Published on Development Impact

Weekly links July 5: teaching development the non-colonial way, missing values oops, reducing child marriage, conferences, and more…

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Young boxers at the White Collars Boxing Match 2019, taken by Mariajose Silva Vargas

·       On LinkedIn, Jishnu Das writes about how he thinks we should change the way development economics is taught “The change I am then suggesting is this: Build in from the very beginning the idea that, by the time they gained independence, most of the countries in that figure had been reduced to very little in terms of physical and human capital with a rudimentary public sector that was primarily in charge of extracting resources to be passed on to the colonial masters. This change in the framing is important because it shifts what may be regarded as pathological (why are poor countries not growing faster as the Solow model would predict) to what is more normal (of course poor countries will take some time to catch-up after centuries of devastation). In fact, it could even flip the question, allowing us to ask, instead, how low-income countries managed to do so well so quickly along some domains (but perhaps not others) given the horrendous conditions they started from at the time of independence. That framing, in turn, provides a more balanced view and instills some degree of confidence in our students from low-income countries. It also provides a much-needed check against the idea that the West will provide solutions for the problems that our countries continue to face.” Jishnu also makes a case for why it still makes sense to have a field called development economics.

·       On VoxDev, Giacobino, Huillery, Michel and Sage show the large impacts of a scholarship program for middle schools on lowering the rate of child marriage in Niger. “Rural girls from underprivileged backgrounds were offered a three-year scholarship from October 2017 to June 2020. Amounting to USD $306 per year, the scholarship is meant to cover all out-of-pocket schooling expenses…It reduced the likelihood of dropping out of school and of being married by endline by 50%”

·       In Asterisk magazine, a story on “when RAND made magic in Santa Monica”, and how it became a more standard thinktank. Some great little stories built in, like this “The top end of RAND talent was (and would become) full of past (and future) Nobel winners, and Williams worked around many constraints — and eccentricities — to bring them on. For instance, RAND signed a contract with John von Neumann to produce a general theory of war, to be completed during a small slice of his time: that spent shaving. For his shaving thoughts, von Neumann received $200 a month, an average salary at the time.”

·       Retraction Watch with every author’s nightmare-  discovering you made a coding mistake with how Stata treats missing values that causes your results to no longer hold.

·       Ken Opalo on why international firms are leaving Nigeria and his view for what policy should focus on “during economic downturns. Multinationals that have to respond to faraway HQs that view Nigeria as a backwater cannot nimbly adjust to offer competitive prices, better quality, and response to changing consumer tastes… Collapse of the Naira is limiting firms’ ability to repatriate profits and escalating the cost of importing intermediary products and debt servicing… Decades-long underinvestment in infrastructure is compounding the cyclical challenges related to currency and emerging competition…. The biggest challenge going forward will be how to sequence reforms in order not to break the economy while trying to fix it.”

·       In Katy Milkman’s substack, an interview with Erika Kirgios on how people can end up making different decisions if they make them one at a time, versus considering them as a portfolio – with examples around diet and what to eat, how much to exercise, and hiring “the isolated choice effect is the idea that when people make a hiring decision or a promotion decision in isolation, so they're just responsible for making one hiring choice, they're much less likely to prioritize and think about and choose diversity than when they're making a collection of choices….I think when you're thinking about your own life and your own individual decisions, I think there's a lot of value in thinking about when global properties of your decisions might matter. So, is this a decision that could become a habit? And in that case, I should think globally about what kinds of habits I do and don't want to build.”

·       Scott Cunningham interviews development economist Manisha Shah in a recent podcast. For those concerned about pre-docs these days and longer paths to PhDs, it is a useful reminder that getting different experiences before the PhD is nothing new; also testimony to the value of qualitative work, and to resilience when initial plans don’t turn out as hoped for.

·       Paul Goldsmith-Pinkham’s substack has a post on using LLMs for research and teaching.

·       Opportunity for those with undergrad degrees to work at the World Bank: The World Bank has revamped its Junior Professional Associates (JPA) program, which offers a three-year contract for those aged under 32 with a bachelors degree. The next cycle has applications open from July 17 to August 9.

·       Calls for papers:

o   The IRC’s Re:BUILD program has a conference for work on programs to support refugees and host community livelihoods in Kenya, Uganda and Ethiopia – submissions due August 1.

o   A conference on structural change and development in honor of Arthur Lewis, to be held at the University of Manchester – submissions due 27 August.

o   BREAD is holding a conference at the National University of Singapore in December, with submissions due August 16.


David McKenzie

Lead Economist, Development Research Group, World Bank

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