries takes over the absence of labor supply and thus the outmigration of men has no significant impact on female activity rates.

These findings will raise issues for policymakers in terms of the impacts of the outflows on the composition of skills among emigrants that may lead to a “brain drain” in some countries but relieve labor demand pressure in others depending on domestic conditions. The outflow of migrants raises issues about the remittances they send and the impact on their eventual return (as discussed in the following sections),

  1. Inflows of labor supply from returning migrants

International labor mobility also impacts the domestic labor markets through the inflows of labor supply via return migration. There are two types of effect, a quantitative and a qualitative one. The quantitative one would appear if a massive return occurred as a consequence of a crisis in the destination country for instance. This was the case for Tunisia where more than 40,000 migrant workers had to return when the war broke out in Libya in February 2011 (AfDB, 2012). The other type of effects concerns the labor dynamics that might appear on the domestic labor market such as internal migration, labor market outcomes and skill composition.

If return migrants settle in a different place from the one they lived in prior to the departure, their return migration entails internal migration and shifts in the density of labor force. Wahba (2014) find no evidence of such a phenomenon in Egypt.

Furthermore, returnees’ employment status tends to be different from that of non-migrants and Wahba (2014) points out that Egyptian returnees are almost always confined to market-based work, while non-migrants are more likely to work as unpaid workers and to be engaged in subsistence work. Returnees also often experience upward occupational mobility after return (Figure 1). The share of returnees among employers and in self-employment is significantly higher than that of non-migrants. Given the importance of small and medium enterprises in the development of MENA countries, it is important to acknowledge the role of returnees, who often start businesses upon arrival.


Figure 1. Occupation of return migrants : before, during and after migration, ages 15-59

Source: Wahba (2014)

Return migrants can also bring back skills from abroad and Wahba (2014) shows that returnees benefit from their overseas work experience and often undergo an upwards mobility. In a further work, she highlights that, after removing the selection biases into emigration and into return, the average wage premium for returnees is of 16% compared to non-migrants (Wahba, 2015).

Aside from the wage dimension, David and Nordman (2014) look into the more qualitative labor market outcomes of returnees to Egypt and Tunisia. They observe that, compared to Egyptian returnees, Tunisian return migrants are more prone to have studied during their migration and to have benefited from ‘on-the-job-training’ while abroad. When looking at the transitional mobility between job levels during and after migration, it appears that Tunisian returnees experience an upgrade in job levels upon return more often than Egyptians.

They also show that Egyptian returnees have lower probabilities of being overeducated, while Tunisian ones are more likely to be overeducated. This points out to a potential waste of human capital that was acquired through migration due to a lack of recognition of the expertise acquired abroad.

Nevertheless, the benefits of return migration, either for returnees themselves, or for the origin country as a whole, appear only when return is of voluntary nature. When individuals are willing to go back to their home country, they can prepare their return by mobilizing their savings and activating their social networks. David (2015) shows that in the case of migrants returning to Maghreb countries, involuntary return (often through deportation) negatively impacts labor market outcomes. Deported migrants have significantly higher probabilities of being unemployed upon return and are very poorly integrated in both economic and sociocultural terms. She also finds that lower scores of integration are characteristic of returnees that were not deported, but had to unwillingly come back to their home countries. These results raise an issue for policymakers of the lack of awareness currently when it comes to return migration. Beyond the strategies to engage the diaspora in the development of their origin countries, the support to returning migrants is often lacking from the policy dialogue.

  1. The quality of labor supply

The findings on both outmigration and return migration highlight important impacts on the skills levels in domestic labor markets as a consequence of international migration. As was seen in the previous section, return migrants can also bring back skills from abroad and often start businesses upon arrival.

However the impacts go beyond returning migrants. The aggregated skill level of the labor force in the origin country can also increase as a result of migrants’ desire to leave the country (as discussed earlier when comparing Maghreb and Middle East countries).

Various studies find that the perspective of migration has a positive effect on the education level of a country. The hypothesis is that given the positive selection into emigration, individuals will invest more in education in order to increase their chances of migrating. Since not all of them will end up going abroad, the stock of skilled workers will increase incrementally.

The results from David and Marouani (2013b) show that an outflow of high skilled migrants is a strong incentive for tertiary education, but has a limited impact on transitions to secondary education in Jordan. In Tunisia the positive effects on higher education are much lower.

An increase in mobility due to an increase of Mode 4 exports has been shown to entail a skill bias and thus significantly higher incentives to pursue secondary and tertiary education in Jordan and Tunisia, although the impact if more important in Tunisia, where service exports represent a bigger share of total exports and are more skill intensive (David and Marouani, 2013a).

The tendency of returning migrants highlights opportunities for countries of origin to benefit from more highly-skilled and entrepreneurial returning migrants. However the return of large numbers of involuntary migrants also raises serious policy issues.

  1. Remittances and their impact on households

The fourth channel through which international labor mobility can impact domestic labor markets is remittances. Sirkeci, Cohen and Ratha (2012) note that remittances were relatively resilient to the global crisis. Many factors explain this resilience. Regional diversification of destinations reduces risk. Moreover, even if migration flows decrease, stocks matter more for remittances. Return migration was also not as high as expected and those who returned took their savings with them. In some cases migrants reduced their consumption and continued sending remittances. Finally strong exchange rate depreciation in some countries has probably created an incentive to buy more products and assets in the home country.

The use of remittances by the receiving households affects labor supply, since it determines household labor market participation, but also labor demand if the remittances are used as capital to start a business for instance.

Wahba (2014) and David and Marouani (2016) find that remittances represent the most important source of non-labor income for households in Egypt and Tunisia respectively. Both papers find that the heads of households receiving remittances are more likely to be out of the labor force. Al Assaf (2016) finds similar effects for Jordan and shows also that the impact is stronger for men living in a remittance-receiving household than for women.

In the case of Morocco, David and Lenoël (2016) highlight that while outmigration has no labor substitution effect on women’s labor market participation, remittances received by the household do influence female activity rates. Using both a quantitative and a qualitative approach, they highlight that, given the high prevalence of women employed as unpaid family workers, remittances allows them to withdraw from the labor market and benefit from a higher quality of living. Indeed, their results suggest that the poor working conditions and low wages for Moroccan women in formal employment are dissuasive from joining the labor market, a finding confirmed by the qualitative interviews. In line with the literature, they argue that, while paid work remains an important route to women’s emancipation, international migration is unlikely to play a positive role in supporting their access to cash-earning opportunities in the absence of more favorable labor market conditions at origin, and remittances may rather be used to withdraw from it.

David and Marouani (2013a) analyze the impact of the global economic crisis and the Arab uprising on Jordan and Tunisia and find that remittances’ decline is higher in Tunisia due to two main factors. Firstly, the crisis entailed a significant decrease in migrants’ incomes, especially in Europe, thus limiting their ability to remit. Secondly, lower growth also meant a smaller depreciation of the exchange rate given that the two countries had a structural deficit in their trade balances. This amplified the negative impact on migrants’ remittances. This phenomenon is more pronounced in Tunisia and significantly increases the labor market participation. Despite the higher decrease of remittances in Tunisia, we observe a similar effect on Jordanian activity rates because remittances represent a much higher share of households’ revenues in Jordan. Low and medium skilled workers were the most affected by the crisis in both countries for different reasons. In Tunisia the low skilled unemployment rate is the lowest, which means that an equivalent decrease of labor demand (for the three skill levels) has a higher impact on unskilled unemployment. In Jordan, the low skilled are characterized by the highest increase of their labor supply (given their initial low activity rate), resulting in a higher rise of their unemployment rate.


Figure 2. Decomposition of the increase in unemployment between labor supply and demand effects

Source: David and Marouani (2015)

Using a similar model and focusing on the crisis in Europe, followed by the one in Tunisia, David and Marouani (2015) highlight that the increase in unemployment on the Tunisian labor market can be decomposed in labor supply and demand effects. In the first period (2009-2012), when the crisis was more severe in Europe, unemployment increases due to the increase in labor supply entailed by the fall in remittances, while, in the second period (2013-2015), the increase in unemployment is due to the decrease in labor demand (see Figure 2).

The evolution of remittance flows is a factor that policymakers will need to take account of analyzing future structural changes in their domestic labor markets

  1. Conclusions and policy implications

International labor mobility has a significant impact on labor markets in the MENA region through emigration, immigration and return migration, the quality of labor supply, and the role of remittances. Policymakers should take account of these findings when formulating policy responses particularly in planning for trends in outmigration, the impact of involuntary return migration, stimulating entrepreneurship, and handling the impact of remittance flows.

Migration needs to receive more attention to maximize its benefits for countries and individuals. The share of migrants in the labor force, the skill composition of emigration and the region of destinations are among the main factors that explain the differences of outcomes observed on the labor markets of countries of the region. Understanding youth aspirations in terms of migration would help anticipating the future flows in terms of volume and composition.

At the national level, candidates for emigration need to receive a tailored training to their future needs depending on their skills and destinations. More engagement with the high skilled diasporas is also crucial, particularly in Maghreb countries where migration is more often permanent and the probability of return of the high skilled low.

Policymakers should take advantage of the potential for business and job creation by returning migrants when designing incentives for entrepreneurship and when encouraging return migration. These incentives can take the form of tax benefits, but can also be of informational order in terms of investment opportunities and business climate. However, as David (2015) shows, return migration has a negative impact on the labor market when it is involuntary. More attention should be given to massive movements of involuntary returnees such as the one witnessed by Egypt or Tunisia due to the Libyan civil war. This category of returnees would benefit from future studies.

Policymakers must take account of the composition of skills among emigrants in deciding whether they should respond to concerns over a “brain drain”. They must also ensure they can take advantage of the finding that returning migrants tend to have higher skills and a greater propensity to establish a new business than non-migrants.

At the regional level, negotiations could be set to take into account the economic situation of both sending and host countries. Moreover, labor mobility through trade in services should be promoted within the region and in the negotiations with Western countries as it has positive effect on skilled jobs and it could be a partial substitute to migration.

Remittances play an important role as one of the main sources of households’ income, but also through their impact on labor supply and their macroeconomic effects. Closely monitoring the flows of remittances can also help policymakers anticipating future outcomes on domestic labor markets since the link between remittances and labor market participation is very strong in countries such as Tunisia and Jordan.


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[1] The destination countries of these migrants are both Arab and non-Arab countries.

[2] According to the WTO, “Mode 4 refers to the presence of persons of one WTO member in the territory of another for the purpose of providing a service. It does not concern persons seeking access to the employment market in the host member, nor does it affect measures regarding citizenship, residence or employment on a permanent basis.”

Socio-Economic Inequalities in Maternity Care under Political Instability: Evidence from Egypt, Jordan, and Yemen

March 22, 2017

By Mesbah Fathy Sharaf (Assistant Professor, Department of Economics, University of Alberta, Canada) and Ahmed Shoukry Rashad (Visiting Assistant Professor, Department of Economics, Frankfurt School of Finance and Management, Germany).

Medical care during pregnancy is crucial for protecting women from health risks during and after pregnancy and has been consistently linked to better child health outcomes. As part of the global efforts to curb maternal mortality, the United Nations included the reduction in maternal mortality by two-third, between 1990 and 2015, as one of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs). While the trend in maternal health has been over-studied, little attention has been given in the literature to the disparities in maternal health among socio-economic classes in the Arab countries, especially after the Arab Spring era.

In an earlier study, Lozano et al., (2011) tracked the progress toward the MDGs for health across the world and reported that the Arab countries had made an accelerated progress in curbing maternal mortality. In fact, the steady progress in national averages may mask socio-economic disparities underneath it, since the MDGs for health call for improvement in national averages. The growth in national averages could be attained either by improvement in the health of the poor or the better-off. Consequently, the improvement in national averages may result from the improvement in the health of the better-off, while the poor are lagging behind.

To study the economic-related inequality in maternity care utilization under political instability, we use the most recent rounds of the Demographic and Health Survey (DHS) for Egypt, Jordan, and Yemen. Concentration curves and concentration indices are used to examine the demographic and socio-economic correlates of maternity care utilization, and to assess the situation under the political instability that followed the Arab Spring. Also, we investigate the underlying factors that generate the socio-economic inequalities in maternity care utilization by decomposing the concentration index into its determinants.

We find that the degree of the socio-economic inequalities in maternity care utilization varies largely within the Arab world. The level of inequality is severe and alarming in Yemen, moderate in Egypt, and minor in Jordan. Results of the decomposition analysis show that socio- economic disparities in maternity care utilization are mainly due to the lack of economic resources and its correlates among the poor. While it might be expected that the political instability in the region would adversely affect the progress toward the MDGs for health, the progress in Egypt toward achieving health equity has not been reversed and instead, continued to improve as compared to the DHS round in 2008. However, in Yemen, the available data does not permit such comparison. Though the concentration index for Jordan did not show dramatic change, in particular between 2007 and 2012, yet this still conveys an important message that Jordan was able to maintain its progress toward achieving health equity, despite the recent political upheaval in the region.

Reducing the socio-economic disparity in maternity healthcare requires health and social policy reforms that incorporate demand-side financing programs such as health vouchers scheme and conditional cash transfers to the marginalized women and those living in deprived regions. These programs should be supplemented by supply-side interventions such as mobile clinics to deprived and remote areas, training traditional birth attendant, and upgrading health facility infrastructure and equipment for health care, which requires additional investments in the health sector. In the long run, increasing education, especially among the poor, and poverty reduction measures that focus on rural communities could help narrow the inequalities in maternity healthcare, and hence improves population health outcomes.


Lozano, R., et al. (2011). “Progress towards Millennium Development Goals 4 and 5 on maternal and child mortality: an updated systematic analysis.” The lancet 378(9797): 1139-1165.

Granger Causality and the Factors underlying the Role of Younger Generations in Economic, Social and Political Changes in Arab Countries

March 22, 2017

By Ahmed Driouchi and Tahar Harkat, Institute of Economic Analysis & Prospective Studies (IEAPS), Al Akhawayn University, Ifrane, Morocco

The youngest segments of the population are considered as the main engine of economic, social, and political change. Recent literature underlines the roles of youth in Arab countries and their contributions in conducting major changes. Thus, understanding the characteristics of the current young Arab generation are of prime importance. The latest contributions highlight major differences between new generations and their parents as they are influenced by the Information Technologies (IT), social networks, education attainment and knowledge economy.

The current research is a follow-up to the one focusing on the analytical description of the main variables that are likely to characterize the current era that is surrounding the newest generations (Driouchi & Harkat, 2017; Driouchi & Harkat, 2016, Harkat, Driouchi, & Achehboune, 2016a; Harkat, Driouchi, & Achehboune, 2016b).

This paper explores the causal links between a set of variables in 19 Arab countries (including GCC countries) using Granger Causality tests. This test enables the prediction of the causality between the variables in a sense that if x causes y, if x is able to increase the accurateness of the prediction and forecast of y using time series data that account for demographic, social, technological, and economic variables. The test is conducted for each Arab country separately.

Findings indicate that simpler models are obtained for GCC countries meaning that only few variables appear to be determining the behavior of the new generations. This means that sector policies would easily help in adjusting the welfare of new generations. More complex ones are for the non-GCC countries. This is explained by the difference in terms of the level of development between GCC and non-GCC economies implying that policies need to target more sectors to achieve the desirable outcomes. Even if each of the Arab economies has a unique model, policies should be oriented mostly towards the reduction of unemployment among youth as this latter seems to be the most common driver of both political and social variables, which aligns with the contribution of Harkat, Driouchi and Achehboune (2016a). With regard to other variables, each of the Arab countries should orient its policies towards the main factors that drive changes into their economies.


Driouchi, A. & Harkat, T. (2017). Granger causality and the factors underlying the role of younger generations in economic, social and political changes in Arab countries. MPRA 77218.

Driouchi, A. & Harkat, T. (2017). An empirical descriptive analysis of the factors underlying the role of younger generations in economic, social & political changes in Arab countries. MPRA 77216.

Driouchi, A. & Harkat, T. (2016). Macroeconomic and school variables to reveal country choices of general and vocational education: A cross-country analysis with focus on Arab economies. MPRA 73455.

Harkat, T., Driouchi, A., Achehboune, A. (2016a). Generational gap and youth in Arab countries. MPRA 75834.

Harkat, T., Driouchi, A., and Achehboune, A. (2016b). Time series analysis & choices for general and vocational education in Arab economies. MPRA 74770.

Intertemporal CGE Analysis of Income Distribution in Turkey

March 15, 2017

By Aykut Mert Yakut and Ebru Voyvoda

The effects of welfare payments on the labor market outcomes of recipients and the size distribution of income are subject of academics for decades. In the related literature, various country cases show that welfare payments render labor force participation and / or lower hours of work of the recipients. For the Turkish case, there are few studies on the issue although there are controversies on the welfare regime. In the last fifteen years, although number and variety of the programs have been increased and the total budget of such programs has been expanded, the main controversy about such programs have been emphasized the escalation of transfer payments in line with the election calendar and clientelistic and rich households-biased coverage. On the other hand, several studies for Turkey claim that these payments have played a corrective role in terms of income distribution and poverty alleviation, in spite of their small shares in total household income.

This study focuses on the effects of such programs on the size distribution of income in Turkey. To this end, an intertemporal dynamic equilibrium model with heterogeneous agents in a small open economy framework is constructed. One of the notable characteristics of the model is the inclusion of internal migration from rural to urban in the presence of endogenous labor supply decision of individuals. Moreover, this study is the very first attempt for the Turkish case since it extensively utilizes various micro-level data sets in the calibration process of households’ parameters.

The recent policy framework of welfare payments in Turkey is based on unilateral unconditional cash and in-kind payments which are paid as long as individual/household can prove her/its necessity. However, the government has been criticized due to budget allocations on social policies. Among the OECD member countries, Turkey, still has the lowest total social transfers to GDP ratio. The first policy experiment constructed in this study analyzes the effects of an increase in the share of government transfers in GDP by 20%. The expected but undesired outcome of such a policy change is its disincentive effects on the labor supply behaviors of informal workers and unskilled formal wage earners. The results of such an experiment are in line with the previous findings of the literature and indicate that the recent policy package is not sufficient to alleviate income inequality. Moreover, worsening position of households who hold the majority of capital implies a political-economy aspect of such a change in the composition of government expenditures.

As a second experiment, a modified version of the employment subsidy program designed and implemented in the aftermath of the global financial crisis of 2008-9 is simulated. This study, rather than treating all sectors homogeneously and reducing sectoral social security contribution rates uniformly as proposed by the program, assumes that the subsidy rates are endogenous and are functions of sectoral shares in total unskilled formal employment. The results reveal that migration inflows from the rural to the urban expand and the labor supplies of all households increase. The effect is the highest for the informal workers. On the other hand, the size distribution of income improves in favor of relatively poor households.

Sectoral Effects of Monetary Policy: Evidence from Morocco

March 11, 2017

By Charaf Eddine Moussir (Mohammed V University Agdal, Rabat, Morocco)

The effects of monetary policy on economic performance have long attracted the attention of economists and policy makers. In recent years, there seems to be a growing consensus among economists that monetary policy has an impact on the real economy, at least in the short term. The literature shows that monetary policy can have negative effects on sectoral growth and consequently on overall growth and that; different sectors of the economy react differently to monetary policy shocks (Serju 2003; Alam and Waheed 2006; Dal 2011). Therefore, it is necessary to know the sectors that respond first to a monetary policy shock and if the effects could be more important in some sectors than in others. This may provide pertinent information for economic policy purposes (Ganley and Salmon 1997). The empirical evidence on how the sectors react to monetary policy shocks is relevant about how to stimulate growth. Indeed, studies of sectoral analysis of the transmission channels of monetary policy in developing countries, in particular, indicate that tight monetary policy negatively affects agriculture and manufacturing, which are considered as the primary growth sectors for most developing economies (Serju 2003; Ifeanyichukwu and Olufemi 2012).

There is interest among researchers and policy makers in the effects of transmission of monetary policy on the real economy. Paradoxically, few works have focused on the study of the impact of transmission channels of monetary policy on aggregate growth by sector, even less for developing economies. The changes in monetary shocks on different sectors can occur due to the importance of a particular channel of the transmission mechanism for certain sectors and not for others. This relative intensity, in turn, depends crucially on the structure, the dependency and the availability of the bank credit, and the opening of a particular sector.

This paper investigates the sectoral effects of monetary policy in Morocco over the period 1998Q1 to 2014Q4 using a VAR model. The results of the analysis indicate that at the aggregate level a monetary policy tightening leads to a decrease in the overall GDP and price level. At the disaggregated level, monetary policy has disparate effects on the performance of the different sectors. The extraction industry, manufacturing, construction, hotels & restaurants, the financial and insurance activities are among the more sensitive sectors to monetary policy shocks. On the other hand, monetary policy innovations do not appear to have an adverse impact on agriculture and fishing sectors. This may be due to the structure of these sectors, which depend on a traditional organization (family structure, low use of bank loans). The preceding results imply that the interest rate channel plays a significant role in the transmission process in the case of Morocco.

Diversification des exportations et transformation structurelle au Maroc: Quel rôle pour les IDE1?

March 11, 2017

Par Safaa Tabit (Doctorante, Université Mohammed V Rabat-Agdal) et Charaf-Eddine Moussir (Doctorant, Université Mohammed V Rabat-Agdal)

Le débat sur le rôle de la diversification comme levier de développement économique a été marqué ses dernières années par un retour en force. Plusieurs raisons expliquent cette résurgence. La forte volatilité des prix de matières premières, associée aux crises des dernières années, a ralenti la croissance économique et a montré la forte vulnérabilité des économies nord africaines aux chocs et ce malgré leur faible niveau d’intégration aux marchés mondiaux, soulignant la nécessité de leur transformation structurelle (Nations Unies, 2013).

En effet, l’environnement économique international a connu au cours des dernières décennies des mutations profondes, à la faveur de la dynamique de la mondialisation. Il en a résulté une nouvelle topographie de puissances et de richesses, suite à l’émergence de nouveaux pays concurrents sur le marché mondial. Dans un contexte mondial fortement concurrentiel et en perpétuelle mutation, la recherche de la compétitivité est devenue un souci majeur et permanent aussi bien de la part des pays développés qu’en voie de développement. La question de la diversification n’est pas récente dans la littérature. Elle représente un enjeu majeur pour le développement économique. De nombreuses contributions économiques ont montré les avantages procurés par la diversification en termes de dilution des risques. Elle distingue deux formes de diversification des exportations: horizontale ou verticale[1]. Selon Taylor (2007), on parle de diversification horizontale des exportations lorsqu’il y a augmentation de la gamme des produits exportés, tandis que la diversification verticale se produit quand il y a une intensification et une sophistication des exportations existantes (Cottet N. & al, 2012). De même, Matthee & Naude (2007) décrivent la diversification horizontale comme une augmentation du nombre de biens et services exportables et la diversification verticale comme un changement de la structure productive d’une exportation des produits primaires à l’exportation des produits manufacturés. Le choix d’une option ou une autre dépend, toutefois, des priorités de croissance spécifiques à chaque pays, leurs dotations en ressources naturelles et leurs situations géographiques.

Afin de booster leurs exportations, les décideurs politiques ont tenté, entre autres, d’augmenter les flux des capitaux étrangers. Le lien positif entre IDE et performance des exportations est le résultat, essentiellement, de deux principaux canaux ; premièrement, les activités exportatrices des multinationales ; lorsqu’une multinationale produit des biens plus diversifiés que les firmes nationales/locales, ceci implique une plus grande diversification de l’offre exportable du pays hôte. Deuxièmement, les effets d’entrainement (Spillover effects) ; à travers le lien indirect avec les multinationales, les firmes locales acquièrent de nouvelles capacités ou des capacités plus avancées leurs permettant de produire et d’exporter des produits qu’ils ne pouvaient pas produire auparavant à cause d’un manque de capacités. Par conséquent, grâce à la diffusion des effets d’entrainement par des entreprises étrangères dans le pays d’accueil, les IDE peuvent stimuler la diversification des exportations (Alaya , 2012).

Ce travail a tenté d’identifier la relation existante entre flux d’IDE et diversification des exportations dans le cadre de l’économie marocaine sur la période 1980-2015. Les résultats de l’estimation, conduite par une modélisation en GMM, fait ressortir un impact positif des IDE et de la FBCF contrairement aux autres variables, en l’occurrence le revenu par habitant, le taux de change effectif réel, le taux d’inflation et la gouvernance. À la lumière de ces résultats, il serait intéressant pour le Maroc de s’orienter vers un régime économique favorisant la diversification par des mesures et des choix organisés et coordonnés. L’économie marocaine semble opérer un transfert vers des industries à plus grande valeur ajoutée. Ces dernières contribuent à l’amélioration des technologies et à l’accroissement de l’expertise technique du pays.

[1] On parle aussi de diversification extensive et intensive.

Where Does Economic Growth in MENA Countries Come From?

March 5, 2017

By Dr. Mohamed Sami Ben Ali (Associate Professor of Economics, Qatar University) 

Policy Brief:

Economic growth can be defined briefly as an increase in the level of output that an economy can produce. The literature on economic growth examines whether the sources of economic growth stem mostly from technological progress, physical capital accumulation, or human capital accumulation. Besides, it is a fundamental debate about a simple question: Why does rapid growth occur in some countries when some others cannot achieve such a performance? The main concern is to disentangle the contributions of capital accumulation and technological progress from this growth process.

The basic literature on sources of economic growth is an attempt to calculate the contributions of the various factors and the level of technology to the growth rate of the output. A pioneering work on economic growth is the study by Solow in 1957. The author uses a production function by connecting output to inputs that are capital and labor-based in physical units. Solow phrases any kind of shift in the production function as “technical change.” This study leads many further studies in the literature.

A recent study by Ben Ali et al. (2016) explores the sources of economic growth for the MENA region and contributes to the debate over whether they stem from technological progress, physical capital accumulation, or human capital accumulation. The study covers the period from 1970 to 2011 for 15 MENA countries namely: Bahrain, Egypt, Iran, Iraq, Israel, Jordan, Kuwait, Malta, Morocco, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Syria, Tunisia, and Turkey. The authors find evidence that economic growth stems from capital accumulation rather than total factor for all the MENA countries except Israel and Saudi Arabia. They also note that for the fast growing economies among the sample (Egypt and Turkey), the main source is capital accumulation, and the contribution of technological progress is unimportant. A similar interpretation is evidenced for Sudan and Morocco. For those countries, it is important therefore to raise savings and capital accumulation. For Iran, although the contribution of capital stock is very high, the growth rate of output per labor is low. Likewise, Qatar grows negatively although it shows a high contribution of capital stock. These results point to policies that focus on technological progress rather than capital accumulation for Iran and Qatar. Conversely, Saudi Arabia grows negatively although it shows a high contribution of technological progress. This result indicates the importance of policies on capital accumulation rather than technological progress for Saudi Arabia.


Ben Ali, M. S., Senay A and Mert, M. (2016)Sources of Economic Growth in The Middle East and North Africa, in Ben Ali, M-S. (eds), Economic Development in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA), Challenges and Prospects, Palgrave Macmillan. New York.

Health and Inclusive Growth in MENA

December 31, 2014

By Randa Alami (Department of Economics, SOAS, University of London, UK)

Policy Brief:

Since the 2001 Sachs report on Macroeconomics and Health, health has been re-instated as key ingredient of growth and development. Together with the momentum generated by the Millenium Development Goals (MDGs), this led to the adoption in December 2012 of a UN Resolution on Universal Health Coverage (UHC), which is about the provision of affordable, accessible and good quality care for all.  Both strands emphasised the need to go beyond national health outcomes to look at the building blocks of health systems, which in turn, determine fairness in access and delivery, and shape the financial risks associated with ill-health. Indeed, poor health can compromise the acquisition of both human capital and income, thereby perpetuating poverty. A key implied policy direction in working towards UHC is a prioratisation of health equity, because of its implications for social justice, poverty reduction, and satisfying unmet needs. By the same token, there is a considerable overlap between UHC and inclusive growth, since ensuring good health for all is a pillar of an inclusive growth process.

This paper explores examines health and health policies in MENA (excluding the GCC countries) in this context, arguing that UHC is key strategy for achieving inclusive growth and social justice in the region. It starts by taking stock of existing sectoral evidence on key health outcomes and structural features of current health systems, debunking the myth that MENA displays consistently good health outcomes, and questioning the validity of the simplistic policy conclusions based on these. In fact, outcomes are characterised by severe disparities and inequities in terms of income, locality, and gender. Large swathes of the population, particularly poor mothers, are barely achieving what rich quintiles achieved ten years ago: they are unlikely to do so if current policies continue. Equity in delivery and access are further compromised by the systems’ focus on often mediocre tertiary care centred on large urban centres. They are still described as mismanaged, inefficient, and fragmented (between levels of care, civilian/military, insured/uninsured).

Sectoral literature also documents a clear shift to the provision and access to healthcare on the basis of the ability to pay, which in turn contributed to forgone healthcare and high OOP. Indeed, a striking feature of the region is that citizens have been shouldering most of the financial burden of healthcare. The high levels of OOPs are mostly driven by: the neglect of primary health care, privatisation, poor coverage, and the inability to respond to the epidemiological transition. This burden means that, far from being eased by a golden social contract, poverty and inequality in MENA are seriously under-estimated. Another deficiency of this contract which contributes to high financial risks due to healthcare, is that health insurance is mostly contributory and linked to formal sector employment, or restricted by a lack of coverage and limited packages.

Underpinning this situation has been a policy of more or less explicit neglect of the public sector (be it in terms of financing, equipment, or staff), the macro-reflection of that being the fact that public health spending and budgetary allocations in MENA are below the norm for middle income countries. Consequently, the key policy message is that governments and public health sectors need to play a greater role, particularly in funding and covering the healthcare needs of the poor and the vulnerable. This message and the general relevance of UHC for health policies in MENA has been advocated by regional specialists for some time. Therefore, arguably what is missing is a political will and long-term vision that go beyond piecemeal solutions to sectoral problems. By the same token, achieving inclusive growth in MENA requires a political commitment to put development and social justice back onto the agenda, and to tackle the political exclusions that led to regional, income, and health inequities in the first place.  Using Amartya Sen approach, health problems in MENA, particularly health inequities, are not about medical conditions, but about the lack of political engagement and inadequacies in social policy.


International Conference on the Levers of Durable Performance in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA)

November 7, 2014


International Conference on the Levers of Durable Performance in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA)

4-5 May 2015

Pau Business School (ESC Pau) is pleased to invite proposals for its International Conference on the Levers of Durable Performance in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA), to be held on the 4th and 5th of May 2015 in the historic city of Pau, France.

The conference is jointly organized by IRMAP ESC Pau.

The conference is open to professionals, researchers, PhD and Post Doc students and participants from government and public institutions.