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Out of Power? Political Capture of the Indian Electricity Sector -- Guest post by Meera Mahadevan

Development Impact Guest Blogger's picture

This is the eighteenth in this year's series of posts by PhD students on the job market.

In 2012, 700 million people in India suddenly found themselves without power for over 10 hours. At the time of the incident, political parties blamed each other for mismanagement and failing infrastructure. Such incidents reflect the extensive dysfunction in the sector, with technical problems and billing leakages that are among the worst in the world, amounting to 20% of electricity generated. The poor quality of electricity supply imposes major costs on the Indian economy; electricity shortages, for example, reduce manufacturing plant revenues by 5-10%. Why do these problems persist despite exponentially growing power generation? My job market paper shows that political corruption is one of the root causes behind unreliable electricity supply.

What is the link between political corruption and poor electricity supply? In democracies, incumbent politicians may consolidate power by favoring their voters with better access or lower prices. In India’s electricity sector, where politicians do not have direct control over electricity pricing, they may resort to illicit means in order to do this. Lower prices may actually benefit targeted consumers.  But such patronage is costly: it hurts the revenues of electricity providers, inhibiting their ability to invest in infrastructure, and lowering electricity reliability for all consumers. While subsidies and increased access benefit consumers in targeted constituencies, the resulting underinvestment by providers may lead to unreliable supply.

Estimating the often-ambiguous welfare implications of corruption is, therefore, a challenge. Especially since detecting corruption is hard: corruption is frequently concealed, complicating the task of making causal inferences and identifying mechanisms of corruption. In this research, I develop novel methods to address these challenges, and find that political corruption in the electricity sector leads to large revenue losses for electricity providers, worsening their ability to reliably provide electricity.

Good Fathers & Lemon Sons: Why Political Dynasties Cause “Reversals of Fortune” -- Guest post by Siddharth George

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This is the seventeenth in this year's series of posts by PhD students on the job market.

Aquinos, Bhuttos, Trudeaus, Yudhoyonos, Gandhis, Lees, Fujimoris: political dynasties remain ubiquitous in democratic countries.  Though many societies democratised to end hereditary rule, nearly half of democratic countries have elected multiple heads of state from a single family.  Politics is significantly more dynastic than other occupations in democratic societies.  Individuals are, on average, five times more likely to enter an occupation their father was in.  But having a politician father raises one's odds of entering politics by 110 times, more than double the dynastic bias of other elite occupations like medicine and law.  Despite their prevalence and influence, we know little about the economic effects of political dynasties.

Effects of dynastic politics are theoretically ambiguous

Economic theory makes ambiguous predictions about how dynastic politics affects development.  On the one hand, bequest motives might lengthen politicians’ time horizons  and encourage them to make long-term investments. These founder effects could be good for economic development.  However, if some political capital is heritable (e.g., a prominent name or a powerful network), dynastic politics may render elections less effective at selecting good leaders and disciplining them in office.  These descendant effects are likely bad for development.  The overall impact of dynastic politics is ambiguous, because it is the net result of founder and descendant effects.

Rural electrification and structural transformation: A guar(anteed) bet? Guest post by Faraz Usmani

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This is the sixth in this year's series of posts by PhD students on the job market.
What connects smallholder farmers in the semi-arid tracts of northwest India to the oil and gas barons of Texas and Oklahoma? A little green bean called guar! The seeds of this humble legume yield a potent thickening agent that greatly enhances the effectiveness of fracking fluid. As the fracking boom started in the United States, demand for guar skyrocketed, resulting in windfall gains for farmers across northwest India, the epicenter of global guar cultivation. Nearly simultaneously, India began rolling out its massive national rural electrification scheme, which prioritized certain villages based on a strict population-based eligibility criterion. In my job market paper, my coauthor Rob Fetter and I combine these two “natural experiments” to show that large-scale grid electrification can dramatically increase non-agricultural employment in rural economies when economic opportunity complements infrastructure—but if these complementary economic conditions are lacking, the grid may scarcely make a dent.

Here comes the sun(set): it puts children to sleep and affects global educational outcomes: Guest post by Maulik Jagnani

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This is the second in this year's series of posts by PhD students on the job market.

Each evening the sun sets more than 90 minutes later in west India than in the east of the country. This is because time on clocks across India are set to Indian Standard Time, regardless of location. In China all clocks are set to Beijing Time, which means in western part of the country the sun sets 3 hours later than the east of the country. The sun sets at least an hour later in Madrid than in Munich because Franco’s Spain switched clocks ahead one hour to be in sync with Nazi Germany in 1940, even though Spain is geographically in line with Britain, not Germany. Similarly, for a range of historical reasons, clocks in large parts of the planet – e.g., France, Algeria, Senegal, South Sudan, Russia, and Argentina – are set to be ahead of their (solar) time. Therefore, these places see the sun set later in the day. In my job market paper, I show that these arbitrary clock conventions -- by generating large discrepancies in when the sun sets across locations -- help determine the geographic distribution of educational attainment levels.

How to attract and motivate passionate public service providers

David Evans's picture

In Gaile Parkin's novel Baking Cakes in Kigali, two women living in Kigali, Rwanda – Angel and Sophie – argue over the salary paid to a development worker: "Perhaps these big organisations needed to pay big salaries if they wanted to attract the right kind of people; but Sophie had said that they were the wrong kind of people if they would not do the work for less. Ultimately they had concluded that the desire to make the world a better place was not something that belonged in a person's pocket. No, it belonged in a person's heart."
 
It's not a leap to believe – like Angel and Sophie – that teachers should want to help students learn, health workers who want help people heal, and other workers in service delivery should want to deliver that service. But how do you attract and motivate those passionate public servants? Here is some recent research that sheds light on the topic.
 

If you pay your survey respondents, you just might get a different answer

Markus Goldstein's picture
When I was doing my dissertation fieldwork, the professor I was working with and I had a fair number of conversations about compensating the respondents in our 15 wave panel survey.   We were taking a fair amount of people’s time and it seemed like not only the right thing to do, but also a way to potentially help grow the trust between our enumerators and the respondents. 
 

The Toyota way or Entropy? What did we find when we went back 8-9 years after improving management in Indian factories?

David McKenzie's picture

Between 2008 and 2010, we hired a multinational consulting firm to implement an intensive management intervention in Indian textile weaving plants. Both treatment and control firms received a one-month diagnostic, and then treatment firms received four months of intervention. We found (ungated) that poorly managed firms could have their management substantially improved, and that this improvement resulted in a reduction in quality defects, less excess inventory, and an improvement in productivity.

Should we expect this improvement in management to last? One view is the “Toyota way”, with systems put in place for measuring and monitoring operations and quality launch a continuous cycle of improvement. But an alternative is that of entropy, or a gradual decline back into disorder – one estimate by a prominent consulting firm is that two-thirds of transformation initiatives ultimately fail. In a new working paper, Nick Bloom, Aprajit Mahajan, John Roberts and I examine what happened to the firms in our Indian management experiment over the longer-term.

A new answer to why developing country firms are so small, and how cellphones solve this problem

David McKenzie's picture
Much of my research over the past decade or so has tried to help answer the question of why there are so many small firms in developing countries that don’t ever grow to the point of adding many workers. We’ve tried giving firms grants, loans, business training, formalization assistance, and wage subsidies, and found that, while these can increase sales and profits, none of them get many firms to grow.

What a new preschool study tells us about early child education – and about impact evaluation

David Evans's picture
When I talk to people about impact evaluation results, I often get two reactions:
  1. Sure, that intervention delivered great results in a well-managed pilot. But it doesn’t tell us anything about whether it would work at a larger scale. 
  2. Does this result really surprise you? (With both positive results and null results, I often hear, Didn’t we already know that intuitively?)

A recent paper – “Cognitive science in the field: A preschool intervention durably enhances intuitive but not formal mathematics” – by Dillon et al., provides answers to both of these, as well as giving new insights into the design of effective early child education.

Money for her or for him? Unpacking the impact of capital infusions for female enterprises

Markus Goldstein's picture
In a 2009 paper, David McKenzie and coauthors Chris Woodruff and Suresh de Mel find that giving cash grants to male entrepreneurs in Sri Lanka has a positive and significant return, while giving the same to women did not.   David followed this up with work with coauthors in Ghana that compared in-kind and cash grants for women and men.  Again, better returns for men (with in-kind working for some

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