Published on Development Impact

Weekly links June 2: cash transfers and mortality, budgets can be very malleable, policy suggestions that don’t involve magic wands, and more…

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·       A new paper in Nature by Aaron Richterman and co-authors look at the impacts of cash transfer programs on mortality. This is an outcome I thought would be almost impossible to see impacts on given the sample sizes needed to detect an effect on a hopefully rare-before-old-age event, and the need to follow-up individuals for quite some time to see impacts. The authors use data from 37 countries demographic and health surveys and sibling and birth histories from 7 million people – and then difference-in-differences to compare changes in the 16 countries that introduced cash transfer programs to the 21 that did not. They don’t know who received cash transfers, so this is comparing people in countries that introduced them to people in countries that did not.  “We found that cash transfer programmes were associated with significant reductions in mortality among children under five years of age and women.” A New York Times article discusses the findings, and includes Berk speculating whether part of the effect is from improvements in health care services that sometimes accompany these programs.

·       On the CGD Blog, Justin Sandefur has an interesting piece on how many economists got it wrong when writing about spending money on anti-virals for AIDS patients in Africa in the early 2000s. “Contrary to the tenets of the simple, static, comparative cost-effectiveness analysis, cost curves can sometimes be bent, some interventions scale more easily than others, and real-world evidence of feasibility and efficacy can sometimes render budget constraints extremely malleable.”

·       Andrew Gelman offers his recommendations on designing experiments: take care on measuring the outcomes, consider realistic effect sizes, simulate your data and analysis first, and design in line with the analysis you want to make (e.g. collecting data to help with post-experiment adjustments, and with external validity in mind).

·       On an Oxfam blog post about ideas for reforming the World Bank, Duncan Green notes that a lot of the ideas were of the “If I ruled the world” variety, and notes this is a general issue with policy recommendations “I think it should be mandatory for any policy research paper setting out recommendations for change to have an appendix setting out its theory of change: who would decide these changes, what are their (dis)incentives, what events, narratives or messengers might persuade them to move.”

·       On the Econ that matters blog, Germán Reyes summarizes his work on how cognitive endurance helps predict better school and work outcomes. He documents a tendency for students to perform worse the longer into an exam they get, and that exams then capture a combination of both ability and cognitive endurance, depending on how long the exam is.

·       The NBER Summer Institute schedule is posted here. Always interesting to browse through some of the papers being presented, and sessions will be broadcast on the NBER’s YouTube channel. Full papers tend to be posted nearer the time.


David McKenzie

Lead Economist, Development Research Group, World Bank

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