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Talk Series

Brown University President Christina Paxson on Higher Education in the Developing World

Merrell Tuck-Primdahl's picture

In the 1980s it was considered a given that most low-income countries over-invest in tertiary education. But that tired assumption is being upended in today’s world of borderless universities and globe-trotting skilled workers. A higher education undoubtedly generates a positive return for most people, whether in advanced or developing countries. However, policymakers should heed the warning about not jumping too fast by focusing on higher learning when in many countries, getting a solid secondary education is the key to climbing the ladder toward prosperity. Also, the importance of getting the organizational structure of universities right is often undervalued, with the result that far too many academic institutions fail to graduate people who are equipped to compete in the global workforce, or, aiming even higher, who are qualified to change the world for the better.

These were some of the takeaways I gleaned from Brown University President Christina Paxson’s lecture on April 26 at the World Bank.

Ariel Unbounded

Merrell Tuck-Primdahl's picture

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.

Video interview with Joe Stiglitz on Financial and Real Crises in the World Economy

Merrell Tuck-Primdahl's picture

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.

Esther Duflo’s refreshing perspective on fighting poverty

Merrell Tuck-Primdahl's picture

A quiet revolution is needed to help pull people out of poverty in many developing countries, since it will be well nigh impossible to replicate export-led success stories like we’ve seen in parts of Asia. Also, even though policies, politics, and corruption are knotty issues that often block progress, there is scope for tweaking institutions at the margins in ways that will improve the status of poor people. These were some of the takeaways I gleaned from the Development Economics lecture yesterday by Esther Duflo, MIT Economics Profession and co-founder of the JPAL Poverty Lab.

Duflo’s lecture was a refreshing mix of pragmatism and idealism. Clearly full of passion for her job and blessed with extraordinary energy, this young economist travels tirelessly to learn what’s happening at the coal face of development and she approaches her task with rigor as well as a sense of mission.

Structural Change, growth and jobs

Merrell Tuck-Primdahl's picture

Structural transformation is a key determinant of productivity growth and explains two-thirds of the difference between superior East Asian growth and more muted Latin American growth in the past two decades.

Given the multi-speed paths that regions and countries take as they transform, with some succeeding spectacularly and some struggling to compete, it may be time to consider new industrial and labor policies to ensure that a huge swath of the lower middle class in the developing world doesn’t get left behind in the race to compete in today’s unforgiving global marketplace.

Watch out for minimal food stocks! But don’t assume the worst has come…

Merrell Tuck-Primdahl's picture

Food price spikes happen when stocks are low and when unpredictable events occur. That was the main message of Professor Brian Wright at his Development Economics Lecture at the World Bank on March 11.

Wright, who is Professor & Chair Department of Agricultural & Resource Economics, has long followed the markets for storable commodities. He is also an expert in invention incentives, intellectual property rights, the economics of agricultural research and development, and the economics of conservation and innovation of genetic resources.

Today’s food and fuel concerns do not constitute the ‘perfect storm’, Wright said. However, he warned that if several important crop-producing countries have a bad season in the coming year, and if the demand for biofuels rises faster than the rate of production of major grains, we could be in real trouble.

What’s the best fix for this situation? Wright argues it’s keeping food supplies cheap and investing in the Consultative Group for International Agricultural Research (CGIAR), since it will be super-seeds, drought resilient crops, and innovations to boost yields that will turn things around. He also emphasized that, during a crisis, it’s essential to put minimum food needs above animal feed and fuel uses. 

Watch the video interview with Wright below.