IPA’s weekly links

Guest post by Jeff Mosenkis of Innovations for Poverty Action.

Queen of Katwe Movie Still

Madina Nalwanga as chess champion Phiona Mutesi in the film Queen of Katwe.
Photo: Edward Echwalu/Disney

  • Recognizing that an increasing amount of development policy is being done in developing countries, the prominent British NGO Oxfam is moving its headquarters from the UK to Nairobi.
  • There’s some evidence that being exposed to relatable role models can improve performance in school or at work. A newly-published RCT compared the exam scores of secondary school students in Uganda who viewed Queen of Katwe, a movie about a girl from a low-income community in Uganda who becomes a chess champion, to those who viewed a placebo movie. The students who watched Queen of Katwe were more likely to pass their national exams than those who did not, and the effects were especially large for girls and students who had performed poorly on the exams in the past. The working paper is available here.
  • The Kenyan Supreme Court delivered its full ruling nullifying last month’s election, citing concerns over the accuracy of the results.
  • There’s a free online course starting next week on the science of early childhood development from an international development perspective, including what programs are effective for early childhood.
  • A report from a U.S. government agency found that over the past decade, the government made $63 billion more in tax revenue from refugees than the refugees cost the government. The report was mandated by the president in March, but the administration chose not to release it when the findings were revealed in July (The New York Times obtained a draft copy).
    • Over at the Center for Global Development, economist Michael Clemens reviews the research on the economic impacts of wealthy countries accepting refugees.

Links will be on a break for the next couple of weeks—we’ll see you back here in October.

IPA’s weekly links

Guest post by Jeff Mosenkis of Innovations for Poverty Action.


  • In The New Yorker, John Cassidy reviews a new free online open-source economics textbook, The Economy. From an international collaboration of economists, it focuses on newer, post-financial crisis ways of thinking about and teaching economics.
  • Case Western economist Justin Gallagher documents the bizarre fight he went through to get one research group at the University of Texas to turn over the public state data set it was holding, including a Freedom of Information request compelling them to turn it over. That research group was the only repository of data (the state had wiped many of its records after turning it over), and uses it to produce a number of publications.
  • Some people say that you only learn about your own culture when you’ve been somewhere else. Former NPR East Africa correspondent Gregory Warner and his wife, novelist Sana Krasikov, talk to parenting/family podcast The Longest Shortest Time about readjusting to the U.S. with a 5-year old son who’d only known life in Nairobi. He discovered American kids had a concept of “personal space” that didn’t make sense to him, and also had difficulty with learning how the Kenyan style of sharing (where kids would treat property much more communally, walking out of a friend’s house with their toy), differs from the U.S. implicit concept of sharing (getting your share, and then voluntarily deciding to offer some to others). Web or “Bubble Boy” episode from Apple.
  • In a clever design, Blair, Littman, and Paluck had two versions of a film produced in Nigeria, one with and one without the actors reporting corruption. They then had staff of a survey firm pose as film promoters, distributing copies to local film sellers in randomly selected communities with instructions to give them away to customers. The film distribution was followed by a text message campaign, and resulted in boosted corruption reports, and changed attitudes toward corruption as measured in surveys.
  • It’s been reported in the past that the CIA’s ruse to find Bin Laden involving collecting DNA with a fake vaccination campaign led to a backlash against vaccinations in Pakistan. Now the measures are in, Martinez-Bravo and Stegmann find a one standard deviation increase in support for an Islamist party in a region is associated with a 9-13% decline in immunization rates after the vaccine ruse was reported.

And finally someone’s put all that inequality research to good use and calculated the gender inequality of likes on Tinder:

It was determined that the bottom 80% of men (in terms of attractiveness) are competing for the bottom 22% of women and the top 78% of women are competing for the top 20% of men. The Gini coefficient for the Tinder economy based on “like” percentages was calculated to be 0.58. This means that the Tinder economy has more inequality than 95.1% of all the world’s national economies. In addition, it was determined that a man of average attractiveness would be “liked” by approximately 0.87% (1 in 115) of women on Tinder.


(Image credit above)

IPA’s weekly links

Guest post by Jeff Mosenkis of Innovations for Poverty Action.

Screen Shot 2017-09-08 at 10.43.02 AM

  • Results of a long-awaited and somewhat controversial evaluation of a public-private partnership to manage schools in Liberia were released yesterday by IPA and The Center for Global Development:
    • With their education system in pretty bad shape, the Liberian government piloted the Partnership Schools for Liberia (PSL) program, which contracted out day-to-day management of some government schools to a mix of operators, non-profit and private, foreign and local. The government still owns the physical schools, the teachers are required to come from the same pool of government-employed teachers, and still have to teach the government-mandated curriculum, but within those parameters, the school operators have broad flexibility. Fortunately, the government invited researchers to randomize which schools were put under private operation, so it could be studied.
    • Preliminary results from the first year showed that students at PSL schools spent twice as much time learning, and students learned on average about 60 percent more than in the public schools, but it was very expensive. While the government budgeted about $100 per pupil for PSL schools (already twice what’s spent on public schools), the outside orgs brought their own funding, adding an extra $57 to $663 (or $1,052, depending on which numbers you use) per student.
    • The biggest operator spent the most and got the among the highest learning gains, but also removed more than half of their teachers and a number of their students (presumably, sending them back out into the traditional public schools).
    • The research team concludes that this may be a way to get learning up in an individual school, but probably not sustainable as a national program without significant changes.
    • In contrast, J-PAL reviewed evidence from other countries showing similar learning gains at much lower cost from a variety of other interventions. (With the caveat that they haven’t been tested in Liberia.)
    • Read more on the blogshort brief, or full working paper from Romero, Sandefur, and Sandholtz, or this thoughtful tweetstorm analysis from Abhijeet Singh.  It’s Mauricio Romero’s job market paper, so if you want to hear more, he’s probably happy to come talk about it.
  • J-PAL Executive Director and new Chief Economist for the UK aid agency DFID, Rachel Glennerster, with Claire Walsh, wrote a blog post about something that makes researchers break out in a cold sweat. What if you ask something people have always asked about using standard questions (in this case, womens’ empowerment), but also ask in a slightly different, more specific way, and find you get a very different answer?
  • Highlights via Damon Jones from this week’s twitter panel on balancing econ professional life with the rest of it. See the full discussion by searching twitter for the #EconLife hashtag.
  • Rebecca Thornton has put together a number of resources on gender and economics.
  • Cash is all the rage in the development and aid community. Parts of India are transitioning from subsidizing food for the poor to depositing cash directly into their bank accounts. But there have been some problems with the rollout, particularly with it not making it into people’s accounts, or it being difficult for recipients to access the accounts. Despite this, recipients say they still prefer the cash, which offers them flexibility in how much and what kinds of food they can buy.

Why I am not blogging anymore

Some of you have asked. I haven’t been blogging for many months, and I don’t see myself starting again in the next 6-9 months. But I am fairly sure I will start again in 2018.

“There are not enough hours in the day” was always a problem, and so it can’t explain the change. “I’m taking a break” is part of the story. But there are better explanations.

I am writing a book. Dani Rodrik stopped blogging for the same reason. He said that his brain only can think and write about so much at one time. I am pausing for the same reason. I woke up one day in July and unexpectedly wrote a page, and I didn’t stop. I am 100 pages in now, which amazes even me. The best one-line description is the subtitle of the course I’ve taught for 10 years: Why are some places poor, violent, and oppressive, and what (if anything) can you do about it?

Supply problems. I used to get amazing things to blog about from Google Reader. When that shut down Twitter was an ok substitute. But since early 2016 it has become a cesspool of people retweeting and liking things that burnish their self image and signal who they want the rest of the world to think they are. Most of that is about US politics, and it bores me. The newspapers have gotten worse. The New York Times and Washington Post have become crap, and even hopeful sites like Vox.com have begun to disappoint. They all respond to retweets and likes and not what is important or interesting in the world. I have yet to come up with a substitute way to consume the best new stories out there. ( I welcome suggestions.) I try unsuccessfully to filter out people who tweet US politics. Instead, I read books more, which is good. I recommend it. But those are cumbersome to blog, so it does not solve the blog problem.

Substitution. Ironically, I now tweet a fair amount. Tweeting is easier and often feels sufficient. Of course it is not, because tweets are fleeting and buried in an onslaught of Trump news, people favoriting the same old shit, and other silliness. I wish WordPress made it faster and easier to blog away from a computer.

Also, few people read blogs anymore. Including me. I no longer feel the pressure to write often, because the person who comes directly to the page daily or weekly in search of something new is a dwindling breed. Most people reach blogs by twitter and facebook. This has taken the pressure off of me and, what can I say, I respond to incentives.

If I should ever get the book done, I suspect the incentives to turn towards blogging again. In the meantime please keep enjoying Jeff Mosenkis’ amazing weekly links. Or wallow in the cesspool of crap with me on Twitter, @cblatts, more commonly known as “following”.

IPA’s weekly links

Guest post by Jeff Mosenkis of Innovations for Poverty Action.


A Red Cross pamphlet from WWI slogan (at the bottom): “Millions for Relief, but Not One Cent for Administration”

  • In a surprise ruling a few hours ago the Kenyan Supreme Court voided the outcome of the recent election, calling for a new one within 60 days. The Nairobi stock market dropped 10 percent right away, triggering a brief halt in trading. Follow Ken Opalo for the latest (and just in general).
  • Here’s one way to cut through IRB paperwork. Investor Peter Thiel had 17 patients flown to St. Kitts to inject them with an experimental herpes drug which couldn’t get funding or IRB approval in the United States. So next time the IRB does’t approve some of your survey questions, consider flying the village to the Caribbean to ask them there.
  • If you hadn’t heard about it yet, ProPublica and NPR some time ago did stories on the American Red Cross’ repeated failures and lack of financial transparency in disaster responses over the years. They included driving empty trucks around during Superstorm Sandy for news crews to film, and raising half a billion dollars for Haiti rebuilding, but only building 6 homes. You can get the history here, but I did not realize that 71% of their revenue is from for-profit blood services. That business has been squeezed in recent years by lowered demand, leading them to cut back on disaster staff.
  • Development Impact blog links are back from vacation!
  • Over at the Center for Global Development, an assessment of the state of health evaluations. In a blog postbrief, & full paper, Raifman, Lam, Keller, Radunsky & Savedoff describe finding 299 evaluations in the health sector and grading 37 of them in depth for quality. Results were disappointing.
  • The new Rough Translation podcast from NPR went to the DRC to look into what happened when NGOs started showing up looking to help survivors of highly publicized mass rapes. It created a cottage industry (they actually have a phrase that translates into that), of villages finding women to say they were raped to get the aid. But the show looks a little deeper with the journalist who originally investigated it into the morals of the issue. The NGOs aren’t going to question the veracity of a victim’s story, and both the NGOs and people there are afraid that if it comes out that the rape stories aren’t true, it will cut off the flow of aid to people who need it.
  • Kremer and Rao slides on behavioral economics in development are here if you missed them.

The economics to sociology phrasebook is fun (h/t Chris):


IPA’s weekly links

Guest post by Jeff Mosenkis of Innovations for Poverty Action.


  • Two podcast recommendations:
    • NPR has a new podcast, Rough Translation, from former East Africa correspondent Gregory Warner (web, Apple). It looks at how questions we deal with here play out differently in other cultures. The first episode looks at how Brazil ended up with race tribunals to evaluate who was Black enough to qualify for affirmative action. The second looks at fake news planted by Russia in Ukraine.
    • The fun “Tell Me Something I Don’t Know” podcast recently had a behavioral science all-star cast with Dean Karlan, George Loewenstein, Katy Milkman and a  gang of others (Web: Episode 24 “Behavior Change: Ultra Egghead Edition,” or Apple)
  • For economists (but probably useful for other academics as well), there will be a twitter panel discussion on balancing the professional part of your life with the rest on Wednesday, September 6th at 9PM EDT, dinnertime Pacific. You don’t have to be live to participate though; tweet your questions in advance with the #EconLife hashtag and the panel will answer.
  • A nice simulator complete with cartoons where you can play econ trust games. You can try different strategies to watch how outcomes change (and then set it to work simulating repeated play using different strategies). h/t Osman Siddiqi
  • How many social programs work? Depending on how you count, 60-80% of published evaluations don’t find a significant effect, but remember that published evaluations are not a representative sample of all social programs.
  • Google Earth is giving tours of indigenous and traditional homes around the world.
  • The Secret Economic Lives of Animals. Increasing numbers of species have been found to vary exchange rates for services (like wasps offering nesting space for childcare), based on changes in local supply and demand.
  • Two short and interesting econ lessons:
    • How the infamous Smoot-Hawley Tariff, in which the government ignored the warnings of over a thousand economists, sparked a global trade war which exacerbated the great depression. It all started with a move to protect the Mormon Church’s interest in sugar beets. Along the way they explain why trade protectionism is politically popular, even though it’s ultimately harmful to everybody.
    • How Pigouvian taxes work, in which a government taxes something that hurts others, allowing the parties involved to figure out how to minimize it, like a carbon tax.

IPA’s weekly links

Guest post by Jeff Mosenkis of Innovations for Poverty Action.


  • You might have heard that just giving the poor cash, no strings attached, is all the rage in the effective aid community. Some people have suggested that if organizations want to give (more expensive) in-kind aid (food, cattle), they should first show that it’s more effective than cash. Dev Patel just recirculated a relevant paper (summary here) from Cunha, De Giorgi, and Jayachandran, who tested giving cash vs. in-kind food aid in very poor rural villages in Mexico. They found in this case the food helped the poor more for the outcomes they were looking at, general price of food in the village. While the cash increased prices a bit (not significant), trucking in food increased how much there was available in the village, lowering prices for everybody. This effect on prices was also stronger the more remote the village was.
    • Their findings underscore a point that even the most ardent cash supporters point out but often gets lost in the conversation. A prerequisite to cash working is functioning markets – cash doesn’t do you much good if there’s nothing around to buy with it, or it’s expensive because there’s not much of it. One of the attractive points of cash is its easy delivery to remote areas, but it’s worth remembering that remoteness may also hinder its effectiveness. (More on food and nutrition outcomes from that study here.)
  • At Slate Star Codex, Scott Alexander reports back on going to a conference for the Effective Altruism movement, full of people trying to figure out how to do the most good with their lives. He’d discovered that his profession, doctor, ranked relatively low on the altruism calculations, but also found that when you start thinking about how one person can alleviate the most suffering possible, it can get overwhelming quickly. Some groups literally get into the weeds – extending concern over the suffering of animals to include billions of insects in the wild.  
    • In the end, he comes away with a Tyler Cowen-style takeaway: it’s probably unrealistic to aim for a perfectly effective/altruistic world, but it’s not too much to hope for people to examine their lives and do a little better.
  • Alexander also had a very nice back and forth post Google memo with Wharton psychologist & NYTimes contributor Adam Grant. They dive into what the meta-analyses actually say about gender differences in skills and career preferences and have a back-and forth in the comments. It’s a long but interesting read, and nice to see a constructive and respectful argument about the data on the internet.
  • J-PAL has an impressive new bulletin combining effectiveness and cost of 58 different education interventions, and ranks how much education per dollar each provided.
    • In an accompanying blog post Rachel Glennerster points out most systematic reviews don’t break down results by gender, but they found in most cases girls benefitted more than boys.
  • But the best education program might be to just live in Canada. If Canadian provinces entered international education tests separately, three of them would be ranked in the top five countries on science test scores
  • I can’t believe I only recently found out that Kim Yi Dionne has a podcast, Ufahamu Africa, about politics and events on the continent.

And not only are Canada’s schools better than ours, even their roads are behaviorally behaviourally designed:


IPA’s weekly links

Guest post by Jeff Mosenkis of Innovations for Poverty Action.


  • Jobs:
    • NPR’s Planet Money is looking for someone who knows about econ to do shorter stories linked to the news of the day (explaining the econ of current issues in the news). Good communication/explainer skills but no previous journalism experience required. I know several of the people there and they’re all amazing, I can’t recommend them enough.
      • (I would just caution, from experience, that journalism culture differs from academia. It moves fast and requires precision under hard deadlines so you often have to become an expert in a topic by 4PM, and be exactly right, which doesn’t leave a lot of room for unpacking nuance.)
    • Activision is looking for an economist to run experiments on Call of Duty’s in-game economies. (via Jess Hoel)
    • The UK’s The National Institute of Economic and Social Research is looking for two economists to work on ed and labor policy studies.
  • Susan Dynarski started two great threads online on what books inspired people to get a Ph.D. in their chosen academic fields, and advice for first-year Ph.D. students (here’s a collection of the latter).
    • It’s worth noting a fair amount of advice involves taking care of your own mental health; one university survey found a third of Ph.D. students at risk for common mental health issues like depression.
    • See also this from Dina Pomeranz about all the students quietly thinking they’re the only ones with anxiety/depression, etc. and the subsequent discussion on coping strategies.
  • Seema Jayachandran did a very popular Reddit Ask Me Anything (more readable version here) about her Science paper on cash transfers for not cutting down trees (the AMA landed her on the front page of Reddit for the second time). In answering questions from the public, she was struck by how many people people had a moral objection to paying people not to do something (as opposed to traditional conditional cash transfers which reward people for doing something, like enrolling their children in school).
    • Similarly, NPR reports that despite an evaluation showing massive benefits to giving poor people cash in Zambia, moral objections from the public to giving “lazy” people free money limited the program eventually to just the “deserving” poor, such as the elderly, and people who can’t work.
    • Rich countries aren’t immune to this kind of thinking. A Vox The Weeds podcast (and parallel article) on the legacy of welfare reform from last year talks about how U.S. social safety net policy changed based on the public’s image of a single mother. At first, the U.S. image of a single mother was a widow trying to raise her children by herself. At that time it was seen as virtuous to help her stay home and raise her kids. When the public image of a single mother changed to a poor minority woman, programs began to see her as someone who should be out working and the design of the benefits changed.
    • Those of us who work in the world of evaluating the economics of anti-poverty programs are used to thinking about effectiveness and cost as the primary determinants policymakers need to know, but these are good reminders that the moral view of the design of the program may be just as important in determining whether a program gets implemented or gathers dust on a shelf.
  • The U.N. World Food Programme has had success with automated SMS surveys and is developing a chatbot to ask people in remote areas more detail about their food situation (prevailing prices and the like). They hope that AI will be able to parse and aggregate the information to allow human operators to disperse aid faster and more effectively.
  • This Week In Africa has all the roundups of the Kenyan elections (and Rwanda, and South Africa) you could want. But if it’s not enough you could check in with Ken Opalo, who says Kenya Deputy President William Ruto and the Jubilee party are well positioned for the future.

I mentioned up top the importance in journalism culture of speed and accuracy. USA Today used a photo of the wrong Asian in a story about implicit bias.


(Image credit above)

IPA’s weekly links

Guest post by Jeff Mosenkis of Innovations for Poverty Action.


  • This week’s Freakonomics episode, titled “Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Money (But Were Afraid to Ask)” (Apple podcasts) features an all-star cast of Jack Bogle on not trying to beat the market, Annamaria Lusardi on teaching basic financial tips to NFL players, and Harold Pollack on his index card of financial heuristics. Readers of this blog are all financial whizzes but, you know, for your friends and stuff.
  • Pollack explains at the end that he was perceived as political by some for his final rule – support the social safety net – and explains why his middle class family needed it. The social safety net is complicated but explained well in the Marketplace podcast series The Uncertain Hour (just 7 episodes, Apple podcasts). In one episode, for example, they take an honest dive into the debate over whether welfare should have work vs. higher education requirements (the former won out), and what the limited data we have says on the effectiveness of each.
  • VoxDev is going like gangbusters. In advance of the Kenya elections, Tavneet Suri talks about her study from the 2013 elections, and why her get-out-the vote efforts worked, but may have had some unintended consequences.
  • This coming Monday at noon eastern, Seema Jayachandran is doing a Reddit Science Ask Me Anything on her RCT using cash to slow deforestation in Uganda.
  • From the Center for Global Development, optimism on the new USAID administrator nominee. But USAID’s great innovation hub, Development Innovation Ventures, has suspended accepting new applications, with the agency citing other funding priorities.
  • A deep dive into why much of Haiti still doesn’t have a sewer system, despite outside efforts to build them. Among the critiques: reliance on outside aid makes local officials more responsive to what the donors want. But interestingly, the U.N. bringing cholera to Haiti might have actually spurred local agreement. according to the local sanitation director:

    “Only the cholera could make us have [the first sewage treatment facility],” Petit says. “Only cholera. Because we were afraid, totally afraid of cholera. For this reason, everyone agreed.”

  • The story of how Chile tried to use early computer networks and teletype to continuously monitor its economy in the early 1970’s, and how the CIA tried to stop it. (In the podcast, or on Apple, scroll all the way back to the first episode “Nineteen seventy three”)


[Image source above]

IPA’s weekly links

Guest post by Jeff Mosenkis of Innovations for Poverty Action.

Honesty Captcha3

  • In a clever online nudging experiment, 627,000 online taxpayers in Guatemala were given one of five different kinds of honesty messages, reminders about public goods, or legal warnings in a captcha. But none of the messages had any effect on taxes paid.
  • Some unexpected side effects of antimalarial insecticide-treated bednets (ITNs):

We show that ITNs reduced all-cause child mortality, but surprisingly increased total fertility rates in spite of reduced desire for children and increased contraceptive use. We explain this paradox by showing evidence for an unexpected increase in fecundity and sexual activity due to the better health environment after the ITN distribution. (h/t Charles Kenny)


  • If you want to work with Chris Blattman and a bunch of other great researchers, apply to lead IPA’s Colombia and Dominican Republic Office.
  • After listening to the latest Freakonomics podcast on managed vs. index funds, a listener came up with this simulation/slider you can show your friends to explain to them how management fees are killing their retirement savings.
  • The National Science Foundation has a big new report on what happens to new Ph.D.s. While the overall number of doctorates awarded has grown, the percentage with definite plans after they graduate has been shrinking in recent years:

Postgraduate Plans

  • Kenya has declared Kenyan-born Asians (e.g. Kenyans of Indian and other descent who’ve been in the country for generations) an official Kenyan tribe. But it’s not clear if that’s really a good sign.
  • Reason to test policies first #5,692: Economist Jennifer Doleac explains in Quartz what happens when well-intentioned states banned employers from asking applicants about criminal records. Employers hired fewer minority applicants in general (presumably increasing discriminating on more observable markers). It also doesn’t help the applicants with criminal records.

Every summer, the National Bureau of Economic Research conducts its own clever behavioral economics experiment to see if they can get top economists excited over reducing the price of readily available trinkets from a nominal fee to free. Let’s check in and see how it’s going this year:



Nice twist NBER!



And Leah’s survey got 100 responses

Can’t wait for the paper, NBER! (Though Dina might have contaminated the study design.)  Apparently other stuff went on also, but you can get links to the live tweet threads from Damon here.

And finally this helpful reminder (from Jennfier Doleac again) for summer travelers (click through for the reply):


IPA’s weekly links

Guest post by Jeff Mosenkis of Innovations for Poverty Action.


  • The summer ape blockbuster you’re been waiting for is here. In Science economists Seema Jayachandran, and Joost de Laat team up with  satellite researchers Eric Lambin, Charlotte Stanton, Robin Audy, and Nancy Thomas (with some help from IPA and Uganda’s Chimpanzee Sanctuary and Wildlife Conservation Trust). They ran the first RCT showing that just paying farmers in Uganda a little bit not to cut down forest on their land where endangered chimps live cut deforestation in half.
    • But the real policy importance comes from their cost-effectiveness analysis. Each village kept about 3000 tons of CO2 out of the atmosphere during the 2-year study, and each of those tons cost only about 46 cents. This is something like 10-50 times cheaper than achieving similar results through energy technology subsidies in the U.S.
    • More in the New York Times or Atlantic, and this thoughtful thread on the topic from an expert (h/t David Evans). You can call in and ask Seema about it yourself on Public Radio’s Science Friday today sometime between 2-2:30 Eastern (stream from wnyc.org)


  • Some of the experts quoted in the stories above note that what really makes the study powerful is that they didn’t stop at the cutting deforestation in half part, but also ran the numbers to find out how cheap it was. Turns out this is pretty rare, but really important to people who need to actually implement policies. In education, for example, a cognitive behavioral therapy intervention had about the same effect as remedial games, but one cost $15 per student, the other cost $4,400 per student (albeit in different countries). Most research papers leave the price tag out, or as Caitlin Tulloch puts it on the Life of The Mind podcast:

It is perpetually amusing to me that economists are uniquely bad at talking about how much things cost.


  • In that podcast she talks eloquently and compellingly about leading the group that is systematically doing cost-effective analysis across all of the International Rescue Committee’s programs. Particularly interesting about doing it for such a large org is with lots of work in different locations, she begins to see what looks like a mystery for individual RCTs – that programs work differently and cost different amounts in different places. She suggests that when you begin to aggregate across individual evaluations, you start to see patterns that you don’t see in any one individual study and realize why seemingly conflicting individual results are really expressions of a larger systematic pattern.
  • Kids in Cameroon do muuuuch better than German kids on the marshmallow test. Researchers speculate b/c parenting styles of the Nso ethnic group there emphasize emotional self-control and deference to parents.
  • Interesting thread from a labor economist on what job creation policies might look like in the U.S. if they focused on created jobs rather than training workers (h/t Sally Hudson)


The best tweet so far on the deforestation study:


IPA’s weekly links

Guest post by Jeff Mosenkis of Innovations for Poverty Action.

  • North Korea’s surprising, lucrative relationship with Africa (via Kim Yi Dionne)
  • In an inexplicable lapse some congressional staffer has surely been punished for, the House Foreign Affairs Committee invited three eminently qualified women to testify about women’s empowerment in the developing world. Even more encouraging was that the hearing was titled “Beyond Microfinance.” Mary Ellen Iskenderian, head of the financial inclusion org Women’s World Banking, Georgetown’s Melanne Verveer, the first U.S. Ambassador for Global Women’s Issues, and MIT economist Tavneet Suri all converged on a similar message about moving away from ineffective programs towards ones that have been shown to work. Watch the video and read their full written testimonies here.
  • What it’s like to run for office as a woman in Kenya.
  • Owen Ozier on three tricks for not letting preanalysis plans mess up your plans.
  • Don’t listen to the EconTalk interview with law prof Robin Feldman about the stunningly clever ways drug companies maintain brand name monopolies, even in the face of laws designed to limit them. Because if you do, you might need blood pressure medication, which probably is off patent but still not available in generic. But you will learn a lot about how monopolies can flourish even in systems designed to encourage competition.
  • NYTimes asks its Wirecutter site for its favorite luggage for frequent travelers (and a DIY version of “smart luggage” with a built-in finder). Also, beware of people checking live alligators as baggage (but maybe the only legit alligator skin luggage on the carousel).
  • Long read on Philip Morris’ secret campaign to undermine anti-smoking rules in poor countries. But congrats to global health expert Amanda Glassman, whose research turned up in their power point presentations. (We can only hope one day the International Criminal Court brings their power point designers to justice).
  • This was mind-blowing:


IPA’s weekly links

Guest post by Jeff Mosenkis of Innovations for Poverty Action.

Maintaining attention in an interview can be hard

Above: Maintaining attention for a long interview is always a challenge


  • Fake news is already disrupting Kenya’s election.
  • Qualtrics, the research software company, did a randomized experiment testing the kinds of extra questions researchers embed in surveys to make sure respondents are paying attention and answering thoughtfully. They found including those questions earlier in a survey actually led to respondents performing worse on later questions. They now recommend against including those kinds of questions. (h/t Sanjay Srivastava)
  • It’s worth listening to the pair of EconTalk podcasts that arose out of Chris and Lant Pritchett’s back and forth on Chris’ open letter to Bill Gates suggesting he bet on cash rather than handing out chickens as aid.
    • Lant responded that the type of work that microeconomists do (particularly the crowd who does randomized controlled trials) pales in potential compared to the massive effects on every aspect of poverty that comes with the kind of large-scale economic growth that China and India have seen. He argues that everybody in development should be on “team economic growth.”
    • Chris was on this week with a great discussion about why he still believes these questions are important to answer. He argues that these kinds of studies do more than just answer a question at hand, they’ve really advanced our understanding of what keeps people in poverty. (It’s also worth listening to the brief discussion on what kind of research young researchers should be doing.)
  • Along those lines, it’s also worth checking out this tidbit from the very good interview of Tyler Cowen by Stripe CEO Patrick Collison (iTunes, SoundCloud, transcript). It followed a discussion questioning how much concrete understanding of the economy macroeconomics has brought us:

COLLISON: Yeah. What are the, say, top two most underinvested areas of economics today?

COWEN: Culture and economics, for me, is by far the most underinvested. I still think randomized control trials, they’re expensive, but you do actually learn things from them, which are probably true. That’s remarkable.


COWEN: They contain actual knowledge. Now, it’s true the questions you can ask are narrower, but it seems odd to turn down the reward of actual knowledge, right? [laughs]

COLLISON: You recently linked to the new book whose title is escaping me — you’ll probably remember it — on the series of interviews on random control trials in economics. And there’s all these questions about to what degree they have external validity and so on. Do you think the critics are overstating the case?

COWEN: One of the main criticisms is, if you do randomized control trials, you’re studying something like, “Well, does paying mothers to bring their children in for vaccines work in getting the mothers to bring the children in?” You’re not asking big-picture questions of political economy. But big-picture questions of political economy — they can be very hard to control. There’s no one who can steer, say, what will happen with India or Kenya, but you can change some policy regarding, “Do you reward mothers for bringing their children in for vaccinations?”

You know the subtitle of our blog, “Small Steps Toward a Much Better World”: there’s something to that. We can make a lot of these small steps. It’s also related to the correct attitude about management. A lot of good management is doing very small things and not always some grand philosophy. So I think this is actually still underrated.

But with Lant’s always insightful critiques including how we’re thinking about measurement completely wrong in education, we created this helpful predictor to know what he’ll be writing about next:


Everything You and Your Colleagues Have Ever Done is Useless in The Field Of:

IPA’s weekly links

Guest post by Jeff Mosenkis of Innovations for Poverty Action.


  • We don’t do enough thinking in the U.S., much less in developing countries, about end of life “palliative” care, helping people with difficult terminal illnesses suffer less. But a lot of suffering happens at the end of life; if your goal is to alleviate suffering, pain management is doable. The BBC has a very interesting story of the woman who singlehandedly brought palliative care to Mongolia.
  • David Evans summarizes a post and paper from Ben Piper at RTI doing cost-effectiveness analysis of technology programs to improve education. Often even when new technologies work, they’re more expensive and the same outcomes could have been achieved through traditional means.
  • Dropping laptops into Peruvian classrooms through the One Laptop Per Child program didn’t do much (surprise).
  • Don Green is teaching a 3-day advanced course in field methods at J-PAL in August.
  • Economist Jess Hoel offers advice for women academics on careers, including publishing, accountability groups, and networking. Full notes on her website, http://www.jessicabhoel.com/ (top right).
  • Reuters reports the President is about to sign an executive order requiring 100% of U.S. food aid to be transported on U.S. ships (up from the current 50%) to boost U.S. jobs. This might be a problem for anybody counting on that food because of low U.S.-based shipping capacity. The requirement would increase costs while introducing significant delays.
  • We already have a policy experiment along similar lines in the U.S.: the Jones Act requires cargo being shipped between ports in the U.S. to be carried on U.S. ships, and Planet Money documents how nearly everybody hates it. When New Jersey was ready to buy 40,000 tons of road salt from Maine during a harsh winter the only ship available to take it that qualified under the Jones Act was a small barge. So they did it by making lots of trips to transport it in small batches, passing by the big ship that was already in port. Joe Stiglitz explained that the Jones Act costs the U.S. a quarter million dollars per job saved.
    On the plus side, maybe jacking up the cost of food aid would move more aid to cash?

I’ll let this one speak for itself

I don’t know why economists have a bad rep – this from a neuroscientist who studies the trolley dilemma (people are generally willing to kill one person to save five by flipping a switch, but not by pushing the one person in front of the trolley to stop it).Trolley

The article goes on to describe a student project that found Buddhist monks also in that group. So, interesting intellectual bedfellows.

(image credit above)

IPA’s weekly links

Guest post by Jeff Mosenkis of Innovations for Poverty Action.


  • Three relatively recent additions to development Twitter worth noticing if you haven’t already, Tavneet Suri, Nava Ashraf, Seema Jayachandran. Here’s proof from just this week:
  • There’s a new website devoted to making development research easily accessible, VoxDev.org. Editor Tavneet Suri says:

Here is our vision: We want to bring cutting-edge research to the forefront of decision making – for policymakers, the private sector, NGOs, the civil society, and everyone in between. We believe that the role of research should be elevated to inform economic decisions at every level. VoxDev will be the place where rigorous research on international development moves into practice; we will translate the state-of-the-art into pragmatic policy advice.

  • From Nava Ashraf, video of Al Roth talking market design (version with slides here)
  • From Seema Jayachandran – parents’ preference for having boys over girls in surveys is tricky to measure because of a literally “odd” phenomenon. Most parents, even in places like India, want the same number of boys and girls. The preference appears when they’re considering odd numbers of children and have to make a choice. This makes standard questions about wanting boys vs. girls a bit misleading.
  • Outgoing WHO director Margaret Chan looks back on her tenure. She says the dirtiest fights in global health were with tobacco companies. She also worries about moves to make poor countries more self-sufficient in health because of risks beyond policymakers’ control:

In large parts of the developing world, especially in Africa, small-holder farmers in the informal sector remain the backbone of the economy, severely limiting domestic resources derived from taxes. Much of this agriculture depends on rain and is highly vulnerable to extreme weather events, which are becoming more common as the climate changes.

  • David Evans has a roundup of 2 days of great education papers at the RISE conference on improving education systems, including links to individual videos.
  • Speaking of education, my colleagues in Kenya are holding a conference and looking for presentations on research directly applicable to curriculum reform for Kenya (deadline July 7). The research doesn’t have to be from Kenya, but should be from somewhere similar enough in education to be applicable.

And incentives in everything – killer whales have started shaking down fishermen for their fish (via Chris). But there was an example in 1920’s Austrailia where orcas and humans cooperated in hunting for whales. For decades “The Law of the Tongue” meant that the orcas would help herd the whales for the humans, who would then harpoon the whales and share the carcass with the orcas (the orcas took the tongue). But like every good multiple round econ game, it worked great for both sides till one side got greedy (h/t my dad).

(Photo credit above)

IPA’s weekly links

Guest post by Jeff Mosenkis of Innovations for Poverty Action.


  • It’s a puzzle why more people don’t use long-acting reversible contraceptives like IUDs or hormone shots. Berk Ozler reports on qualitative findings from Cameroon about why adolescent girls don’t seem interested in them.
  • A new working paper suggests that how refugees fare economically in the U.S. is heavily dependent on at what age they arrive, perhaps because learning English is easier if they come earlier. The authors estimate over their first 20 years in the U.S. refugees pay about $21,000 more in taxes than they receive in benefits. (h/t Dylan Matthews)
  • J-PAL has a fellowship for quantitative-oriented Ph.D. students to work on data transparency from their home universities, the June 30 deadline is approaching:

Our fellowship program offers financial support (tuition assistance of up to $12,000 and a stipend of $13,000) for one semester (approximately 4.5 months) for current PhD students. While preference will be given to students from economics programs, graduate students from other disciplines with strong quantitative and programming skills (STATA, R etc.) are very welcome to apply. During the fellowship, students will work with our affiliated professors from dozens of universities around the world, re-analyzing RCTs from scratch (starting with the creation of the data set from “raw survey” data, up to production of the final econometric analysis included in the working papers).

  • The AEA’s chart of the week above, “The Resource Curse In Action,” overlays geocoded data of mines and areas of conflict, comes from this paper showing how conflicts in Africa rose around mines as commodity prices increased.  Also on mines:
    • Another paper finds sanctions in the Dodd-Frank act against conflict minerals in the DRC:

…increased the probability of infant deaths in villages near the policy-targeted mines by at least 143 percent. We find suggestive evidence that the legislation-induced boycott did so by reducing mothers’ consumption of infant health care goods and services.

  • I  recall (but can’t find now) a story suggesting that creating certified mineral providers whom companies could source from led to worse conditions for the workers because it created monopolies who could further exploit them.
  • A former illegal miner in Sierra Leone describes how he paid for his start in college with a portion of the proceeds from one single diamond he found, and is now a BBC reporter.
  • Angrist, Lavy, Leder-Luis, & Shany, re-examine “Maimonides Rule” (named for the Medieval Jewish philosopher), about the relationship between class size and student achievement. While it applied in Israeli class data from 1991, it does not appear in more recent data. (h/t Dina Pomeranz)

Though it turns out, Maimonides himself was railing against absent teachers (a current problem in many countries) back in 12th Century Egypt (h/t Josh Yuter)

Absent teachers Maimonides

IPA’s weekly links

Guest post by Jeff Mosenkis of Innovations for Poverty Action.

Agriculture in Kenya


I know this week for many of us it’s been hard to pay attention to what else has been going on in the world, what with the release of Stata 15 and all, but I’ll try to help with some stuff you may have missed:

  • The World Bank’s Hedy Sladovich &Emanuela Galasso put together several very accessibly written one-paragraph summaries of recent findings on what works in early childhood development.
    • It pairs nicely with this (mostly Western-based) review from 10 researchers on what works in pre-K. If you’re busy, skip to the last page for the consensus statement.  (Both via David Evans)
  • But if you’re more into land and agriculture, you might prefer Markus Goldstein, Niklas Buehren and Muthoni Ngatia’s one-sentence summaries of 45 recent conference presentations on African agriculture.
  • A bunch of big name authors find returns to nudges for governments are generally pretty high, though they vary (helpfully, the authors compare different types of nudges in the same category so you can see the variance). It’s important to know that while the effects aren’t usually huge, they’re worthwhile because they’re so cheap (such as switching a default option in an existing program or sending a differently worded message), as they note:

Because traditional interventions are intended to change behavior by altering the cost-benefit calculation that individuals undertake when focusing on a particular decision, these interventions face the challenge that individuals’ ability (and desire) to engage high-level cognitive capacities is often limited (Shah, Mullainathan, & Shafir, 2012).  Nudges, by contrast, can succeed because they account for individuals’ intuitions, emotions, and automatic decision-making processes. These processes can be triggered or enlisted with simple cues and subtle changes to the choice environment, so nudges can be effective yet cheap, generating high impact per dollar spent.

And AreMenTalkingTooMuch.com is a handy timer you can use in meetings:







IPA’s weekly links

Guest post by Jeff Mosenkis of Innovations for Poverty Action.


  • Why Poverty is Like a Disease” looks at epigenetics and how poverty interacts with one’s own biological development. It’s well written, by someone who describes what it was like growing up poor and how hard it was to escape. (h/t David Batcheck)
  • Our World in Data asks “How Much Will it Cost to Mitigate Climate Change?”
  • Some nice news via Dina Pomeranz: globally deaths from diarrheal disease fell by a third between 2005 and 2015. Researchers attribute much of the drop to the development of a vaccine, but also say good sanitation is key.
    • An interesting process story behind a current sanitation RCT; A design firm talks about the process for coming up with a handwashing station appropriate for use in rural Kenya. They describe how they couldn’t just drop in what they thought was a clever design because it kept failing, and how they kept going back to the drawing board. (8,000-person RCT results coming soon)
  • Poachers are targeting newly discovered rare species apparently by reading the scientific papers that describe where to find them.
  • The Freakonomics podcast asks “Are The Rich Really Less Generous Than the Poor?” (as posited by previous lab experiments). They discuss a field experiment in the Netherlands in which the researchers left people fake misaddressed letters with cash (or the equivalent of a check, which could only be redeemed by the person named). Economist Jan Stoop dressed in a fake postal uniform and dropped them in mailboxes in rich and poor households to see if the recipients would re-mail them to the intended destination. Going against conventional wisdom, the rich returned the letters more often, but this gap was entirely explained by a mental scarcity model, which is based on the body of research showing how the pressures of poverty can sap mental bandwidth. The farther away in the month from pay period the poor were (when presumably money was tighter and pressures of life greater), the less often they took the time to re-mail the envelopes.
  • The authors mention in the Freakonomics episode that they decided to add time from paycheck as a covariate based on a chance comment from an audience member at a talk. A new meta-analysis of studies in the American Journal of Political Science finds covariates can make all the difference:


    In almost 40% of observational studies, we find that researchers achieve conventional levels of statistical significance through covariate adjustments. Although that discretion may be justified, researchers almost never disclose or justify it.


    That they were able to discover this seems to have come down to one editor’s decision (h/t Ryan Briggs):

Our analysis is possible because the American Journal of Political Science (AJPS), a leading political science journal, began enforcing the posting of replication data and code. In practice, then Editor Rick Wilson would not proceed with the copyediting of accepted papers until the authors posted their data to Dataverse. We therefore analyze AJPS volumes 56-59 (2012-2015).


And a reminder about those “most in each state” maps from XKCD:


IPA’s weekly links



  • World Bank Chief Economist Paul Romer is giving up some of his management duties, in part due to frictions over trying to get researchers to communicate better, pressuring them to create shorter presentations and use fewer run-on sentences (like this one). Bloomberg and FT’s reports seem gossipy and read like only part of the story. Romer has responded with a post on his personal blog, and offered a public mirror of the internal blog he uses to communicate with World Bank staff.
    • Taking on global poverty and trying to get economists to communicate clearly seems ambitious. But from my experience in both areas I have faith there’s a solution out there to the first.
  • If you’re doing any traveling this weekend, some podcasts:
    • The two Planet Money episodes on how the biggest shock in modern currency, surprise demonetization, happened in India. Turns out it was the brainchild of an engineer who just sold his idea relentlessly for years with a powerpoint of cartoons and got to PM Modi early on (Part 1, Part 2, or iTunes episodes 770 & 771).
    • If you’re in the humanitarian relief world – Tiny Spark talks with a veteran aid worker and a psychologist who specializes in aid workers on how to avoid burnout. One of the most interesting things was how much bad management contributes to aid worker demoralization. (iTunes)
    • Tyler Cowen talks with Raj Chetty (web or iTunes)
  • On that last one (getting back to World Bank) – it’s worth noting Cowen and Chetty both attribute some of the success of Chetty’s papers to the attention his group pays to the writing. He explains that it takes many revisions that go into writing it in a way that makes circuitous methods accessible:

    CHETTY: That is our strategy. I think the other thing that’s extremely important is, we spend a lot of time on trying to achieve clarity. There are ways to write papers in economics that are more accessible to the public and thereby have greater  impact, and there are ways to write papers that are more technically oriented and narrow the set of readers.

  • Two job opportunities:
  • Rachel Glennerster and Mary Ann Bates have a piece in the Stanford Social Innovation Review about how to decide if a successful program will work in another context. They propose four steps:
    • Step 1: What is the disaggregated theory behind the program?
    • Step 2: Do the local conditions hold for that theory to apply?
    • Step 3: How strong is the evidence for the required general behavioral change?
    • Step 4: What is the evidence that the implementation process can be carried out well?

On the Development Impact Blog, David Evans walks through applying those steps to decide whether a technology-aided teaching program that worked in urban India would also work in rural Tanzania.

  • Also in the same issue of SSIR, Blattman, Faye, Karlan, Niehaus, and Udry have a straightforward piece (written for the general public) on what we know and still need to find out about just giving the poor cash.

And the award for best RAs of the year goes to the ones on this Argentina study that found having someone else in a public bathroom increased urinal flushing and hand washing:

Researchers first identified three male restrooms that allowed observers to reliably hear whether a user flushed the urinal and washed his hands. For each user who entered the restroom, researchers alternated assignment between the treatment and comparison group. When a treatment group-assigned individual entered the restroom, an observer entered the restroom eight seconds afterwards and placed himself at another urinal. The observer acted as another user of the restroom without flushing the urinal or washing his hands and stayed in the restroom until the participant left. For individuals assigned to the comparison group, the observer waited outside the restroom and listened to determine whether the participant flushed the urinal and/or washed his hands. To avoid any possible influence by a third party, observers excluded instances when other people were also using the restroom.

Wonder if the RAs were trained in physics.