Unrest and economic underperformance haunt the emerging world

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AT THE START of the century, developing economies were a source of unbounded optimism and fierce ambition. Today South Africa is reeling from an insurrection, Colombia has suffered violent protests and Tunisia faces a constitutional crisis. Illiberal government is in fashion. Peru has just sworn in a Marxist as its president and independent institutions are under attack in Brazil, India and Mexico.

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This wave of unrest and authoritarianism partly reflects covid-19, which has exposed and exploited vulnerabilities, from rotten bureaucracies to frayed social safety-nets. And as we explain this week, the despair and chaos threaten to exacerbate a profound economic problem: many poor and middle-income countries are losing the knack of catching up with the richest ones.

Our excess-mortality model suggests that 8m-16m people have…

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