IPA’s weekly links

Guest post by Jeff Mosenkis at Innovations for Poverty Action.

Chris has generously offered to let us at IPA (where he’s a Research Affiliate) share the internal links of interest on development and research we send around weekly here, we presume so Chris can devote more time to making us feel bad about how little outside reading the rest of us do. (Direct your disagreement tweets to @poverty_action, not Chris)

  • There’s a new China-led development bank, the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB). The U.S. has asked European countries not to join, but Britain, Germany, France and Italy (and potentially Australia) are:

The United States has argued that the bank at best duplicates, and at worst undermines, the role of the Washington-based World Bank and the Asian Development Bank, which has its headquarters in the Philippines, a close American ally at odds with Beijing over the South China Sea.

  • The US House Foreign Affairs Committee held a hearing this week on effectiveness of US Foreign Aid. Here’s my screenshot of what the hearing room looked like:

Embedded image permalink (Archived video of the hearing is here)

“The toughest moment was 12:01 Sunday night, moments after the challenge began,” Carey wrote. “It felt like hours had passed, but I looked down and realized I was less than halfway through a single song. That’s when I realized the gravity of my decision. I hit rock bottom within a minute of the challenge beginning.”

We thought about it, but there are some things the human subjects committee won’t let us do.

Shakespeare in Tehran

Stephen Greenblatt, Shakespearean scholar, tells the tale of his invited lecture at the University of Tehran:

Jonson’s praise of Shakespeare’s imaginative and verbal powers—his fancy, his notions, and his expressions—is familiar enough and, of course, perfectly just. But I proposed to focus for a moment on terms that seem at first more like a personality assessment: “honest, and of an open and free nature.” That assessment, I suggested, was also and inescapably a political one. Here is how I continued:

Late-sixteenth- and early-seventeenth- century England was a closed and decidedly unfree society, one in which it was extremely dangerous to be honest in the expression of one’s innermost thoughts. Government spies carefully watched public spaces, such as taverns and inns, and took note of what they heard. Views that ran counter to the official line of the Tudor and Stuart state or that violated the orthodoxy of the Christian church authorities were frequently denounced and could lead to terrible consequences. An agent of the police recorded the playwright Christopher Marlowe’s scandalously anti-Christian opinions and filed a report, for the queen of England was also head of the church. Marlowe was eventually murdered by members of the Elizabethan security service, though they disguised the murder as a tavern brawl. Along the way, Marlowe’s roommate, the playwright Thomas Kyd, was questioned under torture so severe that he died shortly after.

To be honest, open, and free in such a world was a rare achievement. We could say it would have been possible, even easy, for someone whose views of state and church happened to correspond perfectly to the official views, and it has certainly been persuasively argued that Shakespeare’s plays often reflect what has been called the Elizabethan world-picture. They depict a hierarchical society in which noble blood counts for a great deal, the many-headed multitude is easily swayed in irrational directions, and respect for order and degree seems paramount.

…How could Shakespeare get away with it? The answer must in part be that Elizabethan and Jacobean society, though oppressive, was not as monolithic in its surveillance or as efficient in its punitive responses as the surviving evidence sometimes makes us think. Shakespeare’s world probably had more diversity of views, more room to breathe, than the official documents imply.

There is, I think, another reason as well, which leads us back to why after four hundred years and across vast social, cultural, and religious differences Shakespeare’s works continue to reach us. He seems to have folded his most subversive perceptions about his particular time and place into a much larger vision of what his characters repeatedly and urgently term their life stories. We are assigned the task of keeping these stories alive, and in doing so we might a find a way, even in difficult circumstances, to be free, honest, and open in talking about our own lives.

Hat tip to Kaushik Basu.

Half of Ferguson’s African American men are missing

An important but unreported indicator of Ferguson’s dilemma is that half of young African American men are missing from the community.  According to the U.S. Census Bureau, while there are 1,182 African American women between the ages of 25 and 34 living in Ferguson, there are only 577 African American men in this age group.  In other words there are more than two young black women for each young black man in Ferguson.  The problem of missing black men extends to other age groups.  More than 40% of black men in both the 20 to 24 and 35 to 54 age groups in Ferguson are missing.

It is worth noting that there are approximately equal numbers of African American boys and girls, under the age of 20, in Ferguson (2,332 boys and 2,341 girls).  What has happened to young African American men in Ferguson?  There are several possibilities.  First, the Census counts only the civilian population, and excludes individuals serving in the Armed Forces.  Second, tragically, some of these young men have already died.  Third, Census figures do not include individuals who are incarcerated at the time of the survey.  Finally, the Census Bureau may undercount homeless men, men who are marginally attached to the community, and men who are primarily engaged in criminal behavior.

That is Stephen Broners, with the hat tip to (meaning stolen wholesale from) Tyler Cowen.

Knausgaard does America, part II

The Norwegian/Swedish writer finishes his mini-saga in the New York Times Magazine.

A nice excerpt starts with language difficulties in Michigan, which remind him of his early years in Sweden:

In those early years, every time I met people from Norway, I felt relief. They only had to say a few sentences, and at once I could place them geographically and socially and address them accordingly. When I was still living in Norway, I wasn’t even aware that this kind of knowledge existed, it was entirely intuitive and obvious, just part of what being Norwegian entailed, and my easy access to this whole subconscious mountain of implicit knowledge and shared references was probably what it meant to have a national identity.

Once, I mentioned this to a Swedish woman. She looked indignantly at me. “But those are just prejudices!” she said. “You’re judging people before you’ve even spoken to them! It’s much better not to know all those things, so that you can make up your own opinion about them. We’re individuals, not representatives of a culture!”

That is the most Swedish thing anyone has ever said to me.

What is culture, if not a set of prejudices? A set of unformulated and unconscious rules and ways of behavior that every member of a given society nonetheless immediately recognizes and accepts?

Nowhere in the world has shared culture been a more imperative requirement than in America. More than 300 million people live here, and they had descended over the course of a very few generations from a huge number of disparate cultures, with different histories, ways of behavior, worldviews and experiential backgrounds. All of them, sooner or later, had been required to relinquish their old culture and enter the new one. That must be why the most striking thing about the United States was its sameness, that every place had the same hotels, the same restaurants, the same stores. And that must be why every American movie was made after the same template and why, in this sense, every movie expressed the same thing. And that must be why all these TVs were hanging on the walls, unwatched; they created an immediate sense of belonging, a feeling of home.

Not The Onion (reincarnation edition)

The Chinese government is outraged after the Dalai Lama suggested he might not reincarnate.

“Decision-making power over the reincarnation of the Dalai Lama, and over the end or survival of this lineage, resides in the central government of China,” said Mr. Zhu, formerly a deputy head of the United Front Department of the Communist Party, which oversees dealings with religious and other nonparty groups.

Is there value in an MA in economics?

From Tyler Cowen, it will help you climb the government or NGO bureaucracy, sends good signals to the job market, and you will actually learn something of value.

I agree that MAs in economics are under-provided relative to the UK and Canada. But I think there are some good reasons for this. I have a few points to add:

  • Any answer should consider the opportunity cost: what you could do with $100k (or more) and two years of your life.
  • “Trip around the world” could be a lifetime happiness-maximizing answer. Consider it and other non-school alternatives carefully: Peace Corps, working for a foreign corporation or government abroad, and other experiences that will enrich you and set you apart.
  • But if education and a career in the public service is on your mind, then my sense is that (in the US) a good policy school MA program can be better than one in economics for a few reasons:
    • My sense is that the core faculty in policy schools have more incentives to teach and advise MPAs than at a top research university, where they typically prioritize PhDs and undergrads before MAs.
    • You can still have core training in economics. But you will have to force yourself to take hard courses.
    • My sense is you will develop a better professional network in a policy school.

Other past advice of relevance;


The love-hate relationship between political scientists and House of Cards

I’m working through a number of different theories about why “House of Cards” is so profoundly wrong about American politics while still being a rather entertaining and addictive show. Maybe it’s actually a comedy. Maybe it’s being written by an evil political scientist who knows full well how the American political system works but is aggressively (and most effectively) trolling other political scientists.

Seth Masket in the Monkey Cage.

I completely agree: fantastically unrealistic politics, incredibly entertaining.

My rule of thumb: any political show, spy novel, or detective story with a devious and complicated plan that comes to fruition was written by someone who has never, ever tried to implement a devious complicated plan.

This reminds me of an earlier post on the best television on Washington DC.

Who does Errol Morris despise?

He said the person that most challenged his capacity for empathy was Donald Rumsfeld.

He’s confident right now! He doesn’t have to wait 100 or 500 years. He doesn’t care. I really care whether I’m right or wrong. I really do care. And probably for lots of reasons. I don’t want to be seen as a dumbass, I don’t want to be seen as someone who believes in something that’s absolutely false, untrue, something that can’t be substantiated, checked. I believe that there’s some deep virtue in pursuing truth. Maybe it’s the highest virtue. I believe that. Whether you can attain it or not, you can pursue it. It can be a goal. It can be a destination. I don’t believe that’s Donald Rumsfeld’s goal. I believe that Robert S. McNamara really wanted to understand what he had done and why he had done it. You know, we remain a mystery to ourselves, among the many, many, many other mysteries there are. And McNamara’s struggle with his own past — I was deeply moved by it. I think he’s a war criminal, I think he sees himself as a war criminal, but I like him.

Full interview. Hat tip to Kottke.

Ferguson as organized crime and the failed state

Alex Tabarrok dissects the incredible Department of Justice Report on Ferguson. Truly astonishing things: $321 in fines and fees and 3 warrants per household, a parking ticket leading to multiple arrests and jailings. Much of it pursuit of revenue.

The abuse in Ferguson shouldn’t really surprise us–this is how most governments behave most of the time. Democracy constrains what governments do but it’s a thin constraint easily capable of being pierced when stressed.

The worst abuses of government happen when an invading gang conquer people of a different race, religion and culture. What happened in Ferguson was similar only the rulers stayed the same and the population of the ruled changed. In 1990 Ferguson was 74% white and 25% black. Just 20 years later the percentages had nearly inverted, 29% white and 67% black. The population of rulers, however, changed more slowly so white rulers found themselves overlording a population that was foreign to them. As a result, democracy broke down and government as usual, banditry and abuse, broke out.

I’m reminded of Charles Tilly on Warmaking and Statemaking as Organized Crime.

Incidentally, when we look across countries over time, one of the most reliable predictors of state failure and conflict are ethnically-factionalized quasi-democracies.

And I thought I hated meetings before

There are two types of schedule, which I’ll call the manager’s schedule and the maker’s schedule. The manager’s schedule is for bosses. It’s embodied in the traditional appointment book, with each day cut into one hour intervals. You can block off several hours for a single task if you need to, but by default you change what you’re doing every hour.

When you use time that way, it’s merely a practical problem to meet with someone. Find an open slot in your schedule, book them, and you’re done.

Most powerful people are on the manager’s schedule. It’s the schedule of command. But there’s another way of using time that’s common among people who make things, like programmers and writers. They generally prefer to use time in units of half a day at least. You can’t write or program well in units of an hour. That’s barely enough time to get started.

When you’re operating on the maker’s schedule, meetings are a disaster. A single meeting can blow a whole afternoon, by breaking it into two pieces each too small to do anything hard in. Plus you have to remember to go to the meeting. That’s no problem for someone on the manager’s schedule. There’s always something coming on the next hour; the only question is what. But when someone on the maker’s schedule has a meeting, they have to think about it.

For someone on the maker’s schedule, having a meeting is like throwing an exception. It doesn’t merely cause you to switch from one task to another; it changes the mode in which you work.

That is Paul Graham, and there is more.

Hat tip to Michael Kleinman

“These were people who believed their own PowerPoint presentations.”

I asked Todd Moss for a (more or less) politically authentic thriller, and he recommended David Igantius’ Body of Lies.

The thought of returning to CIA headquarters was depressing. It wasn’t the flat, linoleum feel of the place, or the instantly dated, 1960s “modernist” look of the architecture. It was the civil-service culture that permeated the corridors like dry rot. Ferris had heard the elite, band-of-brothers rhetoric when he joined. The agency had to be less smugly bureaucratic than Time, Inc., he reckoned, but he had been wrong.

It was worse. It was a culture that had been lying to itself for so long that people had lost the ability to differentiate between what was real and what wasn’t. Failure wasn’t acceptable—so, as far as the agency was concerned, the CIA never made mistakes. These were people who believed their own PowerPoint presentations.

Don’t worry, there is also a secret crack CIA team under a parking lot at Langley. Count that on the “less” side of authentic, I think. Nonetheless, I am satisfied.

Talk in NYC March 5: Evidence 4 Peace

3ie has been analyzing the universe of rigorous impact evaluations on peacebuilding and conflict, to identify gaps. They’ll present results Thursday in NYC, and invitation/RSVP information is below. Open to all. I will be a discussant.

To spark interest, here’s some preliminary figures from a presentation last month at the World Bank.

First, the number of impact evaluations and the variety of outcomes they look at, by country. (I am only partly responsible for Liberia.)


If you took the ratio of evaluations to population, little Liberia (4 million) would look even crazier. So yes there are gaps.

Here, impact evaluations by intervention type: Untitled

The details:

The Evidence for Peacebuilding Initiative: Supply and demand for evidence on peacebuilding interventions

Annette Brown, Ph.D., Head of the Washington Office of the International Initiative for Impact Evaluation (3ie)

Chris Blattman, Ph.D., Associate Professor of Political Science and International Affairs, Columbia University

Sheree Bennett, Research, Evaluation, and Learning Advisor, International Rescue Committee

Thursday, March 5
12:00 pm – 2:00 pm

The International Rescue Committee’s Headquarters
122 E 42nd Street
New York, NY 10168

Conference Rooms 11B/C

To attend the meeting in person, please RSVP to Rick Bartoldus by March 3

To attend the meeting remotely from a computer or mobile device:
1. Go here
2. If requested, enter your name and email address.
3. Click “Join”.
To view in other time zones or languages, please go here.

Links I liked

  1. How to be efficient and, as usual, all the other links fro David McKenzie
  2. Median wealth in the USA? $134k if white, $11k if black.
  3. Facebook makes you envious and sad
  4. Children’s books have 50% more rare words written in them than words in the average adult prime-time television show
  5. Knausgaard goes to Newfoundland. Then America:

“So your idea is to drive across America and write about it without talking to a single American?”
“Yes,” I said.
“That’ll be a challenge,” he said.
“I know,” I said.

White people are ex-pats and black people are immigrants?

According to Wikidpedia, “An expatriate (often shortened to expat) is a person temporarily or permanently residing in a country other than that of the person’s upbringing. The word comes from the Latin terms ex (“out of”) and patria (“country, fatherland”).”

Defined that way, you should expect any person going to work outside of his or her country for a period of time would be an expat regardless of his skin color, country, etc.

That is not the case in reality: expat is a term reserved exclusively for western White people going to work abroad.

Africans are immigrants.
Arabs are immigrants.
Asians are immigrants.
However Europeans are expats because they can’t be at the same level as other ethnicities. They are superior. Immigrants is a term set aside for inferior races.

That is Mawuna Koutonin writing in Silicon Africa. h/t Tom Murphy.

If you think this is a fringe view, even the WSJ has made the point.

Here’s my only rebuttal: if you asked me, “Is an employee of the Indian embassy to the US, or a Ghanaian on a 2-year posting to the UN in New York, an ex-pat or an immigrant?” I would probably say ex-pat.

Why? That person has no intention of staying more than a short period. I would say the same of a Chinese McKinsey consultant in DC for a couple of years. And the Sierra Leonean UNICEF manager in Uganda, or the Nigerian police trainer in Liberia, would probably call themselves ex-pats as well.

I wouldn’t say the same of a Jamaican fruit picker. So is ‘ex-pat’ a term of privilege rather than race? I went back to the Wikipedia article, and indeed if you read a sentence or two further that’s exactly the point it makes. So classism not racism?

Too many white permanent immigrants call themselves ex-pats, though, and so Koutonin (selective quoting notwithstanding) has a good point.

Unjust justice

Do wronged and outraged people displace their revenge against innocent third parties?

Yes, but it depends on how similar the third parties are to the person who committed the injustice. Three experiments:

The first involved hypothetical scenarios; the second had subjects recall a time they had felt wronged and then speculate about how they would feel if they had a chance get revenge on various third parties.

In the third experiment, real-life victims could choose to exact revenge on innocent, real third parties. Students were manipulated into believing that their partners in a puzzle-solving test had decided not to share a prize of raffle tickets for a restaurant gift card. Before taking the test, the students had watched a video in which their partner—later their nemesis—either conversed with or ignored two other students who were dressed similarly or dissimilarly to the malfeasant partner. The wronged students could choose to do nothing or pursue vengeance by forcing these other students to view unpleasant images.

Across all experiments, avengers reported higher feelings of justice-related satisfaction against more closely tied people.

The Scientific American article and the actual study.

The experiments are somewhat small N so caution. But I can believe the result.

I am very intrigued by outrage and injustice as a motive for taking action, including violence. I think it is understudied, but perhaps it is not and readers can suggest some social science I should read. Suggestions?

The cult of community development

In the conventional story, development is a field dominated by “modernizers,” whose hubristic efforts result in catastrophic consequences for those they were designed to benefit: think everything from hydraulic dams that displace thousands of residents to agricultural rationing that leads to famine.

But community development—“development without modernization,” in the words of one of its advocates—was just as central as modernization to mid-century development strategies. The automatic moral outrage inherent in what Immerwahr calls the “Modernization Comes to Town” story has overshadowed the problems of grassroots, decentralized approaches, which have received less critical scrutiny and an implicitly favorable assessment from scholars.

Unfortunately, far from eliminating deprivation and attacking the social status quo, bottom-up community development projects often reinforced them. And today, Immerwahr argues, “the new wave of communitarianism has been carried out in near-total ignorance of the global community development campaign that preceded it by only a few decades.” This is a history with real stakes. If that prior campaign’s record is as checkered as Thinking Small argues, then its intellectual descendants must do some serious rethinking.

That is Merlin Chowkwanyun reviewing historian Daniel Immerwahr’s new book, Thinking Small: The United States and the Lure of Community Development. Sounds like a familiar question answered in an unfamiliar way, which is refreshing.

Also, an interview with Immerwahr and his web page at Northwestern.

Some miscellaneous thoughts, noting that I have not read the book:

  1. The thrust of the argument, I believe, is that grassroots development projects have generally been less coherent, less successful, and more likely to get hijacked by local elites than the enthusiasts would believe. And because this is a book about history (the US, India and Philippines) it’s obligated to say that this has all happened before, and no one is learning from past failure.
  2. I hear echoes of the insurgent critique of localized development with the World Bank.
  3. A lot of the community development promoted by big players, from Mohammed Yunus to the World Bank, feels more like astroturf than grassroots development. I think there’s a difference.
  4. You could read this as anti-Jim Scott and anti-Bill Easterly, but I get the sense they are saying the same thing: large-scale localized development schemes (astroturf) are just another utopian solution to complex problems, and in the end it’s hard to escape the pattern of development as the subjugation of the poor by the powerful and the state.
  5. I also don’t read a lot into project failures. Absent some fairly rapid industrial change in the center of the country, and a huge increase in labor demand over a generation, I find it hard to believe that community development projects can accomplish a lot. Steering isn’t very helpful if you’re not moving.

I am persuaded enough to buy the book, and I look forward to assigning it (or the article) and outraging my Master’s students—partly because of the argument, and especially if I ask them to read a whole book.