IPA’s weekly links

Guest post by Jeff Mosenkis of Innovations for Poverty Action.


  • Last weekend I had an op-ed with Annie Duflo about 2016, citing Max Roser’s observations that for humanity as a whole, things have been getting better than better, and describing new results from the past year of poverty research. But Roser himself also had a very thoughtful piece about why people always think the world is getting worse, locally and globally. His observations:
    • Bad things (crime, disasters) happen suddenly, while good things (reductions in poverty, disease) play out over years or decades, which media is not structured well to cover.
    • Our own demand-side effects on the media. Our brains’ evolved negativity bias leaves us as attuned to dangerous/alarming things. (“Almost Everybody in America Made it Home Safely Tonight” is a headline nobody would click on.)
    • Education-wise, global trends fall in between history and statistics so don’t get taught.
  • Evidence Action, which tries to see if evidence-proven ideas can scale, is looking for researchers with ideas that have been RCT tested and are ready for (careful) broader scaling. Learn more & submit your ideas to them here (Deadline Feb 3).
  • Some reminders for those freezing at the Chicago ASSA conference, particularly job candidates:
  • A paper and gift from Fiona Burlig:

    We’ve got new methods (and software) for choosing sample sizes in panel data settings that properly account for arbitrary within-unit serial correlation, and yield properly powered experiments in simulated and real data.

  • If you have a lot of time on your hands, like are nearing retirement, you may enjoy David Roodman’s deep dive into deworming findings, and why different analyses of the existing data can come to different conclusions. Part one and part two.
  • FYI, so far in 2017 President Obama has articles in the Harvard Law Review and New England Journal of Medicine (not even his first there). So there go your excuses for not getting that write-up finished.


Where should you visit in Uganda as a tourist?

A friend asked me this question and I decided to turn my long email into a blog post, to somehow justify the ridiculous amount of time I spent on the email. The big buyer beware warning here is that I haven’t been to Uganda in a few years, and I haven’t does touristy things since 2007. So my knowledge is out of date. Hopefully readers can add and subtract in the comments. Continue reading

Does foreign aid buy votes for bad governments? This study from Uganda shows the opposite.

A whopping 40% of Uganda’s government budget comes from foreign aid. This is a regime that is getting more and more autocratic, going the way of an Ethiopia or (I fear) a Zimbabwe. So of all the angst about aid, and critiques of foreign assistance, it’s surprising that I don’t hear this one more often: is foreign aid propping up bad guys? It seems irresponsible not to know the answer.

I would have thought the answer was “of course we are propping up thugs”, but data from one program in Uganda points in the opposite direction: people who got a big government grant for their business worked to get the opposition election. I don’t know exactly why, but it looks to me like a little increase in wealth freed people from patronage machines.

A few years ago I evaluated a fairly successful government employment program in Uganda, where cash grants of about $400 helped young people increase their self-employment and earnings by about 40%. At the time we also collected data on how much people participated in the 2011 elections, what parties they liked and disliked, and other political behavior. But like a lot of academics I have more data than I can analyze. Plus once I found this result I never knew what to make of it. So it took years before I could write up a real paper with my two coauthors, Mathilde Emeriau and Nathan Fiala. It’s now up.

The cash grants went out in 2008. This was a pretty meritocratic program. It didn’t target political supporters, it had little pork, and the government couldn’t take it back. The Ugandan government was hoping that good development policy would build its political support in the north of the country.

But instead of rewarding the government in the 2011 elections, compared to the random control group, the people who actually got the grant increased their opposition party membership, campaigning, and voting. Opposition voting went from 12% to 16%, a one third increase.

We went through a bunch of possible explanations. As with most experiments, it’s hard to figure out why something happened, especially if the result was unexpected. (We’d geared our survey questions to understand the opposite result.) But we did notice one interesting pattern: higher incomes are associated with opposition support, and income changes seem to account for a god part of the treatment effect on voting.

This possibility has been dangled out before. Beatriz Magaloni has some work on Mexico arguing that financially independent voters are less dependent on favors from the ruling party. Nancy Hite has some unpublished work from the Philippines suggesting that microfinance untangles people from politicized loan networks.

I wonder if what we’re seeing in Uganda is a bigger phenomenon: that financial independence frees the poor to express their political preferences publicly, since they’re less reliant on patronage and other political transfers. If so it’s a micro-level version of an old fashioned story about how democratization follows from economic development.

Given how much money countries give away in aid, this seems like an important question to answer. One easy way to add to the evidence is the huge number of randomized trials of anti-poverty programs. Simply adding on post-election questions from the regional barometer studies (Afrobarometer, Latinobarometer, etc) would go a long ways to increasing the evidence.

Downstream studies are also a good idea, where you go back for another round of survey data after an election. That’s how Hite got her Philippines data. And we will go back to Uganda next year for the 9-year follow up, and will get information on the 2016 elections while there. This is low hanging fruit for grad students and junior faculty.

This is why politicians fear cash transfer programs

The title of the UK Daily Mail article is “Just when you thought it couldn’t get any worse… YOUR cash is doled out in envelopes and on ATM cards loaded with money.”

Standing in line, Pakistani families wait at a cashpoint used to withdraw money on cards loaded with funds from British taxpayers.
More than £1billion of our foreign aid budget has been given away in cash over the past five years, it can be revealed today.
Despite warnings of fraud, officials have quietly quadrupled expenditure on cash and debit cards that recipients can spend at will.
The budget has soared from £53million in 2005 to an annual average of £219million in the period 2011-15. MPs last night compared the foreign cash handouts to ‘exporting the dole’.

This is essentially a response to the UK aid agency leading the move to cash transfers in the name of efficiency and effectiveness. And arguably less corrupt that other aid programs.

IPA’s Weekly Links

Guest post by Jeff Mosenkis of Innovations for Poverty Action.


  • Chris Blattman is on the EconTalk podcast talking about his work with Stefan Dercon on sweatshops in Ethiopia. As an economist who studies poverty, one of the interesting things he learned from hanging out in factories is what the owners say is really constraining them from growing. It isn’t lack of funding or infrastructure, it’s lack of middle management. What they really need to grow are people good at accounting, HR, mergers, and the like:

    “they need all of these skills that we don’t usually think about as poverty or development economists. … They say, ‘I can only do so much. I have all this capital; I made all this money,’ in real estate or trading or mine money or ill-gotten gains or wherever they got this money. And they only have so much time. So they really need people who can organize. And they need people who can help them execute transactions, whether it’s buying a company or helping them build sales contacts and do things overseas.”

And a big thanks to Cara Vu for editing help.


IPA’s weekly links

Guest post by Jeff Mosenkis of Innovations for Poverty Action.

And to those job candidates who don’t get your first choice, it’s good to have a backup:


Finally, the Master’s degree designed for people who want to do serious research or a PhD

When I arrived at Harris earlier this year, my eyes popped out a little when I found out this program existed: a Master’s degree that is part public policy degree, part research apprenticeship, and part intensive research methods training. It’s designed to be a stepping stone to either a PhD or serious quantitative research jobs in academia, think tanks, or policy organizations. If this sounds like you, apply.

It’s called the Master of Arts in Public Policy with Certificate in Research Methods, or MACRM. If you’re thinking of applying for a policy masters (or even if you’ve already applied to the Harris MPP) give this one serious thought.

  • It’s only 15 months long, running from September to the following December
  • In addition to the policy courses available in your area of interest (e.g. conflict, development, labor markets, education, health…), you take the Harris PhD courses during the academic quarters, focusing on economic theory, game theory, advanced statistics/econometrics, political economy, and quantitative modeling
  • You work on a faculty member’s research project for 10 hours a week during the academic quarters and during the summer as a research apprentice

Typically you come in designated to work with specific faculty. We like this program so much, that those of us associated with The Pearson Institute for the Study and Resolution of Global Conflicts are going to get heavily involved in this program and try to recruit and train the very best people.

Besides me, those faculty include Jim RobinsonOeindrila DubeEthan Bueno de Mesquita, Jeannie AnnanRoger Myerson, Luis Martinez, and Austin Wright. That’s not counting some of the amazing hires we hope to be announcing in 2017.

Continue reading

IPA’s weekly links

Guest post by Jeff Mosenkis of Innovations for Poverty Action.

Brazil Pope Stamp

  • Thomas Schelling, the Nobel laureate known for his work applying game theory to strategy died this week. Obituary in the New York Times. When he got the prize in 2005, Tyler Cowen listed these six major areas to which he contributed (even more from Cowen here).
  • One of my new favorite podcasts is “Tell Me Something I Don’t Know” from the New York Times and Stephen Dubner. A panel of smart people (often a mix of academics, writers, and comedians) judge a (prescreened) audience of smart people who come prepared with an interesting fact. Mostly though, it’s a fun time listening to smart funny people be surprised and learn new things. (iTunes)
    • Another really good podcast was Cowen’s interview with Harvard anthropologist Joseph Henrich who has tested predictions of psychology and economics in small-scale societies around the world (spoiler alert, Americans are different from everybody). His larger current work is on how societies evolve over time. He talks about how cultural factors like developing the ability to offload information from memory into writing affect our biology and change the shape of history. Keep listening for the Q & A at the end for more anthropologist’s view of the tribe known as economists (episode 16 on iTunes).
  • The World Bank pledged $75 Billion to helping poor countries, and will raise a third of it through bond markets and private debt to make it less dependent on government backers such as the U.S. The bank says it will also start investing directly in private infrastructure projects rather than financing country loans. (h/t Justin Sandefur.)
  • U.S. climate scientists are rushing to copy their data before the new administration comes in.
  • Heckman and colleagues report on a 35-year follow-up of two randomized intensive birth-to-5 y.o. programs that were randomized in the 70’s. The programs were expensive (including education, nutrition, and healthcare), but they estimate large returns, with every dollar invested yielding $6.50 in benefit. Heckman’s summary, Washington Post (h/t Shoshana Griffith).
  • When the Pope comes to town, do birth rates change? Bassi & Rasul found there happened to be a survey in the field in 1991 Brazil. The data was collected before, during, and after the visit of Pope John Paul II, who had a strong anti-contraception message:


    We use this fortuitous timing to identify that persuasion significantly reduced individual intentions to contracept by more than 40% relative to pre-visit levels, and increased the frequency of unprotected sex by 26%. …  we find a significant change in births nine months post-visit, corresponding to a 1.6% increase in the aggregate birth cohort. Our final set of results examine the very long run impact of persuasion and document the impacts to be on the timing of births rather than on total fertility.


  • And, if you’ve enjoyed these past 91 weeks of links and are going to be shopping on Amazon, start with this link and a portion will go to Innovations for Poverty Action, who’s been gracious enough to let me spend the time doing it:




IPA’s Weekly Links

M-PESA transaction


We estimate that access to the Kenyan mobile money system M-PESA increased per capita consumption levels and lifted 194,000 households, or 2% of Kenyan households, out of poverty.



IPA’s weekly links

Guest post by Jeff Mosenkis of Innovations for Poverty Action.

030223-N-8119R-001 At sea in the Indian Ocean (Feb. 23, 2003) -- Navy doctors, Cmdr. Donald Bennett (left), and Cmdr. Ralph Jones (right), perform surgery on a civilian crewmember in one of the operating rooms aboard the Military Sealift Command (MSC) hospital ship USNS Comfort (T-AH 20). Comfort is deployed in support of Operation Enduring Freedom. U.S. Navy photo by Lt. Cmdr. Roy Rice. (RELEASED)

  • Chris Arnade is is a physics Ph.D. turned Wall Street trader, turned sociologist, documenting the post-industrial/forgotten towns in the U.S. He often tweets about  the disconnect between economic statistics and things that can’t be measured, particularly a pervasive feeling of hopelessness in the left-behind towns.
    • Thanks to Bill on this blog for pointing me to his EconTalk interview.
    • Here he takes issue with Krugman’s view of the political economy.
    • Here he argues that Universal Basic Income makes sense to an economist’s point of view, but not to a sociologist’s, because it will socially divide the country up into givers and takers, sowing further resentments.
    • His argument is that academic researchers have a limited view of the world through data sets, but recommends spending more time in other parts of the country. (I’ve heard development economists often say RCTs were very helpful to molding their understanding of development because it got them to go to the places they were studying and talk to people there.)
  • David Evans and Ana Popova show that if you give the poor money they don’t smoke or drink it away:

    We conduct a meta-analysis to gauge the average impact of transfers on temptation goods. Results show that on average cash transfers have a significant negative effect on total expenditures on temptation goods, equal to −0.18 standard deviations. This negative result is supported by data from Latin America, Africa, and Asia, for both conditional and unconditional cash transfer programs. A growing number of studies therefore indicate that concerns about the use of cash transfers for alcohol and tobacco are unfounded.

  • Some researchers think that some of China’s 30 million demographically “missing girls” (with the implication of abandonment/infanticide) are actually there, they’re just not officially registered in the census because of an implicit understanding between families and local authorities.
  • Tim Ogden makes the case for investing in microcredit. Even though on balance it’s not currently a poverty fix, it’s a working business model reaching many of the world’s poor. It’s time to experiment and see how to make it work better.
  • New Zealand to compensate organ donors (not to make money, but just paying for their lost wages so they at least break even). I believe the only market for kidneys is in Iran, and Tina Rosenberg did a nice examination of it here.
  • Your memory is not like a computer’s. A nice primer on memory and a good reminder if you’re planning to administer a 4-hour recall survey.

A sad reminder for parents – if you don’t talk to your kids about version control, they’ll just learn it on the street.


Image above via Wikimedia Commons.

Come work for me in Chicago

I’m hiring a Research Associate (RA) for 1–2 years. Apply here.

This is usually a recent master’s or undergraduate student with strong quantitative skills who manages and analyzes data, helps manage my field projects, and generally helps me usher a project from fundraising and human subjects approval all the way to the academic paper and policy presentations. Data analysis is 75% of the job, and I will train and work with you closely. There are also some administrative and financial responsibilities, an there is sometimes short term field work involved around the world. Finally, the RA will also help me coordinate the new Peace & Recovery program at Innovations for Poverty Action (IPA) and the new Crime and Violence initiative at the Poverty Action Lab (J-PAL).

Most of the RAs who have worked with me in the past are interested in a PhD in economics, political science, or policy, and they usually go on to programs in the top five or ten departments. I’d like to think this is partly because of the experience and training, but it’s also because really terrific people apply. Please apply!

The RA will be employed by Innovations for Poverty Action, but will have a formal University of Chicago affiliation and sit with me at Harris Public Policy and the Pearson Institute.

The ideal start date is March or April, but a later or earlier start date is feasible for the right candidate. After all, many people will be graduating from university in the spring and I am open to waiting for them to finish.

In terms of qualifications, strong statistical skills and STATA usage is a must, as is English fluency. Lots of other skills and experiences will be an advantage: previous research and field work experience; Spanish language skills; other computer programming or machine learning experience; great writing skills; and great managerial skills.

J-PAL and IPA manage all the hiring and so you must apply here. Please note: Writing me directly isn’t recommended because others manage the initial hiring process and I get involved after they have a short list.

Note this is part of the large annual recruitment drive by J-PAL and IPA, and you can apply via the same process for a range of similar positions with other faculty and projects.


IPA’s weekly links

Guest Post by Jeff Mosenkis of Innovations for Poverty Action.


  • If you’re going to be traveling, or just want something to listen to, we’ve put together another IPA Great Holiday Travel Podcast Playlist of episodes we liked. It also includes a few brand new podcasts and a podcast discovery app that look promising.
  • Russia is following South Africa, Gambia and Burundi’s example and withdrawing from the International Criminal Court, and the Philippines is considering leaving as well. My (limited) understanding is that the U.S. hasn’t ratified it, so it’s not like we’re bound by it either.
  • Sweden’s top traffic safety expert explains their biggest barrier towards moving to zero traffic deaths isn’t engineering, it’s economists’ implicit assumptions:


    The largest resistance we got to the idea about Vision Zero was from those political economists that have built their whole career on cost-benefit analysis. For them it is very difficult to buy into “zero.” Because in their economic models, you have costs and benefits, and although they might not say it explicitly, the idea is that there is an optimum number of fatalities. A price that you have to pay for transport.


    • Jim Yong Kim expressed a similar sentiment (see the link in our podcast post above) about what it was like at Partners In Health in the early days of arguing for HIV drugs for Africans.
    • The idea that we accept traffic deaths as inevitable is not a coincidence. We call them airplane “crashes” and see them as unacceptable. But in the early 1900’s automobile manufacturers introduced a marketing campaign to rebrand auto collisions as “accidents,” which makes them seem inevitable:

      So a lot like the industrial safety people invented this cartoon character called Otto Know Better (ph), who was careless and getting injured, the pro-automobile people – manufacturers, auto clubs, auto dealers – invented caricatures of careless pedestrians because most of the people cars were killing then were pedestrians, not other people in cars.


  • The Weird Economics of Ikea
  • Investing in “soft skills” training, even in the high-turnover world of female garment workers in Banglauru, India, paid for itself several times over:

    Treated workers are less likely to leave during the program, and exhibit substantially higher productivity up to nine months after program completion. This leads to being assigned to more complex tasks and a greater likelihood of promotion. Treated workers are also more likely to enroll in workplace skill development and production incentive programs.

And the Golden Radiator Award nominees for best and worst development ads are up, you can vote for the finalists. Here was one of the good ones (also check out David Evans’ playlist of funny development commercials):

Happy Thanksgiving everybody.

Image above via Alex Graves on Flickr

IPA’s weekly links

Guest post by Jeff Mosenkis of Innovations for Poverty Action.


  • I’m taking a wild guess there will be a spike in researchers looking at elections data for 2016. A reminder that you can get an advance look at the American National Elections Survey (ANES) questions, design and preregister your study, and get it pre-accepted to a number of political science journals all before the data comes out (and get a $2,000 prize).
  • Michael Lewis has a Vanity Fair article based on his new book about Israeli psychologists Daniel Kahneman and Amos Tversky (above), the fathers of what would become behavioral economics. It’s about their friendship, and like Lewis’ other stories, about outsiders who end noticing something different and changing a whole field.
  • How spring rolls became the go-to snack in Senegal.
  • Another chapter of the U.N. response to South Sudan peacekeeping failures from a few weeks ago. Though a Kenyan general was dismissed, it was Chinese troops who abandoned their posts. The WSJ has a feature on how China is grappling with deaths of their peacekeeping soldiers there and the costs of their involvement. Complicating the relationship, some of their troops may have been killed by Chinese-manufactured weapons.
  • In press, a nationwide survey of rural Indian schools finds 24% of the teachers absent, at a cost of $1.5 billion/yr. Making sure teachers show up is among the cheapest ways to improve education, according to Muralidharan, Das, Holla, & Mohpal (h/t Lee Crawfurd). The NYTimes referenced the finding in a profile of an armed teacher truancy officer in Uttar Pradesh who has become a local celebrity.
  • A bleg and a reminder. For the comments below – we’re looking for podcast episode recommendations for this year’s Great Holiday Travel Podcast Playlist (last years’ is here).
    • And if you’ve enjoyed these last 87 weeks of links, consider a donation to IPA. If you do it by the end of this weekend an anonymous donor will match it, effectively doubling your contribution. Bonus, if you tweet or email me that you did, we’ll select (randomly of course) some to mail a souvenir from the Ghana arm of last year’s Banerjee, et. al. Science paper.

IPA’s weekly links

Guest post by Jeff Mosenkis of Innovations for Poverty Action.


  • Through Nov 20, an anonymous donor is doubling donations to my employer, Innovations for Poverty Action (IPA), who uses rigorous research to find effective poverty solutions. (Some examples here, and pictured above: some of our Burkina Faso research staff about to ride out in the rainy season).
  • Some would like to digitize payments and schedules for Nairobi Matatu private buses. The technology exists, but one barrier is the operators, who benefit from the unpredictable system, conducting their own informal “surge pricing” off the books.
  • Tyler Cowen’s conversation with cognitive scientist Steven Pinker was interesting. As was the one with Jon Haidt, who studies how moral reasoning drives political beliefs, and why people with different political leanings often don’t understand one another.
  • Dani Rodrik’s letter in support of Ricardo Hausmann. (h/t Vincent Armentano)
  • More than 800,000 drinking water filters were distributed in Kenya, supported by carbon credits sold for water that would supposedly not have to be boiled (you can buy some here). By coincidence a separate (IPA) RCT was going on in the same area, so they added on questions about the filter use, and found only 19% of people reported using them 2-3 years later. Summary in this press release, paper here.
  • India is changing its currency, asking people to trade in 23 billion notes in circulation. One stated goal is to eliminate the higher denominations to combat corruption and tax evasion. Kenneth Rogoff has made the same argument for the US:

    Well, I think that a lot of the money – these big bills – is used to facilitate tax evasion and crime. We all use cash in our everyday life, but we don’t use hundred-dollar bills. We’re not using 500-euro notes. And yet these account for mountains of cash out there. I think they’re being used in tax evasion and by criminals of all types.

  • Pam Jakiela’s great response to Deaton and Cartwright’s RCT critique.

And a reminder from Max Roser:

Links I liked

  1. We live in a strange world: Cubs World Series celebration ranks as 7th largest gathering in human history (less than the funeral of Ayatollah Khomeini but more than the Haj or the 3.5 million people at a 1994 Rod Stweart concert in Brazil)
  2. New developments in Chinese growth strategy
  3. Guido Imbens on synthetic control matching
  4. J-PAL has graduate student fellowships for conducting pre-publication re-analysis
  5. The snake versus iguana nature video that everyone is talking about is really that amazing
  6. Vin Diesel wrote, produced and starred this surprisingly good short film that paralleled his real life struggles of landing roles due to his multiethnic appearance (Spielberg saw the film and casted him in Saving Private Ryan, thus launching his career)

Phantom poll changes

From Benjamin Lauderdale and Doug Rivers writing at YouGov:

We believe that most of the bounces seen in surveys this year represent sampling noise that can be reduced or eliminated by adopting by better statistical methodology. We risk a repetition of 2012 where polling swings were largely statistical mirages. The convention and first debate bounces in 2012 were mostly the consequence of transitory variations in response rates. Fewer voters were changing their minds than were changing their inclination to respond to surveys.

Most telephone polls use independent samples, so the respondents in one week’s poll are different from those in another week’s. This makes it impossible to distinguish change in individual vote intentions from changes in sample composition from week to week. It is possible that five percent of the electorate switched from Clinton to Trump over the past week (decreasing Clinton’s lead by 10 points). But it’s also possible that nobody switched and apparent swings are due to differences in sample composition.

YouGov draws its samples from a large panel of respondents. In most of our polls, there is little overlap from one sample to another. However, sometimes the same respondents are recontacted to see whether their opinions have changed. For example, after the first presidential debate in September, we reinterviewed 2,132 people who had told us their vote intentions a month before. 95 percent of the September Clinton supporters said they intended to vote for her. None of them said they intended to vote for Donald Trump, but five percent said they were now undecided, would vote for a third party candidate, or would not vote. Of the Trump supporters, only 91 percent said they were still planning on voting for Trump. Five percent moved to undecided, one percent to Clinton, and the rest to third party candidates or not voting. The net effect was to increase Clinton’s lead by almost four points. That was real change, though significantly less that the ten point change to Clinton’s lead seen in some polls.

Other events, however, have not had any detectable impact on voting intentions. We did not see any shifts after the release of the Access Hollywood video, the second or third presidential debates, or the reopening of the FBI investigation into Clinton’s emails. When the same people were reinterviewed, almost all said they were supporting the same candidate they had told us they were supporting in prior interviews. The small number who did change their voting intentions shifted about evenly toward Clinton and Trump so the net real change was close to zero.

Although we didn’t find much vote switching, we did notice a different type of change: the willingness of Clinton and Trump supporters to participate in our polls varied by a significant amount depending upon what was happening at the time of the poll: when things are going badly for a candidate, their supporters tend to stop participating in polls. For example, after the release of the Access Hollywood video, Trump supporters were four percent less likely than Clinton supporters to participate in our poll. The same phenomenon occurred this weekend for Clinton supporters after the announcement of the FBI investigation: Clinton supporters responded at a three percent lower rate than Trump supporters (who could finally take a survey about a subject they liked).

The bolded italics are theirs.

IPA’s weekly links

Guest post by Jeff Mosenkis of Innovations for Poverty Action.

So when we moved to Cincinnati, we got the cheapest apartment we could find. It was the lowest apartment in the building, and we got hit by a summer storm. So what didn’t get destroyed by water got destroyed by mold. And I was, I think, seven and a half months pregnant, eight months pregnant at the time.

So I was calling every charity I could, thinking, I just need a chair. For – for whatever reason in my head, if I could just get a chair, then everything else would be fine. But I needed a place to sit. I, I got in touch with one charity who said, yeah, you can come and pick up a chair but we’re gonna need you to go to a resume-writing class. And I said, “For what?” and they said, “Well, because we need you to be looking for work and trying to better your situation; we don’t just give charity to just anybody. We need to make sure that you’re, you know, invested, you got some skin in the game.” And I said, “Okay, when is the resume-writing class?” And he gave me two different times. And I said, “Well, I have to be at work at both of those times.” And they said, “Well, if you want the charity you have to show up to the class.” And I was like, “If I come to the class I’ll get fired.” And this woman was telling me how I really needed to learn to write my resume so that I could find gainful employment, so that I could get the stupid chair that was probably worth five bucks.

That is what personal responsibility means to somebody on welfare. It means here are these stupid hoops that we’re gonna make you jump through and then we’re going to give you a solution that absolutely won’t work for you. It’s that kind of just over and over beating your head against these ridiculous regulations and these double-blinds that don’t make any sense. And the whole thing is set up specifically to humiliate you as much as possible because what we need poor people to do in America more than anything else in the world is know their place.

  • That from an amazing series busting myths about poverty in America from On The Media. The series goes into the many double binds the poor are often put in to get themselves out of poverty, because of societal myths about the causes of poverty. They also show how media portrayals of the poor can be driven by reporters searching for confirmatory stories to play to their audiences, typically focusing on the personal qualities of the individual, rather than circumstances they’ve been put in.
  • Zimbabwe is becoming a cashless economy because they don’t have cash.
  • A good primer from Planet Money on what happened to Venezuela’s economy (Shorter version here, Even shorter version: dependent on oil, imported lots, and spent oil profits on social programs. When things went bad, they pegged the currency to dollar, which the government controlled access to which means scarce everything.)
  • The U.N. fired the head of its South Sudan peacekeeping operation following a report documenting failures to help when local troops broke into a compound housing foreign aid workers, torturing and raping there.
  • Why the U.N. keeps repeating a misleading statistic that 75 percent of Liberian women were raped.
  • A story circulated this week about a medical study of male injectable birth control being stopped because men couldn’t handle side effects that sounded similar to those of female birth control. The “Men are wusses” story was more hasty science reporting. Vox pointed out if the reporters had dug a little deeper they would have found that most men wanted to continue the study but a safety monitoring panel stopped it because:

The 320 men who participated in the research reported a whopping 1,491 adverse events, and the researchers running the trial determined that 900 of these events were caused by the injectable contraceptive.

My favorite of this past weeks’ #EconoPumpkin entries



This is not the academic job market advice on the Harvard economics web page


I reprint Pam Jakiela’s advice in full. She was the first person I sat next to in grad school. Read it and you will see why she became, and remains, one of my favorite people. If you are interested, Pam’s research is here.

I’ve been working on a general job market advice page for Chicago students (and you) and all of the major advice you will find on the Internet skirt around the issue that Pam does not.

Academic Job Market Advice for PhD Students in Economics

  1. The most important thing is your job market paper.  All the time you spend agonizing over what you should wear, etc., has an opportunity cost.  Focus on your research.  Be excited about your research.  This is why people will want to hire you (even when they don’t fully understand what your research is about).
  2. You will inevitably encounter a number of situations where older professors will try to explain what is wrong with your research during your job talk.  The people who interrupt you may or may not have any idea what they are talking about.  It is important that you are firm in your replies, but you should make sure that you show senior faculty sufficient respect.  Ideally, you should write each of them a personal thank you email after your talk.  Their feedback is valuable, and rudeness in seminars is an important part of our field’s unique culture.
  3. Do not, under any circumstances, do anything to suggest that you would ever consider compromising your career in any way to improve your quality of life or enable you to live with a spouse or partner.  Remember:  you are getting hired to be a researcher, you aren’t getting hired to be a human being!  Ideally, even your advisers should not know whether or not you have any friends or family outside of the office, or even whether you have left the economics building since you started your PhD.
  4. At smaller departments, it can be good to signal that you would be a good “fit” by discussing common interests – for example, economics.  On some occasions, faculty members may bring their wives to the seminar dinner.  It is ideal to show that you have common interests with them, as well – e.g. baking.  However, you should make sure it is clear that economics takes precedence.  For example, you might explain that you enjoy baking (who doesn’t?), but lately you have only been baking to relieve the stress of the job market.
  5. Wear comfortable clothing.  Campus visits are long days, and often involve a lot of walking.  In many parts of the country, the weather will be almost unbearably cold during the flyout season.  You may quickly come to regret the decision to wear high heels and stockings.  Comfortable, dressy (but not overly feminine) boots and pants suits are ideal.

Special Advice for Male Students on the Job Market*

* NOTE:  since I am not a man, I can never totally understand the particular experience of male students.  Though I am not a male economist, I’ve talked with several male economists about their experiences.  These suggestions are intended to be helpful and supportive.

  1. Number #1 applies to you, too:  research is paramount.  Fortunately, if you are a male in the economics profession, it has probably never occurred to you to spend time thinking about clothes or really anything other than economics.

  2. Number #2 is less likely to apply to you, but most male students do have some uncomfortable seminar experiences – remember, not all victims of mansplaining are female!  Be firm in your replies.  Anything short of throwing the laser pointer at someone is considered acceptable seminar behavior.

  3. Unfortunately, Number #3 goes for you, too, male economists:  it is fine to reveal the fact that you have a spouse and/or children as long as it is clear that they don’t take priority over your research.  Inexplicably, it will somehow be understood that you will accept your best job offer regardless of the prospects for your spouse’s employment.

  4. At smaller or more rural departments, it can be helpful to discuss common interests that you might share with senior faculty – for example, man caves, football statistics, and the latest in facial hair removal technology (admittedly, I am just speculating here).

  5. Who are we kidding?  Almost all dress shoes made for men are perfectly comfortable because… well, because that’s the way the world works.  Nonetheless, I would seriously suggest that male economists think twice before deciding to wear heels and stockings during a flyout.  We’re making progress as a society and a profession, but I’m not sure we’re there yet.

I asked, via Twitter, what other advice posts (and advice) my colleagues had to offer to job market candidates who are not in the white, male majority. The helpful pointers outweighed the range of… other reactions to my request. But while I got a LOT of advice, there were relatively few online write-ups of advice for academics. Hence my extra love for Pam’s post.

Even so, here are the online materials they suggested. Other suggestions welcome, by email or in the comments below.

IPA’s weekly links

Guest post by Jeff Mosenkis of Innovations for Poverty Action.

Berhanu Nega

  • A profile of a former Bucknell professor of African development economics who now leads an Ethiopian rebel army. He may be more qualified than most rebel leaders to comment on what he sees as the illusion of a decade of 11 percent annual economic growth in the country:

Nega insists that Ethiopia has “cooked the books,” and that its growth rate is largely attributable to huge infrastructure projects and Western development aid, with little contribution from the private sector. “The World Bank is throwing money at Ethiopia like there’s no tomorrow,” he told me. The actual growth rate, he insists, is closer to 5 to 6 percent — per capita income is still among the lowest in the world — and the weakness of the country’s institutions will mean that even this rate cannot be sustained.

  • A Dutch company stopped its bikes from being damaged in shipping by putting pictures of flat screen TVs on the boxes.
    • And if you haven’t seen it, how that country stops bikers from being hit by car doors opening by teaching drivers the “Dutch reach,” (opening your car door by reaching across your body with the opposite arm, forcing you to turn and look behind you).
  • Two papers from a larger study on education in Kenya focusing on what keeps kids in school:
    • David Evans summarizes one which used qualitative methods to supplement the quant findings on why so many kids end up dropping out.
      • It’s typically the kid’s decision, not the parents’.
      • They point out that often it’s what happens before the study began which puts them on the dropout trajectory. The low level the kids were starting from means they can’t keep up with the class, which is demoralizing.
      • There are still costs associated with “free” schooling
    • Co-author Matthew Jukes discusses one intervention that reduced dropouts by 50 percent: teacher support via text messages.
      • It’s noteworthy that another sensible-sounding intervention, pairing up 6th-grade and 3rd-grade kids to read with them twice a week, didn’t improve reading for either group of kids.
  • David has another good blog post on what works in education.
  • The Development Impact Blog is once again offering Ph.D. students on the job market an opportunity to blog your job market paper.
  • Seven tips for Master’s students who want to go into development (h/t Duncan Green).

Don’t forget to carve your #EconoPumpkin, but looks like we’re out of luck for Halloween costumes once again: