Job Opening: Research Assistant

dri087 Summary:

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


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NYU Development Research Institute announces the launch of The Greene Street Project

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!

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Twitter Rudeness on The Paradox of Behavioral Economics

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.

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2014 Annual Conference "Cities and Development: Urban Determinants of Success"

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):

[shareprints gallery_id="5803" gallery_type="filmstrip" gallery_position="pos_center" gallery_width="width_100" image_size="xlarge" image_padding="0" theme="light" image_hover="false" lightbox_type="slide" comments="false" sharing="true"]Videos (courtesy of Dave Anderson):


[expand title="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. [/expand]



[expand title="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. [/expand]



[expand title="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.) [/expand]




[expand title="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. [/expand]



[expand title="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. [/expand]

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.


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Discussing Unconditional Cash Transfers

Possibly the most controversial recent development endeavor is one with the most minimalist design – “just giving money to poor people.” Unconditional cash transfers, said to be less expensive and less paternalistic than in-kind aid or conditional payments, have gained wide exposure and generated many questions. What will the recipients buy with this cash? Surely they know better how to improve their own lives than aid officials do? Will the cash make a meaningful differenceWill it have a bigger (or more lasting) impact than other ways to help? Can one forget that an unconditional handout is still a handout?

To date, the poor who received money under the programs have not been wasting itThey did not become worse off in the short run after their (usually mobile) wallets got heavier. Yet on most other questions, the debate is ongoing.

On December 8th, 2014, the NYU Wagner Financial Access Initiative will co-host a discussion on this trend between academics and the founders of GiveDirectly – an unconditional cash transfer NGO. More information and registration are available here.

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How Not to Teach Children about Poverty

Shameela Meet Shameela, 5, a stateless child from a Thai refugee camp. Shameela’s battered shack has holes in the roof and walls. She has to share an outdoor bathroom with 100 other people. Shameela is crying while a photographer takes her portrait.


Meet Harrison, 8, who lives with his parents in a New Jersey mansion with a marble staircase. He has his own bedroom with a flat screen television. Harrison’s clothes are neat and his smile is calm.

Shameela and Harrison, along with 54 other kids and teenagers around the world, are part of a beautiful glow-in-the-dark photobook called Where Children Sleep. To make it, photographer James Mollison traveled around the world to take snapshots of children and places they call their bedrooms.

Mollison has a cosmopolitan background — he was born in Kenya, grew up in the UK, and is now based in Venice. Book reviews mention this fact as if to suggest how broad-minded and fit for the job it made him. “To begin with, I called the project ‘Bedrooms,’” says Mollison in the book’s foreword, “but I soon realized that my own experience of having a ‘bedroom’ simply doesn’t apply to so many kids.”


The photographer embarked on the project trying to avoid clichés: “From the start, I didn’t want it just to be about ‘needy children’ in the developing world, but rather something more inclusive, about children from all types of situations.” Yet half of his images are of deprived children from developing countries, and another quarter are of well-to-do Western kids who in comparison look unallowably privileged.

The poverty and inequality landscape is not what it was, and certainly not what it is often believed to be. Most of the world’s poor now live in middle-income countries. The United States is now almost as unequal as Brazil. Yet in Mollison’s collection four out of five Brazilian kids reside either in favelas or on the street, while nine out of eleven American kids enjoy expensive hobbies, New York City penthouses, or marble-staired castles. In Nepal, one can’t deny that income statistics are dire: 25% of the population lives below the national poverty line (about $15 a month). Yet Mollison’s sample selection distorts this image further — five out of his eight Nepalese models are abjectly poor.

Each photo on its own tells a deep, complicated, and often hopeful story. Shameela is the first girl in her family to go to school. Preena, a young Nepalese housemaid, sends remittances to support her family in the village. Sherap goes to a Tibetan monastery school and admires his teacher. But when all the photographs are put together into a 120-page book, the story changes.

Mollison says he wants his book to help kids learn about poverty and inequality, “and perhaps start to figure out how, in their own lives, they may respond.” Yet unintentionally, the misguided and often harmful stereotype that some of us can and should fix the lives of others is passed on from our generation to the next.

This photobook can enrich a child’s worldview. It will familiarize children with ethnic conflict, public health issues, cultural prejudices, and more. But to educate kids about inequality and poverty – ideally before they spend their gap year and thousands of airfare dollars on a questionable voluntourism stint – you might need to find other didactic material.

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Just a few words

stone.tif It's been 238 years, and we have been fighting to realize these words ever since.


Many around the world now see these words as universal and not specific to any nation, race, or culture


These are words for which people risk their lives.

All of us who care about these words will never give up until they apply to everyone.

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Then and Now: Migrant Labor Edition

Migrant-Labor On the left is one of photographer and muckraker Jacob Riis' most famous photos, "Five Cents a Spot," taken with newly-developed flash photography technology in 1888. At the end of the 1800s and beginning of the 1900s, immigration to the US spiked, and millions of laborers from Russia, Germany, Italy, and Ireland arrived to take jobs in New York City's expanding manufacturing sector.

On the right is a photo from yesterday’s New York Times, showing migrant workers who built New York University’s Abu Dhabi campus. According to the Times, many of the workers, who come from Bangladesh, India, Pakistan, Sri Lanka and Nepal, must surrender their passports, and a year’s wages as a “recruitment fee,” to the contractors who employ them. The laborers work 6-7 days a week, 11-12 hours a day, for about $3,000 a year. Instead of the right to protest their working conditions and negotiate higher wages, they face harassment, beatings and deportation from Abu Dhabi’s police force. Regarding NYU's involvement, the Times reported:

Facing criticism for venturing into a country where dissent is not tolerated and labor can resemble indentured servitude, N.Y.U. in 2009 issued a “statement of labor values” that it said would guarantee fair treatment of workers. But interviews by The New York Times with dozens of workers who built N.Y.U.’s recently completed campus found that conditions on the project were often starkly different from the ideal. … Told of the laborers’ complaints, officials said they could not vouch for the treatment of individual construction workers, since they are not employees of the university but rather of companies that work as contractors or subcontractors for the government agency overseeing the project. Those companies are contractually obligated to follow the statement of labor values.

When Riis’ book How the Other Half Lives came out in 1890, its frank depictions of poverty in the midst of New York City shocked middle class Americans. Riis—an immigrant himself—believed that exposing the harsh working and living conditions of the newest and poorest New Yorkers would help push along the Progressive movement for safer workplaces and workers' rights. Luckily for many subsequent generations of New Yorkers, he was right.


Collage Photo Credits: Left: Jacob A. Riis Collection, Museum of the City of New York; Right: Credit Sergey Ponomarev for The New York Times.

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John Kerry in Ethiopia Today Fails to Change History of Rights-Abusing Aid

UPDATE 2, May 2, 12:47pm EDT: Is it progress to have provoked a  one-on-one Twitter war with Ethiopian Foreign Minister Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus?

Ethiopia Foreign Minister Twitter

UPDATE: May 2, 2014  Coverage of John Kerry's "concern" yesterday about arrested Ethiopian bloggers in US media today: none. US State Department follow-up: none.  USAID follow-up: none.

If a US policy concern falls in the forest, and no one is there to hear it, is it a policy?  END UPDATE

The Ethiopian government, a major US aid recipient, operates with such impunity on rights that it arrested 9 new dissident journalists and bloggers on the eve of US Secretary of State John Kerry's visit to Addis Ababa today. 

Kerry raised his "concerns" about the detained bloggers with in a meeting today with the Ethiopian Prime Minister Hailemariam. The Ethiopian PM doesn't need to be too concerned about US "concerns," much less any reduction in US aid, since Kerry earlier today more loudly affirmed the US alliance with Ethiopia's government to fight terrorism and violence in Africa.

Plus ça change, plus c'est la même chose. The long history of aid ignoring and even facilitating rights abuses in Ethiopia sadly continues.

Delusion of Ethiopian Development

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5 Ways to Improve Your Impact Evaluation

Impact evaluations are supposed to tell us what works in development, and a lot of time and money goes into them. It's unfortunate, then, when they fail to report their results clearly. One of the things I found most shocking, looking through a large database of impact evaluations, was how often academic papers omitted information that is critical for interpreting the study's results and figuring out how well they might apply to other contexts. This blog post draws on data from over 400 studies that AidGrade found in the course of its meta-analyses. Here are five embarrassing things many papers neglect to report:

1) Attrition

It's normal for some people to drop out of a study. It can pose a problem, however, if attrition is not equal between the treatment group and the control group, as this self-selection process could bias the study's results. While attrition is very well-known to be something one ought report, only about 75% of papers reported it.

2) The standard deviation of key variables

Without knowing how much variation there is in an outcome variable, it's hard to know whether a paper found a relatively high or relatively low effect. Why? Often studies report outcomes that use scales particular to the paper, for example, reporting scores on a certain academic test. There is no way to compare these results across different papers using different tests unless you standardize the data - then you can at least say that program A was found to affect test scores by 0.1 standard deviations, while program B found an effect size of 0.2 standard deviations.

3) Whether the results include people who did not take advantage of the program

Intent-to-treat (ITT) estimates consider an intervention's effects on everyone assigned to receive treatment, regardless of whether or not they actually took advantage of the program. The alternative is to estimate the treatment effect on the treated (TOT). For example, suppose that only 10% of people who were offered a bed net used it, and suppose bed nets were 90% effective at preventing malaria. The TOT estimate would be 90% - the ITT estimate, 9%. Clearly, if the authors don’t take care to explain which they are reporting, we really don’t know how to interpret the results!

4) Characteristics of the context of the intervention

Are the people in your study rich or poor? It could affect how well they respond to a cash transfer. Does your intervention aim to decrease an infectious disease? It probably matters what the underlying infection rate is within the population, especially if people can catch it from each other. When did the intervention start and end relative to data collection? It is difficult to know what results mean without knowing much about the people in the study, and it makes comparing results across different settings even more difficult.

5) Comparable outcome variables

Finally, papers seem to "run away from each other" in terms of which outcome variables they cover. If one paper addresses the effect of HIV/AIDS education on the incidence of the disease, another will focus on whether people got tested. It makes sense given the incentives of the researchers to be the first ones to show a particular result and to differentiate their findings. However, a single paper's result cannot tell us how general it is. For that, you need more studies, and in order to compare those studies, they need to have outcome variables that are as comparable as possible.

Better reporting is not an impossible problem to solve. The Experiments in Governance and Politics network (EGAP), for example, decided to fund projects clustered around comparable intervention and outcome measures. In psychology, it was journals that started demanding better reporting. Something similar should happen in economics to provide researchers with the right incentives to maximize the use of their studies.

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Announcement of NOT speaking at the World Bank main Preston Auditorium, 12-2 pm Tuesday March 18

UPDATE: Monday March 17, 2014 5:08pm World Bank responds (see end of this post) WARNING: the contents of this message are for private entertainment purposes only. Any unauthorized duplication of this message to score cheap points is strictly prohibited.

Email from World Bank, January 27:

I am writing to you in reference to a recent publication: "The Tyranny of Experts: Economists, Dictators, and the Forgotten Rights of the Poor" by William Easterly. As part of our high priority events, we'd like to invite the author for a book signing event…  

The events program has hosted internationally renowned speakers including:  Amartya Sen, Angus Deaton…Christy Turlington … as well as numerous Heads of States and Nobel Laureates. 

Email from World Bank, February 5:

I am happy to confirm the event on March 18 from 12-2pm.

Could you please also send me a copy of the book, so we can provide it to a potential moderator.

Email from World Bank, February 6:

We are delighted and look forward to a great and exciting event on March 18. The event will be inside the main Preston auditorium (1818 H Street NW). 

Would it also be possible to send me a galley of the book? 

Email from World Bank, February 13:

Thank you very much for arranging the World Bank book event with Professor Easterly on "The Tyranny of Experts" for March 18, we very much appreciate it. We would like to convey our sincerest apologies though as we have inadvertently overbooked ourselves and have overlapping events that day. Given the large number of high-profile events our very small team is handling, we overlooked and provided you with this date prematurely. We will shortly come back to you with new dates so we may find a mutually suitable one.

February 27 In response to inquiry about rescheduling, World Bank emails back that they hope to work together again at some point in the future.

March 17 World Bank response: Asked to comment on this post last Friday, David Theis, Chief of Media Relations at the World Bank responded with this statement at 5pm, Monday March 17 (a snow day in DC):

"I have confirmed that we indeed had a double booking, so apologies for the scheduling mix-up. We would be more than happy to have you at the Bank and will be in touch to find a date. Sorry for the inconvenience."


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The Numbers that Drive Policy

"Evidence-based policies" are in vogue. But how do you synthesize the evidence base? People often engage in "vote counting": reading the literature and consciously or subconsciously summing up the number of findings for a positive effect, a negative effect, or no effect for a particular program. The group with the greatest number wins.

Unfortunately, vote counting is not an ideal method to synthesize the evidence. The biggest problem is that some "no effect" papers were unlikely to find an effect even if there was one. Many studies in development use too small of a sample to be likely to find an effect, so the fact that their results are insignificant is not actually all that informative.

An alternative technique, meta-analysis, can aggregate many insignificant findings and sometimes transform them into a jointly significant result. It also allows flexibility in weighting studies differently, since all studies are not equal.

In most of the cases in which vote counting and meta-analysis diverge, vote counting reports an insignificant result and meta-analysis reports a significant positive result. For example, both conditional and unconditional cash transfer programs often had several "no effect" results -- "cash transfers don't work!" These types of programs have effects on a very broad range of outcomes, but because some or all of them are only tangentially related to the intervention, it's harder to see an effect in any one study. But if you aggregate the insignificant results on labour force participation, grade promotion or test scores through meta-analysis then they become significant -- "cash transfers work!"

The error of overstating the strength of "no effect" results through vote counting is all the worse given that "no effect" does not really mean no effect. The common misconception is that failure to reject the null hypothesis of no effect means we have accepted the null hypothesis of no effect, but that is simply untrue. Absence of a positive finding becomes a finding of absent effect, but this is not what the test says. Perhaps with a bit more data the result would become significant.

How big is this problem? Preliminary analysis of a database I have assembled of development studies, through a group called AidGrade, suggests that the meta-analysis results for a particular intervention-outcome combination diverge from the results that would have been obtained using vote counting about a third of the time. Vote counting actually gives very similar results as to what one would get by just looking at a single paper selected at random from the entire literature; not a great foundation on which to base policy recommendations. If we want to use rigorous evidence, we have to be rigorous about how we use rigorous evidence.

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The Tyranny of Experts Book Launch

AudienceTOE Last Monday we had the pleasure of hosting a few of our closest friends at Cooper Union's Great Hall to celebrate the launch of Professor Easterly's new book, The Tyranny of Experts: Economists, Dictators, and the Forgotten Rights of the Poor. Paul Romer gave a gracious introduction, and many audience members had the chance to question Bill's audacious theories in a Q&A at the end of the lecture. Below are just a few selected clips from the evening (Paul's introduction, Bill on his membership in Authoritarians Anonymous, and his answer to the perennial favorite question: "But What Can I Do?"). To hear more, take a look at the author's speaking schedule for the next few months which will take him to Boston, DC, the West Coast and London, and of course, read the book.

Photo courtesy of Jessica Kane. See more photographs from the launch here.

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Bill Gates' Dictator Problem

NPR’s The Takeaway asks in an interview with one of our local troublemakers this week, are billionaire philanthropists the true champions in the fight against poverty? Listen to at least part of the audio to get the tone of the critique, as well as read the selected transcripts below. [audio mp3=""][/audio]

Bill Easterly: I have nothing to take away from the billionaires who are very generous, who are spending on the poor rather than on private jets – that’s great. But what can actually happen is they can also have too much influence on the way we see the whole problem of global poverty.

… Gates has this 'great man' approach to development in which he sees great national leaders and great philanthropists like himself doing all the good things that happen. Unfortunately, the Ethiopian government…that he praised a year ago in his Annual Letter from his Foundation is not doing great things. He is very naïve to think that the government is benevolent and is actually contributing to development. They actually are serial human rights abusers that are destroying development.

… Before Gates’ annual letter… there was a peaceful blogger named Eskinder Nega who was sentenced to eighteen years in prison simply for advocating more democracy in Ethiopia, for writing about the Arab Democratic Spring.

This kind of democratic activism is what you need to make government leaders benevolent. If you think of our own Chris Christie scandal on the bridge - that’s the sign of democracy working, that we keep Chris Christie from doing something bad. He’ll never do it again. No other governor will ever do it again.

[audio mp3=""][/audio]

John Hockenberry (host): Can’t you make an argument that you want to be separate from politics?  The United Nations and many NGOs try to stay out. For instance, CARE and the Red Cross are completely independent from politics. [They] go into Ethiopia regardless of what the government is doing and get access because of their objectivity, or their detachment from politics.

Bill Easterly: That’s the perpetual temptation in poverty reduction: to think you can do something that’s technically pure that’s free from politics. Unfortunately that’s a delusion. Let me give you one example of that. Famine relief you might think is as a-political it can get. But unfortunately to go back to Ethiopia, the same government Gates was praising was caught red-handed using famine relief to only give it to the supporters of the ruling party. They denied it to the opposition party members. They were starving the opposition - in the middle of a famine they were rewarding their own supporters and staying in power by that means.

Listen to the full program at The Takeaway here.

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It’s time to start the debate that never happened

 Monday, March 3, 2014

The Great Hall, Cooper Union, New York City

William Easterly will present a short talk on his new book* released on the same date

Featuring an introduction from NYU University Professor Paul Romer

Doors open at 6:00, the trouble begins at 6:30



“No one who starts this book will be able to put it down, or be able to undo its influence on her thinking about the deep determinants of development progress.” – Nancy Birdsall

“Another striking and original success.” – Tyler Cowen

“Tells the extraordinary story of authoritarian development." – Angus Deaton

*Independent auditors have certified this book does not mention Jeffrey Sachs, nor does it discuss whether foreign aid works.

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"We" Davos Men will save the world

Bill Easterly responds to Bill and Melinda Gates' Annual Letter:

Mr Gates says there has been much progress, but that “we’ll need to apply human ingenuity and act on our compassion” to keep it going. Conversely, he equates the idea that “the world is getting worse” to the idea that “we can’t solve extreme poverty and disease”. For Mr Gates, apparently, much depends on what “we” do. But who are “we”, and who put us in charge? Mr Gates seems to have in mind the global elite whose most prominent representatives were this week assembled in Davos: political leaders, business executives, philanthropists, academics and functionaries from international institutions such as the World Bank. ... The progress that Mr Gates celebrates is the work of entrepreneurs, inventors, traders, investors, activists – not to mention ordinary people of commitment and ingenuity striving for a better life. Davos Man may not be ready to acknowledge that he does not hold the fate of humanity in his gilded hands. But that need not stop the rest of us.

Read the whole article in the Financial Times (Note to spotters of irony on Twitter: elitist paywall easily defeated by 1-minute free registration). Also, Chris Blattman grades the letter, giving the Harvard dropout an A-.

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Is the World Bank in chaos?

(Following post is authored by Eva Vivalt, Post-Doc at the Development Research Institute) The World Bank recently surprised applicants to its 2014 Young Professionals (YP) Program with the news that the YP program is cancelled for this year.  I have been unable to find any public announcement on this strange development.

The World Bank's website calls the program, which just celebrated its 50th anniversary, "the preeminent program preparing global development leaders", and it is the main entry-point for professional staff. The sudden cancelling of the recruitment scheme after it had already solicited two rounds of application materials (at a painful cost in time and effort to the applicants) could suggest some combination of unprofessionalism and organizational disarray.

Asked for comment, David Theis, Chief of Media at the World Bank, provided the following rationale:

 The World Bank Group is currently undergoing a major restructuring -- the first in a generation -- to better align the entire organization to achieve its ambitious goals of ending extreme poverty by 2030 and boosting shared prosperity, particularly for the lowest 40 percent in developing countries. Because of the institutional changes underway, which are expected to continue into the next fiscal year, the Bank Group has decided to postpone the recruitment of the 2014 Young Professional cohort until 2015, when the program will re-open.

The restructuring of the bank into 14 "Global Practices" is indeed a major shift. However, the YP program continued during previous restructurings, including the large ones in 1997 and 1987.

Jim Kim has committed to cutting $400 million over the next three years, and several divisions are in a hiring freeze. The cutbacks have been cited as a reason for the program's suspension, though it is likely only one part of the story since the savings from cancelling one year of the YP program are small.

The head of the YP program left a few months ago, so it’s possible with less internal support, the program foundered. Even some senior management were surprised by the program’s temporary suspension. The YP program has a venerable history as a vehicle to recruit future leaders at the Bank. Its cancellation is a shock to those who follow the institution.

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Beyond the Nation: Pioneering Studies in How Development Spreads

Is the emphasis on nations as actors in development excessive and obsolete?

Come to DRI's Annual Conference on Friday November 15th! Studies to be presented will show how development spreads with the spread of people, goods, technologies, and ideas across national boundaries. Other talks feature evidence showing a much smaller than expected role for nations and national leaders in explaining development outcomes. It is time for fresh thinking on how development spreads so that it can spread even more.


William EasterlyWhy are we So Obsessed with Nations in Economic Development? Most development differences are explained by differences between regions (e.g. Europe vs. Africa, East Asia vs. Latin America) rather than differences between nations. Yet both right and left exaggerate the role of national policy actions in development. Migration of peoples like the emigrants from Fujian Province, China to the rest of East Asia helps explain the success of intra-regional trade, investment, and development in East Asia. The decentralized spread of technologies like mobile phones and even cars has contributed far more to development than national efforts to sponsor politically-fashionable technologies like broadband.

Ross LevineThe Spread of Development through Colonial European Settlement As much as 40 percent of the development that has ever happened outside of Europe is associated with migration and settlement of Europeans during the colonial period in places around the world. What did the settlers bring with them to make this happen?

Emmanuel Akyeampong and Yaw Nyarko: How Indigenous Entrepreneurs Brought Cocoa and Transformed Ghana The spread of development to Ghana was tied to the spread of cocoa. The first cocoa beans were brought into Ghana by a local farmer from Equatorial Guinea around 1878, and within 20 years Ghana was the world’s largest producer. Cocoa has thrived ever since except when punitively taxed. The colonial and post-colonial governments have been less successful actors than indigenous entrepreneurs. For example, in an effort to promote other commodities, the independence-era governments built storage silos all over the country; the silos were successful only as nesting grounds for indigenous snakes.

Jonathan MorduchKeynote Speech: How Microcredit Went Global One of the most celebrated innovations in development and aid did not happen at the national level. The creation of a global microcredit movement was achieved through transnational networks dedicated to codifying best practices, reforming financial regulations, and building investment funds. The story helps understand the often counter-intuitive role of global public goods in promoting development.

Steven Pennings: Do National Leaders Matter? This paper challenges the conventional wisdom that national leaders like Lee Kuan Yew in Singapore and Park Chung Hee in South Korea deserve credit for the growth miracles that happened on their watch. The evidence speaks surprisingly and strongly: the data are inconsistent with the attribution of growth miracles or disasters to national leaders.

CollagePhoto credits: Gopal Vijayaraghavan, woodleywonderworks, Nestlé, graphi-ogre, IITA Image Library

Conference funding is generously provided by a grant from the John Templeton Foundation.


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