Wednesday, October 19, 2022

What Changed in the World Bank's Adjusted Net Saving Measure?

In August, I showed that using the World Development Indicators' current Adjusted Net Saving (ANS) data there is no relationship between ANS and the share of mining rents in GDP. I now know the main reason why this relationship appeared to change but I don't know yet why the World Bank made the changes that they did. 

In 2006 and earlier, the World Bank measured mineral and energy depletion using mining rents – the difference between mining revenues and the cost of production not including a return to the resource stock. This is based on Hartwick's Rule – resource rents should all be invested in produced capital in order to achieve sustainability. 

In recent years, they have used a different method. First, they estimate the net present value of resource rents (assuming that they remain constant in the future) using a 4% discount rate. Then they divide that amount by the number of years, T, that they assume the resource would last. The ratio of the current rent to this quantity is given by:

So, for example, if the resource has an expected 30 year lifetime then resource depletion is about 58% of current rents. Energy depletion for Saudi Arabia is around 1/3 of reported rents. This would imply that the lifetime of the resource is around 70 years.* This could explain in general why adjusted net saving is now estimated to be much higher for resource rich countries than it used to be.**

What I don't know yet is why they made this change. I haven't been able to find a rationale in the relevant World Bank publications. It is similar to but different from the El-Serafy (1989) method of measuring depletion. According to El-Serafy, the ratio of depletion to rent should be (1/(1+r))^(T+1). For a 30-year life span and a 4% discount rate, this is equal to 30%.

* The notes downloaded with the WDI data say that the lifetime is capped at 25 years. But this isn't mentioned in the relevant reports and makes the gap between rents and depletion harder to explain.

** There are a lot of other issues with assuming that the lifetime of a resource equals the expected lifetime of reserves and that rents will not change over time. There are also apparent inconsistencies between the stated methods and the results...