Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Inflation in Armenia? | Lecture by IMF Representative

Readers here may not be aware that actually our Armenian CRRC also runs its own blog, to announce and describe CRRC's events. One of the most recent events was a lecture by the IMF Resident Representative in Armenia, Dr. Nienke Oomes.

Dr. Oomes discussed what is happening to prices in Armenia, and offered a very comprehensive analysis. For a quick overview over the event, click here. Her PowerPoint presentation, which sets out her argument in good detail and includes four recommendations (more effective inflation targeting, facilitating reduction of import prices, tightening fiscal policy, and increasing the public's knowledge of inflation targeting), is available.

One snapshot:

Curious? The full presentation, with 38 slides, is right here.

Friday, February 22, 2008

Bertelsmann Transformation Index | Using a New Interactive Tool to Analyze the Caucasus

Many of our readers know of both our quibbles with indexes, but also our steadfastness when it comes to posting about them. The Bertelsmann Foundation released its trademark index, the Bertelsmann Transformation Index (BTI) (PDF), which according to its producers, is "the global ranking of the quality of democracy, the market economy and political leadership in 125 developing and transformation countries."

The BTI itself is a the example of what political scientists would call non-parsimonious. The BTI is a combination of two sub-indexes, which are in themselves made up of a wide number of indicators. These indicators in turn are based on an even greater number of variables. I don't want to bore you, so I won't go into details but refer you to the methodological report (which does a great job of documenting their approach). To boot, each of the 125 countries has a 25 page report.

However, despite its lack of parsimony, the BTI provides several good ways of visualizing the developments in the Caucasus -- though, as always, indices have their limits.

Scales run from 0 - 10, with 10 denoting the highest score. Georgia ranks 6.60 (38th) on the Status Index and 6.36 on the Management index (23rd). It gets strong upward ratings in the trends as well. Armenia follows behind Georgia with 6.14 (41stt) and 5.41 (56th). However, it shows no changes, in terms of trends. Azerbaijan lags behind with a score of 4.51 (87th) and 3.83 (99th) and also shows no significant change in terms of the trends.

The next three graphs show the seventeen main indicators that make up the ranking divided into the "Status" and "Management" parts broken down by country.

One way of simplifying and comparing the information in the BTI is a unique interactive tool, called the transformation atlas, which can be downloaded from the Bertelsmann website. While at first slightly difficult to interpret, the atlas provides a good visualization of individual countries, and tells a convincing story about many of the countries development problems. The averages, however, are less useful.

This image shows Georgia compared to Romania (Georgia in blue). The images shows neatly how uneven Georgia's development has been in comparison with a recent EU accession state like Romania. The places where the area in blue is small denotes a lower score. Georgia diverges significantly from Romania here on the key issues of rule of law, socioeconomic development, welfare regime, political and social integration and sustainability of transformation, among others. Since the sustainability variable pertains to the quality of education and research institutions in the country and environmental protection, we agree that Georgia needs more work on these areas. All of these areas sync well with what commentators have noted to be many of Georgia's shortcomings. Georgian does notably well on resource efficiency and steering capability, which address the ability to implement change -- something Georgians have certainly been doing.

The Armenia comparison shows the change over time function. What stands out in the Armenian case, as compared to the Georgian or even the Azerbaijani is the lack of change over time, particularly since 2003, where much greater change is noticeable in other countries in the region. Of interest here is that there has been no change in the socioeconomic ranking despite Armenia's status as the "Caucasian Tiger." However, the socioeconomic development indicator is more concerned with income gaps across the population and social exclusion, and all of the South Caucasus countries do poorly -- scoring 4 across the board.

A comparison of Azerbaijan and Kazakhstan yield interesting findings related to oil rich countries. The first obvious fact is that Azerbaijan looks theoretically very similar to Kazakhstan. However, Azerbaijan finds itself at a slightly lower level than Kazakhstan. Unfortunately, multiple comparisons cannot be carried out at the same time, so we cannot examine this longitudinally with multiple countries. Unsurprisingly, Azerbaijan scores high on stateness and economic performance and other economy related variables and extremely low on indicators related to democracy (upper left corner). Surprisingly Azerbaijan has higher than expected scores (4) on the rule of law.

We encourage our readers to explore more on their own!

Monday, February 18, 2008

Armenian Election | IREX Media Survey

IREX has released a print media election survey a few weeks ago, and this offers an interesting glimpse into growing political engagement in Armenia. Readers of our previous surveys may remember that our data has suggested widespread cynicism in Armenia. Well, as various commentators have noted, the entry of Levon Ter-Petrosian seems to have re-energized political debate.

The survey is an excellent overview, including media consumption habits, and it comes quite well documented. We're a little surprised how they managed to find so many male respondents (almost 50%, when typically women are overrepresented among any sample), and we also would have been curious to hear about the non-response rate, but these are minor issues.

The survey suggests that secrecy of the vote still remains a major issue. If 30% do not believe that their vote is secret, this already has an impact on the integrity of the election itself. Also, a similar number says that they will not do anything if they are disenfranchised, i.e. if they are not given the chance to vote at all. A solid 56% comes prepared, saying that they always bring their own pen to the elections (as otherwise, there may only be a pencil in the voting booth). Much more food for thought is available in the overview, here.

More broadly, though, recent developments in Armenia make one cautiously optimistic: there is political competition and there are substantive debates. Arguably, apathy is not the default setting, and an engaged population also constrains the space for extensive electoral manipulation.

The short overview of the survey is in the link above, and a longer version, with some SPSS charts should be available from IREX (or also us, upon request).

Data Initiative Snapshots | Reading

Books, of course, are essential to knowledge transmission, and for creating a broader conversation within a society. They may be hyped, but bestsellers such as Freakonomics or Wisdom of Crowds disseminate new ideas that enrich our understanding of the world. So it is interesting to follow up reading as an essential cultural practice. We asked the question in the Data Initiative 2007: did you read a book in the last six months? And here the results:
Armenia, clearly, reads most. It would be interesting to follow up reasons for this (and we will do a few crosstabs for future posts). One explanation for the prevalence of reading is that Russian is still very popular. If you just read in local language, the offerings are quickly exhausted and The Tipping Point is unlikely to be on your reading list anytime soon.

This is not just an arcane point: the societies still live in a sort of information vacuum, and breaking this will be essential to economic, social and political development.

Friday, February 01, 2008

Alpha Version of CRRC Data Initiative now online!!!

The alpha version of our Data Initiative data set, broad household data, covering lots of household data, but also political attitudes, social development, some health, education, migration, and social capital questions (and more) is online now. We interviewed more than 8000 people, so this really is the single largest dataset that is available on developments across the South Caucasus.

Register here to receive access to the dataset. In case you don't receive the confirmation email, let us know. (You typically should be able to log in with your email-address and password even without getting that confirmation email, though.)

You need SPSS to process it (trial versions of SPSS that last for 14 days can be downloaded here; a hefty 202 MB, though), and if you want to find out how to use SPSS, we offer a quick crude crash course on our website.

More updates on the dataset soon. And let us know what you find!!!