The World Bank Kills Its “Doing Business” Report

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The World Bank announced that it is discontinuing its biennial Doing Business Report. The reason is that World Bank insiders, under pressure from national government, leaned on the researchers charged with compiling the report to change their findings–which they did. Details are available in a report: “Investigation of Data Irregularities in Doing Business 2018 and Doing Business 2020 – Investigation Findings and Report to the Board of Executive Directors” (September 15, 2021).

Before sketching what happened within the World Bank–a topic admittedly of interest mainly to a small number of insiders–it’s perhaps useful to describe how the Doing Business reports came into existence and what they were trying to do. At least for now you can check out the website of the 2020 Doing Business report for yourself.

Simeon Djankov described the origins of the Doing Business reports in the Winter 2016 issue of the Journal of Economic Perspectives (where I work as Managing Editor). Djankov wrote:

The Doing Business report was first published in 2003 with five sets of indicators for 133 economies. However, the team that created Doing Business had been formed three years earlier, during the writing of the World Development Report 2002: Building Institutions for Markets (World Bank 2001). The focus on the importance of institutions in development was chosen by Joseph Stiglitz, who at the time was the World Bank’s Chief Economist. As a member of the team, I was tasked with authoring the chapters on institutions and firms. At the time, the work by Rafael La Porta, Florencio Lopez de Silanes, Andrei Shleifer, and Robert Vishny on legal origins and various aspects of institutional evolution was generating a great deal of interest. I turned to Shleifer with a request to collaborate on several background papers for the World Development Report. He agreed, on the condition that we used this work as an opportunity to gather and analyze new cross-country datasets on institutions. This is how Doing Business started.

By 2020, the Doing Business report included data for 190 countries on 10 categories: “the processes for business incorporation, getting a building permit, obtaining an electricity connection, transferring property, getting access to credit, protecting minority investors, paying taxes, engaging in international trade, enforcing contracts, and resolving insolvency.” There was also data collected on the regulation of employment and contracting with the government, although this data was not an official part of the Doing Business Index–and the idea of an index is perhaps where the trouble starts.

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