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How Do You Measure History?

Anne-Katrin Arnold's picture

Over and over again, and then again, and then some more, we get asked about evidence for the role of public opinion for development. Where's the impact? How do we know that the public really plays a role? What's the evidence, and is the effect size significant? Go turn on the television. Go open your newspaper. Go to any news website. Do tell me how we're supposed to put that in numbers.

Here's a thought: maybe the role of public opinion in development is just too big to be measured in those economic units that we mostly use in development? How do you squeeze history into a regression model? Let's have a little fun with this question. Let's assume that
y = b0 + b1x1 + b2x2 + b3x3 + b4x4 + b5x5 + b6x6 + b7x7 + b8(x1x4) + b9(x3x4) + e

y=development impact
x1=number of people on the streets
x2=number of people who planned and lead the uprising
x3=number of people unsatisfied with the regime
x4=strength of public opinion
x5=regime type (dummy for authoritarian state)
x6=willingness of head of state to use violence against the people (b6 will be negative)
x7=years of oppression (also a negative relationship).

Yes, of course I'm kidding. But public opinion, the will of the people, is a force so complex, wide-ranging, and long-term that it is near impossible to put its importance into a few numbers representing linear change. Stop asking us about evidence. Go look at history and see whether you can deny the effect. You can't? Then help making change happen by investing in the people.

Picture: Flickr user mitopencourseware

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