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The top 8 active researchers in developing countries according to RePEc

David McKenzie's picture

The Research Papers in Economics (RePEc) database has over 46,000 researchers registered. Each month they send out rankings based on downloads, citations, and other metrics. Their ranking of economists based on publications in the last 10 years is topped by some of the best known names in economics (the top 5 are Acemoglu, Shleifer, Heckman, Barro and Rogoff). But looking through their top 100 (as of January 2016), I found 8 of the top 100 researchers are based in developing countries (taking World Bank client countries as “developing countries” for this purpose). Since I was only familiar with the work of one of these eight individuals, I thought it might be of interest to note some of this work going on outside of the usual top schools. I contacted the authors to ask them also what idea or work they were most proud of, or would most like to draw policy attention to.

Of course there are also a lot of excellent researchers from developing countries that now do their research in some of the most prestigious institutions around the world. Unlike some grant-giving organizations, I don’t think we should especially privilege developing country researchers if they do not choose to migrate, and as I argue in my work on high-skilled migration, I think much of the debate about brain drain is based on myths not supported by the evidence. Nevertheless, I do believe that individuals working in developing countries sometimes have fewer opportunities to publicize their work and ideas, so thought it would be nice to do my part to highlight the work being done by these scholars.

I also asked these scholars what the greatest challenges they faced in doing research in their countries were. Here were the responses I received back:
  • From Rafal: “No substantial challenge anymore, given today's means of communication (email, skype, www) and increases in research funding in Poland over the last couple of years.”
  • From Rangan “The biggest challenge has been to publish in high-ranked journals using South African data. The Editors have the usual comment that South African data would not interest their audience or the data is not reliable. Interestingly, I have published much lesser work in high-ranked journals using US data. It has taken me 10 years to convince the editors that good work also comes out of South Africa.”
  • From Simplice “Doing good economic research requires impartiality and independence of thought. When a researcher takes unbiased and objective positions that are not consistent with policies of the Washington Consensus, it comes at a great price: (i) he/she is never shortlisted for jobs and (ii) hardly gets any funding. For the past six years I have self-funded my research while living below the poverty line. I have applied for hundreds of jobs (including job advertisements of the World Bank) and never shortlisted. In the light of the above, the greatest challenge in doing good economic research in my country in particular (and developing countries in general) is the constraint of blindly aligning with mainstream thinking and the Washington consensus. There are taboo subjects that when a researcher engages he/she is black-listed in many circles (including multilateral institutions of development), notably: the false economics of preconditions and illicit capital flight as a fundamental cause of Africa’s poverty tragedy.”


Submitted by Janina Steinert on

A bit confused why Poland is in this list? It's member of the European Union and classified as High Income by the World Bank:

As I note in the post, I include countries which are clients for World Bank advice and lending. Since the World Bank still does work in Poland, it is included. But as is noted by the researcher from Poland, the situation for research there has greatly improved.

Submitted by Janina Steinert on

Thank you for the clarification. Makes sense! Great post and highlighting an important issue.

Submitted by priya alvarez on

Where are the women researchers? I can see that the greatest challenge of all must be to be a woman, including in Poland!

It would be instructive to find out how many women, which positions and where they are based as a proxy for the real High Level Values of any given country

Yes, there appear to be only 4 women in this top 100 list (Carmen Reinhart, Esther Duflo, Rosa Portela, and Asli Demirguc-Kunt), with none based in developing countries.

Submitted by Asif Dowla on

Shang-Jin Wei doesn't count. He was in North America before moving to Chine. He taught at Columbia Biz School and published tonnes of paper for IMF. Until recently, he was the Chief Economist for ADB. Comparing apples and oranges.

Migration works both ways. I'm not counting people who previously worked in developing country institutions and now work in a developed country. The list is researchers currently in developing countries, and so by that criteria, he qualifies.

Submitted by Asif Dowla on

Agreed. However, most of his publication occurred while he was in the USA. This may not be true for others. His high productivity is due to a better work environment and superior access. So, putting him with others on the list is wrong. He did several papers attributing Chinese savings rate, undervaluation of the renminbi and its huge trade surplus and forex reserve to the one-child policy. Really interesting series of papers.

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