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 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 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 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 view abstract for 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.

 

Click to view 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. 

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.

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.

 

Tyranny of Experts Book Launch from NYU Devt Research Institute on Vimeo.

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

 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

REGISTER HERE

TOE

“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.

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.

REGISTER HERE

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.