06 May 2015

The philanthro-nik manifesto

"We—the philanthro-niks—want more philanthropy to be strategic. Our fundamental challenge is this: that social change is hard and calls for slow thinking, but most donors will only think fast. It therefore falls to us to do the work that Thaler describes: get the evidence, and make it easy."

Caroline Fiennes in the SSIR

04 May 2015

The impact of voluntourism

Interesting new paper on the impact of working for Teach for America on outcomes for the teacher (with causal identification from an application discontinuity) by Will Dobbie and Roland Fryer.

Participating in TFA increases racial tolerance, makes individuals more optimistic about the life prospects of poor children, and makes them more likely to work in education

I’d love to see a study like this for voluntourism in developing countries. HT: Kevin Lewis

16 April 2015

How to live well

Some interesting ideas from Alex Evans about the importance of building a movement

"Rich and I set out the need for a different theory of influence. Many of us who work in the fight for development, justice, and sustainability have I think been feeling the limits of theories of change that rely primarily on ‘insider lobbying’. We take that here as our starting point for asking what an alternative approach might look like: one that places much more emphasis on how we build new grassroots coalitions, transform values, and tell each other much deeper stories about where we are, how we got here, where we might choose to go next, and who we really are."

and then what those movements should do

We argue that it starts with the changes that all of us need to make in our own lives. This is partly because of the direct impact that such changes can have, of course, but we think the main issue here is something to do with the quality of intention that movements exemplify. Wherever movements not only demand but live out the change they want to see in the world, there’s a raw power there that can exert the kind of non-linear effect on politics that progressives so urgently want to see.

and from the full report

In practice, we think there are five areas that each of us needs to think about, which we describe in more detail below:

1. Live within our fair share of the world’s resources and environmental limits
2. Respond to poverty and inequality with radical generosity
3. Speak out prophetically
4. Use our power as a voter, a citizen and a consumer
5. Live restoratively and prioritise relationships

All of this is in a report for Christian Aid and supported by references to the bible rather than econ journals. Personally I’ve shifted somewhat from a Dawkins atheist to a de Botton atheist, and think there are important lessons here too for emerging secular congregations.

15 April 2015

South Sudan: A Cartoon History


This is amazing: an actual real cartoon history of the latest round of civil war in South Sudan, words by Alex de Waal. (via Tom)

17 March 2015

Labour Beyond Aid

The UK Labour Party has a new pamphlet out with ideas for future development policy, labelled "Beyond Aid."

How does it measure up?

CGD looks at 7 components of "Commitment to Development" in the annual index; aid, trade, migration, security, environment, technology, and finance.

Labour's pamphlet talks extensively about 2 of the 6 non-aid components of the index: the environment and security.

There is next to nothing on trade, migration, technology, and finance.

Out of 26 countries, the UK ranks 4th overall which is pretty good. Though that varies a lot between the components; Aid (4), Trade (7), Finance (2), Migration (13), Environment (11), Security (7), Technology (20).

There's more to International Development than Aid, but also more than climate change and security. 

The Emerging Middle Class in Africa

Apparently I missed this, but a book I contributed to back in 2012 along with colleagues at OPM was published by Routledge in October last year, edited by Mthuli Ncube and Charles Leyeka Lufumpa at the African Development Bank.

It's a snip on Amazon at only £27.99, or you can read it on Google Books here.

I'm not sure which is my favourite review;
"This book is uplifting, methodologically and intellectually sound, and rich in policy prescriptions. A must read for researchers, educators, policy makers, and global partners. As AERC (www.aercafrica.org) Executive Director, I am heartened by this policy and intellectually rich book"
–Lemma W. Senbet, Professor and Executive Director, African Economic Research Consortium and The William E. Mayer Chair Professor of Finance, University of Maryland, USA
or
"a timely topic, by genuine experts" –Paul Collier, University of Oxford, UK
Cheers Paul.

13 March 2015

Never Mind Development, here's Nirvana

The biggest cash transfer programme in the world continues apace, as subsidies for fuel in India which used to be paid to fuel companies are being redirected into consumer's bank accounts.
Continuing the push to extending coverage under the Aadhaar program, targeting enrollment for 1 billion Indians; as of early February, 757 million Indians had been bio-identified and 139 [million] Aadhaar linked bank accounts created;
...
The heady prospect for the Indian economy is that, with strong investments in state capacity, that Nirvana today seems within reach. It will be a Nirvana for two reasons: the poor will be protected and provided for; and many prices in India will be liberated to perform their role of efficiently allocating resources in the economy and boosting long run growth.
From India's recently published 2014-2015 Economic Survey led by Arvind Subramanian, the government's Chief Economic Advisor (and on leave from CGD) HT: Vinayak Uppal

11 March 2015

"I didn't come into politics to distribute money to people in the Third World!"

Justine ‘I didn’t come into politics to distribute money to people in the Third World’ Greening, the UK Development Minister, spoke at Sussex yesterday. I wanted to ask her if the above quote was true, but she over-ran the allotted 20 minutes, leaving time for only 3 questions before she was whisked off by her advisors. I also wanted to ask, given she was apparently so proud of her focus on emergencies and the UK response to Syria, why the UK has only taken in 143 Syrian refugees out of 380,000 people in need of resettlement, and whether, given her pride in cross-government collaboration, she agrees with the actual real not-taking-the-piss Foreign Office policy that it is better to let Syrian refugees drown in the Mediterranean, because rescuing them would create a "pull factor", or whether on the contrary she agrees with the churches, that this is an "abdication of moral responsibility."
 
She also seems to think that she invented the idea of economic development and that investing in ports and infrastructure might be an original idea. Did someone forget to brief the Minister about what the "WORLD BANK" has been doing for the last 50 years? Also whilst it may be important to make the case for aid to many audiences, this was not one of them. Seriously, she told us about the importance of aid for our own (UK) self interest about 3 different times (note probably at least half of IDS and I imagine the audience were not even British, and those that were are presumably firmly committed development people).
 
Snark aside, DFID gives us a lot to be proud of, we give a lot of money, and on the whole I think we give it well. It's just a bit depressing when our dear development leader looks so bored by the whole thing (or perhaps I'm just reading her as uninterested because of the alleged quote above?). Amusingly, the former accountant's eyes only really lit up when talking about a project sending folks from the Institute of Chartered Accountants to Zambia (though that is probably honestly a brilliant idea). She also clearly looked most pleased talking about the projects which involved some kind of new gadget or had some benefits for Brits - be it the aid match to double your donations to NGOs, the International Citizen Service, or school twinning. All fine ideas, but perhaps not the most transformative.
 
I should add that I didn’t think Mary Creagh’s vision was all that much more inspiring, despite Charlie’s reminder that the universal health care focus is a good one. Which is all quite odd in the context of the recent 0.7 bill. 

26 February 2015

What I've Been Reading

Giles Wilkes (whose FT leaders really are good) nails something profound;

"I’ve been trying to work out what has been stressing me these last, ooh, 25 years and how to adjust my life accordingly. I don’t want stress, if possible. There have been obvious triggers: [insert impressive CV here]. 

But a constant thread that laces through all these eras is a pressing need to have read what I thought needed reading. I cannot actually recall a time when a nagging sense of not having read enough didn’t weigh on me. Back in the 1990s the pleasure of visiting a bookshop was always interwoven with a gnawing sense of guilt and negligence on my part, at all the unread pages around me. This was compounded by the typical style of a normal book review, which in praising or condemning its subject would usually make reference to half a dozen other authors or works. The Sunday Times Review section became a risk, adding piles to the mental “to read” list."

17 February 2015

"That UN -- I will shut it down"

A gloriously unhinged rant from South Sudan's information Minister. It would be funny if it wasn't so sad (via: Dustin Johnson). 
In remarks yesterday, Minister of Information and Broadcasting Michael Makuei slammed not only the United Nations but also local media houses, East African ceasefire monitors, and Human Rights Watch, which he described as an organization of blood-sucking liars. 
... 
Makuei said he told [Al Jazeera correspondent] Adow that he was "lucky" not to have been imprisoned "like the man in Egypt" -- a reference to Al Jazeera correspondent Peter Greste. 
... 
"We will write to you today, officially, giving you the final warning, because this has been repeating itself -- I have been calling you, your people, your muzungus [i.e., white people] have not been reporting to me, they resist coming to me because they believe that they are UN. Huh? that UN -- I will shut it down," he said. 
... 
"These are people who must make their living by sucking the blood of others," he said of Human Rights Watch. "Mosquitos," added Cabinet Minister Martin Elia, concurring.
"Mosquitos, yes," said Makuei.

16 February 2015

Lampedusa Update

In 2013 the deaths of 366 migrants at sea off the coast of the Italian island Lampedusa caught the headlines. Last week another 300 died. Last year, it was an estimated total of 3,500. 

European governments, including the British one, are opposed to rescue missions on the grounds that this creates a "pull-factor" encouraging more people to make the trip. How does that claim stack up? We now have the first month's data since the end of the Italian Mare Nostrum rescue mission. 

In an interview with Mark Goldberg, John Dalhuisen of Amnesty International cites UNHCR figures that there were 60% more sea arrivals in Italy in January 2015 than January 2014, despite the widely publicised ending of the sea rescue mission. John cites this as evidence that it is push factors, such as the war in Syria, that have led to the large increase in refugees and migrants attempting the crossing, not "pull factors". You might want a few more data points if you wanted to be scientific about this, but 60% is a large increase, and those data points are human lives we are standing by and letting drown. I'm not sure this particular experiment would pass an ethical review board.

28 January 2015

Zoe Williams shows numeracy is not her strong point

Stuart Broad, the England cricketer, tweeted:
I've heard if you earn minimum wage in England you're in the top 10% earners in the World. #stay #humble 
— Stuart Broad (@StuartBroad8) January 27, 2015
which apparently provoked a backlash. Renowned economist Zoe Williams added her insightful analysis thus:
"The cricketer’s minimum wage tweet shows numeracy is not his strong point. ... Money doesn’t mean anything out of context: its value is determined by what you can buy with it. Most people figure this out by the age of about seven."
Embarrassingly for Zoe, Stuart was right. Working full-time at the minimum wage earns £13, 124 per year. Plug that into the Global Rich List calculator, which, by the way, uses "Purchasing Power Parity Dollars (PPP$) in order to take into account the difference in cost of living between countries", and you're in the top 5.84% in the world. After accounting for cost of living differences.

You carry on being outraged on behalf of the relatively low income in the UK when you think they are being belittled Zoe, and I'll carry on being outraged on behalf of the absolutely low income in the rest of the world, in places like Gabon, where life expectancy is just 63 years, and 1 in 5 people live on less than the equivalent of what you could buy here for $2 per day. Just maybe try not to make such major conceptual errors when you are mocking people who point out the magnitude of global inequality.

09 January 2015

The Future of the UN Development System

A new book from the co-Director of the Future of the UN Development System (FUNDS) project (can't believe they didn't call it the "FUN" project). Mark Malloch-Brown (former UN deputy-secretary-general and UNDP administrator) says;
"There is no better compilation of insights about the UN’s lack of cohesion, growing turf battles, declining capacity, clumsy implementation, and cooptation by bilateral and private interests of the family of organizations that calls itself—somewhat awkwardly—the UN development system."
Ouch.

One of the inputs to the book is a global perceptions survey of the UN system, summarised thus:
Four views emerge across the survey: 
• The UN’s development functions are less crucial than such other functions as security, humanitarian action, and setting global norms with teeth. 
• The UN’s development organizations are still mostly relevant, but some are not particularly effective. 
• The World Health Organization (WHO) and UNICEF consistently receive the highest rankings among operational agencies; regional commissions receive the lowest rankings. 
• The UN faces two major institutional challenges: poor internal organization and the predominance of earmarked funding.
What the survey misses, and what is really crucial, is that what we should care about is not just the effectiveness of organisations but the cost-effectiveness, or value for money. Houses in London are "effective" at keeping people dry, but they aren't exactly great value for money from a cost per square metre perspective. 

07 January 2015

The IMF and Ebola

The debate rumbles on at the Monkey Cage, as Blattman responds to the response by the authors of the Lancet article to his response to their article. I find the debate mostly quite infuriating. To massively oversimplify, what tends to happen when IMF intervention is required is that;

1. Poor country governments spend more than their income for too long
2. They can't find enough people to keep lending them money
3. The IMF comes in as the lender of last resort, quite reasonably tells the government "look, we aren't a commercial lender, we're only lending because we have to, you're going to have to stop spending more than you're bringing in, because that is completely unsustainable"
4. Western academics criticise the IMF for forcing poor countries to cut their spending.

It's a bit like blaming firefighters for causing fires because they are always at the scene of the fire. The IMF isn't some kind of magic money tree. It only gets involved when countries have got themselves into a crisis. 

What complicates this narrative a little is the difference between austerity at home and austerity in poor countries, which are not the same thing. The UK can very happily carry on spending more than its income quite indefinitely, because commercial lenders continue to be very happy to lend enormous amounts at very low interest rates to the UK government, unlike the governments of very small, very poor, fragile states. It is ok and entirely consistent to rail against austerity in the West, and simultaneously support fiscal discipline (not spending more than your income) in poor countries. At least, it is odd to blame the IMF for not letting poor countries spend more than their income indefinitely, when money grows on trees for neither poor country governments nor the IMF.