At 6.40am on January 1st I made a new year’s resolution. This year, I decided as I contemplated lifting my weary head from my worn-out pillow, I would become a conservative. With 40 not far off, and with Canberra’s political tides having turned, the time seemed right. Exchange the soy lattes for Victoria Bitter. Stop reading the Guardian. Trade in the Yaris for an SUV. Easy. Or was it — read the rest on the Devpolicy blog.
January 14, 2014
January 7, 2014
The abstract of a new (gated) article by Amanda Murdiea and Dursun Peksen in the Journal of Politics:
Do transnational human rights organizations (HROs) influence foreign military intervention onset? We argue that the greater international exposure of human suffering through HRO “naming and shaming” activities starts a process of mobilization and opinion change in the international community that ultimately increases the likelihood of humanitarian military intervention. This is a special corollary to the supposed “CNN Effect” in foreign policy; we argue that information from HROs can influence foreign policy decisions. We test the empirical implication of the argument on a sample of all non-Western countries from 1990 to 2005. The results suggest that HRO shaming makes humanitarian intervention more likely even after controlling for several other covariates of intervention decisions. HRO activities appear to have a significant impact on the likelihood of military missions by IGOs as well as interventions led by third-party states.
Every fool knows the only way to reduce poverty is by letting teh marketz rul right?
A new NBER working paper:
Using data from the Consumer Expenditure Survey and the March Current Population Survey, we calculate historical poverty estimates based on the new Supplemental Poverty Measure (SPM) from 1967 to 2012. During this period, poverty as officially measured has stagnated. However, the official poverty measure (OPM) does not account for the effect of near-cash transfers on the financial resources available to families, an important omission since such transfers have become an increasingly important part of government anti-poverty policy. Applying the SPM, which does count such transfers, we find that historical trends in poverty have been more favorable than the OPM suggests and that government policies have played an important and growing role in reducing poverty — a role that is not evident when the OPM is used to assess poverty. We also find that government programs have played a particularly important role in alleviating child poverty and deep poverty, especially during economic downturns.
I use data from the March Current Population Survey between 1990 and 2012 to evaluate the effect of minimum wages on the distribution of family incomes for non-elderly individuals. I find robust evidence that higher minimum wages moderately reduce the share of individuals with incomes below 50, 75 and 100 percent of the federal poverty line…I also provide a quantitative summary of the literature, bringing together nearly all existing elasticities of the poverty rate with respect to minimum wages from 12 different papers. The range of the estimates in this paper is broadly consistent with most existing evidence,…
December 15, 2013
I’ve blogged my objection to it before. Currently it is receiving some very good discussion from economists and political scientists:
1. Focusing on the economic impacts of tariffs Paul Krugman says it does not matter much for good or bad.
As I said in my original post, my problem with free trade is the same as my problem with Abominable Snowmen: they don’t exist. Trade is never free — it is always enabled and bound by rules. And its outcomes depend on the nature of the rules. Whether the TPP is a good thing or not depends very much on the rules it contains. And the trouble, the fundamental problem with it, is that we — citizens of the democracies negotiating it, aren’t being told what rules are being negotiated into the document. Meanwhile lobbyists from various vested interests are actively trying to get rules shaped to serve their needs. Hence the problem
December 12, 2013
Delation: the feeling you experience as a PhD student upon completing a major task (marking essays, writing a consultancy report, organising a conference, writing a working paper…) and realising that all that work has not brought you even a single step closer to completing your thesis.
December 11, 2013
George Monbiot has a fascinating column in the Guardian in which he links to research suggesting materialism as a cause of loneliness and unhappiness. Shopping for shopping’s sake, or in search of status, tends to make people miserable.
It is a great column but Monbiot gets it wrong at the end:
This is the dreadful mistake we are making: allowing ourselves to believe that having more money and more stuff enhances our wellbeing, a belief possessed not only by those poor deluded people in the pictures, but by almost every member of almost every government. Worldly ambition, material aspiration, perpetual growth: these are a formula for mass unhappiness.
As best we can tell (also here; and see here for some debate) as countries as a whole become more wealthy, they become happier. This is most strongly felt at low levels of wealth and the effect weakens in wealthier countries, yet the effect still seems to be present even among wealthier countries.
When the unit of analysis becomes people not countries, within wealthy countries the best available evidence suggests that, up to a point (and this point is quite high) more money makes you happier, beyond the point it does not. Technically this is known as satiation, and while satiation seems to exist for self-assessed happiness, it does not seem to be present in other self-assessment based quality of life measures. Using these, more money continues to be associated with higher life assessments as far up as the data go — although diminishing returns exist, it takes more money to bring the same amount of quality of life improvement when you already have a lot of money.
Money, however, is not materialism — you could have a wealthy society without being materialistic. In it we’d be wealthy thanks to technology, good institutions, and high levels of human capital, but we’d be spending our money on leisure, and our time with family and friends, and in the outdoors or in libraries, not in shops. And, for what it’s worth, this is what I think the end goal of development out to be. Prosperous, peaceful countries which afford their citizens health, education and free time. As well as freedom from advertising driven myths about needing to own more. Countries where people are wealthy and where people still keep shopping, but where wealth and markets are a means to an ends — the good life.
November 12, 2013
It meanders and bifurcates like a grand tropical river, but this podcast talk by Professor Susanna Hecht is fascinating for one simple point: since 2000 the rate of deforestation in the Amazon (and more broadly through much of Latin America) has fallen precipitously. What had once seemed like untrammelled eco-catastrophe is now starting to look like a surprise good news story. Read the rest of this post at Devpolicy.
November 3, 2013
My reasons for opposing free trade are surprisingly similar to my reasons for opposing Abominable Snowmen. I oppose both, because neither exist. There is no such thing as free trade. The term is a marketing gimmick used to make a certain approach to trade sound appealing — free as in ‘born free’, as in ‘free at last’. In reality trade takes place everywhere on Earth bound by rules and regulations. (Consumer protection rules, labour laws, rules to prevent monopoly price gouging, rules to prevent theft…) Without these rules, exchange of all but the most primitive sort would be impossible.
Saying this isn’t the same as saying trade is bad (it’s not; it’s essential) or that globalisation is bad. But the rules that govern trade matter. They shape the outcomes we see from trade and exchange. And when the rules governing trade are inequitable there are usually welfare consequences. Indeed part of the reason New Zealand is a relatively well developed country is that we have rules that enable trade in a manner that is usually fairly fair. Rules developed and debated in the open and amongst a power structure of somewhat balanced countervailing forces, amongst the governing framework of democracy.
In the case of international trade things aren’t so simple. There is far greater potential for power imbalances, which reduces the odds of good rules. There is also often far too little transparency to international trade agreement negotiations. Yet transparency is crucial. Not only to let us know if the rules being negotiated are good ones but also because there are always be winners and losers from trade agreements, and if we are to have any idea of who these will be, we need to know what’s in the agreements in question.
This still isn’t an argument against international trade (it’s generally a very good thing). Rather it is an argument for transparent trade negotiations. Something we currently lack when it comes to the Trans Pacific Partnership trade agreement. And if you would like to know which aspects of your life your government is currently signing away as it negotiates this agreement, or if you just want other people to know to facilitate analysis and debate, the It’s Not Right petition is for you. You can sign it to call on the New Zealand government to make the text of the Trans Pacific Partnership available for public scrutiny. Signing takes all of two minutes, which is a very small price to pay to promote democratic deliberation.
October 30, 2013
No doubt, just like development, much in parenting theory is contested. However, I think at least some useful learnings can be inferred from p7 of ‘Why Humans Cooperate‘:
We know there must be “human genes” that somehow allow for culturally acquired behavior, as chimpanzees reared (enculturated) alongside human children do not acquire anything approaching adult human behavioural patterns or social norms. Interestingly, although human-reared chimpanzees seem to acquire little from their human families via imitation, these families’ human children have been observed to readily acquire a number of behaviors from their physically more advanced chimpanzee “siblings,” including knuckle walking (even after achieving full bipedality), shoe-chewing, a habit of scraping their teeth against interior walls, excessive biting, and a range of sterotypical chimpanzee food grunts and hoots.
October 24, 2013
Paul Krugman reviews William Nordhaus:
Throughout this book, Nordhaus’s tone is slightly cynical but basically calm and optimistic: this [climate change] is ultimately a problem we should be able to solve. I only wish I could share his apparent conviction that this upbeat possibility will translate into reality. Instead, I keep being haunted by a figure he presents early in the book, showing that we have been living in an age of unusual climate stability—that “the last 7,000 years have been the most stable climatic period in more than 100,000 years.” As Nordhaus notes, this era of stability coincides pretty much exactly with the rise of civilization, and that probably isn’t an accident.
October 23, 2013
Well, I was looking forwards to reading Angus Deaton’s new book, but Chris Blattman’s review leaves me less inclined. (Acting on the assumption that Blattman is treating Deaton fairly of course). In particular, writing of Deaton Blattman states:
Where he’s enflamed passions, though, is his last chapter: “How to help those left behind”. It’s a tirade against aid, especially naive aid. Overall one message comes through: Aid is a roadblock to development.
Blattman then goes on to sensibly point out that not all aid is equal, and to offer the following partial agreement with Deaton:
I think Deaton has his sights aimed at dollars sent by the West to local governments to supposedly reduce poverty, improve health, and ignite growth. This is a lot (if not the bulk) of money sent to poor countries, and so it’s a fair target.
This makes it easier to see what he means by aid not working. It probably hasn’t produced growth, even if most of Africa has been growing steadily for ten years. And it might not be what’s responsible for falling poverty levels. Frankly we don’t know, but I think we can say that if aid did ignite this growth, it certainly has been coy about it.
Yes, Chris and Angus, that might well be the case, but if aid — for all it’s flaws — really was a roadblock to development, Africa would not have grown so well in the last decade, would it?
The growth might have been in spite of aid, but that African countries could, on the whole, grow rapidly over a decade where aid to Africa itself grew rapidly, is about as definitive evidence as you could want for that aid does not prevent development.
There is a lot wrong with the world of aid. And giving aid that works is hard. But claiming that is a substantial roadblock to development is simply not true.
As an aside Blattman also writes that:
And, frankly, I personally find it hard to believe that levels of democracy in Africa would be as high as they are without aid. I think the most important forces driving democracy are probably internal to Africa, and the example and economic success of advanced democracies comes second. But aid and foreign meddling comes a close third. I simply find it hard to believe that aid–both the direct democratization kind, and maybe aid more generally–hasn’t played a big role.
Of course, I haven’t seen much evidence to support my gut feel, which (as we’ll see in a minute), is part of my larger point.
October 11, 2013
Should you ever be inclined to think that the Republicans are principled conservatives, or should you ever even just be inclined to think that they are simply the party of capital, remember this:
They have currently stopped the US federal government from functioning — causing suffering and inconvenience for millions of Americans — and are on the verge of quite possibly blowing up the global economy, for the simple reason that they do not want Americans to have access to health care.
Preventing less affluent Americans from being well matters that much to them.
They are not principled conservatives, nor principled anything. They are not the party of capital.
They are the party of crazy. A party driven mad by its own meanness.
I can think of no other explanation.
October 6, 2013
Do you think inequality is probably important? But are you also not wholly convinced by the Spirit Level? Are you an empiricist? Are you irritated by your (fellow) left wing friends who now somehow know post Spirit Level that inequality is the most important thing there is? Do you crave evidence? This website is almost certainly going to help.
October 1, 2013
Quite interesting analysis of Australia’s election results in the Washington Post although, typically it ignores the real issues of political economy.
One thing it does pick up quite well is just how distorted Australia’s politics has been by a relatively trivial issue (at least for those of us already living here in Australia):
While the number of immigrants seeking asylum is steadily increasing, the absolute number is still quite small – 16,000 in 2012 – compared to the total number of annual immigrants – 200,000 in 2012. Nonetheless, 52 percent of voters reported that this issue was “very important” to their voting decision – a number higher than climate change, national security or interest rates.
Also, a depressing take on American politics by Larry Bartels. I wish Obama would have been more liberal but I don’t underestimate the forces pushing against him.
September 26, 2013
In recent years the world of NGOs, bloggers and development think-tanks has gotten politics, big time. Or, at least, they’ve got it with respect to the governance of aid recipient countries. Politics matters. Good governance is not simply technocratic. It ain’t all markets. The state matters. And the state is shaped by politics.
Presumably because many of us are one way or another part funded via governments in donor countries we talking heads of development seem a lot more reluctant to concede that our own politics matter — that they determine the development-affecting international actions our governments take (aid and other foreign policy).
Fortunately, there is some interesting empirical evidence being generated in academia which is looking into this. As well as some interesting case study research just waiting to be done on different countries – indeed my wife’s just started a PhD on NZ aid).
While pondering the future for Australian aid I summarise some of this international work on the politics of aid donors in a blog post at Devpolicy.
September 21, 2013
From an interesting essay by Julian Burnside:
The fact is that boat people do not break any law by coming here the way they do. Over the past 15 years, 90% of them have ultimately been assessed as refugees entitled to our protection. Their arrival rate over the last 12 months has been much higher than the historic average, but even now it represents only four weeks’ ordinary population growth. While an estimated 25,000 boat people arrived in Australia in the 12 months to June 30, 2013, we received 168,685 new permanent migrants and over six million visitors came to our shores in the year ended December 2012. Boat people do not present a demographic problem for Australia.
Spooked by tabloid scare-mongering, both major parties have chosen deterrent policies: treat them harshly, push them off to small, impoverished Pacific neighbours. The low point of this is the recent Coalition promise to bring in the military to deal with the “emergency”.
The spectacular cost of these measures passes without complaint because it is seen as a kind of protection. While it is difficult to separate out the various components of the cost, indefinite detention costs, on average, around A$160,000 per person per year as of 2011-12. The actual cost varies: metropolitan detention is cheapest. It gets more and more expensive as the place of detention is more remote. On current estimates, we will spend about $4 billion each year brutalising people who have committed no offence and have done nothing worse that ask for protection [emphasis mine].
By way of comparison total Australian ODA in 2012 was just over $5.2 billion AUD.
September 18, 2013
It certainly seems possible on the basis of reporting in the Fin Review:
“It is also understood the head of AusAID Peter Baxter has resigned, with the agency to be absorbed into the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, mirroring a similar move by the Canadian government.“
Add this to the Coalition government’s utterly reckless plan to slash aid spending mid financial year and all of a sudden the future of Australian Aid looks very bleak. In 2012 Australia was the 8th biggest bilateral OECD donor in absolute dollar terms, and it is the biggest to the Pacific, meaning that a dramatic turn for the worse will be far more significant than have been the travails in New Zealand aid.
This all looks like very bad news.
September 11, 2013
Reading this, very interesting, DFID paper on impact evaluations and causality it strikes me that the beauty if Randomised Control Trials in development isn’t to do so much with their internal validity, or philosophical arguments about causality but rather, simply, that for RCTs the devil isn’t in the details.
With multivariate regressions there’s always somewhere for the bad stuff to hide: weak instrumental variables, Granger Causality, poor quality data, absence or presence of particular control variables, running so many regressions as to eventually get one of those magic stars…
Likewise with qualitative work as a reader you can never be wholly confident that the author hasn’t prioritised some evidence over others, or heard some voices or not others. Or that they’re not extrapolating too far from a small non-representative sample.
With an RCT on the other hand things are pretty simple. External validity issues beyond your population or context of interest, sure. But run enough RCTs in enough places and you start to overcome this. And, crucially, what you do run is simple (usually) treatment versus controls. Fairly simple maths and an obvious effect, or not.
In the tangled world of development research that, I think, is the humble RCT’s most persuasive selling point.
Not the be all and end all, but nice, because they leave a lot less space for hiding things.
September 10, 2013
People say the road to hell is paved with good intentions, but that has always struck me as nonsense. If you look at the sweep of history, all the really awful stuff was born of really awful intentions. Well-intended disasters don’t even make the top ten.
And so it is with aid too. A lot of well-intended aid has failed to work (giving aid well is hard!) and some of it has even caused harm. But most of the worst outcomes, I would contend, came from aid that was not well intended in the first place: tied US food aid, aid to buy the allegiance of dictators. And if the allegations levelled against him by two documentary film makers prove to be true US televangelist Pat Robertson has just done a spectacularly good job of illustrating this point.
Read the rest of this post on DevPolicy here.
August 28, 2013
A handy link on the Shleifer affair, surely the darkest hour (not without competition of course) in the annals of ‘development economists not exactly practising what they preach.’
August 8, 2013
From an interesting CGDEV blog post. My guess is that here in the Pacific we are close to entirely absent such a trend.
July 23, 2013
Kevin Rudd’s PNG “solution” to asylum seekers who try and reach Australia by boat — sending them to Papua New Guinea — strikes me as profoundly immoral. It is also, as Stephen Howes explains carefully on the development policy centre blog, likely to be – practically speaking – impossible to implement. Nice one Kev.
From page 240 of Carol Lancaster’s book ‘Foreign Aid: Diplomacy, Development, Domestic Politics‘.
“I am grateful to Michael Clemens of the Centre for Global Development for the following observation on the ancient history of relief aid: “The earliest documented instance I’ve seen is from 226BC, when a huge earthquake hit Rhodes, toppling the famous colossus. Rhodes was a main clearing house for Mediterranean trade – something like an ancient Singapore. Led by Ptolemy III of Egypt, several nations around the Mediterranean immediately sent food aid and other assistance to the quake victims” (personal correspondence, December 2004).”
I wonder what monitoring and evaluation was like back then?
What looks to be a very interesting new NBER paper:
Turning a Shove into a Nudge? A “Labeled Cash Transfer” for Education
Najy Benhassine, Florencia Devoto, Esther Duflo, Pascaline Dupas, Victor Pouliquen
Conditional Cash Transfers (CCTs) have been shown to increase human capital investments, but their standard features make them expensive. We use a large randomized experiment in Morocco to estimate an alternative government-run program, a “labeled cash transfer” (LCT): a small cash transfer made to fathers of school-aged children in poor rural communities, not conditional on school attendance but explicitly labeled as an education support program. We document large gains in school participation. Adding conditionality and targeting mothers make almost no difference. The program increased parents’ belief that education was a worthwhile investment, a likely pathway for the results.
I’m not someone who dismisses the textbook model of humans as rational utility maximisers off hand. Sometimes, we’re close enough for it to be practically useful. And almost always it is a great starting point for thinking. Nevertheless, advances in behavioural economics psychology promise, I think, not only to improve the study of economics and political science, but also to provide all manner of useful insights into aid practice.
July 20, 2013
Setting aside the suffering, and the potential impact on a depressed global economy, the interesting development related question is how will China’s political and social institutions fare through the political stresses caused by a slow down?
Indeed, Rodrik et al’s growth accelerations paper suggested (to me at least) that growth spurts can happen in poorly governed countries but sustained development, which means dealing with the wobbles on the road, is much harder to maintain. What’s more, Rodrik provided pretty convincing evidence in One Economics that democracies weather economic shocks considerably better than autocracies, which doesn’t bode well for slow down in China.
An optimist might hope (I certainly do) that the Chinese government responds to the pressures generated by economic downturn through democratic opening and redistributive transfers to the poor.
But a pessimist will remind you that there are many, many other potential outcomes.
July 17, 2013
Huh, I missed this when it came out.
The Paradox of Declining Female Happiness
NBER Working Paper No. 14969
Issued in May 2009
By many objective measures the lives of women in the United States have improved over the past 35 years, yet we show that measures of subjective well-being indicate that women’s happiness has declined both absolutely and relative to men. The paradox of women’s declining relative well-being is found across various datasets, measures of subjective well-being, and is pervasive across demographic groups and industrialized countries. Relative declines in female happiness have eroded a gender gap in happiness in which women in the 1970s typically reported higher subjective well-being than did men. These declines have continued and a new gender gap is emerging — one with higher subjective well-being for men.
[gated link sorry]
I haven’t read the paper yet but were I to speculate on causes I would say that societies that place ever increasing pressure on women to look and behave a certain way (simultaneously as sex objects for men; and as virtuous and abstentious) would be a likely cause…
July 16, 2013
Jeffrey Sachs, arguably the world’s most influential development economist, is no stranger to criticism. From the right, academics such as William Easterly have been attacking his advocacy of aid for at least a decade. On the left his opponents have been just as strident in critiquing his advocacy of privatisation, structural adjustment and trade liberalisation for even longer (for archetypal examples see this review in the Left Business Observer and critical opinion in the Nation Magazine here). Yet the latest round of criticism of Sachs feels different. [My latest post on Devpolicy; read more here.]
July 12, 2013
My wife and I sometimes wonder whether other couples are more exciting than us. I mean we’re happy, get on well together, and go surfing when we can. But, on the other hand, we’ve just devoted our weekends for the last several months to a detailed analysis of New Zealand aid flow data. That’s not that exciting right?
Anyhow, the end product, a joint Devpolicy NZADDs working paper is now up for your reading pleasure on SSRN: http://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/papers.cfm?abstract_id=2292300
However, unless you’re every bit as boring as we are I suggest you start with the short and snappy Devpolicy blog post. Read the basics in less than 5 minutes:
Importantly, if you’re from an OECD DAC donor country you could emulate this report pretty easily. It would be great if our nerdiness went global. You can contact me via the about page of this blog if you’d like advice.
July 4, 2013
By coincidence Horst Bleakly has an interesting new NBER paper looking at the impacts of an 1832 Georgian land lottery that randomly granted tracts of land to men. From the conclusion:
Using wealth measured in the 1850 Census manuscripts, we follow up on a sample of men eligible to win in the 1832 Cherokee Land Lottery. With these data, we can assess the effect of winning that lottery on the distribution of wealth almost two decades after the fact.We show that winners are, on average, richer, but mainly because the middle of the distribution is thinner and the upper tail is fatter. In contrast, the lower tail is largely unaffected. This stands in contrast with a `mechanical’ short-run effect of the lottery, which would tend to compress the distribution of (log) wealth. The results are also inconsistent with the view that the effect of winning would have been greatest on the lower tail because credit constraints had created a wealth-based `poverty trap’. As we see in this episode, it may take more than just wealth to move the lower tail of the long-run wealth distribution “up from poverty.”