30 May 2012

Chart of the Day: Hunger and Food Waste

This is from a TEDx talk by Simon Moss, and gave me one of those brief confused child why-the-fuck-is-the-world-so-absurdly-unjust moments.

29 May 2012

Oxford University Africa Conference [Videos]

Think Africa Press have just posted a bunch of videos from the Oxford Africa Society conference a few weeks ago.

The highlight for me was a quote from Nigerian Central Bank Governor Sanusi Lamido Aminu Sanusi.

[paraphrased from memory]
If a politician tells you that they are going to create a job, throw them out of the window. Fix the roads, fix the power, fix the security, and the people will create their own jobs.

Where is the Bono for migration?

Given that
the overwhelming explanation for who is rich and who is poor on a global scale isn’t about who you are; it’s about where you are
immigration restrictions are probably the greatest preventable cause of global suffering known to man.
Why are there no celebrity advocates for immigration?

The rest of the article, Charles Kenny in Business Week, is excellent, including the research finding that McDonald's staff in the US earn 2.4 Big Macs per hour, compared to just one third of a Big Mac in India (for identical work producing an identical product).

Does aid improve governance?

Jennifer Brass makes the case in the "Governance" journal [gated] that international NGOs operating in Kenya have contributed to improved democratic governance and accountability. This contrasts with the Bauer/Easterly/Moyo-ish lines that external aid undermines governance, but resonates with my recent limited experience looking at NGO programmes in Kenya which comes across as pretty positive interaction with government, and also with something Paul Collier mentioned in the abstract, speculating that the difference between aid and oil (and thus the explanation for better outcomes on average from aid than oil) is the added value of the technical assistance.

Brass writes
Governance is no longer the purview of only public government actors; it is increasingly seen as a shared or networked process among several types of organizations. 
Government and NGOs learn from each other to improve what they do. In particular, many government agencies notice the successes achieved by NGOs and, whether intentionally or not, mimic their actions, recalling DiMaggio and Powell’s (1983) mimetic isomorphism. This is most obvious in their attempts at participatory approaches, in which opinions from the village to the city are solicited (if not always actually listened to). As a result, governance in Kenya has slowly begun to more democratic, moving away from its hierarchical, authoritarian past.
She also reports broad individual support for NGOs in Uganda and Kenya (perhaps not a surprising result that people report to surveyors that they like people who give out free stuff);
in a survey of NGOs in Uganda, 90% of organizations reported involving host communities in the delivery of services, and nearly 60% of beneficiaries of these NGOs agreed that the NGOs seek community participation (Barr, Fafchamps, and Owens 2005). While NGOs claimed more participatory involvement than the respective communities saw, 60% participation rates are significant. Relative to the Kenyan government and its public administration over the past 40 years, NGOs unquestionably try to be more participatory and accountable. 
Kenyan citizens agree, viewing NGOs as looking after the interests of the common man. When asked, “To what extent do you think NGOs have the interests of the people in mind?” in a survey, the author conducted on service provision and service providers with 501 Kenyans, 70% of respondents answered positively, and only 20% responded negatively.
Finally, a separate paper finds that NGOs on average choose to locate themselves where need is great, but also in convenient locations (close to roads and towns - which isn't necessarily the worst thing for cost effectiveness), and best of all not due to political factors.

25 May 2012

Andy Samberg on Yale

"It's like a second-tier safety-school in the worst city in America. Guys I'm kidding New Haven's nicer now. ......... than Rwanda!"
Actually, I'm not so sure. Kigali is pretty nice these days.

From his Harvard speech, around minute 17.

24 May 2012

Apparently Damien Hirst can't paint

This review by Jonathan Jones in the Guardian is just glorious.
Seriously – Mr Hirst – I am talking to you. It seems you have no one around you to say this: stop, now. Shut up the shed. I say this as a longtime admirer, not an enemy. No encounter with a contemporary work of art has ever thrilled me like the day I walked into the Saatchi Gallery in 1992 and saw a tiger shark's maw lurch towards me. But these paintings are abominations unto the lord of Art. They dismantle themselves. Each of these paintings – from the parrot in a cage to the blossoms and butterflies – takes on the difficulties of representational painting and visibly fails to come close, not merely to mastery, but to basic competence.

21 May 2012

The Lancet's editors don't get evaluation (sadface)

So Matt beat me to the punch on Friday on the Lancet Millennium Village retraction. Since then I've being trying to think of a polite way of expressing my total dismay and despair at the tripe written by the Lancet editors in response to the retraction (for which, by the way, a little bit of Kudos to Pronyk et al).

The Lancet editors write:
The Millennium Villages project team has quickly and commendably corrected the record after understanding the validity of the challenge it received. But the withdrawal of this element of the paper does not detract from the larger result—namely, that after 3 years Millennium Villages saw falls in poverty, food insecurity, stunting, and malaria parasitaemia, together with increases in access to safe water and sanitation.
Which is just total nonsense. For all we know, poverty fell in the Villages at the exact same rate as everywhere else. That is not an important result to be celebrated. I challenged Lancet editor Richard Horton on twitter as to why he would continue to emphasise this non-result, and he responded with yet more nonsense;

  1. richardhorton1 @rovingbandit To be fair, there were falls in each of the 5 MDG-1 poverty/nutrition measures, but these were not statistically significant. from web

That isn't even true. The first of the measures - wealth - is the opposite of poverty. It is *wealth* that fell (statistically insignificantly) in the Villages relative to comparisons. I despair. And kind of question my own sanity. Despite what Tim Worstall says, I'm really not a scientist, but its pretty galling that people say economics is not a science like the physical sciences when this is the kind of guff published by the world's top medical journal.

Bill Easterly has a whole long list here of more terrible social science published in medical journals. At the bottom of the post, Ben Goldacre comments
i think journals publishing things outside of their field of expertise is risky, but i wld caution against developing a world view that economics journals are in a better shape overall than medical ones. as someone who flits into both, there are lots of things that are routine in medical journals, to a greater or lesser extent, but notably almost unheard of in economics. stuff like declarations of conflict of interest, structured write-ups, registering a protocol in advance of doing a study, etc. all of which wld be great to see more of outside medicine.
All of which is true. In particular I am struck by how easily readable a short, structured, 4 page Lancet write-up is. There are definitely lessons to be learnt across disciplines both ways. It's just an incredibly sad state of affairs that one of the lessons that journals of medicine, the discipline that gave us randomized controlled trials, needs to learn from economics, is a more careful attention to statistics and causality. 

15 May 2012

Chart of the Day: Gay Marriage in America

Think Hemingway

Andrés Marroquín and Julio H. Cole ran a statistical analysis of the length of words used in Nobel Laureate speeches. Winners for Literature use shorter words than in other disciplines. And as a general rule of thumb I would guess that Nobel prize winners in literature are also better writers. Ergo, use short words dummy. The statistical evidence says so.

14 May 2012

How to improve education: Pay teachers less

Abhijeet has a new post up at the CSAE blog. He makes the critical point that when a study finds no difference between regular teachers and contract teachers in Kenya, those contract teachers are still being paid only a fifth of regular teachers. It's kind of silly to be disappointed by seeing no positive impact (but no negative impact either) when you are paying a fifth of the cost. (edit: the above isn't actually correct - see the discussion in the comments here - the quote below is still accurate however)
across all these studies, contract teachers never do worse than civil service teachers, despite being younger, more inexperienced and more likely to not have had formal teacher training. In value-for-money terms, each contract teacher is at least four to five times as productive as a regular public service teacher: in Kenya, the average pay of a civil service teacher is $261 per month compared to $56 for a contract teacher. The problem is not that the contract teachers are being paid too little (they get paid salaries comparable to private school teachers in these countries) but that public sector employment just has a huge premium attached.

Millennium Villages: impact evaluation is almost besides the point

A lot has been said about evaluation and the impact of the Millennium Villages, most of which boils down to:

"What is the impact of the Millennium Village package of interventions on the area in question?"

The really depressing part though is that this is actually the least interesting question. Chances are that throwing in a whole bunch of extra inputs to a community will create some outputs, and some impact. The whole point of the Millennium Villages though is to provide a model for the rest of rural Africa to follow. The really interesting question is whether African governments have the desire and capability to manage a massive and complex scaling up of integrated service delivery across rural Africa.

A point which basically belongs to Bill Easterly.
Mr. Easterly argues that the Millennium approach would not work on a bigger scale because if expanded, “it immediately runs into the problems we’ve all been talking about: corruption, bad leadership, ethnic politics.” 
He said, “Sachs is essentially trying to create an island of success in a sea of failure, and maybe he’s done that, but it doesn’t address the sea of failure.” 
Mr. Easterly and others have criticized Mr. Sachs as not paying enough attention to bigger-picture issues like governance and corruption, which have stymied some of the best-intentioned and best-financed aid projects.
A proper randomised evaluation could give you a good estimate of the cost-effectiveness of the island. A difference-in-difference estimate could give you a slightly worse estimate. Doing a fake difference-in-difference with unreliable recall baselines, arbitrarily selected control villages, misrepresented results, and mathematical errors, will give you a pretty awful estimate. But either way, you are missing the main point, which is about scale and replication, and how that works.

How feasible would it really be to replicate something like this on a national level in Ghana? How exactly would it work? Do the  systems of accountability and capability exist at local levels to manage all of these projects? How would coordination and planning work between national ministries and their sectoral plans, and local level priorities?

The Millennium Village project seems to grasp vaguely at these issues but ultimately brush them under the table. From a MV project report:
Another challenge in some sites is insufficient capacity of local government to take full ownership of MV activities. This is manifested in unfulfilled pledges to perform mandated roles, unsatisfactory maintenance of infrastructure, and insufficient involvement of local elected officials. MV site teams are addressing these challenges by agreeing to jointly implement interventions targeted at improving the performance of sub‐district governments, increasing sensitization and engagement of local government officials, increasing joint monitoring of MV activities in communities, and developing training plans in technical, managerial, and planning skills for local government officials.
 Or : "we have no clue how to fix the systemic implementation challenges"

An anonymous aidworker writes on his blog Bottom-up thinking
I’ve noticed around here, normally sloth-like civil servants who won’t even sit in a meeting without a generous per diem rush around like lauded socialist workers striving manly (or womanly) in the name of their country when a bigwig is due to visit, working into the night and through weekends, all without any per diems...   
I fear all the achievements of the MVP will wash up against the great brick wall that is a change resistant bureaucracy.
None of this is to say that the situation is hopeless. It isn't. In particular there are elements of the Millennium Village package which are proven to be effective, cheap, and don't require complicated systems of governance and accountability. Namely distributing insecticide-treated bednets. Aid money can provide them easily, sustainability is less of a concern than other interventions, and you can buy them right now. Check out Givewell for a rigorous independent assessment (and recommendation) of the Against Malaria Foundation. Probably the single best way you could spend some money today. 

War we can believe in?

Andrew Natsios, a former US envoy to Sudan and former administrator of USAID called on Friday for the US to arm South Sudan with anti-aircraft weapons.
We need only make sure that, for the North, attacking the South is a little bit harder than shooting fish in a barrel.
Maybe providing weaponry inherently built for self-defence is something that a few more people can get on board with than bombing Sudan's air bases or all-out war?

11 May 2012

Gay rights and economic growth

Why are we obsessing with gay rights in the middle of an economic crisis?

Because gay rights are human rights. And if you really need a reason beyond that, Daron Acemoglu lays out in detail how the "rights revolution" over the last century has driven technological innovation that has delivered economic growth.

Alex Tabarraok highlights some more recent evidence that also supports this view (one of the authors, Charles Jones, literally wrote the book on economic growth);
Public and private discrimination diminish a person’s ability to individuate and develop, an ability that drives innovation and growth in the artistic, economic and scientific realms. In India the caste system binds many people to the lives of their ancestors regardless of desire, talent or will. In parts of the world half the population is subjugated and bound to a limited vision of their life, a vision which is not of their own making. Similar if less extreme forces have limited women and blacks in the United States. 
In a pathbreaking paper, The Allocation of Talent and U.S. Economic Growth, Jones, Hsieh, Hurst, and Klenow connect a micro allocation model to a macro growth model to estimate that the lifting of much discrimination in the United States since 1960 has had a large effect on economic growth: 
In 1960, 94 percent of doctors were white men, as were 96 percent of lawyers and 86 percent of managers. By 2008, these numbers had fallen to 63, 61, and 57 percent, respectively. Given that innate talent for these professions is unlikely to differ between men and women or between blacks and whites, the allocation of talent in 1960 suggests that a substantial pool of innately talented black men, black women, and white women were not pursuing their comparative advantage. This paper estimates the contribution to U.S. economic growth from the changing occupational allocation of white women, black men, and black women between 1960 and 2008. We find that the contribution is significant: 17 to 20 percent of growth over this period might be explained simply by the improved allocation of talent within the United States.
Up to a fifth of growth due simply to getting rid of pointless discrimination. Most of these economic opportunities have now been taken in the liberal west, but there are potentially huge economic gains across the developing world. How much is homophobia hurting African economies?

10 May 2012

Ed Leamer on Economics

"What we do is not science, it's fiction and journalism." Economic theory, he writes, is fiction (stories, loosely connected to the facts); data analysis is journalism (facts, loosely connected to the stories). Rather than titling the two sections of his book Theory and Evidence, he calls them Economic Fiction and Econometric Journalism, explaining, "If you find that startling, that's good. I am trying to keep you awake."
The Craft of Economics, HT: Michael Clemens on the CGD "What We're Reading" list

09 May 2012

African-ish Music Break

I started putting together a list a few months ago for Ryan and Michael, tidied it up last week for Andrea, and am now posting it here as a bookmark for me. Given that Ian kicked out the label "world music", now we just need to figure out what to call it. Note to OPM IT, I obviously wouldn't dream of streaming music in the office. Note to everyone else, I am definitely in the market for more stuff like this. Suggestions please!
Blitz the Ambassador - Native Sun - Full Album Stream - Ghanian Hip-Life Hip-Hop 
M.anifest - Suffer - Ghanaian in America - This song is infectious 
The Fokn Bois - Fokn Wit Ewe - Full Album Stream - Crazy crazy awesomeness 
Afrikan boy - Free Mixtape Download - Nigerian rapper in London 
Baloji - Independence Cha-Cha - Rapping over 1960s Congo independence anthem 
Nneka and J. Period - The Madness - Free Mixtape Album Download 
Bajah + the Dry Eye Crew - Kings of Salone: The DJ Gravy Mixtape - The track "Bondo Kallay" is awesome 
Dub Colossus - A town called Addis - Ethiopian Dub. What more do I need to say? 
Esau Mwamwaya and Radioclit - The Very Best - Malawian singer Esau mixed with Vampire Weekend, MIA, and Michael Jackson 
Antibalas - The Afrobeat band that played the Fela! musical on broadway 
Gummy Soul - Fela Soul - A Fela Kuti / De La Soul mashup (I'm not sure this one is really better than the sum of its parts, but definitely interesting nonetheless) 
Chiddy Bang - Several free mixtapes here - Not a ton of Africana - but Chidera is technically Nigerian, so... 
Chief Boima - Love in this African Club - I'm a sucker for cheesy R&B remixes 
Sanchez - I believe I can fly - R Kelly. The reggae version. Yes. 
And to keep an eye on the new stuff....
Africa is a Country - The best blog on Africa and the media
African Hip Hop - Does exactly what it says on the tin 
Nomadic Wax - Global Hip-hop blog
Okay Africa - An initiative of the Roots - Enough said

The Arab Spring: Too much education and not enough jobs

Its always nice to have your priors confirmed by some systematic data. Here is Campante and Chor in the Journal of Economic Perspectives with a nice chart showing that Arab countries do generally have higher than average unemployment and more recent growth in education than other countries.

They also find some evidence (correlation is not causation etc) that it is the interaction between unemployment and schooling that has led to political change, and not either by them self.  

08 May 2012

OMG Millennium Villages Increase Poverty ROFL!!

The Millennium Village PR Department Guardian newspaper reports "Child mortality down by a third in Jeffrey Sachs's Millennium Villages." Which is possibly true (I'm not going to even go into the validity of the non-random controls). But if you take a casual glance at the paper's results table, you'll also find no statistically significant impact of the project on poverty, nutrition, education, or child health.

Of all 18 indicators, 10 are totally statistically insignificant (no difference between intervention and comparison) and only 1 of the 18 indicators is significant at the 1% level.

The text of the Lancet paper mentions 3 times that poverty has fallen in the village sites. And just once that this reduction is actually no different to that in comparison villages.

And check out this sentence;
For 14 of 18 outcomes, changes occurred in the predicted direction. No significant differences were recorded when comparing poverty ...
So, mention the direction of the effect when it is the direction you want (but statistically insignificant from zero), and neglect to mention the direction of the effect when it is the direct opposite of what you want (but also insignificant).

Now THAT, folks, is science. (Here's the Lancet link, HT: Maham). 

05 May 2012

Sweatshop Logic Fail

corporates manufacturing goods in Chittagong need pay workers an average of only $48 a month, said the zone manager. That's about $1.50 a day.  
Are these factories the new sweatshops, as some developments groups say? People are paid more to work in the zone than in factories beyond the gates and, from what I could see in the two works I visited, the conditions – albeit perhaps not surprisingly – looked good. But the pay rates, which are set by government and not by the companies, are terrible.
Read that again. Emphasis on the "people are paid more to work in the zone than in factories beyond the gates" and the "But the pay rates are terrible."

Now folks, please, take a seat, because what I'm about to say here is going to blow your mind. When poor people get jobs that pay more that is generally a good thing.

(And perhaps worth noting, the reason that those improved wages are still terrible by Western standards is global labour market segmentation: we use force to stop Bangladeshis from getting jobs in the West where wages are not terrible, because our median voters would rather that people were trapped in low wage labour markets than be allowed to move to our high wage labour markets. Charming.)

02 May 2012

Black Economic Empowerment

Does anyone who knows more about the South African economy than me have an opinion on this assessment by Roger Southall?
Many black capitalists have been brought on board the corporate bandwagon because of their political connections, not for their Weberian entrepreneurial ethic, so many BEE deals collapse into cronyism and corruption, who-you-know mattering more than what-you-know. 
Meanwhile, corporate cynicism knows few bounds. Unbundled fragments are transferred to indebted black satraps, and black capitalist success hovers uneasily between dependence on state contracts and white corporate goodwill. Increasingly, too, large corporates are shifting major interests into private equity. 
BEE remains a necessary political project. Leaving white capital to transform itself is like asking the devil to convert to Catholicism. But the challenges are immense: can a well-intentioned but under-capacitated state shape a socially responsible capitalism, or is BEE creating an avaricious class of black capitalists tied to the coattails of international capital?

David Cameron doesn't care about poor people either

“The problem is policy is being run by two public school boys [Cameron and Osborne] who don’t know what it’s like to go to the supermarket and have to put things back on the shelves because they can’t afford it for their children’s lunchboxes,” says Nadine Dorries, another Conservative MP. “What’s worse, they don’t care either.”
And he doesn't care because those poor people live in Northern cities which never voted tory anyway.
Unemployment in traditional Labour areas is currently much higher than in traditional Conservative areas. In north-east England it is 11.2%, in Yorkshire and the Humber it stands at 9.9%, in the north-west at 9.3% and in Wales at 9%. By sharp contrast, unemployment in the south-west is 6.1%, in the south-east it is 6.3% and in the east of England it is 7%.  
Zooming into even more local figures reinforces this picture. The national rate of people claiming jobseekers' allowance is currently 5%. In Labour-held seats, the rate is an average 5.2%, while in Conservative-held seats it is considerably lower at 2.9%. In the 50 most marginal Conservative-held seats it is 3.6%, well below the national average and that of Labour-held seats. 
History shows that it is perfectly possible for Conservative governments to oversee sluggish growth, rising unemployment and public spending cuts while winning re-election. As Stanley Baldwin in the 1930s and Margaret Thatcher in the 1980s proved, the crucial factor is that enough people are doing comparatively better to sustain an election-winning coalition.
Part of me was quite relaxed when Labour lost the last election. They had been in power for over a decade,  which is never healthy, and a break would probably do them some good. And the Conservatives probably wouldn't be that bad. Especially with the Lib Dems there to tone down their worst excesses. I was wrong.

Justin Wolfers and Betsey Stevenson make a good point about asymmetric risks;
Europe’s experience in the 1970s and 1980s demonstrated that persistently high unemployment can become entrenched, leading to further unemployment in the future -- a process economists call hysteresis. Skills atrophy, hope fades and people lose contact with the networks that can help them find work. If this occurs with the millions of U.S. workers who have been without jobs for more than a year, it will be costly and very difficult to undo. 
In other words, the cost of too little growth far outweighs the cost of too much. If we readily bear the burden of carrying an umbrella when there’s a reasonable chance of getting wet, we should certainly be willing to stimulate the economy when there’s a reasonable risk that doing nothing could yield a jobless generation.
Christina Romer suggests that
European policy makers just don’t get it.
What is scarier is the notion that they do "get it", but just don't care.

David Cameron doesn't care about black people

to paraphrase Kanye, that is pretty much the impression that I got from Lord Ashcroft's interesting new report on ethnic minorities and the Conservative Party.
At the 2010 election, only 16% of ethnic minority voters supported the  Conservatives. More than two thirds voted Labour.
by polling white voters alongside those from ethnic minorities, we demonstrated that the Conservative Party’s unpopularity among black and Asian voters is not simply a matter of class and geography. There were sometimes strikingly different results between white and non-white voters living in the same area, and between different ethnic minority groups. Among ethnic minority voters the Conservatives’ brand problem exists in a more intense form. For many of our participants  – by no means all, it is important to state  – there was an extra barrier between them and the Conservative Party directly related to their ethnic background. If Labour was the party that helped their families to establish themselves in Britain, had represented people who did their kind of work, and had passed laws to help ensure they were treated equally, the Conservatives, they felt, had been none to keen on their presence in the first place. Enoch Powell was often mentioned in evidence, as was the notorious Smethwick election campaign of 1964 in which a poster appeared – not distributed by the Conservatives, but remembered as such – saying “if you want a n****r for a neighbour vote Labour”. The failure, on the Conservatives’ watch, properly to investigate the murder of Stephen Lawrence was also cited. Most thought that if prejudice had been widespread in the party, then  the  Conservatives had changed in recent years, whether through principle or necessity. But significant numbers  – which particularly included people from a black Caribbean background  – felt the Tories remained indifferent or even hostile towards ethnic minorities. Many felt the Tories, and David Cameron in particular, had unfairly blamed ethnic minorities for last summer’s riots. 
Via Rob Ford