This is for anyone who ever found themselves frustrated by numbers -- myself included.
Right before college, I remember my parents asking me what degree I wanted to pursue. Vaguely, I answered “Anything without math.” Even during my post graduate studies, I consciously picked a degree with less mathematics in its curriculum. The irony is, I now work in the World Bank Group and numbers is its core language. But there is good news, not only for rookies like me, but for everyone – numbers can be fascinating, insightful and even fun.
‘My Favorite Number,’ is a YouTube series that shows how digits can give us unique insight into global development and humanity. World Bank Group’s economists share their stories on their favorite numbers – demonstrating how their brilliance (and humor) reaffirm that numbers are vital to everyday life. The videos show us that economists are not just about numbers. They bring passion and personal perspectives to relevant issues around the world.
I was recently at a conference in Lahore, Pakistan sponsored by the International Growth Centre where the keynote address was given by Shahbaz Sharif, the Chief Minister of the province of Punjab, Pakistan (100+ million people). While fun to see old friends and colleagues, the conference was a little depressing in the way it reflected the state of the development economics profession.
The Chief Minister posed serious questions that have traditionally been the bread and butter of the economics profession. Unfortunately, we are not even trying to answer them any more. The specific question was “Should I put more money into transport? Infrastructure (power, roads, water)? Law and order? Social services? Or what? And where am I going to get the money?” What questions could be more solidly part of the core of economics than these? Unfortunately none of these were even remotely the focus of the “evidence-based” policy making discussed.
Ariel Rubinstein sat down for a video interview with me last week following a DEC lecture. A professor at Tel Aviv University as well as NYU, Rubinstein is an eminent game theorist and expert on the economic theory behind bargaining.
He spoke about how economic theory has gone through fundamental changes, in no small part due to growing interest in behavioral economics.
June 1 was Justin’s last day as World Bank Chief Economist and I wanted to share comments from several leading development thinkers and economists (including past Chief Economists) who knew him and appreciated the determination he brought to the position. Justin’s views were not in the mainstream at the World Bank, but through intellectual persistence, structural economics has re-emerged as a topic meriting debate and discussion among top development experts.
Enjoy the video and feel free to share your views about Justin’s legacy
When launching ‘Let’s Talk Development,’ we thought we would create a platform for encouraging open debate and exchanging serious ideas about economic development and poverty reduction. Looking back at almost two years of open exchanges and vigorous discussion on all sorts of issues, I think we have far surpassed our initial expectations. ‘Let’s Talk Development’ now has a wide and loyal readership and is among the most popular of the World Bank’s blogs.
- Development economics
In his hit My Valentine, former Beatle Sir Paul McCartney sings about a Moroccan vacation where foul weather meant he and his love could not enjoy the vacation and planned sightseeing they had envisioned. Sir Paul was frustrated, until his love said the weather mattered little and they should change their mindset and make the most of it. That advice inspired the opening lyrics of his tune -- What if it rained?/ We didn't care/ She said that someday soon/ The sun was gonna shine/ And she was right/ This love of mine,/ My Valentine -- and taught him a valuable lesson: Complaining about the missing ingredients necessary to achieve any goal is a waste. It is far better to focus on what is already available and make the most of things.
The quality of development projects depends in part on how well grounded project preparation is in knowledge about what works and what does not. Development practitioners need to be well informed if their projects are to have impact.
The World Bank’s in-house research department—the Development Research Group (DECRG)—is the main unit aiming to supply relevant research findings to Bank operations, as well as to external clients. It is not a large department, accounting for about 1% of the Bank’s administrative budget. But it produces the majority of the Bank’s research, and has a high profile internationally. Indeed, it is often ranked ahead of almost all universities and think tanks in development economics, measured by the quantity of research outputs, downloads and citations to research findings. For example, the highly-regarded and much-watched ranking done by the IDEAS project currently puts DECRG ahead of all but one university.
In analyzing returns to schooling and in evaluating educational policies, ‘soft skills’ – personality traits like conscientiousness, openness and diligence -- often get under-valued or neglected. This is in part because so much value is placed on standardized test scores in education systems. It’s also because soft skills that are valued in the labor market, in school, and in many other domains are considered too hard to quantify.
According to Nobel-winning economist Joseph Stiglitz, creating jobs amidst today’s low-demand, high-debt environment is a tall order. It will require viable structural employment policies, unemployment insurance for laid off people, and -- in the case of the US – facing up to the inevitable shift out of the manufacturing sector into services. Stiglitz, who delivered a DEC Lecture at the World Bank on September 26 on ‘The State of the Global Economy: An Agenda for Job Creation’, warned that far more is broken than the banking and financial systems in high income countries. He argues that a lack of aggregate demand is a huge problem that can only be fixed through smart public as well as private investment in education, infrastructure, and innovative technologies to protect the environment. He also described the current phenomenon whereby productivity in manufacturing is exceeding the rate of growth in demand in the sector, which means jobs on factory floors are being shed. In other words, technical change can induce large distributive consequences and lead to long term unemployment. Listen to my interview with him about what can be done to cure our current ills.