Why is Sanders staying in the race? Three political answers

This question is all over my Facebook and Twitter feeds. Strangely, despite the calculating economists and political scientists that fill my feeds, I have not seen anyone give a rational or political answer.

I see three possibilities that aren’t as cynical or simplistic as “ego”, “he’s a lone wolf” and “because Hillary might go to jail”.

  1. He just spent a year building more political influence (and small donors) than almost any other Democrat in the country. Now he’s going to spend that influence to get policy concessions from Clinton and the party. He will focus on the issues he thinks are in the best interest of the country and his supporters. Negotiations will take at least a few days.
  2. He wants to sit down with his close advisors and friends and think hard about the best way to change the policies he cares most about. A lot of democrats think “fight to the convention and the setting of the party platform” is not the answer. But someone playing the long game might reasonably disagree, and he is taking some time to decide.
  3. He needs time to call all his major supporters and donors and surrogates, and make them feel consulted and mollified before he concedes publicly. This way they come along with him to Clinton’s side.

None of these are mutually exclusive. And all are also consistent with “give the poor guy a night or two to sleep on it”.

Today’s travel tip: The absolute must-look site if you ever rent a car

My new favorite site is Autoslash.

I made a rental car reservation in Florida at Christmas and Thanksgiving, to visit family. Hertz gave me a price over $700 for one and $500 for the other. I reserved. But then I entered my reservation details into Autoslash, and it has been automatically emailing me as prices fall, allowing me to re-book, at about $200 in both cases. So savings of $800. The same happened last year with a New York rental (though those miracle prices took many more weeks to appear).

I have no idea how they make money. I suspect they don’t.

In case you are wondering, this is an unsolicited endorsement. I’m just ecstatic that I saved $800 for five minutes of form filling, and figure the frequent travelers that read the blog will be eager to do the same.

While we’re on the subject of travel tips, here are some older posts on what to bring with you into the sky, and what to bring for field work parts one and two.

Does war foster cooperation?

Screenshot 2016-06-06 10.01.23

In the past decade, nearly 20 studies have found a strong, persistent pattern in surveys and behavioral experiments from over 40 countries: individual exposure to war violence tends to increase social cooperation at the local level, including community participation and prosocial behavior. Thus while war has many negative legacies for individuals and societies, it appears to leave a positive legacy in terms of local cooperation and civic engagement. We discuss, synthesize and reanalyze the emerging body of evidence, and weigh alternative explanations. There is some indication that war violence especially enhances in-group or “parochial” norms and preferences, a finding that, if true, suggests that the rising social cohesion we document need not promote broader peace.

A new NBER paper of mine with Michael Bauer, Julie Chytilová, Edward Miguel, Joseph Henrich, and Tamar Mitts. Coming out this summer in Journal of Economic Perspectives.

The personalization of power in China

…Xi is different from Mao in important ways. He has more accurate information than Mao did, thanks to extensive, organized, and professional systems of intelligence and analysis, and thanks to what he has gathered during his travel at home and abroad. He uses inner-Party star chambers and charges of corruption rather than screaming Red Guards and accusations of revisionism to purge rivals, and the political police rather than a mass movement to repress dissidents. Mao was a thinker and literary stylist; Xi has banal ideas but is more deliberate and consistent in decision-making. His personal habits appear to be orderly, compared to Mao’s chaotic ways of spending time.

That is my colleague Andy Nathan on China’s leader, Xi Jinping, in NYRB. I’m rather ashamed at how little I know about Xi.

Something that makes a place like China or Ethiopia relatively stable is that power is dispersed in a party. In a Uganda or Rwanda or Turkmenistan, or even Russia, power is concentrated in a President, and I fear for stability. The most treacherous step in a dictatorship is managing transitions of power.

Nathan argues that Xi is heading in the less stable direction.

…once Xi acceded to top office he was widely expected to pursue political liberalization and market reform. Instead he has reinstated many of the most dangerous features of Mao’s rule: personal dictatorship, enforced ideological conformity, and arbitrary persecution.

…Xi has made himself in some ways more powerful than Deng or even Mao. Deng had the final word on difficult policy issues, but he strove to avoid involvement in day-to-day policy, and when forced to make big decisions he first sought consensus among a small group of senior leaders. Mao was able to take any decision he wanted regardless of the will of his senior colleagues, but he paid attention to only a few issues at a time. Xi appears to be running the whole span of important policies on a daily basis, without needing to consult senior colleagues or retired elders.

…He may go even further. There are hints that he will seek to break the recently established norm of two five-year terms in office and serve one or even more extra terms. He has had himself designated as the “core” of the leadership, a status that his immediate predecessor, Hu Jintao, did not take for himself. At this point in a leader’s first term we would expect to see one or two younger politicians emerging as potential heirs apparent, to be anointed at next year’s nineteenth Party Congress, but such signs are absent.

Well worth reading in full.

IPA’s weekly links

Guest post by Jeff Mosenkis of Innovations for Poverty Action.


  • That aspiring sitcom about the high-pressure Nigerian immigrant family is impressively close to its kickstarter goal.
  • MDRC recently released its report (PDF here) on what did and didn’t work in New York City’s randomized controlled trial of conditional cash transfers (early results had been out for a while). The cash seems more effective than the conditions:
    • It involved 4,800 families with 11,000 children. Surveys at 18 & 42 months after payments began.
    • Families got on average $8,700 over three years, made in individual payments around meeting benchmarks in childrens’ education, preventative healthcare, and parents’ work & professional training.
    • It had significant effects on poverty reduction (poverty, hunger, housing).
    • Effects on education were mixed, accruing mostly to older kids who were more proficient at the start (although young siblings may have benefitted).
    • Effects on parents’ work were small or for some subgroups, negative.
    • Families were generally already getting medical checkups (one of the major health benchmarks), there were limited effects on health.
    • A second trial sought to improve the design, with fewer conditions aimed at a more targeted population, faster payments, and adding case management (coaching) in both New York and Memphis. Results are due out later this year.
  • The MacArthur Foundation announced a contest for a single $100 Million award for a solution to a “big problem.” Anybody can enter as long as it’s a problem of global social significance and there’s some evidence behind the proposed fix (must register by Sept. 2 on their site).
  • Leah Bevis looks at the “productivity paradox” in agriculture – why farmers with bigger plots don’t get proportionally larger yields. She and Christopher Barret find in Uganda, that farmer behavior, investing more in the parts around the visible/accessible perimeter seem to explain it (working paper here).
  • The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau is announcing new regulations on payday (and other similar short term, high interest) loans, out of fear some borrowers might get in over their heads. Jonathan Morduch thinks it won’t make much difference, Allison Schrager in Quartz thinks removing that emergency borrowing option may hurt the poor.
    • The CFPB is also looking for input in how to redesign the information student borrowers are given about loan payback options.
  • IPA is hiring a director for our Uganda office! (And many other jobs here.)

And, this is useful – how to tell if a Canadian is mad at you.

Stefano DellaVigna and Devin Pope take A-B testing literally

Here they are at VoxEU on how to motivate effort:

The task for the subjects is to alternately press the “a” and “b” buttons on their keyboards as quickly as possible for ten minutes. The 18 treatments attempt to motivate participant effort using i) standard incentives; ii) non-monetary psychological inducements; and iii) behavioural factors such as present-bias, reference dependence, and social preferences. Figure 1 presents, in somewhat shortened format, the phrasing of the 18 treatments and the average effort (number of button presses) per treatment.

dellavignafig1Via the fantastic Development Impact blog.

Tenure! And… a move to the University of Chicago

First thing first: tenure at last!

For those of you thinking “Wait, weren’t you an Associate Professor already?” or “What are you talking about? Didn’t you graduate ages ago? Shouldn’t you be retiring by now?”: the answer is yes, Yale and Columbia have looooong tenure clocks (I started in 2008) and a peculiar non-tenured Associate stage, and I have been dwelling in that limbo for some time. But no longer.

The other news is that, four weeks from now, I will join University of Chicago’s Harris School of Public Policy as the Ramalee E. Pearson Professor of Global Conflict Studies.

This is exciting but bittersweet news, because I leave an amazing group of colleagues and students behind at Columbia University. There were many attractions to staying at Columbia, and it was a difficult decision to leave. But what U of C and Harris are building is simply too exciting an opportunity to pass up.

Last year, Chicago received the second largest gift in the university’s history, $100 million from The Thomas L. Pearson and The Pearson Family Members Foundation, to start The Pearson Institute for the Study and Resolution of Global Conflicts. The Pearson Institute is going to have a large number of new senior and junior faculty. Besides me, the other inaugural hire is my good friend and collaborator Oeindrila Dube, from NYU, who will take a second chair.

The Institute will also host The Pearson Global Forum, a huge annual global forum devoted to the study and resolution of global conflicts. As Jackson Hole is to macroeconomic policy, the Global Forum aims to be to the policy and academic forum for global security.

This is all part of the Harris School’s scheme to become the best place to study the political economy of development. Last year, Jim Robinson joined from Harvard and Konstantin Sonin from Moscow’s New Economic School. Also working on security and development issues are Ethan Bueno de Mesquita and Roger Myerson. Austin Wright from Princeton is joining as an Assistant Professor. Next year there will undoubtedly be more names you know. In development more broadly there’s Michael Greenstone, Anjali Adukia, Ofer Malamud, and Alicia Menendez.

If I can continue the sales pitch to prospective students and hires: Harris is also an amazing place to study urban issues (it is home to the famed Crime Lab) and U.S. education, health, and labor markets. It has a incredibly strong group of labor economists and political economy scholars.

If you want to think about where to place the Harris School in the constellation of U.S. policy schools, as far as I can tell (so far) the best description is probably: the hard one. Harris believes in training undergraduates, master’s students, and PhDs in rigorous quantitative social science. I’m kind of amazed by what the students learn and can do. Dean Karlan at Yale (founder of IPA) is a graduate. People like me, Jim, Oeindrila, Ethan, and the exciting new hires to come are going to help push that in an international direction.

When you get $100 million, that also means you make a flashy video. So here is The Pearson Institute:

IPA’s weekly links

Guest post by Jeff Mosenkis of Innovations for Poverty Action.


  • Happy weekend, if you’re heading out we’ve put together a list of podcasts for your summer travel, including Chris & David McKenzie on Planet Money (along with some pictures from our crew in Burkina Faso whose drive went worse than yours).
  • African immigrants have the highest academic achievement of any group in the U.S. (h/t Easterly), and a sitcom writer is kickstarting a comedy series about a high-pressure Nigerian immigrant family.
  • Conclusions are only as good as the data behind them. A group of researchers got together to think about how to improve the quality of data collection. One idea was taking advantage of the many studies in progress at any given time to test out multiple ways of measuring something and compare them. Berk’s summary of the meeting, and invitations to researchers from SurveyCTO & IPA.
  • Academics were in a tizzy over Angelina Jolie being invited to co-teach a course on women and conflict at LSE. Even The Onion got in on it. Some things to remember:
    • LSE’s got plenty of experts like Duncan Green, Owen Barder, and soon,  Nava Ashraf.
    • There’s a great post here on why it’s so difficult for academic research to influence policy (h/t the aforementioned Duncan Green).
    • You know what LSE doesn’t have? Someone who can get issues of poor people in far away places all over the evening news.
    • Her deliberate use of media following her genetic screening and mastectomy appears to have raised awareness, genetic testing, and prophylactic mastectomies among women (here, here, here and here).
    • I’m with Paul Niehaus on this one:

[photo credit: flickr/stankus]

A field research position in Bogota studying crime and policing

Come work with me on an amazing project in Bogota, where we are working with the police and Mayor’s office to build a platform for studying the impact of policing and city tactics to reduce crime, in real time, through repeated trial-and-error with randomized evaluation.

Here is the job ad, with IPA. (Please apply through IPA and do not email me directly, as I do not handle any of the hiring directly.)

The Research Associate will work on a highly innovative project on crime and violence reduction in Bogotá, Colombia. Principal investigators Chris Blattman, Donald Greene, Daniel Mejía, Daniel Ortega and Santiago Tobon will provide technical guidance. The person will be responsible of coordinating some aspects of the implementation with the Mayor’s Office, managing field operations and processing data.

The position is based in Bogotá and the Research Associate will report directly to the Research Coordinator.

  • Responsibilities:
    • Managing, hiring, and monitoring staff working on the project
    • Design and testing the surveying instruments
    • Organizing field logistics
    • Training, coordinating, and supervising the data collection team
    • Tracking program status and randomization compliance during roll-out
    • Checking quality of the data gathered
    • Managing relationships with the implementing partner and the rest of the research team
    • Assisting in the finance oversight of the project
    • Assisting PIs in the analysis of the data
    • Assisting PIs in the writing of project reports
    • Other responsibilities, as assigned.
  • Qualifications:
    • A bachelor’s degree in economics, social sciences, public policy, or related fields is a must, and a Master’s degree is preferred
    • Candidates with developing country fieldwork experience are especially attractive
    • Training in development economics and familiarity with impact evaluation techniques
    • Strong management and organizational skills
    • Excellent STATA skills. Knowledge of R and GIS is a plus
    • Excellent verbal and written communication skills in English and Spanish, including ability to effectively communicate with internal and external partners
    • Proficient use of MS Office – Word and Excel
    • Must be able to work under pressure and meet deadlines, while maintaining a positive attitude
    • Ability to work independently and to carry out assignments to completion within parameters of instructions given, prescribed routines, and standard accepted practices

IPA’s weekly links

Guest post by Jeff Mosenkis of Innovations for Poverty Action.


  • The Kenyan government is threatening to close all refugee camps in the country, including Dadaab, the world’s largest, with 300,000 people.
  • Meanwhile, Der Spiegel uncovered a secret deal led by Germany with other EU states to pay Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir, who is wanted on genocide charges, and other governments, to set up detention camps to keep refugees from reaching Europe. The program would be coordinated by GIZ, the German aid agency. (h/t Lee Crawfurd)
  • Congratulations to Chris Blattman on being named one of the top 100 bloggers in economics.
  • Uganda’s cities are growing rapidly, but they don’t have many urban planners to figure out how to lay out the sprawl well. (h/t Laura Seay)
  • SurveyCTO, the survey software that IPA and J-PAL use heavily, is introducing a free version for small non-profit M&E. (IPA also produced a whole series of case  studies, how-to’s, and resources for M&E here)
  • The Kenneth Arrow award for best health economics paper was awarded to Budish, Roin, & Williams’ AER paper which found that incentives in the research process are costing a lot of lives. Cancer trials favor testing treatments for patients with late stage cancer near the end of their lives, because outcomes (lengthening life) can be measured quickly, compared to early stage cancers. The authors estimate these incentives have led to 890,000 years of life lost just to patients diagnosed in one year. (Austin Frakt summarizes it in the Upshot.)
  • Nigerians have been dominating Scrabble championships by practicing a contrarian strategy developed by a mathematician. After millions of simulations, he figured out that while most players memorize long dictionary words with lots of letters to rack up points, a defensive strategy using short words with unusual letters like “Yow” would make life very difficult for their opponents.
  • If you’re writing a letter of recommendation, this tool will help you check for gender bias in your adjectives.

And this is from a while ago, but residents of Evanston, IL, the upscale home of Northwestern, opposed a long-term hotel, fearing an influx of “transient academics.” (Some nice comments.)

What if Dr. Seuss wrote Star Wars?

Reddit has a writing competition. The top rated contribution begins:

A long time ago, and so far far away,

There was a rebellion in space, so they say!

That old Evil Empire was up to no good

They kidnapped a princess, you knew that they would!

And then with the might only money can buy,

They set out to make a Death Star, in the sky!

That dastardly Emperor!

That Scoundrel! That Fiend!

Could nobody stop him? Would no one intervene?

The solution to bad statistical code isn’t care, it’s standardized practice

After several years of testing other people’s statistical code at the QJPS, Nick Eubank blogs:

I myself once firmly believed the fallacy that the key to preventing errors was “to be more careful.” Indeed, I fear this belief may have colored the tone of of my past work on this subject in unproductive ways. Over the last few years, however, my research has brought me into close contact with computer scientists, and I discovered that computer scientists’ mentality about programming is fundamentally different from the mental model I had been carrying around. Computer scientists assume programmers will make mistakes, and instead of chiding people to “just be careful,” they have developed a battery of practices to address the problem. These practices — often referred to as “defensive programming” — are designed to (a) minimize the probability mistakes occur and (b) maximize the probability that mistakes that do occur are caught.

He suggests a number of basic defensive programming skills: (1) building formal tests into the code; (2) never manually transcribe numbers into your article text; (4) improve your style through indenting, commenting and spacing; and (5) never manually duplicating information. This seems helpful, but I’d like to see the more advanced suggestions too.

There was no point 3, which is either subversive or ironic. There are no cures for fallibility in blogging.

Update: Several readers point me to Matt Gentzkow and Jesse Shapiro’s Code and Data for the Social Sciences: A Practitioner’s Guide.

Some amazing research positions in Liberia and Sierra Leone

IPA is looking for Research Coordinator in Sierra Leone to run a big study of how cognitive behavior therapy affects employment. I’m involved as an investigator, and it’s led by Theresa Betancourt at Harvard. We are looking for someone with an MA in a relevant field and some field research experience. IPA is also looking for a Research Manager in neighboring Liberia, a more senior position to oversee many projects.

IPA’s weekly links

Guest post by Jeff Mosenkis of Innovations for Poverty Action.


  • In a new study in Science today Cilliers, Dube, & Siddiqi examine the effects of a post civil-war reconciliation program in Sierra Leone. The design of the program is a common one, where people involved on all sides of the conflict come together in their villages to talk about what they did or experienced, hopefully culminating in forgiving. Tracking people in 200 villages which were randomly assigned to the program or not for over two years, they found that it did increase forgiveness and social ties, but also increased psychological trauma for those who participated.  Rachel Glennerster co-authored an accompanying piece in Science and reviews the research for the Monkey Cage, the Science articles will also be free with registration to everybody for the next two weeks, links at the IPA summary.
  • In an excellent and non-technical post, David Evans asks Why don’t economists do cost analysis in their impact evaluations? If the point is to know which programs should be expanded, shouldn’t the price tag be part of the basic information? The Economist (the publication, not Evans) has an article you’d think would be well-received about the Copenhagen Consensus’ ranking of returns per dollar spent on different programs, but in a nice discussion on twitter today, Justin Sandefur and Rachel Glennerster point out they mix studies of very different quality.
  • Evidence Action announced this week they were going to be broadening one of the interventions on that list from Bangladesh, ‘No lean season.’ Many areas dependent on farming around the world run out of food from the last harvest before the new harvest comes in, leading to a hunger season. But in Bangladesh, previous research has found a bit of cash or credit (as low as $8) to help a family member travel to find seasonal work in a city increases income and food intake for the whole family. Evidence Action hopes to reach 310,000 low-income households in Northern Bangladesh in the next four years.
  • Last Sunday Germany had so much renewable energy prices went negative, meaning they had to pay people to use electricity.
  • The Indian government is trying to consolidate 200 government functions (such as passport applications, taxes, utility bills, and land titles) into a phone app to make them more accessible and less vulnerable to corruption.

It felt like all of the 9,000 people we follow on twitter have been talking about John Oliver’s episode on how scientific studies get overblown in the media. It’s worth watching till the bit at the end. Then go read the Washington Post article from a couple days later about how Tylenol reduces empathy (headline: “This popular painkiller also kills kindness”).

A warning to my mathematical friends: doing differential equations on a plane is now an act of terror

The curly-haired man tried to keep to himself, intently if inscrutably scribbling on a notepad he’d brought aboard. His seatmate, a blond-haired, 30-something woman sporting flip-flops and a red tote bag, looked him over.

…That Something she’d seen had been her seatmate’s cryptic notes, scrawled in a script she didn’t recognize. Maybe it was code, or some foreign lettering, possibly the details of a plot to destroy the dozens of innocent lives aboard American Airlines Flight 3950.

…The curly-haired man was, the agent informed him politely, suspected of terrorism.

The curly-haired man laughed.

He laughed because those scribbles weren’t Arabic, or some other terrorist code. They were math.

Yes, math. A differential equation, to be exact.


Had the crew or security members perhaps quickly googled this good-natured, bespectacled passenger before waylaying everyone for several hours, they might have learned that he — Guido Menzio — is a young but decorated Ivy League economist. And that he’s best known for his relatively technical work on search theory, which helped earn him a professorship at the University of Pennsylvania and stints at Princeton and Stanford’s Hoover Institution.

They might even have discovered that last year he was awarded the Carlo Alberto Medal, given to the best Italian economist under 40. That’s right: He’s Italian, not Middle Eastern, or whatever heritage usually gets racially profiled on flights these days.

…Menzio showed the authorities his calculations and was allowed to return to his seat, he told me by email. He said the pilot seemed embarrassed. Soon after, the flight finally took off, more than two hours after its scheduled departure time for what would be just a 41-minute trip in the air, according to flight-tracking data.

The woman never reboarded to the flight, Menzio said. No one told him, though, whether she was barred from returning or stayed away voluntarily, out of embarrassment or continued fear of the “dangerous wizardry” his mathematical notations resembled.

Full story. Hat tip to @zeynep.

Admittedly, even I find a paper called The (Q;S;s) Pricing Rule terrifying.

Here is our nefarious scribbler:


IPA’s weekly links

Guest post by Jeff Mosenkis of Innovations for Poverty Action.

  • One of the most interesting podcasts I’ve heard in a long time was Ezra Klein interviewing World Bank President Jim Kim (itunes, soundcloud). They covered a lot of ground, but most interesting for me was listening to him talk about what it was like doing his medical anthropology dissertation research as Korea was emerging as a wealthy nation.
    • He also talks about managing the World Bank and its reorganization, particularly the challenges of spreading isolated pockets of information across a big organization.
    • Having previously done humanitarian medical assistance, this job requires doing a lot more forecasting of what will be the world’s next problems. He thinks huge numbers of stunted children in low-income countries (impairing the cognitive development needed for higher education), should be treated as an emergency. Together with machines taking over the more labor-intensive jobs, even farming, he sees it as a recipe for disaster.
  • The also very good Dani Rodrik conversation with Tyler Cowen (read or listen), opened with a similar concern he calls “premature deindustrialization” – what happens to low-income countries when mechanization and cheap imports eliminate the need for the industrial jobs that have been the foundation for growth in other countries?
  • The new issue of JEP has several articles about inequalities in different areas. With the Rio Olympics coming up, one article finds that most cities lose money on hosting the Olympics, but it’s even worse for developing countries (h/t Matt Collin).
  • A new study finds nine years and $1.4 billion spent by the U.S. government to prevent HIV through abstinence education in 14 African countries does not appear to have had an effect. Fortunately, we’re down from spending $250 million a year on these programs to just $40 million.
  • David Evans has a nice “Impact Evaluations 101” explanation on the Gov Innovator podcast, which is a great resource for non-technical types who want to understand the different types of evaluations. In 20 minutes he covers randomized controlled trials, regression discontinuity, and difference-in-differences analyses, all in very accessible language.


Links I liked

  1. Saudi Arabia gives women the right to a copy of their marriage contract
  2. Libyan insurgents are funded by… blood poultry
  3. A letter from George H.W. Bush to the New York Times assuring the editor none of their reporters are US spies
  4. The kind of Ivy League giving I can get behind: Stanford’s business school offers fellowship for African students
  5. This is why whites are called Caucasians
  6. Our presumptive Presidential candidate and this:

Screenshot 2016-05-04 11.40.02