World Economic and Social Survey (WESS)

2412-1509 (online)
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The World Economic and Social Survey (WESS) provides objective analysis of pressing long-term social and economic development issues, and discusses the positive and negative impact of corresponding policies.
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World Economic and Social Survey 2017

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World Economic and Social Survey 2017

Reflecting on Seventy Years of Development Policy Analysis You do not have access to this content

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13 July 2017
9789210605984 (PDF)

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The aim of WESS 2017 is to document the intellectual influence of the Department of Economic and Social Affairs (DESA) through its flagship publication, World Economic and Social Survey (WESS) on its 70th Anniversary. First published in 1948, the Survey is the oldest continuous post-World War II publication of its kind that records and analyses the performance of the global economy and social development trends as well as offers relevant policy recommendations. WESS 2017 will highlight how well the Survey tracked global economic and social conditions, and how its analysis influenced and were influenced by the prevailing discourse during the past seven decades. It will also critically reflect on its policy recommendations and their influence on actual policy-making and the shaping of the world economy. Particular attention will be given to reflect on the lessons that a historical review of the policy analysis done by the Survey would provide for the implementation of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.

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  • Preface

    The 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development is a moral and economic imperative—and an extraordinary opportunity. The stakes are high: this is our collective chance to steer the world towards prosperity, equity, a healthy planet and peace. I am encouraged that—true to the universality of the 2030 Agenda—all regions are fully engaged in defining national priorities and action plans for implementation.

  • Acknowledgements

    The World Economic and Social Survey is the flagship publication on major development issues prepared by the Department of Economic and Social Affairs of the United Nations Secretariat (UN/DESA).

  • Explanatory notes
  • What have we learned in seventy years of development policy analysis?

    World Economic and Social Survey 2017 reviews the seventy-year history of a flagship publication, the oldest continuing report of its kind. A clear message from the development policy analysis carried out over seventy years is that periods of sluggish growth in the global economy pose a significant challenge to development. Anaemic growth in the current context may compromise the implementation of a transformative agenda for sustainable development. The experience of previous economic downturns attests to the urgency of expediting global policy coordination in order to accelerate economic growth, trade and financial flows for development. The objective of the present review is to draw those lessons from the past that are relevant to the implementation of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. Six messages are of particular importance.

  • Post-war reconstruction and development in the Golden Age of Capitalism

    The present chapter examines the editions of the Surveys published during what is identified as the “Golden Age of Capitalism”, a period of economic prosperity extending from the end of the Second World War in 1945 to the early 1970s, when the Bretton Woods monetary system collapsed. The period marked the achievement of a high and sustained level of economic growth and high levels of (labour) productivity growth (particularly in Western Europe and East Asia) together with low unemployment. It was also associated with the emergence of new international institutions such as the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the World Bank as part of the Bretton Woods monetary system, the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD), the United Nations Industrial Development Organization (UNIDO) and the five Regional Commissions; the birth of many new nations as a result of decolonization; and the emergence of new mechanisms of international cooperation, such as the Marshall Plan for the reconstruction of Western Europe and in the 1960s, the strategy for the First United Nations Decade of Development.

  • The end of the Golden Age, the debt crisis and development setback

    The decade of the 1970s began with unexpected global economic turmoil after a long stretch of economic stability and robust growth in the earlier post-war period. It also witnessed the breakdown of the post-Second World War consensus on the global economic governance architecture, as embodied in the Bretton Woods system of fixed exchange rates and gold convertibility of the United States dollar. In addition, there were two oil price shocks and the persistence of high inflation and unemployment—referred to as stagflation—in several developed countries.

  • Globalization meets the Millennium Development Goals

    The present chapter analyses the key trends in the world economy and the major changes in the development agenda between the mid-1990s and the period immediately preceding the onset of the global financial crisis of 2008-2009. The process of global economic integration—globalization—had been gathering momentum since the 1980s, and the forces driving it became stronger and, in some ways, more entrenched towards the end of the 1990s. During that period, this entrenchment was reinforced by rapid trade liberalization and deregulation of the economy. In the 2000s, developing countries as a whole increased their share in global economic activities and the income gap between developing and developed countries (defined by the difference in average per capita income) decreased to some extent. Underlying these global trends was an increase in global imbalances leading to financial market instability, which eventually culminated in the global financial crisis of 2008-2009.

  • A new context for the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development

    In the early years of the new millennium, which began in 2001, the world witnessed rapid growth and income convergence among countries, reversing the trend of previous decades. That rapid growth in the first years of the decade proved unsustainable, however, because it was based on a build-up of global and domestic imbalances, resulting in the global financial crisis of 2008-2009, followed by the European sovereign debt crisis which began in late 2009 and the adoption of contractionary policies in 2011 which extended the global economic downturn.

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