30 September 2013

Advice for new ODI fellows

Some assorted advice for this year's crop of ODI fellows who will be heading out soon (former fellows - what else should they know?).

1. Your main job (should) be translating economic theory and evidence into English. (see for example, Portes or Coats)

2. Your main job will actually be poring over spreadsheets.

4. You can probably give up on the idea of building much capacity.

5. But that's ok. The ODI fellowship is as much about gap-filling as capacity building. (As an aside, even with stratospheric levels of growth, poor countries will remain poor for a while. If you have 10% annual income growth but only start with $500, it takes 32 years to get to $10,000, the "rich country poverty line". Poor countries will need external assistance for a while. Worrying too much about the short-term sustainability of projects is over-rated. African success stories such as Botswana and Rwanda have relied heavily on external assistance over long periods).

6. Don't wear flip-flops to the office.

7. Don't take any crap about the fellowship. A 2009 review concluded that:
"it has spawned hundreds of careers in economic development as well as launched prominent scholars and distinguished civil servants. It had done so with very modest resources and a management that has stretched itself to fit and to cover, earning the praise of its Fellows, current and former, and the grateful recognition of its delivery of quality service by host governments. There is very little that needs to be done to maintain and sustain this successful partnership. What has been recommended in this review are simply steps to ensure its continuity and survival. There is no need to provide extended encomiums—the alumni, DFID and the satisfied client countries already said what needs to be said. The ODI Fellowship Scheme is a success."

How to quit your job in style

HT: Scott

23 September 2013

South Sudan macro update

A friend writes:
"Sudan Tribune today reports that Sudanese Dinar is today at 8.2 to the USD in KRT, street, 4.4 official. SSP meanwhile at 4.something to the USD, street, and 3.2 official."
So whilst the Government of South Sudan continues to lose money to corruption through the fixed artificially strong exchange rate (last year Chris Adam and I estimated the cost to be around 12-15% of government spending), they aren't losing as much as North Sudan, who are really taking the piss.

And at least inflation seems to have stabilised this year after a huge increase in prices through 2011 and 2012.

Source: SSNBS

What will it cost to eliminate poverty?

Development Initiatives have a new report out today with, complete with some good-looking charts, reviewing the global picture of financing for development.

A couple of charts really stand out.

First this one, showing the depth of poverty. Ending "extreme" poverty - the 1.2 billion below $1.25 a day is feasible by 2030, but there are 5.2 billion living on less than $10 a day, which is roughly the poverty line in most rich countries. 

Second, this one, showing the level of per capita government spending. 82% of the world's poor live in countries with annual spending below $1,000 per person. I'm not so sure what to make of this. For those in countries with spending below $500, which looks like around half of the global poor, this puts paid to the notion that the poor all now live in middle income countries that should be funding their own social programmes without aid.

For those closer to the $1,000 mark, this is still really a pittance, but it's also more than enough to bring individuals above the poverty line with a direct cash transfer. How does it feel to live on less than $1.25 a day in a country where the government spends twice that much for you on public services?

19 September 2013

Where has all the education impact come from?

Lant Pritchett wrote an important paper back in 2000 called "Where has all the education gone." Despite a big increase in schooling in developing countries, there had been little increase on average in productivity.

Now I feel like we have the opposite problem - evidence that going to school has all sorts of wonderful impacts transforming lives

(- saves lives
- improves child nutrition
- increases job opportunities
- reduces child marriage
- reduces early birth
- makes people more tolerant
- leads to economic growth
- leads to more concern with the environment)

alongside evidence that many kids never actually learnt anything at school.

What's the deal? Are the positive impacts driven entirely by the kids who did learn something (the average treatment effect on both learners and non-learners), or is there something special and intangible (non-cognitive skills and character?) which kids can pick up from just sitting in a school even if they don't pick up any reading skills?

Any evidence?

18 September 2013

Do iPhones increase gender inequality?

DFID have just published a new "topic guide" (quick evidence review?) on low cost private schools by Claire Mcloughlin of the University of Birmingham.

This isn't a criticism necessarily of Claire, but I am struck by how strange it is that the focus of the debate leads with how private schools affect equity. We are talking about countries such as Nigeria and Pakistan with net primary enrolment rates of less than 75%. I struggle to see how it could be a bad thing in such a context if some parents choose to spend their own money on private schools for their kids, even if no poor parents could afford it and all girls were totally excluded. Doesn't that just mean fewer kids for the state sector to fund? Of course in reality the data suggests that private schools in many countries have roughly similar gender access as public schools, and many poor people (though perhaps not the very poorest) also access private schools. 

Of course when we are talking about aid or government-funded places at private schools then equity should be a key concern, but for privately funded places, who cares? Isn't this totally missing the point? Do we worry about the equity implications of the new iPhone 5s for access to smartphones in the UK (actually I shouldn't be so hasty, soon being smart-phone-less probably will be the official definition of relative poverty). And when did I become so conservative?

04 September 2013

Anti-social evidence-lite education advocacy

I'm trying to be a responsible sector specialist. As Owen Barder wrote way back in 2009.
we should, as a development community, heap scorn and opprobrium on anyone caught advocating for more resources in their sector. We need stronger social norms in development that frown upon this kind of anti-social behaviour.
We should be advocating for more resources for development, but these should be allocated across sectors by the best evidence not the best lobbying. We shouldn't be squabbling between ourselves over our pet projects. 

Sadly in the education sector not everyone seems to be on board with this message. Hugh Evans, the CEO of the Global Poverty Project, is fundraising for the Global Partnership for Education (GPE) this year.
Why? While achieving universal schooling by 2015 is a noble goal in and of itself, it must also be emphasised that investing in education is perhaps the most effective and quickest way to reduce poverty.
Uh oh... that sounds like a very confident statement. Does he have evidence for that? He has some:
Investing in education produces enormous yields. For instance, each additional year of schooling raises average annual gross domestic product growth by 0.37 per cent. Also, where the enrollment rate for secondary schooling is 10 per cent higher than the average rate for the population, the risk of war is reduced by around 3 per cent. And there is more and more evidence that proves increased access to education has significant flow on effects. Like the promotion of girls’ and women’s rights, falling infant mortality rates, and increased crop yields.
BUT. I'm pretty sure that all of that evidence he is referring to doesn't actually say anything about causality, and only really tells us something about correlations. There are no national-level experiments here. Countries that have higher rates of schooling may also have slightly faster growth, but we have known since the penis paper that looking at correlates of economic growth at the national level is mostly stupid. Countries with more schooling might indeed be less likely to be at war, but this DOES NOT prove that it was the schooling wot done it. The individual-level "micro" studies are generally more persuasive than the country-level "macro" studies, but even there most of them are looking at correlations rather than real or natural experiments.

Second - to make a statement that "education is perhaps the most effective and quickest way to reduce poverty" implies that you have also looked at the cost-effectiveness of all the other possible anti-poverty interventions. No discussion of that here.

And finally, no discussion at all of learning outcomes (see for example Schooling is not Education!). Keep up Hugh.