30 April 2015
They prefer clear writing
Dear friends of ESI,
In his book The Historian’s Craft Marc Bloch, one of the great historians of the twentieth century, puts himself in the position of a father asked by his child: "What is the use of history?" Then he sets out to answer this simple question in a book while he was already part of the French resistance in 1942. (He was later arrested and shot by the Gestapo.)
When stakes are real, there is no time for any but important questions to be addressed. And to always aim, even if one always falls short, for the elegance and simplicity of masters like Bloch. As William Zinsser put it in his classic On Writing Well "writers must therefore constantly ask: what am I trying to say?" And they must remember:
"In terms of craft, there’s no excuse for losing readers through sloppy workmanship. If they doze off in the middle of your article, because you have been careless about a technical detail, the fault is yours."
See also: Rumeli Observer On Writing – The fourteen-year-old test
On writing: gibberish and economics
It is one of the most memorable words for texts that are best forgotten: Gibberish. As Glenn Seaborg explained in 1980:
"… gibberish comes from the name of the famous 8th-century Islamic alchemist Jābir ibn Hayyān, whose name was Latinized as "Geber", thus the term "gibberish" arose as a reference to the incomprehensible technical jargon often used by Jabir and other alchemists who followed."
Although there is no particular reason why texts about economic development should be gibberish, quite a lot of what was written on economic developments in the Balkans in recent years qualifies.
Take a look at the "EU Candidate & Potential Candidate Countries' Economic Quarterly." This is published regularly by the Directorate-General for Economic and Financial Affairs of the European Commission. There you find prose like this on "monetary developments in Kosovo" in early 2015:
"Consumer prices started declining in December 2014 (-0.5% y/y) and continued on a downward trajectory by February (-0.2% y/y). The decline in the price index was almost completely influenced by decreasing prices of transport and education. On the other hand, 65.7% of the CPI components have actually been increasing; most notably food 2.1% y/y, energy 7.4% y/y etc."
The reader understands that 65.7 percent of the prices of the components of the Consumer Price Index (CPI) have increased (one assumes in February). One assumes that 34.3 percent of the prices have not. One learns that there have been (monthly) decreases in the "prices of education" in January and February 2015, though what that means is unclear. There is no explanation which costs of education are included in the CPI. Or why any of this matters and to whom. Or what the etc. at the end refers to. Or who this is written for.
See also: NEW Rumeli Observer On Writing – Gibberish and Economics
A NERP – Kosovo in six numbers
NERP, not NERD
Compared to other writing on Balkan economies a recent report on Kosovo stands out. It is understandable, lucid and deserves to be widely read: the 2015 Kosovo NERP.
NERP stands for National Economic Reform Programme. Last year the European Commission asked all Western Balkan governments to produce one NERP – or National Economic Reform Program – a year.
The Kosovo NERP highlights what is wrong with Kosovo’s economy in stark detail. It provides a foundation for a serious debate. It contains six numbers which, between them, tell you (almost) everything you need to know about Kosovo's economy:
305 million Euros – the total value of goods Kosovo exported in 2013
For comparison: Estonia exported goods worth 12.3 billion Euros in 2013. Estonia has a much smaller population than Kosovo.
2.3 billion Euros – the total value of goods Kosovo imported in 2013
This is very high compared to Kosovo’s exports. How do Kosovo importers obtain these 2.3 billion Euros to import goods? One must assume that they obtain much of this from Kosovars who earn this money abroad.
1.3 billion Euros – total revenues (income) of the Kosovo government in 2013
No less than 871 million of this comes from border taxes on import. This means that the state – 70 percent of its total revenues – depends hugely on imports.
220,000 people – registered as employed in 2013
Out of a population of 1.8 million. Even if one includes anyone who works "for family gain" on a small plot of land, milks the cow or looks after vegetables for home consumption, the number of "employed" reaches only 338,000 people.
241 million Euros – Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) in 2014
This is very low by any standards: to date very few foreign companies show any interest in using Kosovo as a base for their production and transfer their machinery and know-how here. And, as the NERP notes, FDI has been decreasing in recent years:
10 percent – the annual interest rate on loans in November 2014
In November 2013 it was 12 percent. This is very high. Again, look at Estonia (European Central Bank data): loans to non-financial corporations – depending on specific conditions – carry around 3 percent annual interest at the end of 2014.
All of this is well set out in the NERP. At the same time it underlines the main gap in the NERP analysis: while the word remittances appears many times, "migration" does not appear anywhere in the text.
For more: Rumeli Observer NERP or Six numbers to understand Kosovo
Why Kosovo needs migration
The analysis in the NERP highlights that without migration Kosovo has no medium term economic future. In a new paper – Why Kosovo needs migration – based on a 2006 report we write that
"…it is simply incoherent to invest hundreds of millions of euros in the stabilisation of Kosovo, and at the same time to slam the door so abruptly on any further migration … Unless Europeanisation includes at least some focus on migration and some access to European labour markets, it will remain no more than a slogan."
"European countries should work with Kosovar authorities to set in place work migration schemes to parts of the European Union in need of labour, in a way that is politically acceptable to European countries."
In 2005 a Labour Force Survey showed an employment rate of only 29 percent among 15 to 64 year olds (and only 12 percent among women). The 2013 Labour Force Survey was no less dramatic, with an employment rate of 28.4 percent (12.9 percent among women). Close to ninety percent of adult women are not working and have no prospect of ever finding a job.
The 150,000 by 2030 vision
Looking for workers with skills: www.make-it-in-germany.com
According to Der Spiegel there are today some 50 million people working in Germany, while current trends will lead to a decline of 10 million in the next 15 years. If 150,000 young people now residing in Kosovo find a regular job in Germany by 2030, both societies benefit.
Such an objective would require serious reforms of the Kosovo education system as well.
The training schemes to make large-scale regular migration a win-win situation are not available anywhere in rural Kosovo. Last year the total number of students in public vocational schools in Kosovo was 55,800. How many among them will be able to successfully fill a position for which there is demand in an EU economy? How many are learning foreign languages?
In 2006 we wrote:
"Kosovo should set up a national institution to manage the economic, social and legal implications of migration. Such an institution would need to focus not only on Germany, Austria and Switzerland, the classic destinations of Kosovars, but on the whole European labour market. It should study experiences with work migration from around the world, and lobby for access of Kosovars. It should provide feedback to education institutions and policy makes in Kosovo on the needs of European labour market and their implications for education and training."
This recommendation is more important today than ever. This policy debate has yet to begin in Kosovo.
The report is also available in Albanian.
The topic of migration and remittances is also explored in a 2008 ESI documentary funded by Erste Stiftung in Vienna and online in English and German:
ESI in Pristina – Berlin – Kiev – Tirana – Ankara
An ESI newsletter on the Kosovo visa liberalisation process inspired a campaign by Kosovo NGOs: a letter – "Fairness for Kosovo – Visa Reform and the EU" – and a lot of media echo.
Next week – Monday 4 May – we will present recommendations on visa liberalisation in Ankara at an event hosted by the Union of Chambers and Commodity Exchanges of Turkey (TOBB) and the Economic Development Foundation (IKV):
See some of you there!
Many best regards,