“The Problem We All Live With,” Norman Rockwell, 1963. Oil on canvas, 36” x 58”. Illustration for “Look,” January 14, 1964. Norman Rockwell Museum Collections. ©NRELC, Niles, IL.

“The Problem We All Live With,” Norman Rockwell, 1963. Oil on canvas, 36” x 58”. Illustration for “Look,” January 14, 1964. Norman Rockwell Museum Collections. ©NRELC, Niles, IL.

“We conclude that in the field of public education the doctrine of ‘separate but equal’ has no place. Separate educational facilities are inherently unequal.”

– Earl Warren, Chief Justice of the U.S. Supreme Court

It’s been over 60 years since the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling on Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka forced America to recognize the injustice of segregation. But despite that landmark ruling, the perils of segregation are far from behind us.

That’s the message we were left with after listening to “The Problem We All Live With,” the recent two-part radio series by the always insightful team over at This American Life. If you haven’t had a chance to listen to it yet, do so, now.

It might be difficult to realize what the development world can learn from the persistent challenge of segregation in the U.S. But if we look close enough, we can see that the question of segregation forces us to look beyond the stated beliefs of individuals, and instead hold them to account for their actual behavior.

Take for instance, this 1979 case in which the Supreme Court ruled out a bid by New York City for $3.5 million in special school funds from the Department of Health, Education and Welfare (HEW). The court cited statistics, provided by HEW, which showed that black teachers were assigned in disproportionately high numbers to largely black schools, and low numbers to largely white schools. So what did NYC do?

They cried “no fair!” In fact, when faced with the statistics, their argument was that the government “should have had to prove that they engaged in purposeful discrimination.”

The Supreme Court wasn’t buying it, though.

Associate Justice Harry A. Blackmun analyzed the history of Emergency School Aid Act, the program through which the funds would have been dispersed, and which was enacted in 1972 to help reimburse school districts for the costs of eliminating  ‘segregation and discrimination among students and faculty.’ He concluded, thankfully, that the focus of the program was “clearly on actual effect not on discriminatory intent.”

Given the research that shows how  prevalent implicit biases against African-Americans are even today, it’s quite remarkable that in 1979 the Supreme Court was mindful enough to focus on eliminating both the overt structures of segregation, and the subtle manifestations of bias that can often be just as damning.

Dec 8th 1979 story on the ruling, featured in the Afro-American

Dec 8th 1979 story on the ruling, featured in the Afro-American

 

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Summary:

The Development Research Institute is seeking a Student Program Assistant to support research and accompanying policy briefings on said research. Policy briefs will include reports, social media outreach and lectures. Our ideal candidate is self-motivated and a problem solver; creative thinker with strong writing skills; flexible and comfortable with technology; and is available to work throughout the NYU 2015 fall semester. This position mixes research and creative responsibilities.

Primary responsibilities will include:

  • Develop policy briefs using reports, interactive media, social media, blog posts and lectures to communicate research findings to academic, practitioner and policy focused communities.

Secondary responsibilities will include:

  • Conduct quantitative research
    Assemble and graph data using Excel
    Manipulate economic data and/or create new variables using Excel
  • Conduct qualitative research
    Assemble information in clear, concise reports
    Writing and updating content for website and social media and monitoring online presence

Required Qualifications:

  • Demonstrated interest in, knowledge of, and/or experience in development economics, studies, and/or current affairs
  • Strong writing skills are essential
  • Demonstrated capacity for blogging software, photo, video and audio editing software
  • Basic quantitative analysis
  • Strong online research skills
  • Excellent attention to detail
  • Experience with Microsoft Office and Excel

Preferred Qualifications:

  • Currently enrolled in an NYU graduate program

Preferred Education: BA in Economics; current Economics M.A. student

Salary/Hours: Salary is $15- $20 per hour depending on skills and experience. Hours will be completed during the regular business day, in the Africa House offices (NYU campus, 14A Washington Mews). 20 hours per week, according to a regular, mutually-agreed-upon schedule. Start date is September 9, 2015.

To Apply: Please send a brief cover letter specifically addressing how you meet the above criteria along with your resume and short writing sample to Kellie Leeson at kcl390@nyu.edu and Marian Tes at mct300@nyu.edu by August 21, 2015. The subject line of your email should read: “Last name, First name: DRI Program 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 http://nyudri.org/ and http://aidwatchers.com/.

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NYU’s Development Research Institute (DRI) is proud to announce the launch of its interactive website www.greenestreet.nyc. 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

Urb.im 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.