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Most good you can do. But for whom?

Berk Ozler's picture

It’s hard to argue against the idea that giving cash to someone in need is the best you can do for that person in most circumstances: money maximizes your choice set and any conditions, strings attached, etc. makes that set smaller. With the advance of mobile technologies and better, bigger data, you can now send someone anywhere in the world money and make that person’s life instantly better – at least in the short run. But, what if I told you that with every dollar you send to one poor person, you’re taking away food from a few other people? How should we evaluate the impact of your transfer then?

Weekly links October 19: Men are from Mars, Women are from Venus – but only if you live in a rich and equal country, updates in randomization inference, graduation programs vs cash, small clusters not such a problem?

David McKenzie's picture

Some advice from survey implementers: Part 1

Markus Goldstein's picture
I have often wondered what the folks who do the surveys I use in my research think of how it is to work with me.   Since I wasn’t sure I had the courage to hear that straight to my face, I wrote to a number of survey folks I knew (and thought highly of) or that other people recommended.   I asked them what they would tell researchers in general.  
 

A cheap intervention that helped partially formalize firms and increased profits – just don’t ask about taxes

David McKenzie's picture
Governments have at least four reasons to try and bring firms into the formal system:
  1. To broaden and increase the tax base
  2. To enable firms to access the formal economy and help spur firm growth through the potential benefits of being formal (such as access to financial services and government contracts)
  3. To increase the sense of rule of law by having the default be that everyone is obeying the law
  4. To have firms provide information about themselves to the state, which can help the government better understand the structure of the economy and to better target business programs.

The most common way of trying to achieve these aims has been through regulatory reforms that make it easier for firms to formalize. This has taken the form of “one-stop-shops” which have been implemented in at least 115 countries and which enable firms to register both as a business and as a tax entity all at once. However, a number of randomized experiments that have followed such reforms have seen very few informal firms formalize. This raises the question of whether regulatory simplification alone is not enough, and whether trying to achieve all of the above four goals with one instrument causes none of them to be attained.

Separating business and tax registration, and an experiment in Malawi
In a new working paper (replication data) (joint with Francisco Campos), we conducted an experiment with informal firms in Malawi that aimed to test whether governments can bring firms into at least part of the formal system and thereby achieve at least some of the above goals, and whether firms need additional help to realize the benefits of becoming formal.

Weekly links October 12: should you decide on ethics by polling, beware the uneven treatment probabilities, roads are good, and more...

David McKenzie's picture
  • Stephanie Schwartz asks “are research ethics a question of public opinion?” on the Political Violence at a glance blog -  which discusses a new study that asked both research subjects and scholars their opinions on the acceptability of different research designs. Interesting discussion, particularly around what to do when the two differ – e.g. “A human rights advocate wants their interview with a researcher to be on the record. But the researcher worries that disclosing the subject’s name might put them in harm’s way. Does the researcher follow the participant’s understanding of “acceptable risk” and publish their name? Or do they follow their own instincts and keep the source anonymous?” (h/t This Week in Africa).
  • On the Future Development blog, Ariel Benyishay and co-authors discuss how they used satellite data to evaluate a USAID rural roads project in Palestine – using a diff-in-diff approach they compare nightlight in 750 meter grid cells shortly before, during, and shortly after the roads were rehabilitated to those in not-yet-improved cells. The report has some discussion of the many challenges involved, such as how to interpret an increase in nightlights, dealing with cells which have multiple roads treated, and the problem of potential spatial reallocation of economic activity.

Can technology enable effective teacher coaching at scale?

David Evans's picture

Teachers are important. And many teachers in low- and middle-income countries would benefit from support to improve their pedagogical skills. But how to do it? Again and again, evidence suggests that short teacher trainings – usually held in a central location – don’t do much of anything to improve teacher practice. Likewise, much teacher training is overly theoretical and doesn’t translate into practical pedagogical improvements.

Providing teachers with one-on-one coaching is a popular alternative. A coach comes to the classroom, observes the teacher, and provides practical feedback. It makes sense. As Kotze and others put it (in turn paraphrasing earlier authors), “Teachers only learn to do the work by doing the work, and not by being told to do the work, or being told how to do the work, or being told that they will be rewarded or punished for outcomes associated with the work.” A recent review of U.S. evidence shows big impacts of coaching on both teacher practices and on student learning. But those big effects are concentrated in small-scale programs: Effects tend to be much smaller when implemented at scale. Outside a high-income environment, a teacher coaching pilot in South Africa compared coaching to a more traditional training at a central location. Students whose teachers received coaching learned twice as much as students who teachers received training.  

But implementing coaching at scale presents a number of challenges. First, it’s costly. Second, where do you find the coaches? Technology has the potential to help. In a follow-up experiment, researchers in South Africa compared on-site coaching to “virtual coaching” to compare effectiveness. Initial results have just come out in Kotze, Fleish, and Taylor’s “Alternative forms of early grade instructional coaching: Emerging evidence from field experiments in South Africa.”

Weekly links October 5: a new vision for social sciences in Science, doing development at non-R1, advice on jobs and on the media, and more...

David McKenzie's picture
  • Vision statement from Tage Rai, the new social and behavioral sciences editor for Science on what they are looking for: “I feel that our strength is the ability to bridge across social sciences in a way that very few outlets can and at a level that none can match. Therefore, we will be emphasizing papers that cross over major fields more strongly than ever before (e.g. psychology and anthropology, economics and political science, sociology and computer science).... The other major concern that I encounter has to do with scientific practice and reproducibility concerns within the social sciences. Science is actively engaged with these issues and continues to consider best practices going forward. ... First, only a small percentage of papers are sent out for in-depth review. For these papers only, authors will be asked to upload their data to an online repository accessible to reviewers.... I will host a twitter Q&A to answer any questions people may have about publishing with Science. For example, I am often asked about formatting for Science. As most papers are rejected, my approach is to be pretty loose about formatting, with the understanding that if a paper moves further into the process, we can revisit questions of word length and formatting at that time.”
  • Following up on my posts (part 1, part 2) this week on doing development in liberal arts colleges, Shreyasee Das has a thread on the challenges faced doing development research at non-R1/non-LAC schools.
  • Job market advice from Marc Bellemare, especially for those doing agricultural economics.

Why does my daughter think she’s bad at math?

Markus Goldstein's picture
My daughter thinks math is hard.  She also thinks she is not good at it.  She is, by some set of objective measures, actually quite good at it.   But she keeps repeating this mantra to me when we are sitting there slogging through her homework.   I tried all kind of positive reinforcement and then, one day, I sat her down, and explained that there is a widely held gender bias belief about girls doing worse in math.   It didn’t really make a difference.  
 

Doing Development Economics at a Liberal Arts College Part Two

David McKenzie's picture

Following on from yesterday’s post on doing development economics at a Liberal Arts college, we have a second post today to get additional perspectives. One point I wanted to note is that I think that while the post is about liberal arts colleges, many of the same issues will arise for people teaching in universities in other countries that don’t have large PhD programs, as well as some of the same issues also face researchers at the World Bank and other development research careers outside of academia. So even if you aren’t interested in liberal arts schools, read along...

Today we hear from Jessica Hoel, the Gerald L. Schlessman Assistant Professor of Economics at Colorado College, and Tahir Andrabi, Stedman-Sumner Professor of Economics at Pomona College (and this year on leave as inaugural Dean of the Lahore University of Management Sciences School of Education).
 
Thoughts and Advice from Jessica Hoel

 

Doing Development Economics at a Liberal Arts College Part One

David McKenzie's picture
With the job market coming up, me giving a talk to a great group of faculty and development students at Williams College last week, and seeing a program for the recent LACDEV conference, I thought it might be interesting to learn a bit about life as a development economist at a liberal arts college. I asked four faculty at different schools for some thoughts, thinking I might get two to agree, but was very pleased to get excellent insights from all four.

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