The elusive quest to scale
Some 15 years ago, I was in a small town in Hoshangabad district (India) attending a workshop with government schoolteachers, where we were examining student test scores. Instructors from Eklavya, a non-profit supporting the government, were skillfully leading teachers through an intensely engaging session on why a child might have written a particular answer, what was right and what was wrong with the answer, how to grade it, and how a teacher could help the child improve. Everyone was sharing lessons and learning.
The elusive quest to scale
The last quarter century saw remarkable progress against extreme poverty, globally. Between 1990 and 2013, the percentage of the world’s population living at or under $1.90/day fell from 35.3% to 10.7% - that is, from more than one in three people to approximately one in ten, planet-wide. Even in the shorter period between 2002 and 2013, the reduction was from 25.8% to 10.7%, meaning that about 850 million people moved out of extreme poverty during that decade alone.
I Will Always Write Back is the true story of Martin Ganda and Caitlin Alifirenka, who became pen pals -- between Zimbabwe and the USA -- in middle (or lower secondary) school. Over time, they learn from each other, and ultimately Caitlin's family realizes the depth of need of Martin and his family -- living in a slum on the outskirts of the city Matate -- and provides support beyond the letters, all to an inspiring end (which I won't spoil).
This book is on many middle school reading lists, with good reason. My thirteen-year-old son just read and enjoyed it. It provides an introduction to life in Zimbabwe and a range of challenges that might never occur to a child (or adult, for that matter) in a high-income country. I've never worked in Zimbabwe, but I have studied education in many countries, including several countries around Sub-Saharan Africa, and the characterizations of life broadly rang true.
If a trade economist were abruptly woken up by somebody shouting, “preferential trade agreements” (PTAs), their first thought is likely to be “trade creation among participants and trade diversion away from those left out.” That is a measure of the influence of Jacob Viner’s classic book The Customs Union Issue on the profession, on the policy debate and on our attitude towards PTAs.
Brexit and the renegotiation of NAFTA have renewed interest in the impact of trade agreements and the consequences of undoing them. In a recent paper, Mattoo, Mulabdic and Ruta (2017) and column (VOXEU), we use new information on the content of PTAs to examine their trade effects.
Is poverty absolute or relative? When we think of (one-dimensional) income poverty, should we define the threshold that separates the poor from the non-poor as the cost of purchasing a fixed basket of goods and services that allows people to meet their basic needs? Or should we instead think of it as relative deprivation: as earning or consuming less than some given proportion of the country’s average living standard?
Could a parent’s decision to vaccinate a child depend on a free bag of lentils? The premise seems implausible:immunization can be a matter of life and death, and a bag of lentils is worth only a dollar. Yet a randomized controlled trial in India showed that a gift to parents of a 1 kg bag of lentils and a set of plates can dramatically raise the percentage of children protected against major disease (Banerjee et al. 2010). Providing a quality immunization camp alone increased the percentage of fully immunized children from 6% to 18%. The addition of the lentil and plate ‘incentives’ raised the figure to a whopping 39%. How can we explain the outsize effect of a gift of everyday household items?
Monday’s announcement of the 2017 Nobel Prize for economics, to Richard Thaler, for his groundbreaking work incorporating psychology into economic theory, was a victory not only for the University of Chicago Professor and co-author of Nudge: Improving Decisions about Health, Wealth, and Happiness, but for behaviorally-informed policy worldwide.
In a recent exhibition at the American Museum of Natural History in New York City, “Dinosaurs Among Us,” paleontologists use prehistoric fossil records of bones, feathers, and nests to show that some dinosaurs did not go extinct but, rather, evolved into the creatures we see today. The links they trace show how avian dinosaurs (ones that fly) evolved into modern-day birds. Paleontologists argue that avian-dinosaurs’ swift aerial mobility played a key role in determining their survival while their land-based relatives failed to thrive. Flight enabled them to relocate and adapt to drastically changing environments—a skill that their land-based relatives lacked.
Figure 1. Paleontologists argue that avian-dinosaurs (left) adapted to the changing environment quickly and evolved into birds (right).
One of the most storied topics in agricultural economics, dating back to Chayanov’s work on Russian peasants published nearly a century ago, is the inverse relationship between scale (in terms of farm or plot size) and (land) productivity - commonly known as the IR.