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]


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.


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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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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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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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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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The Great Escape

We were honored to host Angus Deaton last week for a lecture on his brand new book. A standing-only crowd piled in to hear Deaton, Professor of International Affairs and  Economics at Princeton, discuss humanity's "Great Escape" from poverty as well as the troubling health and income inequalities that still persist. [shareprints gallery_id="5806" gallery_type="slidescroll" gallery_position="pos_center" gallery_width="width_100" image_size="small" image_padding="0" theme="dark" image_hover="false" lightbox_type="slide" titles="true" captions="true" descriptions="true" comments="true" sharing="true"]All photos ©NYU Photo Bureau: Prouhansky

Short Clip 1- Some Things That Would Do Good

Short Clip 2- It's Not About The Money

Short Clip 3- What Is to Be Done about Weak State Capacity?

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Africa House opening event

Join DRI's partner organization, Africa House, this Thursday, September 27th at 3:30pm for a discussion of youth unemployment and the 2012 African Economic Outlook with Mthuli Ncube,Vice President and Chief Economist of the African Development Bank. The talk will be followed by a wine and cheese reception at 5pm to welcome back to campus NYU students, Africa campus groups and friends of Africa House. The location is 14 A Washington Mews. RSVP to rsvp.africahouse@nyu.edu.

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Deaton v Banerjee, the short version

In March, Abhijit Banerjee and Angus Deaton, two of the most brilliant development economists of our time, squared off at DRI’s Debates in Development conference. Here's the four-minute version:

For Banerjee, co-author with Esther Duflo of Poor Economics, development experiments are valuable because they force researchers to think rigorously about causality, and help create an agenda for learning.

[vimeo https://vimeo.com/78374656]

For Princeton development economist Angus Deaton, identifying a causal effect is not so useful because it inevitably depends upon the interaction with other "helping factors."  More generally, blind trust in randomized controlled trials (RCTs) leads to overconfidence and lack of sufficient scrutiny of  potentially bad evidence.

[vimeo https://vimeo.com/78370828]


So that was the short, short version, but if you've got a little more time, we have got a longer version. Continue Reading

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The DRI Conference by the Numbers

Number of people who attended DRI's conference on Thursday: 726Number of people who registered: 1469 Number of sandwiches eaten: 675 Gallons of coffee consumed: 44 Cups of Good African coffee from Uganda enjoyed on stage by Bill Easterly: 1

Percentage of registered students from NYU: 50 Percentage of registered students from Columbia: 20 Number of other universities represented in the remaining 30 percent: 57

Number of tweets made under #DRIdebates: 500 How much we like this curated/crowdsourced summary of the conference, created by top tweeter @viewfromthecave: a lot

Number of Millennium Village representatives invited to speak at the conference: 8 Number of Millennium Village representatives on the stage: 0

Number of attendees who brought their own dog-eared copy of Poor Economics for Abhijit Banerjee to sign: 30 Number of people who had Poor Economics counter-signed by development experiment critic Angus Deaton: 1

Number of countries of origin for our 8 speakers: 6 (that's Ghana, India, Kenya, UK, USA, Uganda)

Percentage of people in our survey who said the conference changed the way they saw aid and development: 70

This post has been updated to reflect final survey figures

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Latest Schedule Update for Thursday’s Conference

Debates in Development: The Search for Answers

When: March 22, 2012 Where: The Great Hall at Cooper Union, New York City 7 East 7th Street, New York, NY View Map This event is free and open to the public, but space is limited

Register online

9:00am-10:00am Coffee and Refreshments

10:00am-10:45am Introductory Remarks from DRI Technology Answers and Development Possibilities Yaw Nyarko, NYU Development Research Institute Finding Answers or Answer-Finding Systems? William Easterly, NYU Development Research Institute

10:45am-12:15pm Session I: Development Goals, Evaluation, and Learning from Projects in Africa Michael Clemens, Center for Global Development Stewart Paperin, Open Society Foundations Bernadette Wanjala, Tilburg University Development Research Institute

12:15pm-1:30pm Lunch Provided Cooper Union Great Hall Lobby

1:30pm-2:30pm  Session II: Keynote Address: Finding Answers in the Global Market Andrew Rugasira, Founder and Chairman, Good African Coffee, Uganda

2:30pm-3:00pm  Coffee Break

3:00pm-4:30pm  Session III: Searching for Answers with Randomized Experiments Abhijit Banerjee, MIT, presentation of the book “Poor Economics” Discussant: Angus Deaton, Princeton University and Woodrow Wilson School

4:30pm  “Poor Economics” Book Signing

Download printable PDF with map and schedule

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Public Forum: Steve Forbes Speaks In Defense of the Free Market at its Moment of Crisis

Join us for a Public Forum with Steve Forbes, who will speak "In Defense of the Free Market at its Moment of Crisis," with Bill Easterly as moderator.

When: Thursday, February 23rd, 4:00pm - 5:30pm Where: NYU Campus, Kimmel Center 914 - Silver Board Room

This event is open to the public but space is limited. Register now.

Email dri@nyu.edu with any questions.

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Why aren't children learning? (and what we can do about it)

On Tuesday, February 28th, Abhijit Banerjee, MIT Professor of Economics, will discuss how he is rethinking the fight against poverty in his lecture Why aren’t children learning? (and what we can do about it).  The lecture, part of the Albert Gallatin Lecture series, will take place at 6:30pm at the Labowitz Theatre for the Performing Arts at 1 Washington Place in New York City.

Banerjee is the author, with Esther Duflo, of the recent must-read development book, Poor Economics, which describes his and his colleagues’ work evaluating development interventions through randomized experiments at the MIT Abdul Latif Jameel Poverty Action Lab (J-PAL).

Download the event poster here; to attend the event register with Gallatin.

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Wesleyan's Forum for International Development

David Rice, DRI’s Executive Director, will be speaking at Wesleyan University’s Forum for International Development this Saturday February 18th. David will give the keynote address “Is it Better to Give or Receive? Rethinking International Development,” as well as a lecture on “Innovating Capital Flows to Small Enterprises.” Nathaneal Goldberg, Policy Director at Innovations for Poverty Action, will discuss “How Do We Know What Works in Development?” Other discussion topics include different approaches to development, Wesleyan non-profits, identifying and scaling up effective interventions, and getting involved in development.

Click here for the full program.

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From NYU Abu Dhabi, a Look at Economic Development and Technology in Africa

The Center for Technology and Economic Development (CTED), a DRI and Africa House partner organization based at NYU Abu Dhabi, will hold its annual conference, "Enhancing Economic Development through Technology", on February 12th and 13th.

The agenda reflects CTED’s goal of combining economic principles, technological advances, and human-centric designs to address problems in developing regions, as well as DRI's interest in exploring the role of technology in enabling bottom-up development through non-state actors. One joint DRI-CTED project, for example, evaluates whether providing Ghanaian farmers with market information via text message leads to fundamental changes in the bargaining process between farmers and traders.

At the February conference, Former Ghanaian President Jerry Rawlings, now the African Union envoy to Somalia, and UAE Foreign Trade Minister Lubna Al Qasimi will give keynote speeches. Panels led by an international group of scholars and practitioners—including Mwangi Kimenyi, Director of the Africa Growth Initiative at Brookings, Ethiopia Commodities Exchange Founder and CEO Eleni Gabre-Madhin, and DRI Co-Director Yaw Nyarko—will discuss mobile money, food security, education, energy, and technologies for healthcare.

We’ll be covering some of these speakers and topics here on the DRI website in the coming weeks, so stay tuned.

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Register Now for DRI's Annual Conference

Debates in Development

Please join us for our all-day 2012 Annual Conference Thursday, March 22nd on the NYU Campus

 Confirmed Speakers Include:

Abhijit Banerjee MIT Department of Economics and Abdul Latif Jameel Poverty Action Lab

 Michael Clemens Center for Global Development

 Angus Deaton Princeton University Economics Department and Woodrow Wilson School

 William Easterly NYU Department of Economics and Development Research Institute/AfricaHouse

 Yaw Nyarko NYU Department of Economics and Development Research Institute/AfricaHouse

 Stewart Paperin Open Society Foundations

 Bernadette Wanjala Tilburg University Development Research Institute

Register Now

This event is free and open to the public, but space is limited Detailed agenda and exact location to follow Email dri@nyu.edu with any questions

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