Across all nine presidential administrations, infant mortality rates were below trend when the President was a Democrat and above trend when the President was a Republican.
This was true for overall, neonatal, and postneonatal mortality, with effects larger for postneonatal compared to neonatal mortality rates.
Regression estimates show that, relative to trend, Republican administrations were characterized by infant mortality rates that were, on average, three percent higher than Democratic administrations.
In proportional terms, effect size is similar for US whites and blacks. US black rates are more than twice as high as white, implying substantially larger absolute effects for blacks.
A new paper titled, “US Infant Mortality and the President’s Party“. I like my title better.
Fun exercise: imagine a SecState or NSC Advisor referring to “studies” — i.e., the literature — as much as Yellen has in Cong. testimony.
This is partly a problem of “senior policy officials don’t read research”, or even try to keep up through staffers.
Also at issue is that an immense amount of what the best political scientists are doing is irrelevant to what State or the NSC does, and what is relevant is often of mediocre quality. I think this is improving but I’m not very sure.
A new paper from Bill Easterly and Ross Levine:
Although a large literature argues that European settlement outside of Europe shaped institutional, educational, technological, cultural, and economic outcomes, researchers have been unable to directly assess these predictions because of an absence of data on colonial European settlement.
…we construct a new database on the European share of the population during the early stages of colonization and examine its association with the level of economic development today.
We find: (1) a strong and uniformly positive relationship between colonial European settlement and development, (2) a stronger relationship between colonial European settlement and economic development today than between development today and the proportion of the population of European descent today; and (3) no evidence that the positive relationship between colonial European settlement and economic development diminishes or becomes negative at very low levels of colonial European settlement, contradicting a large literature that focuses on the enduring adverse effects of small European settlements.
Our findings are most consistent with human capital playing a central role in the way that colonial European settlement affects development today.
The provocative post title comes from a tweet of Bill’s. He likes to provoke.
I think the wrong way to interpret their finding is that colonialism causes development.
I think the right way to think about it is to remember that modern economic growth is a product of ideas, skills, and the organization of society and firms. If you don’t have much of that stuff and add people that do–even colonists–growth is more likely.
What’s amazing is that there are other ways to get ideas and skills and social organization than colonialism. You would think, by now, these other paths would have swamped out the effects of early settlement. What I did not see in my quick reading of the paper is a sense of proportion–is the statistically significant result substantive? Less lazy readers than me: please chime in.
Countries that, as of 2012, did not use the metric system:
In 2013, breaking news:
Myanmar is preparing to adopt the metric system or the International System of Units (SI System) as the country’s official system of measurement, according to the Ministry of Commerce.
That’s right folks, the US and its former quasi-colony are the last hold-outs — and one of those two didn’t have a functioning government for most of the last three decades.
(The saddest part of that last statement is that it’s not obvious I am referring to Liberia.)
After living here 13 years I’m still getting accustomed. I now manage to think in miles as easily as kilometers, and I only seldom feel the need to convert Fahrenheit to Celsius in my head (though that’s partly because I’m bad at multiplying stuff by 5/9).
Even so, just last week I was trying to order large Ziploc bags on Amazon, thinking to myself “What exactly is a quart again? Sounds big. Sure, why not get the four-box pack?” *Click* Today I am awash in large-ish sandwich bags.
I’m curious what the political stakes are. Tragically, I suspect the average House member is convinced that such Obametrics are the fast path to socialism.
The statistical and econometrics literature on causality is more focused on “effects of causes” than on “causes of effects.” That is, in the standard approach it is natural to study the effect of a treatment, but it is not in general possible to define the causes of any particular outcome. This has led some researchers to dismiss the search for causes as “cocktail party chatter” that is outside the realm of science. We argue here that the search for causes can be understood within traditional statistical frameworks as a part of model checking and hypothesis generation. We argue that it can make sense to ask questions about the causes of effects, but the answers to these questions will be in terms of effects of causes.
By two guys who know what they are talking about: Andy Gelman and Guido Imbens.
That’s what some colleagues and I tested in Liberia. I figured I wasn’t stressed out enough already, so why not study harder-to-track, more volatile populations in more expensive-to-survey countries than I already do?
We just collected our last data point, and so it’s far too soon to hand out hard results. But with all the GiveDirectly cash transfers hubbub in the press, I ended up spilling the beans (a little) to NPR Planet Money. Listen to the excellent episode. Some preliminary results to come after Christmas, I expect. The more interesting results, arguably, will come from attempts at behavioral therapy. Stay tuned.
During the Twins Days Festival in Twinsburg, Ohio, from 2007 to 2010, 79 pairs of twins were identified, in which only one twin smokes or where one twin smoked at least 5 years longer than his or her counterpart. Questionnaires were obtained and standardized photographs were taken by professional photographers. A panel of three blinded judges analyzed the twins’ facial features and graded wrinkles using the validated Lemperle Assessment Scale, and ranked age-related facial features on a four-point scale.
..Smoking twins compared with their nonsmoking counterparts had worse scores for upper eyelid skin redundancy, lower lid bags, malar bags, nasolabial folds, upper lip wrinkles, lower lip vermillion wrinkles, and jowls. Lower lid hyperpigmentation in the smoking group fell just short of statistical significance.
Yesterday I mentioned the NYC “future of cash transfers” Salon on Nov 21st 830-1030am without the RSVP link. Apologies and thanks to readers for pointing this out.
The biggest and best development economics conference of the year was this past weekend, NEUDC. Many interesting papers here. Some highlights:
- What does conditionality on cash transfers do?
- A cynical theory of why we are generous? Or why some aid is bad and we don’t care.
- What happens when Indian women get jobs in textile mills?
- Can workfare programs reduce violence? Evidence from India
- What happens when you make voter registration easier or more difficult? Evidence from France but lessons for the US
New York, Nov 21:
- NYC: Nov 21st 830-1030am there will be a Technology Salon (update: RSVP here) on the future of cash transfers in development with Paul Niehaus of UCSD and GiveDirectly.
- Same day, 12-130pm: I’m giving a brown bag lunch talk at the NYU Urbanization Project (RSVP)–my very first presentation of an urban street youth “transformation” study in Liberia
Ithaca, tomorrow and Friday:
- Tomorrow: At Cornell Institute for African Development, a public lecture, “Youth unemployment and violence in Africa”, 2:30-4 in G08 Uris Hall. No RSVP needed.
- Friday: In Cornell’s Government department, 12-1:30pm, the first presentation of a new paper on ex-combatants in Liberia, “Can employment programs reduce delinquency and violence?” in 106 White Hall. No RSVP required I believe.
In a field experiment with 266 employees, we show that paying above market wages, per se, does not have an effect on effort. However, structuring a portion of the wage as a clear and unexpected gift (by hiring at a given wage, and then offering a raise with no further conditions after the employee has accepted the contract) does lead to persistently higher effort.
A new paper from Gilchrist, Luca, and Malhotra.
Davis told me when we spoke again in New York this past week, that, in 2010, she realized that she had to move beyond advocacy…
Laren Poole called to tell her he thought he’d found the right man for the job. Poole was one of the founders of Invisible Children, the San Diego-based advocacy group that rocketed to international prominence last year…
Poole had been reading a military and security blog written by Eeben Barlow, who had been a commando and a covert agent for the South African apartheid regime’s most notorious squads. He was also a visionary and a dreamer. Back in 1997, he told me that his goal was to create the best and biggest military consultancy in the world. The private army he founded, Executive Outcomes, hired itself out, in the late nineties, to end civil wars in Sierra Leone and Angola in exchange for lots of cash and access to diamond and oil fields.
Davis went to meet Barlow in South Africa, and, after a family dinner with his wife and son, he told her he would take the job—and that he did not want a fee.
Basically, Davis would pay Executive Outcomes, and EO would train Ugandan Army units into becoming special forces.
Let me start by saying that I generally think military professionalism in Africa is a good thing, that aid has a role to play in training and supporting this, and that I think few people deserve to hunted down faster and (if necessary) deadlier than Joseph Kony. I spent six years studying and working in his carnage and he must be stopped.
Even so, if I were writing an article for one of the most esteemed journalism outlets on the planet, here are a few things I might do:
It’s that time of year and the emails are starting to arrive in the inboxes of professors (whether or not they have blogs). I’d say the most common are “Would you take me as your student?” and “Do you think your PhD program is the right fit for me?” and, somewhat more seldom, “Would you give me advice on my applications?”
Most of the professors I talk to just don’t answer these requests, or give curt responses. There are just too many. I feel badly, because these questions are sincere, so instead of answering all, I’ve written up advice on applications and details about whom I advise and how.
These applications are a big deal for the people writing them, and so the questions are understandable. They are crucial in some fields (psychology and some sciences, I think) where professors interview students like job applicants, and take them on as students from day one.
Not so in my fields–economics and political science–at least in the large departments. It might help if I pull back the curtain a little. Basically, these are often big programs that receive hundreds and hundreds of applications–possibly 20 or 30 per faculty member. We form a small committee to review these and make recommendations to the full faculty. So emailing individual faculty is unlikely to help.
There are exceptions, especially if your undergraduate advisor or another contact knows the professor personally. A personal note from them introducing you is very effective.
- How good science journalists write
- Penn would approve: It is now illegal to touch a pregnant woman’s belly in Pennsylvania
- The Hovenring: a suspended bicycle roundabout, not made by Ikea despite the name
- Shameless toothpaste Halloween marketing, but hilarious shameless (link fixed)
- A must read for the cash transfers crowd: David McKenzie on the GiveDirectly study
People who would consider it a bizarre breach of conduct to expect anyone to give them a haircut or a can of soda at no cost will ask you, with a straight face and a clear conscience, whether you wouldn’t be willing to write an essay or draw an illustration for them for nothing.
…This is partly a side effect of our information economy, in which “paying for things” is a quaint, discredited old 20th-century custom, like calling people after having sex with them.
…I’ve been trying to understand the mentality that leads people who wouldn’t ask a stranger to give them a keychain or a Twizzler to ask me to write them a thousand words for nothing.
That is Tim Kreider writing in the New York Times this weekend. I’m a big fan of Kreider’s pieces, but this one got me riled up.
I’m reminded of a story I heard Friday night. Jeannie and I are lucky to have in our lives two veteran New Yorkers, one in her 70s and the other in her 80s, both ladies made of steel. The elder reached, in her middle years, head of pediatrics at one of the great public hospitals in the city. This is a remarkable feat for a woman in her time. And she was grossly underpaid compared to her male colleagues. Before her, there had been maybe one generation of eminent female heads of medicine, and they had the honor of being paid nothing.
I recoiled at one story, and felt cynical about the other. Why is that?
What happens when $1000 of manna falls onto your mobile phone? The GiveDirectly study of unconditional cash to poor farmers in Kenya is out.
The answer? Many good things. Less hunger, more businesses and incomes, long term investments in assets like cattle or roofs. Interestingly, little effect on education. But, then, primary education is mostly free in Kenya so money might not be the big thing holding people back from schooling. The bottom line: people don’t waste it.
The study is extremely well done. There are a lot of different treatments to evaluate for a modest sample–big versus small grants, one-time versus spread out, to men versus women. Fortunately for the authors most of the impacts are big enough they can parse out the impacts, and they are largely promising. It turns out
I think skeptics would be right to make two points.
First, maybe the people who get the cash tell surveyors what they want to hear.This is always a risk. You can get around it by looking at big things you can observe, like new cattle and roofs. Or asking questions indirectly (e.g. measuring expenditures and assets, which respondents might answer less strategically). This satisfies me.
The second concern, from some policymakers–how long does this last? Isn’t far better to invest in children’s health and education? I suppose the answer is that cash is not necessarily a substitute for improving public schools and lowering the cost. Nor is it an easy substitute for establishing clinics or public health campaigns. It’s possible cash would stimulate health and education more, but that’s unproven and (my guess) unlikely.
The kinds of programs we should put squarely in our sights, and consider replacing with cash, are the kinds where we deliver expensive, heavy, cumbersome stuff to people because we think we know what they need–bags of rice, business skills trainings, vocational training, fertilizer, agricultural inputs, and the like.
The policy world needs to run some horse races between cash and these competitors, and also between different kinds of cash (or should I say different strings attached). Cash and strings may or may not win out, but the evidence it might is becoming too overwhelming to ignore.
Yesterday’s Economist article is possibly the single best piece of journalism on cash transfers I’ve seen so far. And by “best” I mean detailed and accurate, representing a large body of academic work well–all traits that, sadly, tend to make the Pulitzer committee fall asleep in bed.
Two things that have come across my desk in the last day or two:
- Lead research on women’s empowerment and violence against women and girls at one of the world’s largest humanitarian organizations, IRC (working for my wife!)
- Apply to USAID for up to $100k for research on democracy, rights, and governance
Lest this post provoke many requests for me to publicize an event or initiative, let me mention the limited conditions under which I publicize something for you:
- You are married to me, or
- You are giving away hideous sums of money to people in my field (i.e. likely readers of the blog)
Apologies–if I posted every event or initiative I was asked to, this would be a tedious blog indeed.