Weekly links May 26: cash, national identity, learning, industrial policy, don’t follow your passions, and more…


This page in:

·       On VoxDev, Aggarwal and co-authors summarize their work on the dynamics of cash transfer impacts in Malawi and Liberia – a one-time $500 cash transfer is given, and they conduct bi-monthly phone surveys to track impacts on consumption, income, and food security over the next 14-26 months. There is a persistent impact on food security, but not on income or food expenditure – which they suggest is in part due to more own production in agriculture and livestock investment. Also on VoxDev, José Bucheli and Matias Fontenia look at the impact of return migration on local development in Mexico, using changes in state-level immigration enforcement in the U.S. as an exogenous determinant of which localities in Mexico would be exposed to more return migration. They find return migration leads to improvements in social development and a reduction in food poverty in the municipalities migrants return to.

·       On VoxDevTalks, Oyebola Okunogbe discusses her work on the impact on national and ethnic identity in Nigeria of spending time living in another part of the country as part of the National Youth Service Corps program.

·       On the Education for Global Development blog, Shwetlena Sabarwal and Noam Angrist discuss their rapid experimental work on phone-based educational tutorials during Covid. “On average, phone call tutorials improved learning by 0.33 standard deviations…we learned the mobile phones provide a flexible platform to reach people cheaply and across diverse settings, even during school disruption. Accompanied with high quality pedagogy focused on targeted instruction and foundational skills, mobile phones can enable teachers to tutor students and improve learning.”

·       The monthly World Bank Skills 4 Dev newsletter has Victoria Levin and Noël Muller summarizing some of the literature on the importance of socioemotional skills for children and adults in developing countries – and notes the challenge still remains of which skills exactly matter in a particular context, and how to scale up programs to develop these skills.

·       In the New York Times, Sapna Cheryan and Therese Anne Mortejo explain one of the problems with the standard advice to graduating high school and college students to follow your passions: “when asked to identify their passions, women and men tend to cite stereotypically feminine and masculine interests and behavior. Women are more likely to say they want to make art or help people, for instance, while men are more likely to say they want to do science or play sports. In other words, when asked to identify their passions, people seem to do precisely what following your passions is supposed to discourage: They conform to societal expectations. This finding is especially troubling for anyone concerned about gender disparities in fields like computer science and engineering, in which women are significantly underrepresented.” Whereas when prompted to think about a field where they can have job security and high income, or where they can nurture and support others, the gender gap narrows.

·       Kevin Bryan has written a short user’s guide to GPT and LLMs for economic research: “The main uses for economists are: 1. Cleaning data; 2. Programming and making graphs; 3. Spelling and grammar checks; 4. Summarizing literature” – and 4 examples are provided of how you might use it.

·       Dave Evans twitter thread on which economics journals publish meta-analyses and review articles with plenty of examples.

·       The 2023 edition of the AEA papers and proceedings are out. A couple of things that caught my eye:

o   Daron Acemoglu’s Distinguished Lecture, in which he argues that differences in mark-ups and externalities mean that the market does not only get not get the level of innovation to be socially optimal, but also distorts the direction. For example, innovation may be tilted too much towards fossil fuels and not on renewables, too much on high-tech procedures for late-stage cures to diseases and not enough on prevention, and too much towards automation rather than technology that complements labor. He suggests that focusing on these systematic sources of distortion may provide an intermediate path for industrial policy where governments don’t need to “pick winners”, but rather determine the extent of distortions in the market allocation and correct these. However, on industrial policy, also see Tim Taylor’s recent post on qualms about industrial policy drawing on a forthcoming JEP piece by Douglas Irwin.

o   There are no exclusively development sessions in the P&P this time -the most development-oriented sessions include one on refugee programs and one on learning loss during the pandemic – instead the selected sessions serve as a nice time capsule of a lot of the issues at the forefront of debate in the last year or so: war sanctions, inflation surges, supply chains, AI, automation, block-chains, electric vehicles, immunization, discrimination, racial differences, and working from home.


David McKenzie

Lead Economist, Development Research Group, World Bank

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