30 June 2015

New evidence on (lack of) external validity

"Site selection bias" can occur when the probability that a program is adopted or evaluated is correlated with its impacts. I test for site selection bias in the context of the Opower energy conservation programs, using 111 randomized control trials involving 8.6 million households across the United States. Predictions based on rich microdata from the first 10 replications substantially overstate efficacy in the next 101 sites. Several mechanisms caused this positive selection. For example, utilities in more environmentalist areas are more likely to adopt the program, and their customers are more responsive to the treatment. Also, because utilities initially target treatment at higher-usage consumer subpopulations, efficacy drops as the program is later expanded. The results illustrate how program evaluations can still give systematically biased out-of-sample predictions, even after many replications.

H. Allcott in the QJE

25 June 2015

Celebrating more Brits

The population of the UK has increased by 500,000 in the last year.

Unlike what you may read elsewhere, this is great news.

- British people are great - having more of us is better
- London is the best part of Britain, and not coincidentally the most populous and densely populated part
- Population growth is concentrated in cities
- Larger cities support economies of scale, more specialisation and diversification, enabling the clusters of activity and agglomeration that drive innovation
- A larger population means a greater supply of innovators
- A larger population means a greater demand for innovators, and a bigger market for producers
- A larger population means more people to share the burden of fixed costs, including national debt

Of course there are costs to crowding, and we need to plan for more infrastructure provision (not least building more housing), but that’s just part of life and really shouldn’t be beyond our wit.

16 June 2015

Global Organ Trade

Here’s a great idea from Al Roth, the 2012 Economics Nobel Prize winner.

Al got his prize for developing his theoretical matching ideas into a computerized kidney exchange - so if you want to donate a kidney to a family member but you aren’t the right match, you can find another pair of people in the same situation from a different city and criss-cross the pairing, so both kidney transplants can go ahead.

In his new book (reviewed here by Alex Tabarrok), Al proposes extending the kidney exchange internationally.

"Mr. Roth, however, wants to go further. The larger the database, the more lifesaving exchanges can be found. So why not open U.S. transplants to the world? Imagine that A and A´ are Nigerian while B and B´ are American. Nigeria has virtually no transplant surgery or dialysis available, so in Nigeria patient A’ will die for certain. But if we offered a free transplant to him, and received a kidney for an American patient in return, two lives would be saved.

The plan sounds noble but expensive. Yet remember, Mr. Roth says, “removing an American patient from dialysis saves Medicare a quarter of a million dollars. That’s more than enough to finance two kidney transplants.” So offering a free transplant to the Nigerian patient can save money and lives. It’s hard to think of a better example of gains from trade (or a better PR coup for the U.S. on the world stage). Better matching with computerized markets is saving lives, but more than 100,000 people are still waiting for kidneys in the United States alone."

05 June 2015

Graduate Jobs in South Sudan

Looking for your first job in international development? Charlie Goldsmith is hiring in South Sudan;
"International development work is generally best done by people of the country in question: there is no shortage of talent in and from any of Somalia, South Sudan, DRC, or any other FCAS place you might name, only the conditions in which it might be deployed and developed. 
But there is still a role in development work for people from the Global North if they have the right skills, the humility, understanding and connection to apply them well where they are sent, and hopefully the intention to continue to apply them in this work for the medium term. That doesn’t just mean water engineers and hard-bitten Treasury hands, it can also mean the high-achieving, high-potential generalists/fast-streamers that any organisation, the world over, would be glad to have. 
But for those bright young people, getting into international development is not always straightforward: it can seem unwise to set off to a fragile state with no particular fixed plan, as many of those now working in this sector first did; getting to, and staying in, some of the places we work is expensive even if you do have systems already set up, let alone if you’re doing this the first time, straight out of College. 
This Autumn, we are therefore going to be looking to hire up to six CGA Fellows to send to South Sudan, who will be either immediate or fairly recent graduates."

04 June 2015

Innovative education financing modalities from 1862

Apparently payment by results isn’t quite so new.
"The reference here is to England’s Payment by Results school reform of 1862. According to the Revised code of the Department of Education in Britain in 1862, capitation grants to schools were reduced and payments were made to school on the basis of students passing on-site examinations given by inspectors in reading, writing and arithmetic. There has been much debate among historians about what the payment for results reform really accomplished. Mitch (2010) looks at educational performance across British counties over the 30 years of the policy and shows that during this time, inequalities across counties declined. But in the absence of data on trends prior to the reform, it is hard to establish whether this was a consequence of the reforms. In contrast, the quote here paraphrases Matthew Arnold, a poet and school inspector who returns from a trip to France and notes: “I find in English schools…..a deadness, a slackness and a discouragement….This change is certainly to be attributed to the `Payment by Results’ school legislation of 1862.”(Great Britain Privy Council 1868, Page 290)."
From a new paper by Andrabi, Das, & Khwaja

02 June 2015

The learning crisis in Sierra Leone

"Mohammed’s father is an illiterate petty trader. Although he never got any school himself, he has always been determined that Mohammed [13] should get a good education. When Mohammed joined us, we asked him, as we ask all our students, to complete a word reading assessment. The assessment, which we administer one-to-one in the child’s home, involves reading out a list of 90 words that increase in complexity and difficulty, and from the number and difficulty of the words read correctly an inference can be drawn about the student’s reading age based on UK norms. 

Mohammed got stuck straight away. He barely made it past the first line or two – words like ‘he’, ‘she’, ‘cup’, ‘said’. Mohammed’s father couldn’t read but he could see that his son was struggling and did his best to encourage him. “Try your best Mohammed”, he said. And Mohammed did. He kept trying. But no matter how long he took he couldn’t recognise the words, and eventually we had to call time on the test. Mohammed’s father was heartbroken. “I’ve paid all this money for school,” he said, “but his head is empty.” 
Unfortunately, Mohammed’s story is far from unique."
From an essay by Paul Skidmore, CEO of the Rising Academy Network

26 May 2015

Does spending on education increase learning?

Evidence from the Guardian UK university ranking, which scores universities both on their value-added (final exam scores minus pre-university exam scores - a measure of how much students learnt at university), spending, and student-staff ratio.

aaaand surprise surprise, spending looks totally uncorrelated with learning.

Smaller class sizes do seem to be doing something (small sample sizes, correlation not causation, yadda yadda), which makes you wonder what the high-spend, large class-size universities are spending all their money on.

25 May 2015

National Development vs Poverty Reduction, in charts

These charts by Branko Milanovic deserve looking at again and again. A few years ago Adrian Wood told my entire economics class to print off the Angus Maddison long-run world GDP chart and stick it on our walls so we’d look at it every day. I’d suggest adding the Milanovic chart alongside it.

I was struck earlier today (whilst listening to the latest Development Drums) how these charts could be used to illustrate the comparison between anti-poverty programs and National development that Lant talks about.

Projects to increase an individual’s income in developing countries can help people get a better livelihood amongst those available in that country, but they probably aren’t going to change the overall set of opportunities facing people living in a country. If you want to earn yourself rich, you need to sell stuff to rich people - that means exporting goods or services to rich countries (trade), moving to a rich country to sell your labour (migration), or encouraging rich people to come visit your country (tourism).

Graphically, the most successful ever anti-poverty program might at best move a bunch of people from point A to point B.

By comparison, migrating lets someone move from point C to point D.

And for something truly transformative, national development, probably based on exports, allows the whole country to shift up from E to F.

Anti-poverty programs can’t solve poverty.

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
"a timely topic, by genuine experts" –Paul Collier, University of Oxford, UK
Cheers Paul.