What if NCAA Basketball Tournament Teams were coached by Development Economists?

Tomorrow night is the next round of March Madness, the annual NCAA tournament that started off with 64 college basketball teams, now reduced to the "Sweet Sixteen" . It is not widely known that some lower seeded teams in the tournament, who had to play much better teams, desperately sought advice from leading Development Economists.

A Columbia Professor said we already know the successful ingredients for a championship, just get lots of funding for the inputs to a victory. Each of his players was given a beautfiul new basketball but had no incentive to pass it or shoot it.

An Oxford Professor distributed “peacekeeping equipment” to his team, saying it was critical for his Good Team backed by the UN Security Council and the G-7 to win. The other team fled in panic, but was declared the winner by default by tournament officials.

An NYU Professor said a lower seed had never won the tournament and he saw no reason why it would be possible now. He and his team left for a vacation in Cancún.

Other Professors such as Duflo, Banerjee, and Karlan set up randomized trials for which plays work. Treatments included 3-point shots, driving layups, pick and roll, and passing to the open player, compared to a control group holding the ball still. The results were of considerable interest, but players got very confused trying to remember which study to cite and apply in each pressure-packed moment of the game. They did not make the Sweet Sixteen.

Hernando de Soto said the only thing that mattered was property rights. He called for secure titles to his team's land. This team defended its own half-court successfully, but they were forced to recognize the other team's rights also. There was not a lot of scoring.

Mohammed Yunus said it's all about microcredit. He suggested empowering his team's players with micro loans. This was a great success, as players all left the court to start small businesses selling beer and pretzels in the stands.

Finally,the team asking advice from George Mason Professor of Economics Peter Boettke made a Cinderella run into the Sweet Sixteen. What was his brilliant economics advice? Well, he chose not to give any, but he had actually played and coached basketball in high school and college.

Were the above characterizations inaccurate? Everybody can participate in the usual heavy betting on this tournament -- fill out your own brackets below to determine who will advance to the semifinals and then the finals, and who the final winner will be.

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No coups please, Professor Collier

UPDATE 10:30AM 1/15: Chris Blattman has a thoughtful response to my blog. The Complexity tribe is still upset that I didn't do their sacred idea of Complexity justice. On the Guardian Global Development blog, I tell Paul Collier that he's crazy to recommend a coup in Cote d'Ivoire. But the use of complexity theory allows me to be very nice about it.

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Getting unstuck from the boring rut of aid debates

This aid debate is starting to sound rehearsed. People really need to move on to different questions, and stop running the same conferences and forums.

This is the very sensible opinion of Chris Blattman on an aid discussion just published in the Yale Journal of International Affairs, which included yours truly and other better people. I am bored as anyone else with endlessly repeating the same arguments, and would dearly love to move on.

Hope flared briefly with yesterday’s story: Aid agencies announce they will be accountable to independent evaluators. As soon as this happens, I would be very happy to close Aid Watch and move on to other things.

By all means, let’s all try to find new arguments, new tactics of persuasion, new satires, new promises to not do satire, anything that will work to get out of this rut.

But when the actions you criticize continue unchanged, you have to keep criticizing those same actions. And when the people you are debating keep making the same arguments, you have to keep repeating the counter-arguments.

Professor Collier, in your contribution to YJIA, you do offer hope to spice up the discussion. In response to the question about “the risks …[of] military intervention as an acceptable development policy tool,” you say:

We need clearer international rules of engagement. By defining the circumstances in which international intervention is legiti­mate, we also define those in which it is not.

Maybe we could move the debate to a more exciting level if you would clarify who is included in “We”?

You also add a very welcome dose of realism:

Everybody is happy to propose the aid architecture appro­priate for the best-case scenario, but there has been political reluctance to think through the architecture appropriate at the other end of the spectrum.

I totally agree with you, now we are getting somewhere!

Oops,  now I am a little bit puzzled by this recommendation:

I would like to see an explicit process of mutual commitments covering the post-conflict decade made by the Security Council (for the provision of security), the aid agencies …and the post-conflict government …I would like to see the Special Representative of the Secretary General of the United Nations given greater powers of coordination over other actors during this decade, in effect as the neutral supervisor of these mutual commitments.

So, all the Great Powers on the UN Security Council will give up all their foreign policy interests and agree to universal and benevolent neutrality, and everyone else in the world will now recognize them as neutral and benevolent? Wouldn’t this qualify as a “best-case scenario”? Perhaps if this scenario doesn’t work out then it's time to accept your suggestion to "think through the architecture appropriate at the other end of the spectrum”?

(I hope these last two blog posts don't violate my satire probation!)

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