29 April 2011

Monarch's Piss Festival

Congrats yeah? I just went from bemused and "yeah whatever its a bit of a laugh" back to active hatred when I read that that palace somehow conspired to invite pretty much everyone except the two living Labour former Prime Ministers, which even the tories think is a bit rude. And I didn't even get the day off. 

28 April 2011

New Draft Constitution

The Republic of Southern Sudan has a new interim constitution for the period following independence.

John Ashworth compiles reactions here. The most worrying thing for me is the removal of Presidential term limits, which means that the current Vice-President Riek Machar has been completely ignored after publicly declaring a preference for term limits a few months ago. 

25 April 2011

“Our Friends at the Bank”

A visit to a friend at the World Bank a couple of months ago reminded me of this fantastic film I saw as an undergraduate at SOAS.

Remember how evil World Bank conditionality used to force poor countries to cut their social spending on health and education? This documentary shows World Bank officials trying to convince Ugandan officials that they need to spend more on education instead of physical infrastructure.

I think my favourite part is Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni explaining the concept of prioritisation to World Bank President James Wolfensohn, and Wolfensohn eventually caving in with “My guess is you’ll get your way, which I think you are used to doing.”

You can buy the video here. (It’s a little pricey as I guess there was a limited market. It also comes with English commentary instead of the French version I managed to put up here).

14 April 2011

More Than Good Intentions

More Than Good Intentions: How a New Economics is Helping to Solve Global Poverty is the new book by Dean Karlan and Jacob Appel, released today. 

I'm about 95% certain that I would be able to tell you I love the book even if I wasn't being paid to promote it. It's like Freakonomics only about global development.

If everyone would just read this book then I would probably be out of a job because you would all be totally convinced of the need for smart evidence-based aid and know all about the fantastic research that IPA is involved with. And I still want you to read it.

So go on, make me unemployed, I dare you.

You can read Chapter 1 here.

13 April 2011

Cash Transfers Pilot in Southern Sudan from Save the Children

imageBefore the project started, I used to sit under a tree near the market and drink tea. Then the project started. I was able to save a little bit and buy a goat. One day, my goat became pregnant. Now I am able to sit under the tree and drink tea with milk.”
                                                                                              -UCT recipient, Mathiangdit Boma

Being an avid tea drinker myself, and knowing how much milk the Sudanese like in their tea, this story makes me (and, I imagine, Mathiangdit)  very happy.

In all seriousness, with fantastic timing I was just emailed a report from September 2010 evaluating Save the Children’s pilot cash transfer program in Northern Bahr el Ghazal, Southern Sudan, which although isn’t really capable of measuring impact does importantly show that cash transfers are technically feasible in remote and conflict-affected areas.
  • If appropriate security precautions are followed and existing  security mechanisms utilized, cash  transfer is possible  in post-conflict settings where security  is considered a risk.
  • Cash transfers are not misused. 
  • The most important priorities for use of cash transfer are expenditures on education, health and assets. 
I couldn’t find a copy online so here it is (hope Save don’t mind sharing – putting a link on their Sudan page would be nice!).

12 April 2011

Why Universities are like Beer

This is a guest post from Abhijeet Singh, formerly known as Skeptical Bandit on this blog.

An unnamed minister has described university education as a 'Giffen good' whilst discussing the decision by most British universities to charge the new maximum top-rate fees of £9000 from next year. Richard Alcock of the Guardian disagrees. Giffen goods are necessities; when price goes up, you paradoxically spend more on them because you need them regardless of price. Alcock on the other hand thinks universities are 'Veblen goods' : demand goes up as price increases because the high price gives the user 'snob value', similar to luxury goods.
Actually, they both need an economics lesson. The true reason is far simpler and more prosaic: price is a signal of quality. This is not a new thought in economics. Here's a quote from Scitovsky (1944)
"mass observation" of one's friends and their wives shows that more often than not people judge quality by price. The word "cheap" usually means inferior quality nowadays; and in the United States " expensive" is in the process of losing its original meaning and becoming a synonym for superior quality. Worse still, one of the largest American breweries uses the advertising slogan:  "Michelob, America's highest-priced  beer!"

09 April 2011

Hipsters without Borders

Here's one from the William Easterly School of Blogging ("always bring your point about development or economics back to some celebrity").

08 April 2011

Cash Transfers for Southern Sudan

Joe Hanlon, coauthor of Just Give Money to the Poor  was in Juba recently making the case for cash transfers, and giving some suggestions for how a program could work for Southern Sudan. Here's his presentation (republished with permission).

Obviously I would love to see a pilot, even given the huge logistical constraints and limited markets in Southern Sudan. Even better - a pilot with a proper evaluation built in from the beginning!

For more detail - DFID just published a new evidence paper.

05 April 2011

The Latest in Email Scams


Hope you are doing well I am away in London on a business trip, unfortunately for me I was robbed overnight,even my mobile phone was stolen.I have access to only emails. Please can you send me £3000(GBP)British pounds. As soon as I get back I would refund it immediately. Please all I need you to do is to go to any Western Union outlet and send me the money before the bank here closes. Below are my details for the western union transfer.

Name: Nachaya Mosona
Address/location: 30 commercial way,se15 5jq,london england

As soon as its sent, send me a copy of the money transfer receipt or just write out the money transfer control number(MTCN) and the full senders name.
Would be waiting.
best regards

04 April 2011

Evidence *against* cash transfers

If an area is at all isolated with limited access to markets, cash transfers are going to be less effective, as they create a shock to demand with no increase in supply, raising prices for everyone. In-kind transfers increase supply and so don't raise prices in the same way. This paper test this theory, finding that the price rise caused by cash transfers to Mexican villages reduces the transfer value by 11%.

Is 11% a fair price for some choice, control, and dignity? I suppose you'd have to ask those Mexicans...