In 2014, the World Bank issued a highly relevant and timely report titled Risk and Opportunity: Managing Risk for Development. This report analyzed the growing number of heterogenous risks and opportunities affecting developing countries. A clear challenge in finding a consistent risk management strategy stems from the sharp differences in the risks faced by developing countries; for example, commodity price shocks, financial crises, and natural disasters have all different defining characteristics. While we could tailor risk management strategies to each one of these types of risks, not having the benefit of a unifying framework can lead to mistakes and mismanagement of the scarce resources available to developing nations to deal with these potentially disastrous events. Five years after the publication of the report, in a time of growing macroeconomic headwinds for emerging markets and higher exposure to natural disasters, understanding the risks faced by these economies and how to effectively manage them continues to be a key policy challenge.
2018: It has been 100 years since the Spanish flu pandemic and 10 years since the global financial crisis. The Spanish flu killed more than 50 million people, more than the two World Wars combined. It was so lethal because it occurred when people were at their weakest, suffering from the Great War: malnourished, living in conditions of poor hygiene, on the move as combatants or refugees, and lacking proper medical facilities. A decade ago, the global financial crisis struck, triggering not only a prolonged recession in the United States and other advanced countries but also a deepening distrust of globalization as a force for progress. And this had consequences well beyond the realm of economics. Lacking unity of purpose and grappling with their own domestic troubles, the nations of the West were unable to deal with the Arab uprisings and could not articulate a response to the Syrian crisis. Brexit, the rise of nationalism in Europe, the neo-isolationist policies in the United States, and the recent wave of trade protectionism have deep roots, but their triggers can be traced, in one way or another, to the global financial crisis of 2008.
At the Global Infrastructure Facility (GIF) Advisory Council Meeting in March, we talked about construction risk and the way it shapes the delivery environment early in a project’s investment life. As a practicing engineer accustomed to attacking construction risk at the granular level, I enjoyed the broader discussion, particularly from the banking and credit perspective (meeting outcomes).
Unfortunately, construction risk realization will continue to be the norm. Perhaps we need to consider taking the longer view to reach potential investors by aligning the risk environment with risk tolerance.
Here are three ways to do this:
This is the tenth in our job market paper series this year.
In developing countries, the high costs of credit along with varied impediments to saving, make it challenging for people to raise large sums of liquidity needed for large and indivisible, or “lumpy,” expenditures. An emerging body of evidence has shown how these constraints push people towards second-best strategies to address their financial needs (Collin et al. 2009 and Banerjee and Duflo 2007). My job market paper, “Gambling, Saving, and Lumpy Expenditures: Sports Betting in Uganda”, looks at the behaviors of 1,715 bettors in Kampala, Uganda and provides evidence that unmet liquidity needs push people towards sports betting as an unexpected alternative method of liquidity generation.
Learning to give preference to long-term goals over more immediate ones is known as deferred gratification or patience and considered a virtue in many cultures. However, there is logic behind asking for rewards immediately, and those who live in poverty know this all too well.
The comedian Jerry Seinfeld, once joked “I never get enough sleep. I stay up late at night because I’m ‘night guy’. ‘Night guy’ wants to stay up late. ‘What about getting up after five hours of sleep?’ ‘Oh, that’s morning guy’s problem. That’s not my problem—I’m night guy! I stay up as late as I want.’
Such decisions are described by the theory of intertemporal choice, the idea that decisions have consequences that come at different points in time. People weigh the relative trade-offs of getting what they want in the immediate future with the trouble associated with waiting but potentially getting something better.
We all face these kinds of decisions in our day-to-day lives, from deciding to work now or later or save or spend money, to whether or not we should stay up late to enjoy the night or go to bed early to feel better the next day. In each of these cases, a decision maker needs to assess the utility (or value) of one outcome that is will occur sooner with another one that is more distant in the future.
Few people doubt the merits of pausing to "think things through" before making a decision. Without doing so, we fear we may end up making a decision that leads to harm and misfortune. However, this process is itself a double-edged sword that can lead us astray.
We've all been forced to make tough decisions in life. From career progression and where to live to which route to take on a trip, we navigate life's choices by considering our options and weighing them against each other. In the context of these decisions, we attempt to predict the negative consequences from an action or decision and the likelihood that those consequences will actually occur.
Regret- we seek to avoid it when we can
In a famous study on Regret Theory, Loomes and Sugden present the idea that in making decisions, individuals not only consider the knowledge they have and the resources at their disposal, but also the likely scenarios that will result from their choices. They further suggest that the pleasure associated with the results of their choices depends not only on the nature of those results but also on the nature of alternative results. Individuals consider the regret their future selves may feel if they know they would have been better if they had chosen differently. Likewise, they consider the joy their future selves may feel if the consequences of their decisions turn out to be optimal. Thus, both a cause and a consequence of our desire to avoid losses (loss aversion) is our desire to avoid the pain of regret.
According to researchers, individuals exhibit “regret aversion” when they fear their decision will turn out to be wrong in hindsight. Sometimes, we engage in regret aversion before making a decision, leading us to hem and haw and lose out on opportunities. Other times, we engage in regret aversion after a decision is already made, leading us to hold on to losing assets or undesirable positions because we don’t want to admit our choice was not the best one. Many of the interventions that behavioral economists suggest, such as automatic enrollment, default options, and providing information to consumers, are set up to reduce the ex post regret individuals will face for not doing something that’s in their interest.
Heather Lanthorn describes the design of the Affordable Medicines Facility- malaria, a financing mechanism for expanding access to antimalarial medication, as well as some of the questions countries faced as they decided to participate in its pilot, particularly those related to risk and reputation.
I examine, in my never-ending thesis, the political-economy of adopting and implementing a large global health program, the Affordable Medicines Facility – malaria or the “AMFm”. This program was designed at the global level, meaning largely in Washington, DC and Geneva, with tweaking workshops in assorted African capitals. Global actors invited select sub-Saharan African countries to apply to pilot the AMFm for two years before any decision would be made to continue, modify, scale-up, or terminate the program. One key point I make is that implementing stakeholders see pilot experiments with uncertain follow-up plans as risky: they take time and effort to set-up and they often have unclear lines of accountability, presenting risk to personal, organizational, and even national reputations. This can lead to stakeholder resistance to being involved in experimental pilots.
It should be noted from the outset that it was not fully clear what role the evidence from the pilot would play in the board’s decision or how the evidence would be interpreted. As I highlight below, this lack of clarity helped to foster feelings of risk as well as a resistance among some of the national-level stakeholders about participating in the pilot. Several critics have noted that the scale and scope and requisite new systems and relationships involved in the AMFm disqualify it from being considered a ‘pilot,’ though I use that term for continuity with most other AMFm-related writing.
In my research, my focus is on the national and sub-national processes of deciding to participate in the initial pilot (‘phase I’) stage, focusing specifically on Ghana. Besides being notable for the project scale and resources mobilized, one thing that stood out about this project is that there was a reasonable amount of resistance to piloting this program among stakeholders in several of the invited countries. I have been lucky and grateful that a set of key informants in Ghana, as well as my committee and other reviewers, have been willing to converse openly with me over several years as I have tried to untangle the reasons behind the support and resistance and to try to get the story ‘right’.