30 April 2010

Angus Maddison 1926-2010, and long-run historical economic development

Angus Maddison was the first guy to create historical GDP estimates.

Adrian Wood gave my class this chart in university and told us all to stick it on our walls and spend some time staring at it.


You can play with the Gapminder version here or buy the book here.

Update: Here is the Economist

23 April 2010

Beyond Aid – Going after corruption

Owen Barder has written a great post on the difference between aid and development policy – between providing temporary alleviation from the worst effects of poverty, and supporting structural transformation.

Aid is best-suited to poverty alleviation, and other “beyond aid” policies such as trade, security and migration are more suited to transformational development.

Hilary Myers mentioned one of these “beyond-aid” issues on this blog: cracking down on tax havens, improving transparency and tackling corruption – particularly by making it harder for western banks and financial institutions to facilitate that corruption.

How important are these illicit financial flows out of developing countries? Derrill Watson draws my attention to these figures from the Global Financial Integrity Programme of the Center for International Policy.


Quite important.

22 April 2010

Liberal Democrats on International Development

Hilary Myers (Liberal Democrat) is the latest candidate  in my constituency to offer her views on international development policy (see also here and here). I am blown away, I really didn’t expect any answers this good. I particularly like these two paragraphs on going beyond aid.

Liberal Democrats do recognise that financial aid is not necessarily the most important or effective way of delivering support in developing countries. Trade also has a vital role to play. We remain committed to increased coherence between UK development, trade, investment, migration and agriculture policies.

Coupled with this, Liberal Democrats recognise the importance of improving taxation and transparency and tackling corruption in the developing world. In our recent paper, Development in a Downturn, we set out plans to reform international financing systems by cracking down on tax havens, improving transparency and tackling corruption – particularly by making it harder for western banks and financial institutions to facilitate that corruption.

Read the whole thing here. Steph Booth for Labour (the incumbent party) is the only candidate who hasn’t yet responded. But she is going to have to say something special to beat this.

21 April 2010

Twitter Round-up

  1. Could the Lib Dems win outright?
  2. owenbarder Big and welcome news: the World Bank sets its data free: http://is.gd/bAmt8
  3. Rigged in the north, more or less fair in the south - The Economist on Sudan elections

  4. Give Your Vote http://www.giveyourvote.org/

  5. Russia says Sudan elections fair by 'African standards' - er....

  6. WTF?! Women to blame for earthquakes, says Iran cleric

  7. owenbarder Development bloggers you should be reading: http://is.gd/bzfBQ
  8. Spare a thought for exporters from poor countries

  9. Why Humanity Loves, and Needs, Cities

  10. KCB opening new branches across Southern Sudan

  11. Set research free

  12. What if NGOs had a customer care line?

  13. Pro bono economics

  14. Nigeria’s foreign trade policy (there isn't one)

  15. Eritrea and Ethiopia's first ever “trending topic” on Twitter: #whereislemlem? http://tinyurl.com/yc65hvf

  16. Sudan People's Liberation Movement is on twitter: @splmvoices

  17. Dani Rodrik's father-in-law arrested on coup charges in Turkey

  18. nancymbirdsall My op-ed in @GlobalPost on better aid to Haiti (and how trade & immigration matter even more!) http://bit.ly/9mP3oc
  19. GorvidCamerown We're the party of the people, especially our own people. Join the Labservatives http://bit.ly/aHN0Bx
  20. DrEvanHarris Yes my seat is marginal. 6% Tory swing will lose it. If you want to help pls email info@evanharris.org.uk. I'll suggest how u can. Thanks!
  21. whiteafrican Direct lending platform between Sudanese diaspora to Sudanese business entrepreneurs: http://peacediv.com
  22. Blattman: more MBAs for Africa

  23. WrongingRights via @cblatts, African farmers team up to save impoverished British Theatre (video spoof) http://tinyurl.com/ycqhlk6. Hilarious!
  24. 83% of UK election candidates are using Facebook in their campaign

  25. robertcottrell What if the Rapture already happened, and only about three or four people disappeared, so few having met the standard? http://bit.ly/bzNbcG
  26. robertcottrell How to cook bacon using a machine-gun: http://bit.ly/aUrREC
  27. Tsvangirai marries his late wife's sister

  28. Now is the time to cut $200bn a year in US & European farm subsidies

  29. JoshRuxin One Laptop Per Child in Rwanda - enlightening piece in The Guardian: http://ow.ly/1rZS1

The Manga Bible

I've been meaning to read the bible at some point. For literary purposes or something. But I'm too lazy. Until ARISTOC bookstore came to the rescue with this. Recommended.

19 April 2010

Probably the best song about Boda-bodas (motorbike taxis)

From Maurice Kirya’s new album Misubbaawa – available here.

Thanks for this Jo in Kampala!

UK Conservative Party policy on International Development

As mentioned previously, here is the extract from Conservative Party policy sent to me by my local Conservative candidate, Craig Whittaker. He also replied to my follow-up question:

My views don't differ from those of my Party. Our policy has been well researched and what appears to have been well tested through experts (Sir Bob Geldoff has also advised) and it seems to go a long way to addressing the Millennium Goals whilst at the same time addressing the issues surrounding fraud and corruption.

It appears to be a sound, well researched policy which I support


Leadership on Global Poverty

The Globalisation and Global Poverty Policy Group was establish by David Cameron back in 2005 and issued its report back in July of 2007. It consisted of a range of experts and was advised by Sir Bob Geldoff.

It produced a detailed and extensive set of recommendations on future development policy for A Conservative Government and was warmly welcomed by many commentators.

A key recommendation was for a ‘Bold Real Trade’ package to help the poorest Countries access markets in rich Countries

In July 2009, David Cameron and Andrew Mitchell, the Shadow Secretary of State for International Development launched ‘One World Conservatism’, our Green Paper on International development.

The paper sets out in detail how a Conservative Government will get better value for money from our aid budget through full transparency, results based aid and an independent Aid Watchdog to scutinise spending

We will continue to work towards securing the eight Millennium Development Goals

On results based Aid we will;

· Move towards ‘Cash on Delivery’ aid: money will be handed to governments only when development results have been achieved – rather than giving all the money up front based on promises that it will be spent well

· We will set up an Independent Aid Watchdog to scrutinise the impact and outcomes of British Aid. Aid will be focused on the Country programmes and projects that deliver the best value, while under performing aid programmes will be cut and the money redirected to more effective channels

· We will carry out more impact evaluations on DFID aid programmes, taking detailed ‘Before & After’ look at aid projects to identify whether they actually worked

WE WILL MEET the UN target of spending 0.7% of National Income by 2013

We will strengthen public support for Aid by setting up a new MyAid Fund worth £40m in the first year, with British people voting on how and where it should be spent

On Tackling disease we will;

· Spend at least £500m a year tackling Malaria until the Millennium Development Goal on Malaria (To halt and begin to reverse the incidence of disease) has been met. We will use the money for Malaria –specific initiatives and for strengthening health systems in developing countries

· A Health systems Partnership Fund will be established to help Doctors and Medical staff who want to volunteer in developing Countries. The fund worth £5m a year to begin with, will help fund international placements for British Health workers and support strong, enduring links between the NHS and health systems in poor Countries

· We will tackle HIV/AIDS by : building basic healthcare systems : championing prevention as well as treatment; and working to tackle Mother to child transmission of HIV

· We will publish full information about British Aid on the DFID website, following the example of the Global Fund for Aids, TB and Malaria, which produces detailed information about its spending on its website. This will allow Parliament, the Public, campaigning organisations and the press to hold the DFID to account

· We will work for greater transparency across the whole aid system, requiring all bodies receiving DFID funds, to move towards greater openness and transparency

With encouraging Global Trade we will;

· Push hard for a pro-development trade deal at the World Trade Organisation and for reform of EU Trade Policies. We will press the EU and other rich Countries to drop their trade barriers on low-income countries unilaterally by 2013, to simplify cumbersome rules of origin for exports from poor Countries, to eliminate developed country subsidies and to provide greater aid for trade

· We will encourage the creation of a Pan-American Free Trade Area to reduce the trade barriers African Countries impose on imports from other African nations

· We will champion growth led by the Private Sector in developing countries by supporting microfinance and property rights

. We will support and encourage ethical consumerism. Together with other ethical consumer brands, the Fair Trade scheme allows consumers to send a market signal voluntarily about the conditions in which they want their food produced. We are enthusiastic supporters of the scheme and applaud all businesses who take corporate social responsibility seriously

Shleifer and Vishny on the Financial Crisis

Nicola Gennaioli, Andrei Shleifer, and Robert Vishny have added a little “mathematical masturbation” to Hyman Minsky’s theory of financial innovation and financial fragility.

Minsky was from a strange breed, somewhere between Keynes and Marx, but he had a theory that fits the recent crisis rather well. The demands of capitalism for profit lead to increasing financial innovation, and as the good times continue, overconfidence, and a move towards more risky investments, increasing systemic financial fragility. Which is pretty much what has just happened, and what GSV describe in their paper.

Still though, when ideas get written in maths, they get taken seriously by modern economists. Krugman pretty much got the Nobel Prize for writing old ideas in maths. And not necessarily without reason – when ideas are written in maths they are written with clarity. With no scope for fuzzy thinking or rhetorical flourishes, the logic has to be sound.

Its just a shame Minsky doesn’t even get a reference. So here it is:

Hyman P. Minsky, Stabilizing an Unstable Economy (1986).


(I learnt about Minsky through Jan Toporowski’s wonderful banking and finance lectures and his Theories of Financial Disturbance (2005). Jan’s lectures somehow managed to double as a history of the sex lives of the great economists).

More on the UK election and International Development Policy

Disclosure: My prior judgement would be to vote Lib Dem as the most economically literate party which still has something of a social conscience. I have however committed to casting my vote for the candidate in my constituency with the best ideas on international development.

The ONE campaign has received responses from the 3 main parties (plus the Greens and Plaid Cymru) on their plans to fight extreme poverty.
The first thing I noticed is that Labour have by far the most to say. A quick word-count reveals:
Labour - 1684 words
Conservative - 668 words (excluding the repeated links to their policy paper)
Lib Dem - 745 words
Green - 342 words
Plaid Cymru (Welsh Nationalists) – 617 words
Labour’s statement is also full of numbers, which is always a good thing.
At first glance though, none of the platforms completely blows me away.
I am actually most impressed by Plaid Cmyru, who have interesting and provocative statements on migration
We recognise the invaluable contribution that migration has made to the UK, socially, culturally and economically over many years, and believe that this positive contribution will continue in future … We believe that we share a duty to uphold and defend people's right to seek asylum and we will work to ensure Wales’ proud tradition of offering refuge to the persecuted continues
and security
We believe that war is abhorrent and we condemn the Westminster government for dragging Wales into illegal wars. We believe that the European Union, through its High Representative for Common Foreign and Security Policy, can and should play a greater role in conflict prevention and resolution, including joint peace keeping missions. We also call for effective European action on the international arms trade, including a new treaty and binding code of conduct restricting arms exports, as well as a complete ban on land mines, cluster bombs and white phosphorous.  The arms industry causes misery and death to millions of people throughout the world, not just by means of its destructive force but by diverting resources from socially beneficial activities such as food production, education and health.
Following them, Labour have the best overall response, with good ideas on accountability, trade and security.

Accountability - leadership of the International Aid Transparency Initiative,”to promote accountability and transparency through parliaments, audit mechanisms and civil society,” the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative, a Bribery Bill, and “funding to support developing countries to recover stolen assets.

Trade – “securing duty and quota free access to EU markets.

Security - “treat access to security and justice as a basic service.

The Conservatives have some interesting ideas on aid - “an independent aid watchdog”, “move towards results-based aid,” and “reduce, or even abolish, funding for UN and multilateral agencies that fail to deliver results, and give more to those who can prove that they are making a real difference.

And finally I like the Liberal Democrats’ statement that

We believe that bilateral aid should be targeted at the poorest people not necessarily the poorest countries,” and “security and justice should be seen as rights.”

Judging from these limited statements, Labour have the strongest overall platform, but if Plaid Cymru are serious about wanting more open immigration, then this eclipses all of the other policy proposals in terms of positive welfare impacts. Also note that I haven’t waded through the entire policy documents, but just gone on the responses posted by ONE.


Due to the UK’s bizarre electoral system, I don’t get to choose a government, only a local MP.

And so - I emailed all of my local candidates, asking for their views on international development policy.

The Greens and the English Democrats already responded here.

Hilary Myers (Lib Dem) has promised to respond (which I look forward to).

Greg Burrows (UKIP) wrote on his website:
my personal opinion is that the first thing we have to do his get our own house in order, as we are the most indebted nation out of the G8 and need to develop our own economy first and then and only then can we help others in the international community. David Campbell Bannerman is in charge of UKIP policy his office email in Europe is david.campbellbannerman@europarl.europa.eu his office should be able to give you a detailed account of international development policy. Regards
Craig Whittaker (Conservative) sent a 700 word extract from Conservative party policy which I will post separately (here). I have also asked for a follow-up on if and how his views differ at all from party policy.

Kate Sweeny (Green) also sent me this flyer:


The jury is still out, and I still hope to receive something from Labour and the Liberal Democrats.

You can find your own candidates at yournextmp.com, and meanwhile keep an eye on Lawrence Haddad for “an international development comparison of the 3 manifestos.”

Finally – I’ll be voting by proxy – more info for Brits overseas  here (but hurry!)  HT: CK

18 April 2010

Markets not in everything

I went to the Kampala Coaches office on Friday to purchase a bus ticket to Juba.

Ticket lady: Sorry, we aren’t travelling to Juba during the election period.

Me: But the elections finished yesterday.

Ticket lady: Yes but we are waiting for things to calm down.

Me: Oh….

How to boost the development impact of UK tourism

Global tourist spending is 3 times the size of global aid. So the development challenge is to think about how to get as much of this money as possible into the hands of the poorest people.

One way to do this would be to subsidise travel to the poorest countries, perhaps especially amongst the young who are forming lifetime holidaying habits.

David Cameron has recently proposed a new non-military and optional national service scheme for British youth.

In its first year in office, a Tory government would redirect £50m from the government's Prevent Programme, which is designed to prevent extremism, to pay for pilot schemes for 10,000 teenagers. (The Guardian)

That’s £5000 each. How about giving them all a £5000 flight voucher instead, and creating an international service scheme?

Do Call Centers Promote School Enrollment?

Yes, according to some new analysis on Indian data by Emily Oster and Bryce Millet of the University of Chicago.

We use panel data on school enrollment from a comprehensive school-level administrative dataset. This is merged with detailed data on Information Technology Enabled Services (ITES) center location and founding dates. Using school fixed effects, we estimate the impact of introducing a new ITES center in the vicinity of the school on enrollment. We find that introducing a new ITES center results in a 5.7% increase in number of children enrolled; these effects are extremely localized. We argue this result is not driven by pre-trends in enrollment or endogenous center placement, and is not a result of ITES-center induced changes in population or increases in income. The effect is driven entirely by English-language schools, consistent with the claim that the impacts are driven by changes in returns to schooling.

16 April 2010

Would somebody please recognise Somaliland?!

It has a currency, car registrations and even biometric passports.

Biometric passports!!

From The Economist

12 April 2010

Sudan Elections 2010

Polling is now into its second day and so far all seems peaceful. Sadly I am out of the country so no on-the-ground reports from me (I'm doing my bit for poverty reduction-through-tourism in Zanzibar).

Alex Thurston is doing a good daily news and blogs update.

That is all.

11 April 2010

On the campaign trail in… the Calder Valley

Not quite as exciting as the elections in Sudan, but the UK also has general elections coming up on May 6th. So just over a week ago (30th March) I thought I would email the candidates standing in my UK constituency (Calder Valley). Here is what I wrote:

Dear xxxxxx,

I'm supporting the ONE campaign's call for all the parties to go "On the Record" about their international development policies. What are your views on international development policy?

I'll also be emailing the other candidates and voting for whoever has the best answer.

Many thanks,

The candidates, according to the UK Polling Report, are: 
Craig Whittaker (Conservative)
Stephanie Booth (Labour)
Hilary Myers (Liberal Democrat)
Kate Sweeney (Green)
Greg Burrows (UKIP)
Paul Rogan (English Democrat)

Kate Sweeney (Green) and Paul Rogan (English Democrat) got back to me the same day.

Kate said:

You can find our detailed policy on
I shall be preparing a leaflet on this subject in the next week or so, and I'll e-mail you a copy. I'm away for the next few days so please bear with me till after Easter!

and Paul said:

I am not standing at either local or Westminster elections and have not formed a deep view on the subject which you have asked about.

My gut feeling is that, in the present economic situation all external expenditure is high on the list of cuts. Included in this is a withdrawal from the EU, closure of embassies and consuls.

For the record, what are your views?

The others… I’m still waiting. What was that about the “new media election”?

06 April 2010

On the campaign trail in Southern Sudan

“I cannot allow you to sleep here,” he says in a direct tone typical of many Europeans. “Perhaps you can find accommodation in town.” Mary appears distressed, a feeling that I quickly assume. “But I am concerned for my security here,” she pleads. “One of my supporters has been arrested and I am not sure if I will be safe.” Standing in the darkness, with no accommodation in sight and a dwindling amount of time in this oasis of security, my blood begins to boil. I had not, until just now, heard Mary admit that she feared for her safety in Pibor. In all my neurotic, security-related queries, Mary insisted that everything here would be fine. I suspected, however, that her interest in my coverage led to a particularly rosy forecast.

“It is exactly because you have these security concerns that I cannot allow you to stay in the compound,” Chris explains, his patience on the decline. Having worked with international organizations in the past, I understood his reasoning and knew there was no chance of reconsidering. “Thanks anyway,” I manage over a growing lump in my throat. “Let’s get a move on.”

From Pete Muller’s coverage of Mary Boyoi’s campaign for a seat in the Southern Sudan Legislative Assembly for Pibor, Jonglei State.

Michela Wrong on Aid

Scandalously, I’ve only just finished reading the fantastic “It’s Our Turn to Eat,” Michela Wrong’s telling of the story of John Githongo, the Kenyan anti-corruption czar.

In the book, she comes down quite heavily on international donors for turning a blind eye to corruption. Her solution, offered in this interview with Guernica Mag, is not to go all Dambisa Moyo and cut aid completely, but simply to speak up a bit. 

If you cut all aid to Kenya, people are going to die. So I don’t think that’s a solution. But I will say that aid donors have to look very closely at what they do. If you have a government whose ministers are setting out to steal the equivalent amount of money that they receive in aid, then you have to wonder why western donors are continuing with that relationship. I don’t think the answer is to cut them off, but the answer lies very much in doing what Edward Clay, the British high commissioner of the day, was doing. Which is to be very confrontational, to humiliate these people in public, to call them to account, to deny them visas. The aid relationship needs to be less automatic, less lazy, less complacent, and much more abrasive.

The best thing about skyrocketing mobile phone prevalence in Africa that you haven’t heard of yet

is surveying.

Mobile phones are already transforming markets by allowing information on prices to be shared, and are showing the potential to transform service delivery in education, health, agriculture and emergencies (hey TH where is that paper huh?).

I’ve recently heard rumours though of a household survey to be carried out in Sudan via mobile phone. Brian Dillon is trying this already in Tanzania with EDI.

The idea is that you do a regular door-to-door survey first, but also take down everyone’s mobile number so that you can make follow-up questions.

The reason that this is so exciting is it allows for the tracking of changes to individuals over time rather than just the usual one-off snapshot. This gives you a much better shot at untangling causality, and figuring out the process of how people get richer, rather than just describing the characteristics of those who are already rich.

And if research is like a piano recital, then just maybe, a massive proliferation of cheap longitudinal data collection and a thousand research papers, could result in just one crucial insight that could transform the lives of millions.