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December 2015

#4 from 2015: Bill Easterly and the denial of inconvenient truths

Brian Levy's picture
Our Top Ten blog posts by readership in 2015. This post was originally posted on October 22, 2015. It was also the blog post of the month for October 2015.
 

The Tyranny of Experts book coverIn his 2014 book, The Tyranny of Experts, Bill Easterly uses his rhetorical gifts to make the case for ‘free development’. In so doing, he takes his trademark blend of insight and relentlessness to a new level. But in this moment of history that has been described by democracy champion, Larry Diamond as a “democracy recession”[i], is it helpful to argue by taking no prisoners and not letting inconvenient truths get in the way?

Easterly, to be sure, communicates powerfully two big and important ideas. The first is that, as per his title, behind a seemingly technocratic approach to development are some inconvenient political realities. As he puts it:

The implicit vision in development today is that of well-intentioned autocrats advised by technical experts…. The word technocracy itself is an early twentieth century coinage that means ‘rule by experts’” (p.6)

In surfacing the implausible assumptions which underlie a world view of ‘rule by experts’, Easterly does us a service. One cannot engage effectively with today’s difficult realities on the basis of a vision of decision-making which ignores the inconvenient truths of self-seeking ambition, of contestation over ends among competing factions, and of imbalances of power which marginalize the interests of large segments of society. (Of course, as this essay will explore, many of these difficult realities arise – in different ways – in both predatory authoritarian and messily democratic settings.)

The second powerful idea is The Tyranny of Experts paean to freedom – “a system of political and economic rights in which many political and economic actors will find the right actions to promote their own development”.  (pp. 215-216). With eloquent libertarian rhetoric of a kind which Ayn Rand would no doubt have applauded, Easterly argues that:

we must not let caring about material suffering of the poor change the subject from caring about the rights of the poor”. (p.339)

Yes, but we also must not fall into a trap which parallels that of the technocratic fallacy – and let our high-minded advocacy of the rights of the poor blind us to the challenges of how to translate our rhetoric into reality. And it is here that Easterly’s Tyranny falls way, way short.

10 candid career questions with PPP professionals – Nico Saporiti

Nico Saporiti's picture
Las Vegas via Andrey Bayda / Shutterstock.com

What do casinos in the Las Vegas desert, beachside cultural sites in Malta, and palm groves around centuries-old markets in Marrakech have in common? The answer lies beneath a veneer of seemingly disparate societies and geographies: this improbable urban trio shares the same story of dwindling water resources and associated crisis management. The good news is that these fast growing, tourist-invaded, and arid urban areas are constantly writing new chapters of their water stories. We believe that these chapters, featuring a world of possibilities for innovation and learning, are worth sharing with water scarce cities around the world.
 
The Water Scarce Cities Initiative (WSC) is a pioneering World Bank global program that connects diverse stakeholders to share their experiences in bolstering integrated approaches for water security and climate resilience. With its sights set on collective progress, WSC partnered with the 5 + 5 group for the Water Strategy in the Western Mediterranean (WSWM) to hold a Regional Water Scarce Cities Workshop in Casablanca, Morocco from May 22-23, 2017. From Cyprus to Barcelona (Spain), the workshop inspired and motivated over 40 diverse participants from the Western Mediterranean region and beyond to explore the connections between their water security and urban resilience experiences.

Poverty is falling faster for female-headed households in Africa

Dominique Van De Walle's picture
 dotshock l Shutterstock.com

The demographic clock is ticking on both sides of the Mediterranean, from an aging workforce at one end to a workforce surplus on the other. Yet, whatever the demographic dynamics, the Mediterranean area is facing an incredible challenge, that of providing a safe, buoyant and prosperous future for its youth, one which would benefit its societies, their economic development, and progress.

#5 from 2015: The things we do: How a simple text message is the difference between success and failure

Roxanne Bauer's picture
Our Top Ten blog posts by readership in 2015. This post was  originally posted on April 21, 2015.
 

A woman and her child get the anti-malaria drugs distributed in Freetown.Mobile phones are increasingly prevalent throughout the world, and researchers have found that sending text message reminders can help people follow-through with their intentions, significantly increasing the success of development interventions.

“People need to be reminded more often than they need to be instructed.”

These are the wise words of Samuel Johnson, an English author, critic, and lexicographer. Even though he lived more than 200 years ago, international development interventions are proving him correct today. 
 
Reminders for Malaria
 
It’s widely known that failure to adhere to a full course of antibiotic treatment leads to treatment failure and encourages bacterial resistance to antibiotics, threatening the sustainability of current medications. This is extremely important for malaria, which, according to the World Health Organization, results in 198 million cases each year and around 584,000 deaths.  The burden is particularly heavy in Africa, where around 90% of malaria deaths occur, and in children under 5 years of age, who account for 78% of all deaths. Moreover, low rates of adherence to artemisinin-based combination therapy (ACT) treatments has led to a prevalence of antibiotic-resistant Malaria in many parts of the world, particularly Africa. One of the biggest and simplest  reasons why people fail to complete the full treatment for Malaria is that they forget.

Policy to research to policy in difficult places

Humanity Journal's picture

This post was written by Alex de Waal, the Executive Director of the World Peace Foundation and a Research Professor at The Fletcher School. It is a contribution to an online symposium on the changing nature of knowledge production in fragile states. Be sure to read other entries by Deval Desai and Rebecca TapscottLisa Denney and Pilar Domingo, Michael WoolcockMorten Jerven.

UNAMID Police Officer Patrols IDP Camp in DarfurThere’s a commendable search for rigor in social science. But there’s also an illusion that numbers ipso facto represent rigor, and that sophisticated mathematical analysis of the social scientific datasets can expand the realm of explanatory possibilities. Social scientific researchers working in what the Justice and Security Research Programme calls “difficult places”—countries affected by armed conflict, political turbulence and the long-lasting uncertainties that follow protracted crisis—should be extremely cautious before setting off on this path.

There’s a simultaneous search for policy relevance: for bridging the gap between the academy and the executive. We want our research to be useful and to be used; we want policy-makers to listen to us. But we risk becoming entrapped in a self-referential knowledge creating machine.

The holy grail seems to be to emulate economists and epidemiologists, whose highly technical analyses of real world data—and in the case of the latter, double-blind clinical trials—set a gold standard in terms of methodological rigor, alongside a truly enviable record of influencing policy and practice. But before embarking on this quest, it would be advisable to examine what social scientific scholarship might look like, if it actually reached this goal.

Evidence based policy or policy based evidence? Supply and demand for data in a donor dominant world

Humanity Journal's picture

This post, by Morten Jerven, is a contribution to an online symposium on the changing nature of knowledge production in fragile states. Be sure to read other entries by Deval Desai and Rebecca TapscottLisa Denney and Pilar Domingo, and Michael Woolcock.

Patients seeking treatment at Redemption Hospital in Monrovia, In 2010 I was doing research for Poor Numbers: How we are misled by African development statistics and what to do about it. I was In Lusaka, Zambia on a Wednesday afternoon, and was having a free and frank conversation with a specialist working for the UK’s Department for International Development (DfID) office there as part of the ethnographic component of my book. One of the themes we kept returning to was the problem that donors demanded evidence that was not necessarily relevant for Zambian policy makers. We were also discussing how results-oriented MDG reporting had created real outside pressure to distort statistics, with donors having the final say on what gets measured, when and how. Indeed, whenever I asked anyone in Zambia—and elsewhere in sub-Saharan Africa—“what do we know about economic growth?,” a recurring issue was how resources were diverted from domestic economic statistics to MDG-relevant statistics.

Two days later I was sitting in the Central Statistical Office in Lusaka, talking to the then only remaining member of the economic statistics division. In 2007, this division was manned by three statisticians, but when I returned in 2010, there was only one person there. The other two had been pulled from economic statistics to social and demographic statistics where there was more donor money for per diem payments. The phone rang. DfID Lusaka was on the other end. They had a problem. They had financed a report on social statistics, but the office statistician tasked with completing the report had recently travelled to Japan to participate in a generously funded training course, leaving the report incomplete. Could someone help out? And so it was that the last remaining economic statistician for the Zambian government temporarily left the office to come to the rescue.

From citizen feedback to inclusive institutions: 10 lessons

Soren Gigler's picture
Photo © Dominic Chavez/World Bank


Over the last couple of years a small team of us have worked on an initiative to incorporate the regular, systematic feedback of citizens into the design and execution of World Bank programs. I would like to share some of our experiences working together with governments, civil society organizations and citizens in Latin America, Asia, the Middle East and Africa on this citizen engagement initiative.

First, citizen engagement is not new. For instance, the early work by Robert Chambers, “The Origins and Practice of Participatory Rural Appraisal and Michael Cernea’s “Putting People First” date from 1980s and early 90s and were quite inspirational for many of us who have worked issues of gathering and acting on citizen feedback.
 
At the same time, something important has changed. There has been an increasing demand by civil society and citizens to have a greater say in public decision-making, and a desire among many governments to be more inclusive and responsive to citizens’ needs. Also, the rise of innovations in technology has provided citizens with new and unprecedented opportunities to directly engage policy makers and demonstrated the potential to facilitate “Closing the Feedback Loop” between citizen and governments.

Year in Review: Our most popular stories of 2015

Elizabeth Howton's picture

Here at the World Bank, we publish a lot of stories, press releases, blogs, videos, and more each year. We also pay close attention to which ones get read the most. Here are your favorite stories published in 2015, measured by the number of unique visitors (except where noted).

Feature Stories

Three of the top 5 stories this year concerned climate, in the lead-up to the December meeting in Paris where the world’s nations reached a new accord to fight climate change.

  1. Rapid, Climate-Informed Development Needed to Keep Climate Change from Pushing More than 100 Million People into Poverty by 2030 (Nov. 8)
  2. Who Gains and Who Loses from Plunging Oil Prices in the Middle East and North Africa Region? (Jan. 29)
  3. Innovating Against Odds: How a Province in Pakistan is Transforming Itself (Sept. 24)
  4. Carbon Pricing Is Expanding: Initiatives Now Valued at Nearly $50 Billion (May 26)
  5. 3 Steps to Decarbonizing Development for a Zero-Carbon Future (May 11)

#6 from 2015: Five myths about governance and development

David Booth's picture

Our Top Ten blog posts by readership in 2015.  This post was originally posted on February 26, 2015. It was also the blog post of the month for March 2015.

In some areas of development policy, deep-rooted assumptions are extremely hard to dislodge. Like science-fiction androids or the many-headed Hydra, these are monsters that can sustain any number of mortal blows and still regenerate. Capable researchers armed with overwhelming evidence are no threat to them.
 
The importance of good governance for development is one such assumption. Take last month’s enquiry report on Parliamentary Strengthening by the International Development Committee of the UK parliament. It references the UN High Level Panel’s opinion that ‘good governance and effective institutions’ should be among the goals for ending global poverty by 2030. It would have done better to reference the evidence in 2012’s rigorously researched UN publication Is Good Governance Good for Development?
 
Here are five governance myths about which the strong scientific consensus might – eventually – slay some monsters.

Multilateral development banks collaborate to improve public-private partnerships: broad initiatives

Matthew Jordan-Tank's picture
Photo: Noeltock/Flickr
Will technology be the savior of urban mobility?
 
Urbanization and rising incomes have been driving rapid motorization across Asia, Africa, and Latin America. While cities are currently home to 50% of the global population, that proportion is expected to increase to 70% by 2050. At the same time, business-as-usual trends suggest we could see an additional 1 billon cars by 2050, most of which will have to squeeze into the already crowded streets of Indian, Chinese, and African cities.
 
If no action is taken, these cars threaten literally to choke tomorrow’s cities, bringing with them a host of negative consequences that would seriously undermine the overall benefits of urbanization: lowered productivity from constant congestion; local pollution and rising carbon emissions; road traffic deaths and injuries; rising inequity and social division.
 
However, after a century of relatively small incremental progress, disruptive changes in the world of automotive technology could have fundamental implications for sustainability.
 
What are these megatrends, and how can they reshape the future of urban mobility?

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