Sep 8th 2010, 20:49 by R.A. | WASHINGTON
EMERGING markets have had a good decade. Rapid growth in China and India has pulled hundreds of millions of people out of poverty, sustained expansion has spread from Asia, where rapid catch-up has a long history, to South America, where halting growth and economic retrenchments were more the norm. These impressive expansions survived the recent downturn; while developed economies struggle to find their footing, China, India, and Brazil are closer to overheating.
What may come as a surprise to many readers is that Africa has increasingly shared in this growth. Growth in sub-Saharan Africa has generally been strong over the past decade. In 2009, when the world economy shrank, sub-Saharan Africa continued to expand. The IMF projects that the region will grow at 5% or more in 2010 and 2011.
The performance has led some to speculate that Africa may be on the cusp of joining other emerging markets in sustained catch-up growth. That would be a most welcome development; few trends would do more to improve human welfare. But is it a realistic hope? Many times before Africa's prospects have brightened only to fall prey to war, kleptocracy, and crashing resource prices.
We put the question to the economists at Economics by invitation: is Africa poised for steady, rapid growth?
Lant Pritchett suggests that the question itself leaves something to be desired—it makes little sense to speak of "Africa":
[T]ake the 45 countries in Sub-Saharan Africa. Over 2000-2005 the average growth rate was 2.2%—exactly the global average—but the standard deviation among African countries was 6.1%—much higher than the global variance. This is a terrible aggregate. All knowing that country X is "African" has done for me is increase the variance—I am not sure whether it was growing very fast (as were Sierra Leone and Mozambique) or collapsing (as were Liberia and Cote d'Ivoire).
Eswar Prasad notes that it would help if developed economies took got out of the way:
One concrete step the advanced economies can take to help Africa get started on the road to higher growth is to open their markets to products, including agricultural commodities, that Africa is capable of exporting at this nascent stage of industrial development. Getting rid of their own massive domestic agricultural subsidies would be sensible for advanced economies themselves and do a world of good for underdeveloped economies in Africa and elsewhere. Sadly, piety and aid flows seem to be easier solutions for advanced economies to muster, holding back rather than helping Africa in the long run.
Gilles Saint-Paul, Daron Acemoglu, and Suman Bery also weigh in. It's a great discussion; do have a look through.