Syndicate content

May 2013

Quote of the Week: Alexis de Tocqueville

Sina Odugbemi's picture

"It is almost never when a state of things is the most detestable that it is smashed, but when, beginning to improve, it permits men to breathe, to reflect, to communicate their thoughts with each other, and to gauge by what they already have the extent of their rights and their grievances. The weight, although less heavy, seems then all the more unbearable."

-- Alexis de Tocqueville (1805 – 1859). Tocqueville was a French political thinker and historian. His best known works include Democracy in America and The Old Regime and the Revolution, from which the above quote is taken.

As the Cost of Energy Goes Up, Food Prices Follow

John Baffes's picture

 World Bank. //www.flickr.com/photos/worldbank/2092098064/sizes/m/in/photostream/A large increase in crude oil prices stands out among numerous factors to explain most of the jump in food prices over the last decade. Indeed, as we found in a recent World Bank study, oil prices were more important to food prices than several other long-term price drivers, including exchange rates, interest rates and income. This finding has important implications for policy and for governments hoping to mitigate the negative effects of food price swings.

Initially, the post-2004 commodity price increases bore resemblance to the temporary increases of the 1950s (Korean War) and the 1970s (oil crisis). But it is becoming clear that the current situation has a more permanent character. Most commodity prices are now two or three times higher than they were a decade ago. Indeed, nominal prices of energy, fertilizers, and precious metals tripled between the two time periods we compared (1997-2004 and 2005-2007). Metal prices went up by more than 150 percent in that time, and most food prices doubled.

District Energy – A Smart Option for Cities

Robert Reipas's picture

Let’s talk recycling: Not plastic and paper, but power…

Combined Heat and Power SystemThese days, by far, the majority of electricity used in high-income countries comes from thermal power plants; these operate by heating water into steam that then spins a turbine. Thermal power plants, however, typically only use 33% to 48% of the total heat they produce. The rest just gets released into water or air. It’s a shame; if only there was a way to recycle all that ‘low-grade’ heat.

Today, 37% of the energy demand in OECD countries is for heating of buildings; only about 21% of energy demand is for electricity. We use much more energy for heating and cooling than we do for electricity.  The low-grade heat that gets wasted by most power plants is still hot enough to be used for heating (and cooling) and water heating in buildings.

Why do we use so little of the heat we produce? That’s like buying a tub of fried chicken just to eat the skins!

Scenes from the DC big data dive - the final report

Prasanna Lal Das's picture

DC Big Data Exploration Final ReportThe final report from the Big Data for International Development DataDive came out a few days ago (see below) and the obvious question is what's next? Sure, the DataDive was a success in terms of the number and caliber of people that participated, the ambition and scope of the problems they worked on (mostly around better/faster/cheaper poverty measurement, and more effective/proactive fight against fraud and corruption), and the results that were achieved in a very short span of time (showing fairly conclusively that big data based approaches can be effectively applied in the context of international development). The report itself points out a few next steps (a data competition, specific action items against each project that the teams worked on, the need to embrace new types of data skills and techniques, and continued effort to open new and more diverse data from both private and public sources) but here is a look at some other themes that emerged during the dive that are probably also worth thinking about -

Doing Experiments with Socially Good but Privately Bad Treatments

David McKenzie's picture
Most experiments in development economics involve giving the treatment group something they want (e.g. cash, health care, schooling for their kids) or at least offering something they might want and can choose whether or not to take up (e.g. business training, financial education). Indeed among the most common justifications for randomization is that there is not enough of the treatment for everyone who wants it, leading to oversubscription or randomized phase-in designs.

Friday Roundup – Inequality, Biofuel Prices, Exchange Rates and Keynes vs Austerity

LTD Editors's picture

Three new Policy Research Working papers, a Project Syndicate piece by Ken Rogoff, and an Eduardo Porter column in the New York Times, titled ‘A Keynesian Victory, but Austerity Stands Firm,’ made for an interesting week.

A working paper published this week by Milanovic Branko uses multiple techniques to gauge how close measured inequality is to the maximum inequality that can exist in a given society.  Looking at historical data tracing back several centuries, Branko finds that inequality in colonies was pushed almost to its maximum. Branko also looks beyond inequality as measured by income inequality to inequality in social terms.

Harry de Gorter, Dusan Drabik and Govinda Timilsina have a working paper on the relationship between volatility in crude oil prices, biodiesel and oilseeds (soy beans and canola).  They find that higher crude oil prices increase biodiesel prices if biofuels benefit from a fuel tax exemption, but lower them when a blending mandate is imposed.  When both canola and soybeans are used to produce biodiesel, an increase in the crude oil prices lead to higher canola prices, but the effect on soybean prices is ambiguous.

DECPG Daily : May 24, 2013 - Bond yields are up…German business confidence improves, Italian drops…Peru GDP slows

Global Macroeconomics Team's picture
Financial Markets…Japans’ Topix index gained 0.5% today, bouncing backing slightly from its biggest drop since the 2011 earthquake and nuclear disaster. Yesterday’s plunge, which many investors suggested marked a long-overdue correction, cut the Topix’s 2013 gain to 38% to 48%, and erased $314 billion in stock market valuation.

Aid and Complex Systems cont’d: Timelines, Incubation Periods and Results

Duncan Green's picture

I’m at one of those moments where all conversations seem to link to each other, I see complex systems everywhere, and I’m wondering whether I’m starting to lose my marbles. Happily, lots of other people seem to be suffering from the same condition, and a bunch of us met up earlier this week with Matt Andrews, who was in the UK to promote his fab new book Limits to Institutional Reform in Development (I  rave reviewed it here). The conversation was held under Chatham House rules, so no names, no institutions etc.

Whether you work on complex systems or governance reform or fragile states, the emerging common ground seems to be around what not to do and to a lesser extent, the ‘so whats’. What can outsiders do to contribute to change in complex, unpredictable situations where, whether due to domestic opposition or sheer irrelevance to actual context, imported blueprints and ‘best practice guidelines’ are unlikely to get anywhere?

In his book Matt boils down his considerable experience at the World Bank and Harvard into a proposal for ‘PDIA’ – Problem Driven iterative adaptation, which I described pretty fully in my review. The conversation this week fleshed out that approach and added some interesting new angles.

Grassroots Leaders: Empowering Communities is Resilience Building

Margaret Arnold's picture

 Margaret Arnold/World Bank
Participants at the first Community Practitioners Academy meeting, which was held ahead of the Fourth Global Platform for Disaster Reduction in Generva. - Photos: Margaret Arnold/World Bank

Communities are organized and want to be recognized as partners with expertise and experience in building resilience rather than as clients and beneficiaries of projects. This was the common theme that emerged from the key messages delivered by grassroots leaders at the Fourth Global Platform for Disaster Reduction taking place in Geneva this week, organized by the UN International Strategy for Disaster Reduction (UNISDR). The Global Platform is a biennial forum for information exchange and partnership building across sectors to reduce disaster risk.

Ahead of the Global Platform, 45 community practitioners from 17 countries - Bangladesh, Chile, Ethiopia, Guatemala, Haiti, Honduras, India, Indonesia, Japan, Kenya, Nicaragua, Peru, Philippines, Samoa, Uganda, Venezuela, and the United States - met for a day and a half to share their practices and experiences in responding to disasters and building long-term resilience to climate change, and to strategize their engagement in around the Global Platform. I had the privilege to participate in this first Community Practitioners Academy, which was convened by GROOTS International, Huairou Commission, UNISDR, the World Bank, Global Facility for Disaster Risk and Reduction (GFDRR), Act Alliance, Action Aid, Japan NGO Center for International Cooperation (JANIC), Cordaid, and Oxfam, and was planned in partnership with the community practitioners from their respective networks.


Pages