IPA’s Peace and Recovery initiative, led on the academic side by Chris, has an open call for funding. We define peace and recovery pretty broadly:
Reducing violence and promoting peace
Reducing “fragility” (i.e. fostering state capability and institutions of decision-making)
Preventing, coping with, and recovering from crises (focusing on conflict, but also including non-conflict humanitarian crises),
It also funds a variety of types of work, including pilots and exploratory work, specifically earmarked for junior researchers (PhD student through untenured professors). See page 1 of this doc explaining the purpose of the fund. More details here, examples of currently funded studies here. Deadline for expressions of interest is March 15th.
And if you’re in Chicago, on Monday see Dr. Rebecca Wolfe from Mercy Corps talk at UChicago about one funded project, from Nigeria, on whether playing communities audio recordings of former Boko Haram members apologizing for what they’ve done, can help with reintegration.
The World Bank’s Pandemic Emergency Financing Facility (PEF) has paid out its second payment, $20 million, for Ebola response in the DRC. As I understand this is a relatively recent funding mechanism (from 2017), developed after the slow response to the 2014 Ebola outbreak. Instead of waiting for a disease to spread, then gathering funders together to cobble together funding commitments, this is funded more like insurance. The money is funded in advance by a bond, and then pays out immediately when particular criteria are met.
A nice podcast conversation between Diane Rehm and journalist Francisco Toro explaining the situation, history, and politics of the crisis in Venezuela.
Jonathan Morduch explains positive early results from Grameen America’s RCT on a microcredit program in New Jersey (summary: the 6-month results look promising on satisfaction, some financial indicators, and business creation but it’s early). Full report link here or in his last tweet.
Happy International Women’s Day:
Here’s Justin’s one tweet summary of Eble and Hu’s research on gender attitudes and bias in Chinese schools:
I just learned about Lise Meitner, the Jewish refugee who overcame many barriers to women in academia, barely escaped Germany in WWII, and went on to co-discover nuclear fission. Her colleague published the paper without her name, and was awarded the Nobel Prize alone. Read about her fascinating life from Brain Pickings.
A lovely tribute to Dave Evans, who’s been a boon to the field, and a prolific producer of public goods, from David McKenzie and his Development Impact Blog colleagues
I ran a quick search, and I’ve cited him about 50 times in my links
It’s fitting that Dave’s final Dev Impact post is in one of his specialities, making research more understandable to non-researchers, in this case for education. While researchers often report learning outcome changes in standard deviations, he describes his new paper with Fei Yuan on how to express outcomes in increased years of schooling – a much more intuitive measure.
Whatever you think of the replication crisis/credibility revolution, the rubber meets the road on good scientific practices when it comes to medical trials. A number of top medical journals have signed onto the CONSORT guidelines for publications, requiring hypotheses to be prespecified. But what good are they if nobody goes back and compares the publication to the registration? Well, when a team compared the actually published studies in a number of top medical journals to the pre-registered hypotheses, they found 25% of the studies had switched outcomes – reporting different ones than they’d originally identified (outcome switching might mean reporting quality of life instead of overall survival, for example, even if survival had been the original goal). Almost half dropped secondary outcomes, and others added new outcomes. When the research team wrote to the journals (like JAMA, BMJ, and NEJM) fewer than half their letters were published, suggesting that top journals aren’t adhering to their own guidelines, but also that there’s no mechanism for checking and enforcing the guidelines.
The University of California, Berkeley is ending their contract with Elsevier journals after negotiations (co-chaired by chief librarian, informational science professor, and MIT-trained economist Jeff MacKie-Mason), failed to find an agreement on pricing for journals and also making publications open-access.
Their tips for finding alternative ways to access paywalled articles are helpful for all non-academics looking for paywalled articles
In econ you can often find a version on the author’s personal website, or by googling the title for a working paper version. If you can’t, try emailing an author to request a copy.
A new group of prominent economists has formed the network Economists for Inclusive Prosperity, publishing a set of concrete, research-based policy suggestions for addressing problems of wealthy economies, such as financial system stability, taxation, labor markets in the age of AI and automation, and the like. You can read a summary in the Boston Review from Suresh Naidu, Dani Rodrik, and Gabriel Zucman.
I enjoyed the conversation between Tyler Cowen and Daniel Kahneman (Apple). It might be the accent, but I feel like you get a sense of the wisdom of a lifetime of studying human intuition and life satisfaction when you hear him reflect. Two things that struck me were how often he passed on questions – it seemed like if he wasn’t an expert on a topic, he didn’t feel like his opinion was worth more than anybody else’s – and how often he discouraged Cowen from labeling parts of human nature as biases.
The Indicator, from NPR’s Planet Money, interviewed economist Nina Banks about Sadie Alexander, the first African-American economist, who held both a Ph.D. and JD from Penn (Apple). For more, see Cardiff’s longer interview with Banks when he was at the Financial Times Alphachat (Apple). And Banks has two books coming out on Alexander – a biography and edited volume of her speeches.
The Sadie Collective, which encourages Black women to enter economics and related fields recently held their first conference (and I believe was crowded to capacity). You can watch the video here.
And they’ve started their their new course with Josh Angrist on basics of econometrics. It’s difficult to make an intro video about econometrics, but I have a lot of respect for the production quality and effort they’ve put into it. Here’s one on Ceteris Paribus and counterfactuals (if it moves too slowly you can always speed up youtube videos in the settings):
Berk Ozler counts the numbers of men vs. women asking questions during a seminar speaker’s talk, and guess how the ratio came out (it’s worth also checking out the discussion below, including a code of conduct being considered at one department).
In a follow-up to his informational intervention, he found a few days later the ratio changed for Seema Jayachandran’s talk there
Watch Seema’s talk on gender preferences in India here. (And note the all-star list of previous talks. Tip: you want to take them to go, podcast-style, there are any number of YouTube -> mp3/mp4 converters that will let you download to listen to offline)
Also, a really great conference video from Penn on Child Poverty and Brain Development in Global Context. A nice combination of economist, education folks, and child brain development researchers discussing what’s known about how poverty interacts with cognitive development.
How his growing up in India helps inform his research topics, but that also collaborations with researchers from other countries bring fresh eyes to things he always took for granted.
The relative effect sizes of behavioral interventions compared to others, and why standard reporting can make it hard to compare across interventions.
On the latter, I’d also encourage researchers to collect cost data (here are a primer and templates to use from J-PAL). That lets people who come later compare cost effectiveness of different programs on standard, understandable scales. When you take the extra step of reporting in terms that are more understandable, your research can have a much bigger impact (this from that Penn conference)
One note, the route wasn’t preachy, in fact a version that emphasized legal punishment for men failed. The way which it seemed to work was peripherally, by changing the perception of public norms about reporting and talking about domestic violence (more in this tweetstorm).
A favor if you’re in an org that uses monitoring and evaluation data – some friends at LSE are conducting a survey of how this data is produced and used. If you could take or pass it along to colleagues we’d appreciate it.
Marginal Revolution University announced a new series profiling inspiring women in economics. At the bottom of the page you can sign up on the website for when the videos profiling their work are released (seems like a great teaching tool). There’s also a form to suggest an economist to profile who has inspired you.
This was a beautiful and also sad story about designing a school in Oklahoma specifically for homeless kids. And a reminder to talk to the actual users of your program/product. They started by asking homeless kids what they wanted:
One of the requests was just to have space where they could hang out with friends. “We have kids who don’t get to go to playdates. They don’t do birthday parties,” says Agel. At public schools, homeless children are typically left out of the social calendar of sleepovers or visiting friends’ houses, in part because they have nowhere to host friends themselves.
Rachel Strohm’s Africa Update newsletter has tons of great news stories, research findings, and fellowship opportunities (subscribe at the very bottom).
In the context of the discussion around the new World Bank head, Paul Romer has an op-ed in the Financial Times (ungated version here) where he suggests two improvements to the World Bank’s process: Insulating their agenda-setting from politics and diplomacy, and building future thinking into infrastructure – building capacity for where the population will be five years from now, not just at the moment.
GiveWell is expanding its interests beyond the narrowly measurable RCTed interventions of the absolute best deals, and is also expanding into government advocacy.
When a working professional tells me, “I’m thinking of getting a Ph.D.,” they usually mean, “I’m thinking it would be nice to have a Ph.D.” A Ph.D. is sort of like the perfect gym body. The having is nice, but the getting can be painful—and once you’re there, you never stop.
A fun and helpful discussion from Goats and Soda with researchers about how cultures around the world linguistically label and think about different sub-types of anger (in India for example, political anger vs. anger against a loved one), and how to use that as a technique for dealing with your own anger. (I propose a new word for “online outrage”)
First, congratulations to Dave Evans, everybody’s favorite public good generator, on his upcoming move to the Center for Global Development, where he’ll join an impressive bench, including Pam Jakiela, Susannah Hares, and Kristaps Porzingis. (And subscribe to his blog at that link for great book reviews, and other interesting stuff.)
Jan 30th was Fred Korematsu Day, named for the Japanese-American who fought WWII internment camps up to the Supreme Court and lost. One of my favorite podcasts, More Perfect (Radiolab about famous Supreme Court cases), did an amazing profile of Korematsu (the man and the case), and explained why some legal scholars still think the case was decided correctly.
There’s been a lot of news on the proposal for a minimum income guarantee in India. According to this article (h/t Justin Sandefur) Piketty and Deaton are advising the government on it. But in a recent BBC Worldview interview, Tavneet Suri says she thinks the technical capability is largely in place, but they might want to slow down and study the actual economic effects (audio below, and links continue below that):
A cautionary tale (h/t my IPA colleague in Burkina Faso, Aliou Baguissa Diallo) about measuring spillovers in cash transfers. In the Philippines, Filmer, Friedman, Kandpal, and Onishi found that a cash transfer targeted to the poor helped them, but raised the price of nutritious food in the area. The children of the people who got the transfers ate better themselves, but the general rates of growth stunting for everybody else, went up 11 percentage points! Mothers and children who didn’t get the cash also used less healthcare. As Berk has pointed out before, if you help a few people but potentially hurt far more, you’re doing the opposite of what you intended.
The latest online scam targets academics, with an email purporting to be from a department chair who’s stuck in a meeting, but needs them to go out and buy a lot of gift cards, right away. Yale School of Management economists Florian Ederer and Jason Abaluck decided to see how committed the scammer was. Turns out, pretty committed:
Rohini Pande, Vestal McIntyre and Lucy Page write in the New York Times about a paradox in aid. As big diverse countries like India and Nigeria move from low-income to middle-income, they’ll still have the greatest overall number of poor people. But development aid is scaled back as countries get richer, leaving the greatest number of poor people with the least aid. It’s sort of reminiscent of social safety net programs that cut off as soon as people earn a little part-time income, making them worse off overall.
And to compliment last week’s Mongolian heavy metal band, here’s the Indonesian teen girls’ heavy metal band Voice of Baceport (Google them and you’ll find a lot of articles). Notice the guitar’s sound cuts out two minutes into the show and they carry on really well till it gets fixed.
Oxfam releases a report around the same time as Davos every year on who owns what portion of global wealth. Their spin on it is designed to make headlines, but Dylan Matthews explains why it’s really hard to measure.
About sixty percent of people in sub-Saharan Africa live in rural areas and many of them are dependent on farming, but the low amount of food those farmers get out of the ground compared to other regions of the world has been a particular puzzle. A all-star team in VoxDev summarizes what we know about improving agricultural output through experiments with ag extension workers trying to help farmers be more productive.
But not so fast, economists – Gollin & Udry have a new paper using panel data from Uganda and Tanzania suggesting that even measuring how much farmers are producing (or can) is harder than we think:
We find that measurement error and [unobserved] heterogeneity [in inputs] together account for a large fraction – as much as ninety percent — of the dispersion in measured productivity. In contrast to some previous estimates, we suggest that the potential for efficiency gains through reallocation of land across farms and farmers may be relatively modest.
An all-star team of behavioral scientists, led by Katy Milkman and Angela Duckworth, are running a nationwide experiment on sticking to exercise regimens. Members of the 24-Hour Fitness chain can join here by Jan 31.
I’m usually a bit tempered in excitement about “nudge” style research – often the behavior change is statistically significant but small or short-lived (in my experience). The exception seems changing the default option – that can be huge, and a new meta-analysis quantifies the effects over 58 studies and find they can be substantial, but not all defaults are equal:
Our analysis reveals two factors that partially account for the variability in defaults’ effectiveness. First, we find that defaults in consumer domains are more effective and in environmental domains are less effective. Second, we find that defaults are more effective when they operate through endorsement (defaults that are seen as conveying what the choice architect thinks the decision-maker should do) or endowment (defaults that are seen as reflecting the status quo).
The RISE Programme conference on improving global education is accepting submissions, deadline March 15th.
My IPA colleagues have a series of blog posts about our experience moving evidence into policy. The first lays out the org’s strategic ambition for what we plan on doing differently over the next several years. The second is on how to get non-research-oriented partners (like governments and NGOs) involved in the research process from the start to make sure they have ownership and the questions address their needs. The third is about what to do after you have the findings, to make sure they get used and don’t just languish in a report on a website.
Brilliant coverage of Brexit from a Financial Times Southern Africa correspondent writing about it the way foreign correspondents cover African politics.
University of Virginia economist and public policy prof Sally Hudson is running for the State House of Representatives there, challenging the incumbent Democrat in the primary. This is not an endorsement (I don’t know enough about the candidates), but it did remind me of something I saw Dartmouth economist & public policy prof, journalist, speechwriter, and former political candidate Charlie Wheelan say. Talking to a bunch of policy students, he said it’s unfortunate that the people who are really good at policy usually don’t have the stomach for politics and the personalities who are successful in politics usually aren’t the types who want to get into the weeds on policy.
I haven’t listened to all the episodes of the IRC & Vox podcast Displaced yet (I discovered on my phone I have 836 podcast episodes I’ve individually chosen and downloaded but not yet listened to), but I have yet to hear a bad episode of that show. One of the many interesting parts of the interview with Reshma Saujani, founder of Girls Who Code, about innovation and failure, comes about 43 minutes in, where she talks about how she tries to surround herself with reminders of failing to make it a normal part of daily life and nothing to fear. One way she does this is keeping the rejection letter from her attempt to get on her local community board on her refrigerator. She has a book coming out in a few weeks on the topic.
ICYMI there was a fascinating and troubling discussion on Twitter this week following the Nairobi attacks, where the New York Times apparently showed (I didn’t look) graphic photos of dead bodies, even though they wouldn’t have done it for a U.S.-based school shooting or terror attack for example (even the death of U.S. soldiers is usually communicated through returning caskets with flags rather than bodies on the battlefield.) I’ll refer you to Jeffrey Paller’s great as always This Week in Africa newsletter for links to the specific arguments and defenses from the Times but it’s probably Ken Opalo’s words that stuck with me the most:
The Innovation Growth Lab conference on entrepreneurship and business growth is looking for submissions of RCT/field experiments (deadline Feb 11th).
The African Institute for Development Policy is offering a policy communication fellowship for Ph.D. students in their 3rd to 5th years from a list of 20ish countries studying some specific topics related to gender and health.
And if you have’t seen it, this AeroMexico commercial came out last year apparently, but it’s just making the rounds now*:
* don’t take the science of genetic ancestry too seriously (h/t Tim Ogden).
Hope everybody’s off to a great new year, and good luck to all the job candidates interviewing at ASSA. Also, remember from the last links that Ben Casselman, who’s been co-reporting on sexual harassment in economics for the New York Times, is there and happy to meet confidentially with anybody who wants to tell him about their experience. If you’re not on twitter, feel free to email me and I’ll put you in touch with him (confidentially of course).
At the Data Colada blog Uri Simonsohn realizes that publishing articles with links online (such as to news articles) is problematic as links die or change over time. He reviewed links in his articles since 2005 and found over half didn’t work anymore, and recommends a simple fix: Instead of the direct URL, link to the Internet Archive version of it.
Preanalysis plans (PAPs), where you specify your analysis before you see the data, can be a bit controversial. Some say a PAP ties your hands and prevents you from exploring things you might only find out about later. Psychologist and open science advocate Sanjay Srivastava offers six strategies which you can use instead of or alongside a PAP to allow for more flexible analysis without letting you fool yourself.
Daniel Kahneman explains why he’s become less interested in understanding happiness and more in how to live a satisfying life (if the article’s intermittently gated, try in your browser’s incognito mode). You can take Yale’s popular course on happiness, life satisfaction, and well-being from Professor Laurie Santos online for free and decide for yourself. A couple interesting observations from Kahneman, about British economist Richard Layard who started paying attention to the research and bringing improving overall happiness and well-being into policy there:
“The involvement of economists like Layard and Deaton made this issue more respectable,” Kahneman added with a smile. “Psychologists aren’t listened to so much. But when economists get involved, everything becomes more serious, and research on happiness gradually caught the attention of policy-making organizations.
“Much of Layard’s activity on behalf of happiness in England related to bolstering the mental health system. In general, if you want to reduce suffering, mental health is a good place to start – because the extent of illness is enormous and the intensity of the distress doesn’t allow for any talk of happiness.”
Given how common we’re discovering this is, it’s likely Fryer’s not the only one in economics. You can report bad behavior to the reporters, Ben Casselman and Jim Tankersly, who guarantee anonymity and will be at ASSA (I can confidentially put you in touch with Ben if you’re not on Twitter).
If you’re having career issues because of harassment, many senior faculty will help, including Jennifer Doleac, who’s offered to assist people in this situation navigate what to do next and connect them with people who can help.
You can also report to the NSF if you know of any sexual harassment by a PI on one of their grants.
Palm oil may be the worlds most hated product for destroying rainforests, and it’s in everything. But if economics is about anything, it’s about tradeoffs. In Ryan Edwards’ job market paper he looks at Indonesia, where he estimates the rapid expansion of palm oil exports since 2000 led to 2.7 percentage point faster poverty reduction and 4% faster consumption growth, at the cost of more rapid forest loss and more fire. A back of the envelope calculation finds 2.6 of 10 million Indonesians lifted from poverty this century were because of palm oil
Tim Ogden hosted an all-star cast for a discussion on microcredit, and how to think about how it interacts with the rest of developing economies. You can see the recording here.
Job: I believe IPA will be interviewing at ASSA for the new Ph.D.-level lead position using our org’s scale (over 200 RCTs happening now around the world), to develop new methods. It’ll be based in New York or DC but will involve working closely with Andrew Dillon at Northwestern and our network of PIs. Please pass it along if you know anybody who might be interested.
If you get this Friday AM, last I heard there were a few slots left for the webinar this afternoon on the latest thinking on microcredit/microloans (depending on what field you’re coming from). It’s at 1PM (US Eastern Time) from Tim Ogden at NYU’s Financial Access Initiative, featuring Gisella Kagy, Cynthia Kinnan, Karthik Muralidharan and Bruce Wydick.
Two great job market papers:
Amazing work by Anne Karing of Berkeley working with my IPA colleagues in Sierra Leone. Vaccinations have to be done in a sequence over a child’s first year, and it’s hard enough for people in rich countries to remember and keep up with it, let alone somewhere with scarce resources and lots of travel required. It required a massive amount of work upgrading the way health records are kept locally on top of the experimental work, but she tested the effects of handing out simple, color coded silicone bracelets to some mothers that publicly showed where their children were in their vaccination schedules. If I’m reading it right, the bracelets advertised to other mothers in the community that these mothers were keeping on schedule, and that influenced them to do the same. The simple bracelets increased vaccination rates by up to 14 percentage points which is a huge bump from a simple social signal.
A really cool paper from Meera Mahadevan at Michigan, who looked at elections in a large state in India, and then what the constituents of winners were then billed for electricity to nighttime satellite images of what they were actually using. Magically, the constituents of the winners of elections were later billed less for electricity than what the satellites showed they were actually using.
The latest Freakonomics episode features work by Gharad Bryan, James Choi, and Dean Karlan (with the voices of the latter two), on testing the effects of the religious part of a religious aid program for very poor people in the Philippines. It turned out the program worked better with the religious component than without, boosting earnings. The larger episode is about the Protestant work ethic and if its effects are real and measurable. (Apple)
A nice thread from John Holbein on teaching analysis of policies in his class. Every class group analyzing a change in a public policy found zero effect, and he reminds us that journals full of positive results condition us to expect something different than reality. He says we need more of a culture around precise nulls. (He also includes his class syllabus)
Is microcredit for the poor good, bad, or neither? Maybe good for some, but bad for others – if so how can we predict whom it’ll help and whom it’ll hurt to target it better? Tim Ogden’s going to be hosting a webinar next Friday Dec. 7th, with Lauren Falcao Bergquist, Cynthia Kinnan, Karthik Muralidharan and Bruce Wydick to hash it out. Make sure to register ahead of time at the link above.
And what someone called “the coolest job in the world” a Ph.D.-level (or equivalent) position to use the whole network of IPA studies and research offices around the world to develop new and better methods in econ.
Scott Cunningham, of the causal inference mixtape and who studies sex work, and I had a discussion about why people take strong moral stances and how economists can engage them better.
While economists are pretty good at calculating costs and benefits, that’s not how many people reason, especially on moral areas (sex work, markets for organs). I cite some psych research there on how often people don’t even have access to their own moral reasoning systems, which often leads people to talk past each other. Here’s Stanford’s Robb Willer TED talk (I know, it’s still good though) on how to reason from someone’s else’s moral perspective.
This JEP article: “Market Reasoning as Moral Reasoning: Why Economists Should Re-engage with Political Philosophy” makes a similar point about why economists’ arguments might miss the mark and fail to engage with how most people reason.
[Side note: Scott has a 2-day workshop for data scientists, law, policy, and other data professionals on causal inference methods]
I’ve said for a while that it’s under-covered, but the fight over the census methodology (which amounts to who gets counted), has to be one of the under-covered stories of the year, because of the many, many policy decisions that are based on census data . Emily Bazelon explains it in the New York Times Magazine.
For more current updates, and good explainers NPR’s Hansi Lo Wong is covering the court battle daily.
Also if you’re killing time, read the abstracts from Jennifer Doleac’s thread of job market papers from women job candidates. I’m just going to drop you into the long thread here, at this dramatic paper from Jagori Saha showing how social protection programs in times of drought can save girls’ lives in India.
IPA’s Peace and Recovery program has a postdoc opportunity for working with Chris Blattman and a great team building evidence on reducing violence (broadly defined), deadline for applying Nov 26th!
Some examples of the work Chris is doing himself in this video (though the post-doc can do much more):
In a really great example of how more charities should work, Evidence Action and GiveWell announced together they were stopping fundraising on No Lean Season, the effort that had been a GiveWell top charity. The latest round of data from their gradual scaling-up failed to find the previous effects, and they’re going back to understand what changed.
David McKenzie’s great (as always) links has a nice short summary on new thinking from big names in Universal Basic Income making the argument that the effort to target cash to the neediest and the precision required aren’t worth it, and it should be universal.
Seven current and former graduate students at Dartmouth’s prestigious psychology and neuroscience department have filed a class action suit against the College. They allege three prominent professors promoted widespread drinking, sexual harassment of students, and rape. According to the suit, the College knew of allegations against one of the professors in 2002, and subsequently promoted him. Here’s a statement from one of the students and a more detailed description and link to the filing.
Since then I’ve seen colleagues of theirs online reflect that they’d heard rumors or seen suspicious things there that should have been tip-offs, wondering if they should have said something at the time. If you ever find yourself wondering anything similar, the answer is, if at all possible, yes.
Amid talk of recounts and undervoting, it’s helpful to remember unintended policy consequence #6,053; that the 2002 Congressional Act (reacting to the Bush-Gore recount) promoting electronic voting probably resulted in more voting mistakes because of hastily designed electronic interfaces (starting on p. 15 here)
Unintended effects of policy #8,932: When states legalized medical marijuana, condom purchases went down, frequency of sex went up, and the birthrate went up.
A reminder for the academic interview fly-out season that I’ve seen a few people mention: don’t assume grad students can afford to put travel on their credit cards and wait to be reimbursed; offer to book the travel for them (managers, same for employees).
In an interview with Paul Romer on government’s role in innovation, he also advocates for economists staying out of political debates (he thinks Brexit was partially a reaction to people not liking economists telling them what to do). He thinks economists should stick with calculating pros and cons of different options, and leaving the debates to politicians (I didn’t know his father was governor of Colorado). Stay for the bit at the end about Berkeley faculty.
Chris Barrett & John Hoddinott review the state of development economics as seen through submissions to the NEUDC conference (being held at Cornell starting tomorrow): Overall they were struck by the high quality of the papers, most papers were empirical, rather than theoretical, though wth fewer with RCTs than they expected. There were few macroeconomics topics, with little on trade. And in geographic areas of interest, Latin America, the Caribbean, North Africa, the Middle East, and Oceania were underrepresented with most of the research being done in sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia.
Some encouragement when life has you down: Johns Hopkins molecular biologist Carol Greider describes with good humor, how in 2009, a grant committee met and deemed her application not worthy of discussion, even though she had won the Nobel Prize two hours earlier.
A new report (if you can ignore the overblown headline) looks at the massive Millennium Villages project, promoted by economist Jeffrey Sachs. It spent a *lot* in Ghana (a budget of $27 Million from a variety of sources, including local government and communities) on economic makeovers of selected locales, but did not have an overall effect on poverty, hunger, or many of the other outcomes it set out to improve. Full report here.
When Ryan Briggs asked him about why they didn’t have solid design for measuring outcomes in 2014, well, you can read it for yourself.
The image above comes from Lyman Stone, showing that Africa does not have particularly high fertility when you take income into account. Or as he explains, fertility isn’t the problem, poverty is the problem.
A new Vox section, Future Perfect, focuses on solutions to social problems, and also has a podcast (of course).
You’ve probably seen excitement in recent years over the idea of just giving poor cash, but it’s important to remember cash alone helps in some ways but isn’t a panacea. This article looks at work by my IPA colleagues and others starting to compare cash alone to a 6-pronged approach called the “Graduation Model” for the world’s poorest, living on less than $1.90 a day.
Baird, McKenzie, and Ozler write in VoxDev about why the classic econ 101 trade-off between leisure and labor (as people get more money they should work less) doesn’t seem to apply when it comes to cash transfers to the poor.
And, a nice op-ed (with some help from a journalist) from the eight-year-old Swedish girl who found the 1,500-year-old sword in the lake some time ago, as her father was rushing her so he could watch the World Cup finals:
I was yelling, “I found a sword, I found a sword!” Daddy went to show it to our neighbours, whose family has lived in the village for more than 100 years, and they said it looked like a Viking sword. Daddy didn’t get to watch the football in the end.
A slight, shy, balding, 49-year-old when the 1980 Nobel was announced, Cronin was relieved when the university sent Larry Arbeiter to his home at 7 a.m. to help him handle the deluge of requests for press interviews. Arbeiter, a writer in the university’s press office, suggested that Cronin satisfy all the interview requests at once by holding a 10 a.m. news conference. ”Oh,” Cronin insisted, ”I can’t do it then. I’ve got a 10 o’clock class this morning.” With a good reporter’s instinct, Arbeiter asked what course Cronin was teaching, thinking of news photos of the newly minted Nobelist lecturing to his awed and adoring students. ”No, no,” Cronin told Arbeiter, ”I’m not teaching a course, I’m taking Chandrasekhar’s graduate course on the theory of relativity.”
A few days after the Nobel, Romer spoke to NYU graduate students, according to Emma van Inwegen, he spent about half the time talking to them about his research:
Every year the World Bank releases its World Development Report, taking stock of one aspect of development, diving into what we know, and looking to what might be ahead. This year’s is out and the theme is The Changing Nature of Work. If wealthy countries have already transitioned to digital economies, what does that mean for countries with large populations of farmers and unemployed, and that are still working on building industrial sectors?
The National Academies has just put out their comprehensive review and update on the science of learning: How People Learn II: Learners, Contexts, and Cultures. (The II refers to an update of the first in 1999). Note that it’s free to read online or download a PDF.
The popular photo & personal storytelling project Humans of New York (Facebook, & Instagram) has been in Nigeria and Ghana profiling people’s stories. One that jumped out at me was Ghanaian Kwabena Opoku-Agyemang. He got a Ph.D. in West Virginia, but afterwards faced with the decision to stay in the U.S. where job prospects were better or return to Ghana, he decided to go back so that his child wouldn’t have to grow up experiencing the racism he saw here (though he jumped in to add that he enjoyed living in both places).
A reminder for profs that first generation college students might not realize they can ask for help in extenuating circumstances, like extensions on work. It’s helpful to explicitly say it.
And on the grad level Shelly Lundberg explains that grad students from minority backgrounds or untraditional paths might not realize the unspoken things about grad school that one needs to know (like how to choose an advisor), and what do to about it. She makes some helpful recommendations about how faculty and fellow students can make sure everybody’s successful.
My vague impression is that the health community has done a better job responding to more recent outbreaks of Ebola, but now it’s appeared in a conflict zone in the DRC, and traditional public health approaches of contact tracing and using the new vaccine to immunize contacts of the infected, are much more difficult to accomplish in those circumstances.
Previews of AER: Insights are up, including lots of names you’ll recognize, including Karlan, Mullainathan, and Roth who look at debt traps in India and the Philippines. Part of being poor is being stuck in cycles of debt, but if their high-interest debts are paid off for them, does eliminating that drag help them stay debt-free? Unfortunately, most were back in debt in six weeks, and one to two years later, those who’d had their debt paid off were borrowing at the same rates as those in a comparison group who hadn’t had any intervention.
The new President of the San Francisco Fed, Mary Daly, whose research focuses on labor and inequality is now on twitter. She’ll also have a great-sounding podcast, “Zip Code Economies” looking at the micro-economies, and particularly local stories about disadvantaged people trying to do better in life.
This weekend I’m planning on reading this crazy-looking story about the Ocean’s 11 team that tricked the government of Angola into sending $500 Million to an accountant’s front office in London and how they were caught (h/t Ken Opalo)
A very nice interview with new physics Nobel laureate Donna Strickland. And don’t forget, Monday’s Columbus Day in the U.S., but also when the econ Nobel is being given out, so if you have any economist friends you’ve been meaning to catch up with, feel free to call them at 4:30AM, don’t worry, their ringers will be on.
I’ve been really enjoying the Vox and IRC collaboration podcast Displaced (Apple). Some highlights for me were Rachel Glennerster (who had an amazing response to the Guardian op-ed on RCTs), Alix Zwane, Owen Barder, and Stefan Dercon. I think I pinpointed one reason it feels so informative – the hosts have clearly read up on the topic, and the way they ask questions gives you all the background you need to get right into a really interesting discussion.
Practical advice for women (and everybody) on packing, wardrobe, and general interviewing tips
Attribution, last week I mentioned the @Econ_RA twitter account, which gathers and shares RA postings. That account comes from PhD candidate Sarah Bana, who’s on the job market now. John Holbein tweets about her job market paper, where she looks at vulnerability to losing one’s job and what happens next – which workers go on to new jobs and which stay unemployed? (Read the tweet to find out)
The Liberian government has approved an extension of the partnership school initiative (privately operated public schools), that was RCTed, but educators are in a waiting game to see who will fund it.
A new paper in the Journal of Finance finds an amazing coincidence: in 2009-2010 while the House Financial Services Committee was considering banking reform, banks delayed home foreclosures in their districts, by on average 6 months, even though there were no differences in delinquencies in those districts. The authors calculate the cost to the banks of these delays was much greater than banks’ campaign contributions to the committee members.
It’s been 10 years since the book Nudge. Behavioral Scientist has interviews with Richard Thaler and Cass Sunstein. Thaler mentions the dark side of nudge principles:
I worry a lot about what I have called “sludge,” which is nudging for evil or just making things harder. When I sign books “nudge for good,” it is meant as a plea, not an expectation. Bernie Madoff was an expert at nudging, as were all great con men. In my nightmares there are behavioral science units whose assignment is to figure out new ways to fleece customers, employees, and competitors.
Just a guiding principle of behavioral econ is if you want people to do something, make it easy (nudge), the flip side is that if you don’t want people to do something, you can make it hard (sludge). CVS for example, makes it very easy to opt-in to receiving text messages (hit next on the checkout screen), but very hard to opt-out (you have to print out a receipt with a phone number to call and opt-out) .
Labor Economist Mary Daly (above) is the incoming President and CEO of the San Francisco Federal Reserve Bank. She has a pretty unconventional background (if I remember, she dropped out of high school). You can hear her explain the whole story and how she got interested in economics on the St. Louis Fed Women in Economics podcast. (Apple).
Brookings has a fellowship for researchers or NGO leaders from developing countries (particularly Francophone West Africa, Southeast Asia, and Pacific Islands), interested in girls’ education. If you come with data they’ll offer additional training in how to analyze it. Deadline OCTOBER 1, and please share with interested colleagues.
JOB: The University of Chicago Booth Center for Decision Research (home to Richard Thaler and many top researchers) is looking for a communications person. If you can talk to people about research, you’re already ahead of most social scientists.
And for the aspiring RAs the @econ_RA twitter account will share RA job postings, courtesy of UCSB grad student (and job market candidate!) Sarah Bana.
You can also see IPA, J-PAL, and a few other orgs’ RA and other job postings at our shared jobs portal.
The AEA discussion boards for sharing job postings, advice, and asking and answering general professional advice are open!
Via Lee Crawfurd, UNICEF and UNESCO’s statistics offices seem to be fighting over who gets to announce statistics on numbers of children out of school. According to the post at least, with UNESCO set to release updated formal figures, UNICEF leapfrogged them and released their own figures based on an updated calculation from last year’s data.
You may remember the kerfuffle (w/response) about 3ie’s review of the evidence on community-driven development (allowing communities to decide how aid money is spent) concluding that it didn’t empower marginalized groups. Rachel Glennerster explains her new paper, with Katherine Casey, Ted Miguel, and Maarten Voors, from Sierra Leone, which finds something similar. Although the aid money part is helpful, the communal decision process doesn’t seem to change power structures.
When a prominent Yale medical school professor who held an endowed chairmanship was found guilty of sexual harassment, the family his chair had been named for requested it be removed from him. So Yale gave him to a new one. (UPDATE: after an uproar, a lot of bad PR, and a letter signed by 1,000 students, faculty, and alumni, an hour ago the Dean apologized and removed that one as well).
It’s been a big week for cash, with two studies out on cash transfers based on data from my IPA colleagues:
Craig McIntosh and Andy Zeitlin worked with IPA, USAID, Catholic Relief Services, and GiveDirectly in Rwanda to compare a standard WASH (water/sanitation/hygiene) and nutrition program to cash. You can read the summary, brief, or full paper from IPA, or very good article from Dylan Matthews at Vox, or blog post (with link to longer brief) from Sarah Rose and Amanda Glassman at CGD.
The upshot is that they RCTed both the program and two levels of cash, one calibrated to be of similar cost to the nutrition program (with about $117 going to the participants), and another much larger cash transfer (about $532 – for comparison the average yearly income is about $700 in Rwanda). Neither the nutrition program nor the small cash transfer had many effects, but the large cash transfer did help on several outcomes. Some might read this as “cash wins,” but an equally valid take would be that bigger investments work better than smaller ones: The smaller cash amount, equivalent to the WASH program, didn’t have many effects on health outcomes either.
Cyrus Samii points to a this paragraph as a real key in thinking about the contribution of the cash comparison idea:
This points to an inherently different way of thinking about cash-transfer programs as a ‘benchmark’. While transfer programs maximize scope for choice and therefore provide an important window on beneficiary priorities, a comparison to other more targeted programs will inevitably require policymakers to explicitly make tradeoffs across outcome dimensions, across beneficiary populations, and between large benefits for concentrated subgroups or small benefits that are diffuse over a broader target population. By contrast with the index fund analogy, part of the value of cash transfer programs as a benchmark is that they may require donors to be explicit about their preferences, and to justify interventions that constrain beneficiary choices.
The other study , with Chris Blattman, Nathan Fiala, and Sebastian Martinez, looked at a ~$400 per person grant (ostensibly to get a career off the ground) in Uganda. This isn’t the first look at the program, in fact it’s the third check-in, nine years after the money was handed out.
First, I can’t stress enough how hard the field staff in Uganda (including the folks above) worked to do the detective work tracking down the people nine years after the program and convince them to sit for several-hour interviews about their lives, families, and livelihoods.
Findings-wise, the cash recipients had been doing better economically than a comparison group, both two and four years after the first transfer. But by year nine, that control group who didn’t get anything had caught up and were doing pretty much just as well. This might want to help us reconsider how we think about programs that offer a theoretical boost “out of poverty” and whether it really changes how things would have been otherwise. (Not that four plus years of increased earnings from a one-time grant isn’t a good outcome for a program.)
Nice thoughts from Berk on the implications, and another good article again from Dylan Matthews. There Berk makes a good point that I think often gets lost in general “cash” discussions. Cash isn’t one intervention, it’s a category of interventions that can do many different things, and there are an infinite number of variations (who in the household gets it, how much, all at once or spread out over time, conditional on them doing something or free, if over time do they know how long it’s guaranteed for?), which we should expect to do different things. As Berk also points out at the end of the Vox piece:
“We’re not arguing ‘cash good versus cash not good.’ Cash is good!” he said. “But the only way to give it isn’t, ‘I’ll drop 1,000 bucks on you and go away.’”