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Six Questions with Rohini Pande

David McKenzie's picture

Rohini Pande is Mohammed Kamal Professor of Public Policy at the Harvard Kennedy School, where she also co-directs their Evidence for Policy Design (EPoD) program. She has described her research as examining the economic costs and benefits of informal and formal institutions in the developing world and the role of public policy in changing these.

1. You have worked on a range of different topics – including rural banking and microfinance, governance, environmental regulation, son preference, and housing – but almost exclusively in one country, India. When you think about your broad research agenda, how to you think about the tradeoffs involved in focusing deeply on one country, vs exploring these topics in different places?

Starting with my PhD work on political reservations in India, I have been fascinated by the why and how of public policy in democracies and, in particular, how the political and social context shapes the choice of policy. I have also found that viewing problems of economic development through a political lens that engages with questions of power creates links across questions and topics that might before have seemed disparate.

Once you adopt this perspective, the advantage of focussing on a single country becomes apparent. Over time, one begins to understand how power structures operate and which policy lessons are generalizable and which remain specific to a location. The Indian economist Jean Drèze, who very much inspired my career choice to become a development economist, told me that he has never been to Africa. “Once I got to India,” he said, “there was more than enough for me to do for a lifetime.” His most recent book – Sense and Solidarity – provides a strong rationale for an action-research agenda that is focussed on a single country.

When should you cluster standard errors? New wisdom from the econometrics oracle

David McKenzie's picture

In ancient Greek times, important decisions were never made without consulting the high priestess at the Oracle of Delphi.  She would deliver wisdom from the gods, although this advice was sometimes vague or confusing, and was often misinterpreted by mortals. Today I bring word that the high priestess and priests (Athey, Abadie, Imbens and Wooldridge) have delivered new wisdom from the god of econometrics on the important decision of when should you cluster standard errors. This is definitely one of life’s most important questions, as any keen player of seminar bingo can surely attest. In case their paper is all greek to you (half of it literally is), I will attempt to summarize their recommendations, so that your standard errors may be heavenly.

Weekly links October 13: an anthropological rationale for randomization, what is Jholawala Economics?, changing norms, and more…

David McKenzie's picture
  • Another reason to justify random selection – Michael Schulson in Aeon “there are plenty of situations when random chance really is your best option. And those situations might be far more prevalent in our modern lives than we generally admit.” An interesting discussion drawing on anthropology of how different cultures have introduced randomness into decision-making, with the advantage being that it stops you using bad reasons for making decisions. “we might want to come to terms with the reality of our situation, which is that our lives are dominated by uncertainty, biases, subjective judgments and the vagaries of chance”
  • Maitreesh Ghatak reviews Jean Dreze’s new book “Sense and Solidarity - Jholawala Economics for Everyone”. See also this twitter thread by Abhijeet Singh on whether Dreze is underappreciated in development economics.

The Latest Quantitative Research on Education in South Africa (and What It Tells Us about the Rest of the World)

David Evans's picture
Richer countries have more research published about them on average, which means that African countries tend to have fewer studies about them. But South Africa far outstrips the rest of the continent. In the sample of Das et al. (1985-2005, so a bit dated now), 46 percent of all publications from Sub-Saharan Africa were from South Africa, as you can see below. So I was thrilled to be in South Africa last week and see a vibrant research community doing research on the economics of education in South Africa, at the Quantitative Applications in Education conference at the University of Stellenbosch’s Research on Socio-Economic Policy group. Below is a rundown of just some of the interesting findings; follow the links for the full presentations.
Publications on country by GDP

Source: Das et al. 2013
Publications on different African nations

Source: My construction, with data from Das et al. 2013

Teacher training and parenting education in preschool

Berk Ozler's picture
Lack of adequate preparation for primary school through pre-primary education is one of the key risk factors for poor performance in primary school (Behrman et al., 2006).* Thus, a popular approach for trying to improve outcomes in children has to do with increasing enrollment in preschool programs, and/or trying to improve the quality of existing programs. Children in low-resource settings are less likely to attend school, and they are less likely to learn when they are in the school setting – partly because they are unprepared for school when they get there.

Weekly links October 6: A Bridge too far for Jishnu, reducing recruiting information frictions, cash transfers in Niger, improving tax collection in Brazil, and more…

David McKenzie's picture
  • On the future development blog, Jishnu Das discusses recent experiments on public-private provision of education in Liberia and Pakistan, takes on Bridge Academies, and highlights the importance of good measurement: “in Liberia, Romero et al. tracked students to ensure that schools could not “game” the evaluation by sending weaker children home: “We took great care to avoid differential attrition: Enumerators conducting student assessments participated in extra training on tracking and its importance, and dedicated generous time to tracking. Students were tracked to their homes and tested there when not available at school. Finding children who have left a school is like finding a needle in a haystack. In a country where only 42 percent have access to a cell phone, it’s heroism.”
  • On Straight Talk on Evidence, James Heckman and co-authors get taken to task for torturing data to overstate findings in a 2014 Science article on the long-term effects of the Abecedarian ECD program. Specific criticisms on sample size (and its reporting) and multiple comparisons. Response and a rejoinder follow the post...

Vocational training vs. apprenticeships: A Ugandan showdown

Markus Goldstein's picture
Youth employment is a significant and pressing development issue.  But it’s not clear what governments can do.   There have been several metareviews of active labor market policies, including a recent one by David, and they’re fairly depressing – showing not much impact at all.    Into this fray, however, comes a new paper by Livia Alfonsi, Oriana Bandiera, Vittorio Bassi, Robin Burgess, Imran Rasul,

Finally, a way to do easy randomization inference in Stata!

David McKenzie's picture

Randomization inference has been increasingly recommended as a way of analyzing data from randomized experiments, especially in samples with a small number of observations, with clustered randomization, or with high leverage (see for example Alwyn Young’s paper, and the books by Imbens and Rubin, and Gerber and Green). However, one of the barriers to widespread usage in development economics has been that, to date, no simple commands for implementing this in Stata have been available, requiring authors to program from scratch.

This has now changed with a new command ritest written by Simon Hess, a PhD student who I met just over a week ago at Goethe University in Frankfurt. This command is extremely simple to use, so I thought I would introduce it and share some tips after playing around with it a little. The Stata journal article is also now out.

How do I get this command?
Simply type findit ritest in Stata.
[edit: that will get the version from the Stata journal. However, to get the most recent version with a couple of bug fixes noted below, type

net describe ritest, from(

Weekly links September 29: mixed methods (not just for footnotes), parenting in China, step away from that quadratic, and more…

David McKenzie's picture

How to leverage the time children spend out of school for learning

David Evans's picture
Every year, a child lives 8,760 hours (that’s 24 hours times 365 days). Let’s say she sleeps 9 hours a night. That leaves 5,475 hours awake. How many of those does she spend in school? Official compulsory instructional time for primary school ranges from under 600 hours (Russia) to nearly 1,200 hours (Costa Rica) in the OECD database. Actual days may be significantly fewer with school closures and teacher absenteeism.