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Uncertainty, instability, and irreversible investment : theory, evidence, and lessons for Africa

  • Serven, Luis

A recent (but rapidly growing) literature has focused on how uncertainty and instability affect the adoption of fixed investment projects. That literature shows that if fixed investment projects are costly or impossible to reverse, uncertainty can become a powerful deterrent to investment. The author reviews the literature on irreversible investment to identify the implications for macroeconomic policy and to gauge the practical importance, especially for sub-Saharan Africa, of the link between uncertainty and investment. He presents empirical evidence on the negative association between investment performance and measures of instability, using cross-section time-series data. That evidence suggests that instability and uncertainty are important factors in Africa's poor investment record over the last two decades.

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Paper provided by The World Bank in its series Policy Research Working Paper Series with number 1722.

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Date of creation: 28 Feb 1997
Date of revision:
Handle: RePEc:wbk:wbrwps:1722
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  1. Caballero, R.J., 1996. "Fixed Costs: The Demise of Marginal q," Working papers 96-14, Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), Department of Economics.
  2. Easterly, William & Levine, Ross, 1997. "Africa's Growth Tragedy: Policies and Ethnic Divisions," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, MIT Press, vol. 112(4), pages 1203-50, November.
  3. John V. Leahy & Toni M. Whited, 1995. "The Effect of Uncertainty on Investment: Some Stylized Facts," NBER Working Papers 4986, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  4. repec:oup:qjecon:v:104:y:1989:i:4:p:635-54 is not listed on IDEAS
  5. Abel, Andrew B & Eberly, Janice C, 1996. "Optimal Investment with Costly Reversibility," Review of Economic Studies, Wiley Blackwell, vol. 63(4), pages 581-93, October.
  6. Oshikoya, Temitope W, 1994. "Macroeconomic Determinants of Domestic Private Investment in Africa: An Empirical Analysis," Economic Development and Cultural Change, University of Chicago Press, vol. 42(3), pages 573-96, April.
  7. Kevin A. Hassett & Gilbert E. Metcalf, 1998. "Investment With Uncertain Tax Policy: Does Random Tax Policy Discourage Investment?," Discussion Papers Series, Department of Economics, Tufts University 9823, Department of Economics, Tufts University.
  8. Hartman, Richard, 1972. "The effects of price and cost uncertainty on investment," Journal of Economic Theory, Elsevier, vol. 5(2), pages 258-266, October.
  9. Pindyck, Robert S., 1986. "Irreversible investment, capacity choice, and the value of the firm," Working papers 1802-86., Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), Sloan School of Management.
  10. repec:oup:qjecon:v:98:y:1983:i:1:p:85-106 is not listed on IDEAS
  11. Schmidt-Hebbel, Klaus & Serven, Luis & Solimano, Andres, 1996. "Saving and Investment: Paradigms, Puzzles, Policies," World Bank Research Observer, World Bank Group, vol. 11(1), pages 87-117, February.
  12. Bleaney, Michael F., 1996. "Macroeconomic stability, investment and growth in developing countries," Journal of Development Economics, Elsevier, vol. 48(2), pages 461-477, March.
  13. Tobin, James, 1969. "A General Equilibrium Approach to Monetary Theory," Journal of Money, Credit and Banking, Blackwell Publishing, vol. 1(1), pages 15-29, February.
  14. Ricardo J. Caballero & Robert S. Pindyck, 1992. "Uncertainty, Investment, and Industry Evolution," NBER Working Papers 4160, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  15. repec:oup:qjecon:v:104:y:1989:i:2:p:205-28 is not listed on IDEAS
  16. Fumio Hayashi, 1981. "Tobin's Marginal q and Average a : A Neoclassical Interpretation," Discussion Papers 457, Northwestern University, Center for Mathematical Studies in Economics and Management Science.
  17. Ibarra, Luis Alberto, 1995. "Credibility of trade policy reform and investment: the Mexican experience," Journal of Development Economics, Elsevier, vol. 47(1), pages 39-60, June.
  18. Alesina, Alberto & Perotti, Roberto, 1996. "Income distribution, political instability, and investment," European Economic Review, Elsevier, vol. 40(6), pages 1203-1228, June.
  19. Levine, Ross & Renelt, David, 1991. "A sensitivity analysis of cross-country growth regressions," Policy Research Working Paper Series 609, The World Bank.
  20. Rodrik, Dani, 1991. "Policy uncertainty and private investment in developing countries," Journal of Development Economics, Elsevier, vol. 36(2), pages 229-242, October.
  21. Stephen Knack & Philip Keefer, 1995. "Institutions And Economic Performance: Cross-Country Tests Using Alternative Institutional Measures," Economics and Politics, Wiley Blackwell, vol. 7(3), pages 207-227, November.
  22. Tornell, Aaron, 1990. "Real vs. financial investment can Tobin taxes eliminate the irreversibility distortion?," Journal of Development Economics, Elsevier, vol. 32(2), pages 419-444, April.
  23. Joshua Aizenman & Nancy Marion, 1995. "Volatility, Investment and Disappointment Aversion," NBER Working Papers 5386, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  24. Eduardo Levy Yeyati, 1996. "Investment in Inflationary Economies," IMF Working Papers 96/105, International Monetary Fund.
  25. Abel, Andrew B, 1983. "Optimal Investment under Uncertainty," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 73(1), pages 228-33, March.
  26. Ghosal, Vivek & Loungani, Prakash, 1996. "Product Market Competition and the Impact of Price Uncertainty on Investment: Some Evidence from US Manufacturing Industries," Journal of Industrial Economics, Wiley Blackwell, vol. 44(2), pages 217-28, June.
  27. repec:oup:qjecon:v:111:y:1996:i:3:p:753-77 is not listed on IDEAS
  28. Persson, Torsten & Tabellini, Guido, 1992. "Growth, distribution and politics," European Economic Review, Elsevier, vol. 36(2-3), pages 593-602, April.
  29. Oivind Anti Nilsen & Fabio Schiantarelli, 1996. "Zeroes and Lumps in Investment: Empirical Evidence on Irreversibilities and Non-Convexities," Boston College Working Papers in Economics 337., Boston College Department of Economics, revised 01 Nov 2000.
  30. Caballero, Ricardo J, 1991. "On the Sign of the Investment-Uncertainty Relationship," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 81(1), pages 279-88, March.
  31. Ingersoll, Jonathan E, Jr & Ross, Stephen A, 1992. "Waiting to Invest: Investment and Uncertainty," The Journal of Business, University of Chicago Press, vol. 65(1), pages 1-29, January.
  32. Bar-Ilan, Avner & Strange, William C, 1996. "Investment Lags," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 86(3), pages 610-22, June.
  33. Barro, Robert J. & Lee, Jong-Wha, 1994. "Sources of economic growth," Carnegie-Rochester Conference Series on Public Policy, Elsevier, vol. 40(1), pages 1-46, June.
  34. Dornbusch, Rudiger, 1990. "Policies to Move from Stabilization to Growth," CEPR Discussion Papers 456, C.E.P.R. Discussion Papers.
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