Published on Development Impact

Weekly links February 11: African industrialization, agriculture, time use and more; PhD advice, when small and cheap means expensive, and more…

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·       Rachel Glennerster has put up the syllabus and slides for her course on Practicalities of Running RCTs. An incredibly useful course for students, and full of useful little pieces of advice scattered through like “Small cheap programs can be very expensive to evaluate because you need to be able to pick up small changes”, or when forming indices of outcomes to be “Careful to only include meaningful measures or key changes can be drowned out by noise”, discussion of the incentive problems in replication attempts “if a large number of different specifications are tried in an attempt to test the “robustness” of a result, selective presentation of a few of these specifications may give a misleading impression of how robust the results are” and advice on writing papers after a pre-analysis plan “Makes for a boring paper if you follow the plan exactly (NB write your paper as though no PAP)”.

·       Chris Roth and David Schindler have set up a website that collates advice for PhD students in economics – tips on admissions, getting ideas, writing, presenting, and more.

·       On NPR’s Goats and Soda blog, a rural hospital in Bangladesh is named the world’s best new building. “Its major design feature is a canal that zigzags along the length of the hospital, splitting the outpatient building from the building for inpatient services. The canal collects rainwater from the site, which is then stored in a tank so that it can be used by the hospital.”

·       On his substack, Scott Cunningham discusses the growing role for causal inference in industry.

·       Tatyana Deryugina compares journals in terms of their full distribution of citations, rather than just impact factors that cover averages.  “If your paper is being cited 15 times per year, it’s doing better than 60 percent of the papers in the top 5 journals”.

·       The latest issue of the JEP has a symposium on Africa, with five papers in the issue on this topic:

o   Margaret McMillan and Albert Zeufack look at labor productivity growth and industrialization in Africa: “labor productivity growth in Africa’s manufacturing sector is largely accounted for by structural change…conversely, within-sector labor productivity growth in manufacturing is close to zero”.  I found these data on industrial parks interesting “Within Ethiopia’s industrial parks, 83 percent of employment is in firms with more than 1,000 employees. Women account for 74 percent of total employment; firm managers tend to hire young female workers who have completed a 10th grade education.”

o   Tavneet Suri and Chris Udry look at African agriculture: “No single constraint explains the low productivity in African agriculture; instead, different combinations of constraints seem to bind for different farmers. As a result, packages of interventions may end up being the most useful approach to adoption of new technologies and improving agricultural productivity”. This stat on the heterogeneity in yields is stunning “in the United States: they find that the 95th percentile of corn yield is 190 percent larger than the 5th percentile yield. For comparison, the 95–5 ratio for Uganda is 9,304 percent and for Tanzania 2,558 percent”

o   Taryn Dinkelman and Rachel Ngai look at time use and gender: “in much of sub-Saharan Africa, high female labor force participation coexists with low average market hours and high home production hours. The majority of women’s market work in Africa is unpaid, occurring on family farms and in own-account or family firms. Family farms and family firms allow women to combine home and market work at the same location” “For example, Uganda, Tanzania, and Ghana all have female labor force participation rates in excess of 60 percent. Yet the average woman in these countries works fewer than 25 hours per week in the market, and at least 32 to 48 hours per week in home production”

o   Oriana Bandiera and co-authors look at young adults and labor markets in Africa: “the jobs of many young people in Africa do not differ from that of their parents’ generation”. They also hypothesize that jobs training programs might be more successful in Africa because so many youth are seeking jobs “Most young African adults are jobless (or at best engaged in low-quality jobs), so these training programs treat people from the entire support of the ability distribution, whereas in richer countries, the most able find employment on their own, and skill training programs treat individuals with lower returns.” – although I would think this depends on whether ability and training are complements or substitutes. They stress the big issue is the need for more larger firms “Many African economies are in a vicious cycle, where most people run subsistence enterprises because there are no salaried jobs and there are no salaried jobs because most enterprises operate at subsistence levels and are not profitable enough to expand. Up-skilling young labor market entrants will not make subsistence entrepreneurs any more likely to hire them, and subsidizing subsistence entrepreneurs will not make them more productive”.

o   Finally, Nathan Canen and Leonard Wantchekon look at political distortions and state capture in Africa’s economic development. “we argue for researchers and policymakers to focus on political distortions to address the nature of economic development and growth in sub-Saharan Africa and elsewhere, and to move away from placing disproportionate emphasis on historical arguments.” “This approach also leaves a wide scope for policy analysis, which is often largely absent from historical and more deterministic accounts. Political distortions are induced strategic choices and influenced by incentives, which can be eased with alternative policies such as restrictions on campaign contributions, bureaucratic reform, audits, multinational initiatives for free trade, the availability of information through debates, and the introduction of new technologies within government.”


David McKenzie

Lead Economist, Development Research Group, World Bank

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