As a committed Democrat, this might have made me change my vote:
I would credit this to a colleague but perhaps he does not want to be named.
As a committed Democrat, this might have made me change my vote:
I would credit this to a colleague but perhaps he does not want to be named.
Guest post by Jeff Mosenkis of Innovations for Poverty Action.
“Surfing helps reduce extreme rural poverty, by encouraging people to nearby towns. When a wave is discovered by the international community, economic growth in the area rises by around 3%.“
Paper PDF (via Lee Crawfurd/Max Roser), winner for best title suggestion goes to Matt Collin for “Point Estimate Break.”
And I’ve long thought church signs were the original tweets:
We’ve yet to read an interview with the person who styled Bill’s silver locks for last night’s DNC appearance, or even see a brief in Women’s Wear Daily or GQ crediting the designers who dressed him for the occasion. Did he buy his suit online, like Melania Trump’s Net-a-Porter-purchased Roksanda last week? Did he go to a store? Work directly with a designer? We just don’t know, which means it’s going to be really difficult for this particular navy suit to sell out, as so many of the dresses worn by Michelle Obama have over the past eight years. Was it Hickey Freeman? Hart Schaffner Marx? Again, we just don’t know.
Here’s what we do know: Clinton’s suit was navy blue, and he wore a tonal cobalt tie in a shade similar to the Christian Siriano dress Michelle Obama wore the night before. (Some noted then that the dress matched the stage’s background. Clinton’s tie did too!) The suit had three buttons, a notch lapel, and full-cut trousers that broke substantially over his shiny black dress shoes.
Guest post by Jeff Mosenkis of Innovations for Poverty Action.
— Donald Trump, PhD (@ScientistTrump) July 22, 2016
The following are some remarks I made at the UK’s Department for International Development in June.
I want to start with a story about Liberia. It was 2008, and the UN Peacebuilding Fund had $15 million to support programs to reduce the risk of a return to war.
They asked NGOs and UN agencies to propose ideas, and set out to fund most the promising. Some were longstanding, locally-developed programs, and some were templates ready to be imported and tested in new ground.
I was in Liberia at the time, as a young post-doctoral student. When asked for my input, I suggested the Fund do one small thing: in their call for proposals, simply say that they would favor any proposal that created knowledge as a public good, including rigorous program evaluations.
The donor whistled a few opening notes, and applicants continued the tune. A huge amount of evidence was generated, with almost every project funded, including at least four randomized trials: a program that taught conflict resolution skills, a legal aid program, an agricultural skills training program for ex-combatants, and a program of cognitive behavior therapy for criminals and drug dealers and street toughs.
These studies laid the groundwork for more evaluation work. Innovations for Poverty Action (IPA) established a permanent office. More international researchers came to the country. Local organizations that could do research began to form. Liberian staff gradually took on more and more senior roles, especially as they get hired and promoted in non-research organizations. The government and NGOs and UN recognized the value of these skills.
Today Liberia, one of the smallest countries in the world, has more hard evidence on conflict prevention than almost any other country on the planet. In per capita terms, it is off the charts.
For all that, Liberia is not a complete success story. We did one thing badly: we thought too much in terms of “what works?” In a couple of cases, we did one important thing well: we put a fundamental idea or assumption to the test. (Though mostly by accident.) And we did not do one of the most important things at all: set up the research to see if this very local insight told us something about the world more broadly.
I want to go through these three failures and successes one by one. Continue reading
Unofficially, the WSJ reports that the next World Bank Chief Economist will be Paul Romer.
Romer made his career on growth theory, but most lately he is known for his push for Charter Cities. Here’s his web page and interesting blog. (I’ve been a skeptic, but I like Paul a lot, and we’ve had an interesting back-and-forth on the idea. See my discussion and critique from 2009, Romer replied, and I commented again.)
Meanwhile, the World Bank has become known in recent years first for it’s push for more micro data on poverty, and now for a gush of randomized control trials.
It sounds like this is something Romer might try to change. Today, Tyler Cowen pointed us to a recent blog post from Romer, that he called “Botox for Development”:
The x-ray shows a mass that is probably cancer, but we don’t have any good randomized clinical trials showing that your surgeon’s recommendation, operating to remove it, actually causes the remission that tends to follow. However, we do have an extremely clever clinical trial showing conclusively that Botox will make you look younger. So my recommendation is that you wait for some better studies before doing anything about the tumor but that I give you some Botox injections.”
If it were me, I’d get a new internist.
To be sure, researchers would always prefer data from randomized treatments if they were available instantly at zero cost. Unfortunately, randomization is not free. It is available at low or moderate cost for some treatments and at a prohibitively high cost for other potentially important treatments. Our goal should be to recommend treatments and policies that maximize the expected return, not to make the safest possible treatment and policy recommendations.
I agree and I don’t.
I agree that governments (and the development agencies that support them) have to focus on growth. And most of the policies that promote growth aren’t friendly to randomized trials. But they can be theory and evidence based, at least to some extent. Macroeconomics has a tendency to be an evidence-free zone, though, so we also need to be careful.
When I teach my political economy of development class, I always end on a few quotes. One is from Karl Popper:
The piecemeal engineer knows, like Socrates, how little he knows. He knows that we can learn only from our mistakes. Accordingly, he will make his way, step by step, carefully comparing the results expected with the results achieved, and always on the look-out for the unavoidable unwanted consequences of reform; and he will avoid undertaking reforms of a complexity and scope which make it impossible for him to disentangle causes and effects, and to know what he is really doing.
Such ‘piecemeal tinkering’ does not agree with the political temperament of many ‘activists’. Their programme, which too has been described as a programme of ‘social engineering’, may be called ‘holistic’ or ‘Utopian engineering’.
Holistic or Utopian social engineering, as opposed to piecemeal social engineering, is never of a ‘private’ but always of a ‘public’ character. It aims at remodelling the ‘whole of society’ in accordance with a definite plan or blueprint…
This is one of the things I appreciate about randomized trials, is the regimented process of piecemeal tinkering. Even when they do not run a rigorous trial, a lot of what governments and the Bank are doing is piecemeal tinkering. And the charitable view would say that randomized trials help sort out the bad from the good results after some period of tinkering.
The good trials aren’t just Botox. One example: The Bank encourages countries to borrow hundreds of millions of dollars a year for various employment and labor market projects. A lot of my research suggests that most of the recommended programs don’t work. That is a big problem, and randomized trials have been part of the solution.
Romer would probably agree. But his blog post highlights some places where we differ.
The thing that worries me about policies that “maximize the expected return”, and that don’t “make the safest possible treatment and policy recommendations” is that development agencies and governments have a long history of getting the big answers wrong. Really wrong.
The number one book I have my students read is James Ferguson’s The Anti-Politics Machine (actually I think most of them read the short article version). I also get them to read Nic van de Walle’s book on structural adjustment. Both highlight the grand and unexpected consequences of grand World Bank plans of the past.
A next favorite is Seeing Like a State by Jim Scott. On a bigger historical scale, it too chronicles our history of big plans with big failures. I want to get some hubris and risk aversion settled into my student’s bones.
That’s not to say I’m opposed to big plans or ideas. Paul Seabright has one of my favorite critiques of Jim Scott, and why scientific and state planning are perfectly effective in some cases. I just think any government, and every non-democratic development agency, ought to behave very cautiously and be very risk averse on behalf of the poor. It must make safe recommendations.
In any case, I welcome some new, big macro thinking at the World Bank. Alongside the piecemeal tinkering and randomized trials, I think it’s time for the Bank to do some innovative and more rigorous macro thinking beyond stabilization policies, improving the investment climate, and so on.
But I’ll leave you with the same quote I end my course on. It comes from Mark Twain: “It ain’t what you don’t know that gets you into trouble. It’s what you think you know that just ain’t so.”
Military coups – successful or otherwise – follow a predictable pattern in Turkey. Political groups – typically Islamists – deemed by soldiers to be antagonistic to Kemal Atatürk’s vision of a secular Turkey gain increasing power. Tensions rise, often accompanied by violence on the streets. Then the military steps in, exercising what the soldiers claim is their constitutional power to restore order and secular principles.
This time, it was very different. Thanks to a series of sham trials targeting secularist officers, President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan had managed to reconfigure the military hierarchy and place his own people at the top. While the country has been rocked by a series of terrorist attacks and faces a souring economy, there was no inkling of unrest in the military or opposition to Erdoğan. On the contrary, Erdoğan’s recent reconciliation with Russia and Israel, together with his apparent desire to pull back from an active role in the Syrian civil war, must have been a relief to Turkey’s top brass.
No less baffling was the almost amateurish behavior of the putschists, who managed to capture the chief of the general staff but apparently made no meaningful attempt to detain Erdoğan or any senior politicians. Major television channels were allowed to continue to operate for hours, and when soldiers showed up in the studios, their incompetence was almost comical.
He predicts the consequences:
politically, the failed coup is a boon for Erdoğan. As he put it while it was still unclear if he was going to emerge on top, “this uprising is a gift from God to us because this will be a reason to cleanse our army.” Now that the coup has failed, he will have the political tailwind to make the constitutional changes he has long sought to strengthen the presidency and concentrate power in his own hands.
Tyler Cowen has been posting many things about coups.
And you can read Naunihal Singh’s tweets, coup expert, for insights. Here is his excellent blog, one of my all-time favorites, that is more cultural in content and has almost no intersection with his professional work.
In preparation for the Chicago move, we are clearing out old and unwanted items. Unwanted furniture and housewares go into the building laundry room, where they are usually adopted within a few hours. But what about those old eyeglasses.
In a paper published in March in the journal Optometry and Vision Science, four researchers compare the full costs of delivering used glasses to the costs of instead delivering ready-made glasses in standard powers (like my drugstore readers, but for myopia as well). The authors find that recycled glasses cost nearly twice as much per usable pair.
Guest post by Jeff Mosenkis of Innovations for Poverty Action.
In our experiment, a third of the houses in a town were covered by lava. People living in these houses where much more likely to move away permanently. For those younger than 25 years old who were induced to move, the “lava shock” dramatically raised lifetime earnings and education. Yet, the benefits of moving were very unequally distributed within the family: Those older than 25 (the parents) were made slightly worse off by the shock.
If anybody wants to collect baseline data for a replication, there may be an opportunity in the Japanese town built inside a volcano.
— Meagan Ayot Kitara (@MeaganGlamDoll) July 15, 2016
— The Messenger (@Corleone250) July 12, 2016
— [Gru] X ⚫ (@iAmGrux) July 12, 2016
Q. What was it like when the administration approached JAMA and was like, “Hey, we want to publish this in your journal?”
A. Well, we paused. It’s the first time certainly since I’ve been here that a sitting president has called — he’s been the only sitting president since I’ve been here, about five years — and said he’d like to write something for JAMA. For us, in some ways, it was similar to how we get queries for all special communications. Occasionally we’ll reach out to people if we have a specific idea, but I probably get a query a week about a group or someone who would like to write a special communication. In that regard, it was quite similar to other queries. The difference is obviously it’s the president of the United States.
…Q. Tell me more about what the editing process was like.
A. This paper was handled much like all other special communications. It underwent peer review with critiques and criticisms and was sent back to the president requesting changes, very specific and very general changes in the document. Our peer review is confidential, so I don’t want to detail what those requests were.
But I can tell you I was quite pleased that the president was enormously responsive to our requests. I am also willing to acknowledge that JAMA has a very clear, strong sense of the type of language we use, but I think we did allow the president a bit more flexibility because of who he is. For example, you’ll notice that he uses a personal pronoun on a number of occasions, “I.” He also has one or two vignettes in it of citizens in the United States whom he interacted with or who contacted him about the Affordable Care Act. Those are unusual for us at JAMA, but we thought, given what he was writing about and who he was, he deserved a bit more flexibility than some of our other authors.
Full article. Thanks to Jeff Mosenkis my IPA guest poster.
What’s JAMA’s new impact factor now that POTUS has published a paper there? As you probably heard, Mr. Obama published a paper in the Journal of the American Medical Association this week, describing the progress to date of the US Health Care Reform and outlining the next steps.
I have so many questions: was the review process (if there was one) double blind? Was he first rejected from NEJM? Was there a revise and resubmit? Was Obama totally nice to that rude referee #2, so that his paper could get published without further hassle? If you’re a handling editor or a referee, we want to hear from you (anonymously or not)…
That is, hilariously, Berk Ozler. Someone should do a Freedom of Information Act request for the referee reports and response. I would read those.
Who do you even pick as a referee? Mitch McConnell?
I can just see the editor’s revise and resubmit letter to the President: “…You should respond to R1 and R2’s concerns, but I will not be returning the manuscript to R3, who responded merely that the Affordable Care Act was a “huuuuuge mistake” and that R3’s unspecified plan would be “so great and way better”.
There is a curious lack of coauthors. This proves it: Obama is gunning for a tenured position at U Chicago or Columbia.
Update: It turns out someone DID interview the JAMA editor about the process!
If you’re interested, here’s the abstract: Continue reading
So it’s been a month since my social media diet started, and I’m extremely happy so far. Quitting Twitter, Facebook and Reddit has gone much better than my running regimen or plans to drink less alcohol.
Someone forwarded me tweets by Dani Rodrik and Tyler Cowen, where one of them gave me four months before I was back tweeting. At the time, that sounded about right. Now I’m not so sure. Without the apps on my phone calling to me, I feel less distracted, and I am indeed reading more. My use of the New York Times app borders on obsessive, as I plumb the depths of the paper for something to read. I really must subscribe to something more. But I am also spending much more time with books, for which I am happy.
Now, at least a couple of friends have noted that I broke my ban on a couple of occasions. You sticklers are as correct as you are unhealthily preoccupied with my online activity. Succumbing to the demands of my extended family, I posted an exceptionally cute video of my kids to Facebook. And I tweeted out a random question that went unanswered (I want someone moving from Ottawa to either NYC or Chicago to bring my grandma’s dining room set to me). So there you have it: my confession is complete.
Unfortunately, I have replaced one distraction for another. Buying a home and moving are some of the most time consuming and excruciating tasks I have ever done. They play terribly (i.e. perfectly) to my neurotic and perfectionist nature. All my powers of micromanagement plus compulsive planning of all possible scenarios, honed by years of running panel surveys of criminals and combatants in rural Africa, have been brought to bear on this meaningless, tedious, and wholly self-serving task. Hence the house will be amazing and the move will be executed with a grace and perfection never before seen. My realtor, mortgage broker, and moving company stand in awe and at the same time slightly loathe me.
All that will be over in a month. I’ll reevaluate my social media ban then, but will probably keep blogging and broadcasting until then.
International development aid is based on the Robin Hood principle: take from the rich and give to the poor.
…A more formal term for the Robin Hood principle is “cosmopolitan prioritarianism,” an ethical rule that says we should think of everyone in the world in the same way, no matter where they live, and then focus help where it helps the most.
…I have thought about and tried to measure global poverty for many years, and this guide has always seemed broadly right. But I currently find myself feeling increasingly unsure about it. Both facts and ethics pose problems.
…Citizenship comes with a set of rights and responsibilities that we do not share with those in other countries. Yet the “cosmopolitan” part of the ethical guideline ignores any special obligations we have toward our fellow citizens.
We can think about these rights and obligations as a kind of mutual insurance contract: We refuse to tolerate certain kinds of inequality for our fellow citizens, and each of us has a responsibility to help – and a right to expect help – in the face of collective threats. These responsibilities do not invalidate or override our responsibilities to those who are suffering elsewhere in the world, but they do mean that if we judge only by material need, we risk leaving out important considerations.
When citizens believe that the elite care more about those across the ocean than those across the train tracks, insurance has broken down, we divide into factions, and those who are left behind become angry and disillusioned with a politics that no longer serves them. We may not agree with the remedies that they seek, but we ignore their real grievances at their peril and ours.
That is recent Nobel Laureate Angus Deaton presumably reflecting on Trump, Brexit, far right parties, or possibly the Princeton economics faculty lunches.
I have a slightly different take: paying attention to inequality at home is good politics but not necessarily good ethics.
I’m not a nationalist, and I don’t agree that my moral obligation to the least fortunate is greater if that person happens to live just inside rather than outside my country’s border. To me, just because humanity has failed to make a global social contract doesn’t give the local contract more moral weight.
Now, to the extent my actions affect local people more than faraway ones, or my winning is tied to their losing, then I can see how my obligations to people at home rise. That might be a reasonable argument to make. But I also wouldn’t be surprised if my day-to-day actions as a voter, writer, or consumer affect the lives of someone in Afghanistan or China more than someone in Tennessee.
Nonetheless, we have the politics and the social contracts we have. The consequences of not sharing the gains and losses from globalization more equally are pretty apparent. Looking back, it has been very hard for the losers from globalization to adjust.
It may have made better political sense to take a more gradualist approach to free trade (though not as gradulaist as our approach to free movement of labor). Or perhaps the support systems we have are ill equipped to help people make this adjustment. On this topic, this discussion between Harvard’s David Autor and GMU’s Russ Roberts was pretty fascinating.
This study uses discontinuities in U.S. strategies employed during the Vietnam War to estimate their causal impacts. It identifies the effects of bombing by exploiting rounding thresholds in an algorithm used to target air strikes. Bombing increased the military and political activities of the communist insurgency, weakened local governance, and reduced non-communist civic engagement. The study also exploits a spatial discontinuity across neighboring military regions, which pursued different counterinsurgency strategies. A strategy emphasizing overwhelming firepower plausibly increased insurgent attacks and worsened attitudes towards the U.S. and South Vietnamese government, relative to a hearts and minds oriented approach.
A new paper by Melissa Dell & Pablo Querubin.
The IDJD uses a pre-defined list of “jargon” words. It extracts text from most common file formats and counts how many times the uploaded text contains words from the list. Word stems are used for counting so, for example, “sustain”, “sustaining” and “sustainability” are considered the same.
That’s right, upload and score your documents according to the International Development Jargon Detector.
I can’t think of a more sustainable tool to utilize and mainstream by all stakeholders.
Seriously, when people use “mainstream” as a verb, I simply stop listening to them. Please never do that.
If someone out there has a lot of free time (millennials, I’m looking at you) and wants to graph different aid organizations against one another on the jargon-meter, I will happily blog that.
If you like the IDJD, you will also love the Drunk World Bank twitter feed.
Vera te Velde discusses a new paper by David Card and Stefano Dellavigna on what gets published in top journals:
The conclusions David drew are that 1) referees are indeed good at assessing quality, 2) the process contains affirmative action for junior/less prolific authors, and 3) editors are not overconfident. Thus, the myth of unfairness is dispelled.
The assumption this story rests on is glaring and glaringly fragile: ex post citations is the relevant measure of paper quality when people assess whether papers are fairly treated.
From the perspective of editors, I completely understand why you would focus on citations. That’s how your journal gains prominence. But as a scientist, what I want and what I believe is the gold standard for fairness is that papers are published and cited in proportion to their quality. Treating citation rates as quality assumes away half of the problem.
Are citation numbers just the best measure of quality that we’re stuck with? Well I’m sure that was the reason for using it, and I’m sure citations are correlated with quality, but as they show, referee ratings are also correlated with citation numbers. Since the citation process is self-evidently biased in favor of prolific authors** (I’m sure you can prove this to yourself through introspection just as easily as I did), and since referees are several of a very small number of people who thoroughly study any given paper, it seems utterly bizarre that the former, and not the latter, would be treated as the primary proxy measure of quality (if the goal of the paper is in fact to assess fairness rather than to assess journal performance.)
If we consider referee ratings the better measure of quality, the conclusions exactly reverse and exactly confirm some of the common suspicions of the editorial process: 1) Citations are a good measure of quality but substantially biased in favor of prolific authors and multi-author papers, 2) editors are biased in favor of prolific authors, but not as much as citations are, and they are not biased in favor of multi-author papers, and 3) editors could reduce their bias by putting less weight on their personal priors.
The full piece and comments are fascinating.
I did not expect a Supreme Court justices would be so frank or critical of the court. From a New York Times interview with Ruth Bader Ginsburg:
Asked if there were cases she would like to see the court overturn before she leaves it, she named one.
“It won’t happen,” she said. “It would be an impossible dream. But I’d love to see Citizens United overruled.”
She mulled whether the court could revisit its 2013 decision in Shelby County v. Holder, which effectively struck down a key part of the Voting Rights Act. She said she did not see how that could be done.
The court’s 2008 decision in District of Columbia v. Heller, establishing an individual right to own guns, may be another matter, she said.
“I thought Heller was “a very bad decision,” she said, adding that a chance to reconsider it could arise whenever the court considers a challenge to a gun control law.
Should Judge Garland or another Democratic appointee join the court, Justice Ginsburg will find herself in a new position, and the thought seemed to please her.
“It means that I’ll be among five more often than among four,” she said.
It’s election season, which means I obsessively and pointlessly check PredictWise more than once a day. It aggregates all the election betting markets (sort of like the Kayak of prediction markets). I actually have a shortcut on my iPhone home screen for the web page. Seriously. It’s a disease.
I also enjoy the periodic blog posts by the creator, David Rothschild. For example:
The state-by-state breakdown of the presidential election in 2016 varies a lot from the 2012 election; in 2012 Republican Mitt Romney needed to sweep Florida (FL), Ohio (OH), and Virginia (VA) to win the election, in 2016 Republican Donald Trump needs to win 3 of 4 from FL, OH, VA, and Pennsylvania (PA). The chart tracks the probability of victory on PredictWise since we started state-by-state predictions on February 27, 2016.
1) The assumption here is that if Trump wins FL, OH, and PA he will win enough other states to win or if Clinton wins PA and VA she will win enough other states to win. The candidates still need to win those states, but they are very, very likely to be swept along on the wave should the candidate win the bigger states.
2) Putting North Carolina (50%), Arizona (27%), Missouri (21%), and Georgia (12%) in-play is really costly to the Trump campaign. It needs to play defensive in states it could traditionally spend less time and money. But, it does not alter the reality that Trump still needs to win 3 of the 4 big states.
Up through today the winner of the general election and the winner of each state has used some of the same data, but they are not formally tied together; this has worked fine, but it is starting to get a little concerning. The probability that Clinton wins the general election should not really fall below the probability that she wins PA, the current “swing” state. Clinton is up 43.5% to 39.1% in the Pollster average (solid lead for the candidate in a state that has gone to her party every year since 1992), she is trading at $0.69 on PredictIt, fundamental prediction is down just above 50%. All of this combines in my model to 78%. So, what should you make of Clinton 75% to win the election and 78% to win PA?
1) Not a huge discrepancy, so not a big deal.
2) The national markets may be undervalued for Clinton and the state-by-state data may indicate a slightly higher valuation. I do not suspect 2012 style manipulation. I suspect that the $850 cap per person/contract on PredictIt is giving its very anti-establishment trader-base too much say versus the “good money”. It is something I will be following very closely in the next few weeks.