Published on Development Impact

Weekly links February 2: AI vs fiddling the census, Hot Wheels and Barbie economics, McNamara fellowships, conference calls, and more…

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·       The Harvard Crimson has 15 questions with Claudia Goldin, including behind the scenes at the Nobel prize ceremony, reminiscences of her first econ classes, and how the Barbie movie illustrates where she thinks gender dynamics need to go.

·       The Economist on “Can AI transform life in developing countries?” has a nice set of case studies of some of the ways AI is being used in education and health, as well as to improve the timeliness and quality of data. With this anecdote on census data “Population counts in poor countries are rare, because they are costly, and prone to manipulation. In Nigeria the money each state gets from the central government is tied to its population. This gives states an incentive to fiddle. In 1991, on a census form with space for up to nine members per household, some states reported exactly nine members in every one. When the results of the census of 2006 were published, Bola Tinubu, the governor of Lagos, angrily claimed that its population was double the official tally. Nigeria has not held another census since. A new president—Mr Tinubu, as it happens—promises one in 2024.” …

·       In the Washington Post, Erwin Tiongson explains how looking at the bottom of toy Hot Wheels cars over time can tell the story of global manufacturing trends “I ask students in my economics classes to inspect the cars’ undersides, and together we trace the gradual movement of toy car manufacturing: from England and the United States in the 1960s to Japan in the mid-1970s, from South Korea in the mid-1980s to China in the late 1990s and Vietnam after” and how the expected movements to Ethiopia, Bangladesh, or even near-sourcing in Mexico haven’t happened.

·       Why don’t Americans migrate anymore asks Michael Makowsky on the Economist writing every day blog. His hypothesis is related to my recent work on counterfactual families and migration, which notes people find it hard to picture the families and friends they would make in a new place. Mike posits “Americans are lonelier than ever. Both our deepest and most casual friendships have diminished in number. Relationships with neighbors are nonexistent, our ties to communities at a premium. That might, at first blush, make it sound like moving should be less costly– why stick around to maintain relationships that you don’t have. But on the other hand, if new relationships are harder to form than previously, then the relationships you already have are worth more than ever, to be protected jealously. Your only friend is, by definition, your best friend. No one wants to move away from their best friend. Putting it all together, if personal relationships are an inelastic demand good that is complementary with a large chunk of our consumption bundle, then the price, the shadow price, we are willing to pay for it is going to go through the roof in the face of a negative supply shock. In a world where relationships are suddenly at a premium, you will be willing to forego a lot of additional income in order to preserve a small network in which you have a lot of social capital”. He concludes that given how little survival pressure there is to earn just a bit more income in the developed world “I’m surprised anyone migrates at all”.

·       Applications are now open for the 2024 McNamara Fellows program: The Fellowship Program matches aspiring development economics researchers with World Bank research economists, creating unique opportunities for the fellows to participate in rigorous policy-relevant research in the World Bank’s Development Economics Vice Presidency (DEC). Fellows will be hosted at the World Bank in Washington, D.C. for 8 months (September to May) and work under the supervision of researchers in the World Bank’s Development Impact (DIME) department and Development Research Group. Applicants from developing countries will be prioritized. This is a great opportunity as either a pre-doc, or for people in a PhD program who want to take some time to gain experience and skills at the World Bank. Applications close Feb 28.

·       Conference calls:

o   DevSouth – to be held at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville, on April 19, submission deadline March 1.

o   MeasureDev 2024: focused on AI and development, at the World Bank May 2, call for speakers due Feb 25 (with priority for those by Feb 18).

o   NBER summer institute - development session is July 22/23, submissions due March 21.

o   BREAD spring conference at UCSD on May 10-11, submissions due March 1.

o   CEPR development economics annual symposium in Paris June 3-4, submissions due Feb 26.


David McKenzie

Lead Economist, Development Research Group, World Bank

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