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.

I am Marianne Bertrand?

Or so I am told by WhichFamousEconomistAreYouMostSimilarTo.com, which scores you using the same questions asked to the minds interviewed by the IGM Economic Experts Panel.

A caveat: I’m guessing that Marianne did not select “neutral” half the time because she had no freaking clue. So maybe I am not Marianne quite exactly.

That, or all along I and this blog have been a front for Marianne’s secret desire to study political economy of development.

Hat tip to the IPA communication team.

What I’ve been reading. And reading. And reading. And reading.

More often than not I suggest novels and nonfiction. But the average book I read has pictures and comes with a 2- and 4-year old on my lap.

What follows are the children’s books that I enjoy the first and second time, and are slightly less maddening than average the 641st time.

  1. Wild About Books. The library truck goes to the zoo. It is amazing how many children’s books in verse get the meter wrong. It drives me completely nuts. This book is pitch perfect and fun to read.
  2. The Circus Ship. A menagerie stranded off the coast of Maine.
  3. Micawber, by John Lithgow. Better known for his theater and TV performances, Lithgow writes excellent books in verse, including this central park squirrel who learns to paint.
  4. A Sick Day for Amos McGee. A zookeeper gets sick. Strangely endearing.
  5. Mister Seahorse. A tale of different daddy fish who take care of babies. Ideal for yuppie parents who refuse to buy Barbies or toy guns. For now, the naive souls.
  6. Rosie Revere, Engineer. More non-gender-stereotypical fare. It is a great book. Even so, have I mentioned that we send out children to a daycare where they always sing “Baa baa white sheep” after singing “Baa baa black sheep”? My life is a caricature.
  7. Mr. Tiger Goes Wild. A tiger in a prudish Victorian town decides to get all wild and naked. Our Grandpa thought this one was a little too risqué. I dig it.
  8. A Visitor for Bear. A bear who prefers to be alone is tormented by an obnoxious mouse until he finally relents and socializes. I don’t think it was intended as a parable about professors and PhD students, but…

Recommendations welcomed. Seriously. Because I am losing my mind. Thank goodness I think we are starting to move onto chapter books. Things suitable for a 4-5 year old will be especially appreciated.

What are the best television shows about Washington DC?

Note: Each show has been rated on four criteria — each on a scale of 1 to 10. The first is accuracy (do they get the acronyms, the job titles and responsibilities, the procedures right?). The next is authenticity (facts aside, do they capture the feel of Washington, the U.S. government, or the agency or function they depict?) The third is entertainment value (not only do they make time spent with the show gripping or moving or fun, but do they do it consistently?) And the fourth is quality (do the actors, writers, producers, and directors do a good job relative to the best of what is out there in this golden age of the medium?) Thus, the highest possible score is 40.

That is Foreign Policy’s David Rothkopf describing how he graded shows about the “Hollywood for ugly people”.

No his answer is not West Wing. Or House of Cards.

You should read it for no other reason than the fact that Rothkopf is such a skillful writer he makes you care and laugh about shows you will never watch, and all the while give you an unexpected insight into politics as it bumbles in reality.

Hat tip to Todd Moss.

Snowden on activism

Reddit has an Ask Me Anything with Edward Snowden, Laura Poitras, and Glenn Greenwald. Interesting throughout. Snowden easily has the most interesting answers.

For example, on how to make domestic spying more of a political issue:

I suspect that governments today are more concerned with the loss of their ability to control and regulate the behavior of their citizens than they are with their citizens’ discontent.

How do we make that work for us? We can devise means, through the application and sophistication of science, to remind governments that if they will not be responsible stewards of our rights, we the people will implement systems that provide for a means of not just enforcing our rights, but removing from governments the ability to interfere with those rights.

You can see the beginnings of this dynamic today in the statements of government officials complaining about the adoption of encryption by major technology providers. The idea here isn’t to fling ourselves into anarchy and do away with government, but to remind the government that there must always be a balance of power between the governing and the governed, and that as the progress of science increasingly empowers communities and individuals, there will be more and more areas of our lives where — if government insists on behaving poorly and with a callous disregard for the citizen — we can find ways to reduce or remove their powers on a new — and permanent — basis.

Order without law? How the hidden Internet learned about politics the hard way

Henry Farrell has a truly fantastic article about the hidden internet and anonymous communication (via Tor, for instance) and how libertarian and anarchist dreams collide with politics:

Tor’s anonymity helps criminals by making it harder for the state to identify and detain them. Yet this has an ironic side-effect: it also makes it harder for them to trust each other, because they typically can’t be sure who their interlocutors are. To make money in hidden markets, you need people to trust you, so that they will buy from you and sell to you. Having accomplished this first manoeuvre, the truly successful entrepreneurs go one step further. They become middlemen of trust, guaranteeing relations between others and taking a cut from the proceeds.

To this end, entrepreneurs have found it necessary to create and maintain communities, making rules, enforcing them, punishing rule-breakers, and turning towards violence when all else fails. They have, in effect, built petty versions of the very governments they are fleeing. As the US sociologist Charles Tilly argued, the modern state began as a protection racket, offering its subjects protection against outsiders and each other. The same logic is playing out today on the hidden internet, as would-be petty barons and pirate kings fight to tax and police their subjects while defending themselves against hostile incursions.

The rise and fall of Texan Ross Ulbricht, founder of the drug trading site Silk Road, is a highlight:

Initially, Ulbricht saw himself as bringing ‘order and civility’ to a black market where others, like him, were committed to libertarian ideals. Yet order in actual markets depends on threats of violence – whether the penalties embedded in the laws of the state, or the bloody interventions of mob bosses. In the absence of such arrangements, predators move in. The Silk Road’s business model worked only if genuinely ruthless people didn’t notice its critical vulnerabilities. As soon as it began to attract attention – and earn enormous amounts of money – its course was set.

I am assigning this article for my new Order & Violence seminar this fall.

Real World Development Indicators, version 2.0

Last week’s post spurred a bunch of great suggestions from commenters. The RWDI contenders, in no particular order:

  1. Number of tall buildings not occupied by the government or United Nations
  2. Probability that the President/Prime Minister seeks medical treatment in own country
  3. Proportion of political leaders younger than the average life expectancy
  4. Proportion of resort vacationers from that or neighboring countries
  5. Percent of young people that prefer to start a business rather than work for an NGO
  6. Percent of undergraduate students taking a real major, rather than development studies
  7. Number of wrecked airplanes near the runway of the main airport
  8. Proportion of NGO websites not written in English or French
  9. Number of people who take pictures of you
  10. Percent of people too busy to answer your survey
  11. Number of government officials who give foreign experts the “who the hell are you?” look

Institutions, shminstitutions.

Additions welcome.

Replication data (and the perils thereof)

IPA and J-PAL have a new data replication archive. Most or all of my published papers make available full, original survey datasets in addition to the paper replication data, and I’m starting to archive all the data in the new IPA/JPAL dataverse. Here is one. Highly recommended.

I do wonder a little about perverse incentives for people replicating the paper, however. Here is a reply from Stefan Dercon and coauthors to a 3ie-sponsored replication exercise.

In this reply, we explain why we welcome the principle of replication studies. We document how we have approached cooperation with the replicator but also express disappointment in how this process seems to have operated in practice; specifically the extent to which it created incentives to go beyond replication until methods and data were found that yielded different results.

We are glad to note that in terms of pure replication, our results are confirmed beyond a minor coding error that did not matter for either the results or their interpretation. We are disappointed, however, that the replication study is selective in reporting our own cautious discussion on method and robustness in both our original AJAE paper, and a subsequent paper in Journal of Development Studies. We quote our own papers on how we already addressed a number of the concerns raised in this study and why we judge these innovations as being difficult to consider as ‘superior’ both in principle and in the way they are applied.

The study places considerable weight on the robustness of our results on agricultural extension but ignores that we have highlighted as much in both papers before. We are not convinced that there is much value added in the part of the study that investigates robustness rather than just replicability.

Berk Ozler has commented previously, and I thank the Development Impact blog for the links.

Update: Great thoughts on replication etiquette by 3ie’s Annette Brown

Is your college hoodwinking you?

Currently, the federal government gives just 24 cents in postsecondary education improvement grants for every $100 in grants for research.

From an NYT op-ed yesterday on the many deficiencies of college education.

Various solutions are proposed: more funding for better learning outcomes, more data for students and parents on college-specific outcomes (like graduation rates), and making some colleges responsible for the high levels of student debt and default.

Some thoughts:

  1. It’s actually pretty shameful that so few colleges incentivize or enable good teaching, especially the best ones. Incentives are not a terrible idea.
  2. That said, I feel like the op-ed posed solutions without diagnosing the problem. Why is it, exactly, that so many students (and parents) don’t make the single biggest purchase of their life without knowing or demanding more from their colleges? Why isn’t that the financial incentive colleges need?
  3. For a lot of people, their implicit answer seems to be: “Because potential students have poor information, they are enabled by cheap debt, and so for-profit colleges hoodwink people on a mass scale.”
  4. I don’t find this a very convincing diagnosis. But I do not know what the sensible alternatives are.


Links I liked

  1. Freakonomics interview with World Bank President Jim Kim
  2. Limited airborne transfer of Ebola is “likely”
  3. Does FT win headline of the year? “Political ambitions limited orgy involvement”
  4. My favorite hashtag at the moment: #HumanitarianStarWars
  5. “The Poetry of Richard Milhous Nixon”, composed of direct quotes from the Watergate tapes
  6. How a scarcity of security affects your brain
  7. What Gary Shteyngart learned from watching a week of Russian TV

What I’ve been reading

  1. Euphoria, by Lily King. Pioneering anthropologists in the field, making it up as they go along: The novel. Inspired by Margaret Mead. Probably the best book I’ve read this year. I find it impossible to imagine the equivalent book on economists or political scientists. 
  2. The Whites, by Richard Price. Lush Life is one of my favorite crime novels, and this new book doesn’t disappoint. He’s famous for his portrayal of cops. Extra alluring if you live in New York City.
  3. My Struggle, Book One, by Karl Ove Knausgaard. I stand by my claim that Book 2 is the best book I read last year. A memoir of a selfish writer. It stands alone. Book One is good but less insightful, less philosophical, less startling, less compelling.
  4. Get in Trouble, by Kelly Link. A collection of short stories that are an unorthodox blend of science fiction, fantasy, and horror by arguably one of the best writers of the craft.
  5. The Girl With All the Gifts, by M.R. Carey. Easily the most interesting and unconventional zombie book you will read. In my case, the only zombie book I ever have or probably will read. Nonetheless, a very good novel.
  6. Einstein’s Dreams, by Alan Lightman. Possibly the only top physicist who also has a literature appointment (at MIT in this case). The novel explores the nature of time through Einstein’s dreams. I like his non-fiction work much better, such as this book I mentioned earlier this week.
  7. Redployment, by Phil Klay. The wars in Iraq and Afghanistan told through the eyes of various military grunts. It’s been celebrated for its insights on the military experience. I can believe it. But the one chapter on the aid bureaucrat seemed over the top in its satire, so I worry that the military stuff is too. Still, a very enjoyable book.
  8. The New York Nobody Knows, by William Helmreich. An NYC professor walks every street in New York and writes about it. I had trouble getting into this book but love the idea. Maybe if I stuck with it I would have been rewarded.

I wondered when this would start to happen

Every seminar these days has pictures of program activities. So, of course, I take more photos than I used to in the past. This time in Uganda, the tables turned.

We were visiting a rather spectacular farmer. I whipped out my phone and captured his raised beds and different varietals for posterity. Then we walked off to look at one of his other fields.

At some point during the walk a nice gentleman with a pretty serious camera and camera bag joined our little group. At the last field, the farmer asked us to all pose with him for a picture. When I asked him why, he pointed out that people come, visit his farm and take his picture but don’t send him a copy. He wanted one of us, for his scrapbook.

Markus Goldstein’s latest notes from the field.

I am adding this to my personal cache of Real World Development Indicators, alongside “percentage of subjects that refuse to answer your surveys because they are too busy” and “number of government officials who give white researchers a ‘who the hell are you?’ look and listen to their national economist colleagues for advice”.

Ethiopia, by the way, is doing spectacularly on all counts, and Uganda is catching up. Liberia worsens by the day.

Other RWDI candidates?

In case you would like to feel very small today

NASA Releases a five-year time lapse video of the Sun that uses 2,600 Terabytes of data:

Which brings to mind the videos that zoom out and in from Earth to the known universe, where each circle represents a scale factor of ten (I like watching from 2:33 onwards):

Recently I was reading MIT professor Alan Lightman’s Accidental Universe, a lay introduction to modern developments in physics and some of the emotional, philosophical, and religious questions they raise.

In particular, I wasn’t familiar with some of the think around the multiverse–that this is just one of many existing universes where different laws of nature may apply.

If the multiverse idea is correct, then the historic mission of physics to explain all the properties of our universe in terms of fundamental principles—to explain why the properties of our universe must necessarily be what they are—is futile, a beautiful philosophical dream that simply isn’t true. Our universe is what it is simply because we are here. The situation can be likened to that of a group of intelligent fish who one day begin wondering why their world is completely filled with water.

That uncertainty also disturbs many physicists who are adjusting to the idea of the multiverse. Not only must we accept that basic properties of our universe are accidental and uncalculable. In addition, we must believe in the existence of many other universes. But we have no conceivable way of observing these other universes and cannot prove their existence. Thus, to explain what we see in the world and in our mental deductions, we must believe in what we cannot prove. Sound familiar?

So even the zoom out and in above is a fraction of what exists.

Some people find more comfort in philosophy and religion as a result, but I find much, much less.

Talk at MIT Feb 19th: Reducing adult poverty, crime, and violence through behavioral therapy

I’ll be giving the comparative politics seminar 1-230pm. Here’s the paper title and abstract

Reducing adult poverty, crime and violence through late-stage noncognitive investments: Experimental evidence from Liberia

by Christopher Blattman, Julian Jamison, and Margaret Sheridan

Abstract: What to do with poor, violent, criminal young men? We evaluate two interventions to reduce poverty and instability among high-risk Liberian men. We show that self-control and self-image are malleable in adulthood and that building such noncognitive skills reduces crime and violence. The main intervention was an 8-week program of behavioral therapy designed to reduce impulsiveness, manage anger, and increase self-discipline, by fostering skills and a noncriminal self-image. We assigned men to receive therapy, therapy then $200, $200 alone, or neither. Cash alone led to short-lived income gains, dissipating within months. Therapy, however, improved self-control and attitudes to violent and criminal behavior. This drove large, sustained falls in crime and violence, but did not affect other economic decisions (such as investment). The effects of therapy on crime and violence were greatest in concert with the cash, largely we argue because the short-lived boost to legal employment reinforced therapy’s behavioral changes.

What is your One Ring?

Jason Kottke relates a passage from an explainer video on the One Ring from the Lord of the Rings:

“First, the ring tempts everyone (well, almost everyone) with promises that yes, this little ring can be a mighty weapon or a tool to reshape the world and gosh don’t you just look like the best guy to use it. Let’s go vanquish the powerful demigod who lives over there to get started, shall we? This is why the hobbits made great ring bearers, because they’re pretty happy with the way things are and don’t aspire to greatness. Of course, there’s Gollum, who started out as a hobbit, but all things considered, he held out pretty well for a couple hundred years. Set the ring on the desk of most men and they wouldn’t be able to finish their coffee before heading to Mordor to rule the world and do it right this time.”

I enjoyed Kottke’s take:

What’s interesting about hearing of The Ring in this focused way is how it becomes a part of Tolkien’s criticism of technology. The Ring does what every mighty bit of tech can do to its owner/user: makes them feel powerful and righteous. Look what we can do with this thing! So much! So much good! We are good therefore whatever we do with this will be good!

The full post is interesting.

If there were a way to get every Kottke post by email (is there?) this is probably one of the five blogs I would subscribe to, so as not to miss a post.

Are these the best Amazon reviews ever? (Anti-vaccination edition)

61bNGvoLVYL._SX258_BO1,204,203,200_Salon reports:

In 2012, a proactive Australian anti-vaxxer named Stephanie Messenger self-published a children’s book called “Melanie’s Marvelous Measles.” With the book, Messenger endeavored to “educate children on the benefits of having measles and how you can heal from them naturally and successfully.”

It also highlights some truly, truly wonderful Amazon reviews:

“This book has been a wonderful distraction while I sit in the hospital to support my friend whose baby has this delightful disease. Since the child now has both pneumonia and encephalitis, I’ll have to check out the additional titles mentioned in Michael J. Gulgoski’s wonderful review. We’re going to be here a while. Unfortunately, I had to give this only one star because I hate the name Melanie.” –This Daydreamer

“Finally! A children’s book with an agenda I can get behind! I always thought I loved kids until I actually had one of my own and boy was I wrong! I researched anything and everything I could possibly do to get rid of the little brat, but I didn’t want to be arrested for murder and childhood cancer is just too darn unpredictable. Fortunately, I stumbled upon ‘Melanie’s Marvelous Measles’, and learned that there is a huge community of people who hate children as much as me! Thanks to Melanie, I was able to ignore my pediatrician’s recommendations to vaccinate my daughter before our trip to Disney World, all while acting like I want what is ‘best’ for my child.” –brittany

Amazon page is here in case you want to add your voice.