- Economic growth decreases bribe extraction from firms
- The effects of cash transfers on adolescent girls in Malawi (sadly gated at NBER)
- What’s the effect of natural disasters, terrorist attacks and political shocks on stock markets and growth?
- The effect of contract teachers on Indian schoolchildren
- Conditional cash transfers raise social and political participation in Mexico (link fixed)
We examine the returns from owning cows and buffaloes in rural India. We estimate that when valuing labor at market wages, households earn large, negative average returns from holding cows and buffaloes, at negative 64% and negative 39% respectively.
…Why do households continue to invest in livestock if economic returns are negative, or are these estimates wrong?
A new, brilliantly named paper from Anagol, Etang and Karlan.
This is a question one can’t help wonder about if you work in rural development. The answers they explore show why so much of the theory and evidence in development economics is useful for designing and testing programs. For example:
Evidence suggests that the poor are often willing to earn negative interest in order to access reliable saving services… If livestock ownership is seen as a form of savings, the observed negative returns to cows and buffalo provide additional evidence of the high demand for savings, and perhaps specifically for illiquid savings in order to avoid temptation spending.
The question then turns to the supply side of savings: what are the constraints on the supply side that make cows and buffalos better savings alternatives than what banks offer? With technological innovations such as mobile money, the transaction costs are plummeting for offering deposit accounts to consumers in developing countries, even in highly rural areas. Thus this is an area where improvements in ability to store cash outside of the home may lead to more efficient allocation of capital, away from risky or low return home investments.
…If indeed, as we find, owning cows yields low or negative returns, this is of critical importance for NGO and government programs that promote investment in cows with an aim of poverty alleviation. In particular, the results here are critical for programs that engage in livestock grants to help households start or expand income generating activity from raising livestock (this is common amongst “graduation” programs, cited earlier, as well as many NGOs, such as Heifer International or other livestock grant programs)
Some of you are thinking “what about the social and cultural aspects? See the full paper for a discussion. I was a little disappointed not to see The Anti-Politics Machine in the references, but it is there partially in spirit. I’d like to read the behavioral economics paper that tackles James Ferguson.
[domestic election] observers reduce the probability of overvoting (more votes cast than registered voters) at observed stations by 60 percent. They also reduce unnaturally high levels of turnout and, in political party strongholds, instances of ballot stuffing.
…observers induce the strategic relocation of fraud to nearby but unobserved polling places. Displacement is concentrated in the strongholds of Ghana’s two major political parties. Displacement decreases as the share of observed polling places in a constituency increases, and at the highest level of observer intensity is reduced to zero even in party strongholds.
Results from an experiment around the 2012 election in Ghana.
One of the nicer aspects of the paper is they look to see whether observers just move the fraud around or not.
As you know, over the past five years I helped build and polish a research organization in Liberia, what is now Innovations for Poverty Action Liberia (IPAL). My three field projects are drawing to a close.
IPAL’s other projects are either fully staffed or able to offer work to some, or work in the short term only. I’d like to help our 40-50 colleagues find long-term, fulfilling employment or, failing that, plenty of short term opportunities in the future. To that end, I invite you to contact me for the details and contact information for quantitative and qualitative research staff, whether you are running a project now or in a year or two.
Already, the number of school-age Syrian children in Lebanon is scheduled to surpass the entire population of school-age Lebanese children by the end of the year.
A thoughtful and condensed account of the crisis by Eakin and Roth.
There are few bigger questions in politics than why human cooperate (or not), and what society and the state have to do with it.
Whether it’s obeying the law or making public goods, we think of the authorities play as enforcers—giving people incentives and punishments to cooperate. But the fact is: people often cooperate without actual sanctions or even the serious threat of it. People respect the rules and follow authority without always needing to be forced into line.
In his shocking shock experiments, Milgram showed us that humans are built to obey authority. Why, how much, and under what circumstances must be one of the most important unexplored questions in the discipline. Maybe because of Milgram.
Rob takes Milgram to the jungle, literally. In scattered villages in Liberia, where competing authorities keep a fragile peace, he uses lab experiments in the field to look at which authorities–from chiefs to peacekeepers–influence people to cooperate and why. Don’t worry, there are no electric shocks. Just contributions to public goods.
The punchline is that legitimacy and exposure to authorities each shape the degree of obedience. And more exposure to peacekeepers might not have the effect you think.
This kind of work is important not just because we have so little micro evidence on these traditionally macro topics, and not just because we have such a poorly defined idea of “legitimacy” and how to measure or influence it. Also, too much of the evidence we do have is from college students playing games in a campus lab or (worse) professional game players on Mechanical Turk. Doing the same in dozens of isolated, sometimes volatile villages is as important as is is difficult.
See the paper for more. Here’s also some of our preliminary conflict prediction work (more exciting stuff to follow soon) and here’s our experimental work on promoting property rights and reducing violence around land.
Please RSVP now to join Chris Blattman, Paul Niehaus, and your peers in technology and development for the next Technology Salon on cash transfer efficacy, how technology can facilitate them, and if both are the future of development.
There will be a “Tech Salon” in DC on Oct 10 with me and Paul (UCSD prof and GiveDirectly founder). Another will following in NYC in December, I believe. Do sign up. Details here.
We show that the improved roads reduced market prices of local crops. These price effects are stronger in markets that are further from major urban centers and in less productive areas. In addition, these price effects are reversed in areas with better cell phone penetration.
One of the interesting papers at Growth Week from Casaburi, Glennerster and Suri.
My first thought was “Maybe real incomes rose, since few people sell crops, but everyone buys goods from the city, which are now cheaper”. They agreed but are looking mainly at producers.
Consequently, my second thought was “Woo hoo!” because that’s what I was hoping to write about in northern Uganda.
When you’re an academic, complementary papers are so much more comforting than substitutes.
If you’ve been following the cash transfer debate on this blog, you might have seen my blog post on a paper with a pointy-headed title: “Credit constraints, occupational choice, and the process of development: Evidence from cash transfers in Uganda”.
After many, many comments, and a summer spent on revising the paper, there is a substantially new version with a new title: “Generating skilled employment in developing countries: Experimental evidence from Uganda“.
We study a government program in Uganda designed to help the poor and unemployed become self-employed artisans. The program targeted people ages 16 to 35 in Uganda’s conflict-affected north, inviting them to form groups and submit grant proposals to pay for vocational training and business start-up.
Funding was randomly assigned, and treatment groups received unsupervised cash grants of $382 per member on average. The government’s main aims were to increase in-comes and thus also promote social stability.
The treatment group invests some of the grant in skills training but most in tools and materials. After four years half practice a skilled trade. Relative to the control group, the program increases business assets by 57%, hours of work by 17%, and earnings by 38%.
We see no corresponding impact, however, on individual social cohesion, participation, anti-social behavior, or protest attitudes and participation.
Based on individual earnings alone we estimate 30 to 50% annual returns to investment from the program. We also see evidence that the treatment group grow their enterprises and hire labor, extending the employment impacts of the program.
Impact levels are similar for treatment men and women, but are qualitatively different for women — both because women begin poorer (meaning the impact is larger relative to their starting point), and because women’s enterprises and earnings stagnate without the program but take off after a grant.
The patterns we observe — high rates of investment, new business start-up, and returns on investment — are consistent with able but credit-constrained young people.
The changes reflect lessons learned in journal publishing. Stay tuned for comments.
Download freely here.
My barriers to blogging are past. First, the kids are back in daycare after about 10 weeks off (don’t get me started on Manhattan daycares). Second, I have revised and resubmitted my Ugandan cash transfers paper, after receiving 24 single-spaced pages of comments from the editor and referees. (The comments were exceptionally good, but they were also longer than the paper. That’s three months of my life I’ll never get back!)
New papers and a return to blogging are in the future. I’ll be at my favorite conference of the year next week–Growth Week 2013 in London. Will post interesting papers I see.
My standing desk review was one of my most popular posts of 2013. I’ve been a standing evangelist since then.
If I spend 15 minutes sitting down at a laptop, my upper back muscles like to go into spasm. This means I need solutions on the go for travel.
In July I blogged my hotel solution in Liberia. While traveling and vacationing in August, I needed solutions in Ottawa and North Carolina, including one unholy option and one new portable standing desk I have fallen in love with.
we conduct a large scale randomized experimental study by creating accounts on numerous social media sites spread throughout the country, submitting different randomly assigned types of social media texts, and detecting from a network of computers all over the world which types are censored.
…we supplement the current approach of confidential interviews by setting up our own social media site in China, contracting with Chinese firms to install the same censoring technologies as existing sites, and reverse engineering how it all works.
Our results offer unambiguous support for, and clarification of, the emerging view that criticism of the state, its leaders, and their policies are routinely published whereas posts with collective action potential are much more likely to be censored.
We are also able to clarify the internal mechanisms of the Chinese censorship apparatus and show that local social media sites have far more flexibility than was previously understood in how (but not what) they censor.
An experiment in the narrow sense and the grand sense of the term. Bravo.
By Gary King, Jennifer Pan, and Molly Roberts.
The quality of coverage on cash transfers and poverty has been simply outstanding. Here is another, in the NY Times.
This was not my experience studying war in Africa. Even in the same vaunted newspaper.
My previous feeling: most journalists are hacks. My new assessment: otherwise intelligent people are overtaken by hackiness if something rhymes with child soldier.
Or maybe its just the second-tier war correspondents who are sensationalist fibbers.
We are ignorant of options and looking for suggestions, especially from those who have traveled with young kids.
Jeannie and I will take the kids (they will be not quite 1 and 3) to east or southeast Asia for about 2 weeks over Christmas and New Year’s. We’ll be meeting her parents somewhere in the region for at least one of those weeks (they live in Hanoi). We’re thinking of visiting a couple of different countries.
Our style (with kids):
- Quiet and beautiful (No cities more hectic than Manhattan)
- Ridiculously good food (sorry, Philippines!)
- Touristy enough to have basic infrastructure, but not heavily touristed
- Stay in the same place for several days or a week, and use it as a base for nearby trips
- Open to a secluded beach option if there are things to do other than braise to a crisp
- High chance the back seat turns into a vomitorium if we have to drive far
Previous winners, by these criteria: a small village south of Toulouse, lakeside cabin in the North Carolina mountains, an isolated beach near Elmira in Ghana, walks in Yunnan in Western China, and one of the more off-the-beaten path junk boat cruises in Ha Long Bay.
We’d be open to more South China Sea cruises so long as it was a small ship (<10 berths). I’m guessing that chartering private vessels is prohibitively expensive, but would be happy to be proven wrong.
I’m breaking my blog holiday. It’s a special occasion:
Planet Money reporters David Kestenbaum and Jacob Goldstein went to Kenya to see the work of a charity called GiveDirectly in action. Instead of funding schools or wells or livestock, GiveDirectly has decided to just give money directly to the poor people who need it, and let them decide how to spend it. David and Jacob explain whether this method of charity works, and why some people think it’s a terrible idea.
What’s special? Well, in a single day it’s the fulfillment of two of my nerdiest dreams: quotes in both the Times and TAL.
Cash transfers have been my day job for quite some days now. If you’ve been following this blog, you might have seen me describe my study of a wildly successful government program in Uganda, one that sent $8000 to groups of 20 young people to help them start skilled trades. Or an even more successful charitable program in Uganda that gave some of the poorest women on the planet cash to become traders. “Dear governments,” I wrote, “Want to help the poor and transform your economy? Give people cash.”
What’s interesting is that journalists keep turning to me to rain on my own parade. That’s fair, because that’s one of the things I do best. A few days after my plea to governments, I wrote another post, “Why cash transfers are not the next big thing.”
Perhaps that’s why I appear in Goldstein’s article as the skeptical academic. GiveDirectly is very optimistic about giving $1000 to poor people in Kenya. So am I, I say, but the research doesn’t really support it. Yet. Only I didn’t get in the “yet” in that clip. It happens.
Actually, there are couple of good reasons I’m well placed to be the skeptic. Continue reading
A combination of travel, baby care, and vacation will conspire against my blogging the next month or two. Basically, I have more work than usual and less time to do it. Thus a blog holiday is in order. One less thing to worry about.
I will continue to tweet things I like or read from @cblatts, so check in there for ongoing updates (especially 9-11pm, my rare time to read these days). Otherwise, see you all in Sept.