NYU Development Research Institute 2015 Annual Conference:

Beyond the Nation State 
How traders, migrants and ethnic networks are driving economic growth in the developing world

Friday, November 13, 2015 from 8:30 AM – 5:00 PM

Kimmel Center Rosenthal Pavilion

10th Floor, 60 Washington Square South, New York, NY 10012


NYU Development Research Institute cordially invites you to attend our 2015 Annual Conference, titled “Beyond the Nation State: How traders, migrants and ethnic networks are driving economic growth in the developing world.”

Conference Agenda:

8:30am ­– 9:00am Registration and Breakfast

9:00am – 9:15am Conference Introduction by NYU Provost David W. McLaughlin

9:15am – 10:45am Session 1:

  • Diego Daruich (New York University), William Easterly (New York University), and Ariell Reshef (University of Virginia) – “The Surprising Size and Instability of Hyper-Specialization in Exports”
  • Laura Alfaro (Harvard Business School), Thorsten Beck (Cass Business School, London), and Charles W. Calomiris (Columbia Business School) – “Foreign Bank Entry and Entrepreneurship

10:45am – 11:15am Coffee break 

11:15am – 12:45pm Session 2:

  • Yaw Nyarko (New York University) – “Cross-border Technology Flows for Success: The African Mobile Revolution
  • Michael Clemens (Center for Global Development), *paper with Lant Pritchett (Harvard Kennedy School) – “The Economic Case for Migration Restrictions

12:45am – 1:45pm Lunch

1:45pm – 3:15pm Session 3:  

  • Hui Kian Kwee (University of Toronto) –  “Socio-Religious Institutions and Economic Migration: Case Study of the Bai Clansmen from Anxi, Fujian in Southeast Asia, c. 1880-present
  • Cheikh Anta Babou (University of Pennsylvania) – “The Murid Ethic and the Spirit of Entrepreneurship: Faith, Business and Mobility among Murid Immigrants in Gabon”

3:15pm – 3:30pm Coffee break 

3:30pm – 5pm Session 4:

  •  Stelios Michalopoulos (Brown University), *paper with Louis Putterman and David N. Weil (Brown University) – The Influence of Ancestral Lifeways on Individual Economic Outcomes in Sub­-Saharan Africa”
  •  Leonard Wantchekon (Princeton University) – “Education and Long-term Social Mobility in Benin

Register for the Event



The Development Research Institute is seeking a Research Assistant to support research activities on ongoing projects in development economics. Our ideal candidate is self-motivated and a problem solver; creative thinker; flexible and comfortable with technology; and is available to start immediately and work through the end of January 2016. The Research Assistant will get first hand experience on how academic research is conducted.

Responsibilities: data analysis, assist with online surveys, produce literature reviews

Required Qualifications:

Basic quantitative analysis, including experience with Stata
Excellent attention to detail
Ability to work independently

Preferred Qualifications:

Currently enrolled in an NYU graduate program
Experience with Qualtrics is not necessary, but strongly preferred
Experience with ArcGIS
Preference will be given to applicants who could potentially extend the working period beyond January 2016.
Preferred Education: BA in Economics; current Economics M.A. student


Salary is $15- $20 per hour depending on skills and experience. Hours will be completed during the regular business day, at the DRI office (NYU campus, 14A Washington Mews). Twenty (20) hours per week, according to a regular, mutually-agreed-upon schedule. Start date is November 5, 2015.

To Apply: 

Please send a brief cover letter specifically addressing how you meet the above criteria along with your resume to Laura Trucco ( by October 30, 2015. The subject line of your email should read: “Last name, First name: DRI Research Assistant”. Benefits and salary are competitive. Location is Washington Mews, on the NYU campus.

About Our Organization:

The Development Research Institute (DRI) is devoted to rigorous, scholarly research on the economic development and growth of poor countries. An independent and non-partisan organization, DRI is led by NYU Professors William Easterly and Yaw Nyarko and is home to a growing team of researchers. DRI seeks to engage the academic world and the wider public about effective solutions to world poverty, expanding the number and diversity of serious commentators on the state of foreign aid and development. Our ultimate goal is to have a positive impact on the lives of the poor, who deserve the benefit of high-quality, clear-eyed, hard-headed economic research applied to the problems of world poverty. See and


NYU’s Development Research Institute (DRI) is proud to announce the launch of its interactive website The “Greene Street Project” website, based on the academic paper, A Long History of a Short Block: Four Centuries of Development Surprises on a Single Stretch of a New York City Street, is a study of the historic development of the 486-feet strip of pavement, today known as Greene Street, between Houston and Prince Streets in the Soho neighborhood of Manhattan, New York. Today, the block is one of the richest in the city and the world.

Greene Street

The “Greene Street Project” includes an interactive online portal that allows users to trace the development trajectory of Greene Street over four centuries, offering:

  • Easy to use annotated timeline interface, offering users a guided tour through hundreds of years of history of this block of New York City, aided by photographs, maps, newspaper articles, survey data, and more.
  • An interactive “Then & Now” section, allowing users to compare and contrast pictures of particular sections of the block from as far back as 1933, to the present day.
  • A detailed “Maps” section, which allows users to explore the block’s cartography across different eras.
  • A “Data” section that gives users the chance to evaluate everything from the typical occupations of Greene Street residents from 1834-1881, to the evolving market value of Greene Street real estate over four centuries.

So what are you waiting for? Dive into the history of Greene Street, now!

The behavioral economics pioneer Richard H. Thaler wrote a column in the New York Times yesterday, on how people can behave irrationally in a way that leads to not so great outcomes. The column gave examples of such problems and some suggested fixes.

I posted a comment on Twitter that came across as a harsher and more dismissive critique of Professor Thaler than I intended:

Behavioral econ @R_Thaler says we are too dumb to fix our own mistakes but smart enough to fix everyone else’s

I will try to blame the rudeness on the severe 140 character limit on Twitter, combined with bad judgment and orneriness. (But I think another  irrational bias is that we all tend to dismiss situational explanations for behavior like 140 character limits and to  believe that everything is intentional; plus I should be held responsible anyway.)

I put the longer and politer version of the intended (unoriginal) critique –the Paradox of Behavioral Economics — into an email apology to Professor Thaler (which he graciously accepted):

What I meant was that any fix to irrational behavior would still have to be designed, approved, and implemented by other individuals who are also themselves subject to irrational biases. Sometimes the fix will be possible and a clear improvement, other times not so much.

Professor Thaler’s brand new book Misbehaving: The Making of Behavioral Economics is getting great reviews. Hopefully it will lead to a discussion of the Paradox not constrained by 140 character limits. And I am also looking for behavioral insights into how to fix my own rudeness on Twitter.

DRI’s annual conference took place on November 18, 2014 in the Rosenthal Pavilion of NYU Kimmel Center.  350 guests attended to hear the presentations and discuss research that examines cities as dynamic units at which development happens. The event was co-hosted by the NYU Marron Institute of Urban Management.

Program and Speakers:

Download the conference program with speaker bios here.

Photographs (courtesy of Dave Anderson):

Videos (courtesy of Dave Anderson):

Click to view the conference abstract
The success and failure of cities reveal powerful development forces which are hard to see on a national scale. Ideology, policy, risk, and the spread of people, goods and ideas operate in unique ways in urban environments. “Cities and Development: Urban Determinants of Success” presents city-level analyses that bring new perspectives to development debates. 


Click to view the abstract for Paul Romer's 'The Power of the Grid'

In coming decades, urban populations will grow fastest in places where government capacity is most limited. If governments set the right priorities, these limits need not preclude successful urban economic development. The history of New York City shows that a government with limited capacity can implement measures that cost little, have a high social rate of return, increase its future tax base, and encourage the development of norms that support the rule of law. The Commissioner’s Plan of 1811 defined and protected a network of public space in the city’s expansion area that could then be used to encourage mobility, provide utilities, and directly enhance the quality of urban life. City governments that focus first on this foundation and then follow with laws and a system of enforcement that protect public health and limit violence can create urban environments in which private actions can drive successful economic development. 


Click to view the abstract for Bill Easterly and Laura Freschi's 'A Long History of a Short Block: Four Centuries of Development Surprises on a Single Stretch of a New York City Street'

National and even city aggregates can conceal dynamism at smaller scales. A history of one block in Manhattan over more than a century shows how it had many ups and downs and many turbulent transitions, but twice achieved unexpected and remarkable success. (Work is co-authored with Steven Pennings.) 


Click to see the abstract and get the paper download link of Alain Bertaud's 'The Effects of Top-Down Design versus Spontaneous Order on Housing Affordability: Examples from Southeast Asia''

The spatial structure of large cities is a mix of top-down design and spontaneous order created by markets. Top-down design is indispensable for the construction of metropolitan-wide infrastructure, but as we move down the scale to individual neighborhoods and lots, spontaneous order must be allowed to generate the fine grain of urban shape. At what scale level should top-down planning progressively vanish to allow a spontaneous order to emerge? And what local norms are necessary for this spontaneous order to result in viable neighborhoods that are easily connected to a metropolitan-wide infrastructure? Examples from Southeast Asia show that an equilibrium between top-down designed infrastructure and neighborhoods created through spontaneous order mechanisms can be achieved. This equilibrium requires the acknowledgement by the government of the contribution of spontaneous order to the housing supply. Spontaneous order ignored or persecuted by government results only in slums. Download paper here.


Click to view the abstract for Nassim Nicholas Taleb's 'Small Is Beautiful--But Also Less Fragile
We use fragility theory to show the effect of size and response to uncertainty, how distributed decision-making creates more apparent volatility, but ensures long term survival of a system. Simply, economies of scale are more than offset by stochastic diseconomies from shocks and there is such a thing as a “sweet spot” in optimal size. We show how city-states fare better than large states, how mice and small species are more robust than elephants, and how the canton mechanism can potentially solve Near Eastern problems. 

Coverage has launched a series of blog posts about our conference. Here are the first two posts on Paul Romer’s presentation, and William Easterly and Laura Freschi’s talk.