Published on Development Impact

Weekly Links April 16: poverty and young brains, digitalizing image data, management and the pandemic, and more…

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·       How does poverty affect young brains, and what does this mean for policy? The Upshot discusses an ongoing cash transfer experiment by neuroscientists aiming to measure whether reducing poverty can cause changes in children’s brain development. “Professor Farah concedes, however, that social scientists and policymakers often discount the relevance of brain data. “Are there actionable insights we get by bringing neuroscience to bear, or are people just being snowed by pretty brain images and impressive-sounding words from neuroscience? It’s an important question,” she said. Skeptics abound. James Heckman, a Nobel Prize-winning economist at the University of Chicago who studies inequality and social mobility, said he didn’t see “even a hint that a policy would come out of it, other than to say, yes, there’s an imprint of a better economic life.””

·       Melissa Dell is now on twitter and uses it to announce a new “open-source deep-learning powered library, Layout Parser, that provides a variety of tools for automatically processing document image data at scale.” This looks great for historical research and for the unfortunate cases of current admin data that still isn’t digitalized today.

·       Scott Cunningham explains another of the new difference-in-difference papers – the doubly robust approach of Sant’Anna and Zhao. This paper deals with time-varying Xs in TWFE, and issues that arise when treatment effects are heterogeneous with these Xs or when there are X-specific time-trends.

·       Angus Deaton’s last Letter from America after 25 years of writing them for the Royal Economic Society.

·       On the Future Development blog, evidence that better-managed firms pre-pandemic were then more likely to pivot products and shift to remote work during the pandemic, reducing their sales losses.

·       Really interesting post on the riches to rags to riches story of Nauru on the Devpolicy blog. “Nauru’s per capita GDP in 1975 was $50,000, second only to Saudi Arabia”. This was based on phosphate mining, which came from deposits of thousands of years of sea gull droppings or guano – which were then mined and depleted, sending the country into a financial crisis. This Guardian article details some of the ways this wealth was spent, including funding a disastrous West End musical based on the life of Leonardo da Vinci. But the blog notes “the country’s income per capita has increased almost fivefold since 2007. Last year, it crossed the high-income threshold (US$12,535) and Nauru was readmitted by the World Bank to the high-income country club”.


David McKenzie

Lead Economist, Development Research Group, World Bank

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