Published on Development Impact

Weekly links Feb 22: alternatives to better willpower, CDFs for the win, the Brazilian solution to doubling Chinese consumption, and more...

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  • A nice summary of the research on different strategies for reducing self-control failures by an all-star psychology/econ team of Duckworth, Milkman and Laibson in the open-access Psychological Science in the Public Interest journal. See in particular, Figure 2, which categorizes strategies by whether they need to be self-imposed vs can be imposed by others, and between approaches that  “modify one’s situation and approaches that modify one’s cognitions, depending on whether they target the objective situation or, in contrast, one’s mental representation of the environment”.  What is notable from reading this overview is how short-term many of the studies are, and how easy it is for best-intentions to get derailed – e.g. a study that “tested the benefits of temptation bundling...this study showed substantial initial increases in self-controlled decisions from allowing people to enjoy tempting audio novels only when exercising ... In Week 1 of the intervention, participants in the treatment group exercised 55% more than those in the control group. These benefits lasted for several weeks but ended when the gym closed over Thanksgiving.”
  • Related to the above, Alice Evans interviews Gautam Rao about behavioral development economics, with discussions of where he sees the big puzzles that behavioral economics helps us answer – e.g. why people don’t invest in high-return projects, and why demand for preventative health is not higher – and a nice discussion of the complementarity between insiders and outsiders in knowing what questions to ask.
  • Has global poverty fallen? Dylan Matthews in Vox has a nice explainer on the debate around global poverty numbers, discussing issues as how to think about pre-colonial subsistence lifestyles and whether absolute numbers or relative numbers should be the focus – and great to see some Chen and Ravallion CDFs being used in the popular press to help settle debates about binary cutoffs.
  • Tim Taylor summarizes new IMF research on the puzzle of China’s high savings rate: “With GDP per capita in PPP terms being similar to Brazil’s, consumption per capita in China is only comparable to Nigeria. If Chinese households consumed comparably to Brazilian households, their consumption levels would be more than double” (which brings back flashbacks to me of my you-would-not-believe-how-many-times-it-was-rejected job market paper on Taiwan’s consumption and saving rates).
  • Conference call for papers: The Sustainability and Development Initiative at the University of Michigan is pleased to announce the call for abstracts for the 2nd Annual Sustainability and Development Conference, October 11-14, 2019. Abstracts are due May 1, 2019. Visit the webpage for more information.      


David McKenzie

Lead Economist, Development Research Group, World Bank

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