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Clear writing produces clearer thoughts

Paul Romer's picture
The oral tradition at the University of Chicago attributed the observation that “sloppy writing reflects sloppy thinking” to Milton Friedman. Of course, it echoes George Orwell’s claim that “the slovenliness of our language makes it easier for us to have foolish thoughts.”

Neither Friedman’s word “reflects” nor Orwell’s phrase “makes it easier” go far enough. The right verb is “produces.” Clear writing produces clearer thoughts. Sloppy writing produces sloppier thoughts. This is a natural consequence of the fact that anything stored in connections between neurons is part of a biochemical and electrical dynamic feedback loop. When we access one of these loops, we change it and connect it to other loops. To use an analogy from computer science, accessing neurons is never just a read. It is always a read and a rewrite.

Was the resource boom more akin to a resource curse for Africa?

Sudharshan Canagarajah's picture

The IMF’s Regional Economic Outlook (REO – April 2016) notes that the region’s dependence on primary commodities has increased since the 1980s with nearly half of the countries in the region subject to commodity price fluctuations. These economies, which contribute 70 percent of the GDP of Sub-Saharan Africa are facing a sharp slowdown in real growth, with many also having to undertake large fiscal retrenchments and/or seek balance of payments support from the IMF.

We review the economic performance of Sub-Saharan Africa’s (henceforth Africa) non-renewable resource producers since the early 2000s, the start of the commodity price boom contrasting this with the economic performance of Africa’s non-commodity exporters over the same period. The negative economic impact of the current slump in commodity prices is indisputable, but it is worth asking whether Africa’s non-renewable resource producers realized any tangible benefits from the commodity price boom. Our conclusion is that they did not, at least in terms of real per capita growth. And here’s why.

Do households use improved cook stoves? What are the benefits? An Ethiopian case study

Michael Toman's picture

About 40% of the human population, or about 2.8 billion people, find commercial fuels like electricity and gas inaccessible, too expensive or too irregularly supplied to use for cooking and heating (Smith et al., 2013; IEA, 2012).  Instead, they rely on solid fuels like coal, fuelwood, dung and charcoal that are combusted inside their homes (Jeuland and Pattanayak, 2012, Grieshop et al., 2011, Smith et al., 2013). Biomass fuels in particular are often self-collected and easy to use in inexpensive traditional stoves. This leads to severe public health problems, especially for women and children exposed to indoor smoke, and also can lead to forest degradation. Without major policy and/or technology changes, the global number of people depending on such fuels is projected to remain very large at least through 2030 (IEA, 2006, IEA and World Bank 2015).  
Improved biomass cookstoves that use less fuel and burn fuel more fully often are recommended as relatively affordable ways to deal with these concerns.

What did we learn from real-time tracking of market prices in South Sudan?

Utz Pape's picture

Economic shocks can be painful and destructive, especially in fragile countries that can get trapped into a cycle of conflict and violence. Effective policy responses must be implemented quickly and based on evidence. This requires reliable and timely data, which are usually unavailable in such countries. This was particularly true for South Sudan, a country that has faced multiple shocks since its independence in 2011. Recognizing the need for such data in this fragile country to assess economic shocks, the team developed a real-time dashboard to track daily exchange rates and weekly market prices (click here for instructions how to use it).

A rebuttal to the “elephant graph” discussion - or “elephants are tough animals...”

Christoph Lakner's picture

Recently, a discussion erupted over our paper and the so-called “elephant graph”. This graph (reproduced below) is the anonymous growth incidence curve, which shows how each percentile of the global income distribution has grown between 1988 and 2008. The discussion was sparked by a report by the Resolution Foundation’s Adam Corlett. Whether or not this was Corlett’s intention, some commentators have used his results to (erroneously) claim that our empirical results are not robust and/or that the policy implications  drawn from our research are unwarranted  – for example, see this Financial Times article.

Let’s take on inequality seriously, seriously

Mario Negre's picture

Also available in: Español | Français

As we worked on a new World Bank flagship report that provides the latest and most accurate estimates on trends in global poverty and shared prosperity, it became apparent as to what we wanted for the title - Poverty and Shared Prosperity 2016: Taking on Inequality.

Because in our minds it became clear that inequality is becoming increasingly critical to meeting the World Bank’s goals of ending poverty and sharing prosperity. In fact, we find that tackling inequality will make or break the goal of ending poverty by 2030.

An End to Extreme Poverty

Is inequality underestimated in Egypt? Evidence from housing prices

Roy Van der Weide's picture

Egypt ranks as one of the world’s most equal countries judging by official estimates of income and consumption inequality. Estimates of inequality, like estimates of poverty, are derived from national household surveys that collect detailed income and/or consumption data for a sample of households, assumed to be representative of the country’s population.

Economies of empathy: The moral dilemmas of charity fundraising

Iason Gabriel's picture

We’ve all been there. Leafing through a magazine, or on the subway, glancing up at the billboards, and then a moment of painful awareness as our eyes meet those of a starving child. Limbs grotesquely proportioned, belly distended, the image is accompanied by a request for help. For some small sum of money you too can save a life. Again you see the image… and reach for your phone. You text CHILD or SAVE or LIFE to the relevant organization. Then, conscience temporarily assuaged, you encounter a sinking feeling as you remember you’ve seen this before. How exactly will your donation help the child? What purpose do these images really serve?

Biting back at malaria: On treatment guidelines and measurement of health service quality

Arndt Reichert's picture

Growing up in a tropical country, one of us (Alfredo) was acutely aware of mosquito-borne diseases such as dengue and malaria. For many years now, vector-control strategies were—and still are—promoted by government- and school-led campaigns to limit the spread of these diseases. Consequently, it is somewhat alarming to know that diseases spread by mosquitoes remain an enormous challenge facing large parts of the developing and even developed world, particularly sub-Saharan Africa. It is perhaps less surprising that our shared interest in the health sector has resulted in a joint paper on assessing the overall quality of the health care system via compliance with established treatment guidelines.