Development economics has been rocked by three mini-revolutions in recent years. The materials, methods, and medium have all been transformed—making for what Michael Clemens and I call “the new transparency” in a new working paper, forthcoming in the journal World Economy. We use the controversy around the Millennium Villages Project (MVP) as a case study to explain what we mean.
A separate new book, The Idealist, by journalist Nina Munk, traces the trials and tribulations of the Millennium Villages. The account of the attempt to jump-start development in rural Africa has generated reviews in the New York Times and Wall Street Journal. The book jumps back and forth between a profile of Jeffrey Sachs, the project’s tireless promoter, and on-the-scene reporting at two Millennium Villages, which the author visited several times over six years. Munk’s narrative of good intentions stymied by the challenge of implementation makes for a gripping and heartbreaking read, particularly in the account of the site at Dertu, Kenya where ongoing drought overwhelmed the project’s efforts.