Published on Development Impact

Weekly links May 23: ungating research, agile vs waterfall bureaucracy, African prices, services-led development, and more…

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

·       Find ungated copies and summaries of all papers in recent journal issues all in one place. Martin Abel and Susie Godlonton have created a new website called Ungated Research, where you can look at recent issues of 10 different economics journals, and they provide the abstract, a link to an ungated working paper version of the paper where available, and an AI-generated paper summary. A particular target audience is readers in developing countries who may not have access to the journals otherwise. It is just launched, so try it out and let them know if it is useful.

·       Agile vs Waterfall and government bureaucracy: I’ve read a couple of pieces recently that both make the point that often governments suffer massive delays getting anything done because they won’t launch something until it can serve everyone at once. This piece in Asterisk about helping get Californians access to food stamps and all the small barriers that get in the way is one such example – he discusses how the application form has 200 or so questions, where most really don’t need to get asked of most people “it’s a complicated application. The questions can be confusing. It can be intimidating. There are lots of parts. My favorite question is, “Have you or any member of your household been found guilty of trading SNAP benefits for guns, ammunition, or explosives after. September 22, 1996?” That’s literally a question on the application. And it’s because there of a federal law that says the nine or however many people in the world who have been convicted of that are categorically ineligible for SNAP.”. And several weeks ago I read this piece in Statecraft about the differences between how the government launched for getting medical insurance, and the new IRS website for free filing of taxes which was launched at a much smaller scale with much fewer issues: “When we make good consumer software, we set priorities. We try to really understand what people want, and we don't try to do everything at once….he CMS team was told that wasn't possible. And so they tried to do every single possible edge case from day one. When you try to do that, to serve everyone from the beginning, you serve no one….So it does feel sometimes like you are disadvantaging the least advantaged. You're failing to serve the most vulnerable. But the reality is, if you don't do a stage rollout, you're very often going to serve no one at all.”

·       The Center for Global Development has appointed Rachel Glennerster as its new president.

·       Oliver Kim on reconsidering the reasons why prices are so high in Africa and why manufacturing wages are so high relative to the level of per capita GDP -  a discussion on whether the Balassa-Samuelson relationship is linear with development, or non-linear due to the role of a largely non-tradeable agricultural sector at low-income levels. “Intuitively, poorer countries have more of their labor forces and consumption baskets tied up in non-tradable subsistence agriculture, so when agricultural productivity grows, it lowers the price level—the exact reverse of the conventional Balassa-Samuelson relationship. But at some point, enough people have moved into manufacturing that agricultural productivity growth becomes less relevant, and the traditional upward-sloping Balassa-Samuelson relationship reasserts itself. Hence: a U-shape between incomes and prices.”

·       Dani Rodrik on the case for green subsidies. Also he has a new paper on what services-led development policy should be like “In the years ahead, manufacturing will neither be able to absorb the new increments to the labor force, where the labor force is still growing rapidly (as in the low-income countries of sub-Saharan Africa), nor create more productive jobs for those that are already stuck in petty services…The future of developing countries is in services in the sense that that is where the jobs will be…. The challenge is to increase productivity in labor-absorbing services, such as retail, care, personal and public services, where we have had limited success, in part because such services have never been an explicit target of productive development policies…. We want to explore the potential of these kinds of programs to address the productive service jobs conundrum. To that end, this paper centers around twenty different initiatives from around the developing world, encompassing illustrations from each of the four strategies we just described…. These case descriptions are meant to serve as illustrations of the four broad strategies…The first case represents an intervention focused on established, large incumbent firms (Uber and Ola), and their partnership with the state government of Haryana, India, to expand employment. The second case focuses on the provision of public inputs, such as management training and financing to small enterprises in Nigeria, through a business plan competition called YouWiN!...The third case summarizes the use of new technologies to complement less-skilled labor to enhance the tasks workers can perform. In this case, frontline health workers, called Accredited Social Health Activists (ASHAs) in Jhansi, India were provided a mobile phone-based multimedia job aid. … Our final case focuses on labor market intermediation provided by Harambee in South Africa, where less-educated workers are provided vocational training combined with wrap-around services, including psychometric data, career counselling, and internships, to enhance employability.”

David McKenzie

Lead Economist, Development Research Group, World Bank

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