Author Archives: Roving Bandit

What I’ve Been Reading

Giles Wilkes (whose FT leaders really are good) nails something profound;”I’ve been trying to work out what has been stressing me these last, ooh, 25 years and how to adjust my life accordingly. I don’t want stress, if possible. There have been obvious triggers: [insert impressive CV here]. But a constant thread that laces through all these eras is a pressing need to have read what I thought needed reading. I cannot actually recall a time when a nagging sense of not having read enough didn’t weigh on me.

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"That UN — I will shut it down"

A gloriously unhinged rant from South Sudan’s information Minister. It would be funny if it wasn’t so sad (via: Dustin Johnson). In remarks yesterday, Minister of Information and Broadcasting Michael Makuei slammed not only the United Nations but also local media houses, East African ceasefire monitors, and Human Rights Watch, which he described as an organization of blood-sucking liars. … Makuei said he told [Al Jazeera correspondent] Adow that he was “lucky” not to have been imprisoned “like the man in Egypt” — a reference to Al Jazeera correspondent Peter Greste.

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Lampedusa Update

In 2013 the deaths of 366 migrants at sea off the coast of the Italian island Lampedusa caught the headlines. Last week another 300 died. Last year, it was an estimated total of 3,500. European governments, including the British one, are opposed to rescue missions on the grounds that this creates a “pull-factor” encouraging more people to make the trip.

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Zoe Williams shows numeracy is not her strong point

Stuart Broad, the England cricketer, tweeted:I’ve heard if you earn minimum wage in England you’re in the top 10% earners in the World. #stay #humble — Stuart Broad (@StuartBroad8) January 27, 2015which apparently provoked a backlash. Renowned economist Zoe Williams added her insightful analysis thus:”The cricketer’s minimum wage tweet shows numeracy is not his strong point. … Money doesn’t mean anything out of context: its value is determined by what you can buy with it.

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The Future of the UN Development System

A new book from the co-Director of the Future of the UN Development System (FUNDS) project (can’t believe they didn’t call it the “FUN” project). Mark Malloch-Brown (former UN deputy-secretary-general and UNDP administrator) says;”There is no better compilation of insights about the UN’s lack of cohesion, growing turf battles, declining capacity, clumsy implementation, and cooptation by bilateral and private interests of the family of organizations that calls itself—somewhat awkwardly—the UN development system.”Ouch.One of the inputs to the book is a global perceptions survey of the UN system, summarised thus:Four views emerge across the survey: • The UN’s development functions are less crucial than such other functions as security, humanitarian action, and setting global norms with teeth. • The UN’s development organizations are still mostly relevant, but some are not particularly effective. • The World Health Organization (WHO) and UNICEF consistently receive the highest rankings among operational agencies; regional commissions receive the lowest rankings. • The UN faces two major institutional challenges: poor internal organization and the predominance of earmarked funding.What the survey misses, and what is really crucial, is that what we should care about is not just the effectiveness of organisations but the cost-effectiveness, or value for money

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The IMF and Ebola

The debate rumbles on at the Monkey Cage, as Blattman responds to the response by the authors of the Lancet article to his response to their article. I find the debate mostly quite infuriating. To massively oversimplify, what tends to happen when IMF intervention is required is that;1. Poor country governments spend more than their income for too long2. They can’t find enough people to keep lending them money3.

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Standing desks

Because all the other cool development bloggers are blogging about standing desks and back-pain, I thought I would share mine here. This was a present from Abhijeet and I use it a lot – it’s lightweight aluminium, just about fits in a rucksack, and if you work on a laptop like I do, allows you to easily switch between standing and sitting whenever you feel like it. I’m pretty sure everyone at OPM was very jealous, though I’m yet to show it off at Sussex or CGD.

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Green Party are "Dotty Parochial Fruitcakes"

Bagehot, the column on Britain in the Economist magazine, says the Green Party of England & Wales have no grasp of economics and are fruitcakes, “dottier than UKIP,” for backing a basic income policy. The same basic income policy which has received support from those other dotty fruitcakes with no grasp of economics; Martin Wolf, Tim Harford, Sir Tony Atkinson, and the late Milton Friedman.This is the same fine Bagehot who happily elevates political objectives ahead of economic ones when celebrating the 2014 budget for its ideological approach to shrinking the state and cutting welfare regardless of the implications for the economy or for individuals affected in the short-run. The serious economists at the IFS said describing the same budget “policy choices have increased longrun risks to the public finances.”Bagehot also tells us that the Green Party are “parochial” and “contemptibly naive” for not thinking about the rest of the world enough. One might be forgiven for thinking that on the contrary it could be described as quite naive to expect political parties to spend all that much time focusing on people who don’t vote in the UK. All this whilst we have a tory and liberal government which talks as if the main point of the aid budget should be promoting British business interests overseas, and likes to make a habit of offending our trade partners by insulting their citizens if they have the audacity to think of coming to the UK to work or study, including but not limited to putting actual vans on the streets with huge threatening “Go Home” signs written on them.

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What economics PhD graduates wish they knew when they started

Sussex assigned me to a mentoring circle, and our homework from the first meeting was to ask people we know who have recently completed PhDs for what they wish they knew when they started, to share with the group. Here is the really excellent advice I got from a couple of friends, both with recently(ish) finished economics PhDs and now with great jobs in applied policy research. Further tips gratefully received!From GS:My views are far from standard, but here’s two ideas;First, be McKinsey about it, never forget about what the deliverable is. Project manage yourself. Get 2-3 finished PhDs from the library and work out exactly what you need to do over the next 3-4 years (choose book style or three papers), get a really good feel for the what the end product looks like.

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UK teacher unions as legal insurance

Richard Murphy of the University of Texas confirms something that a teacher told me in person just last year – teachers in the UK only join unions because it provides legal insurance in the event of getting sued. This paper identifies the threat of accusation as a new source of demand for union representation and how this has increased union density in specific labour markets. Society has become increasingly litigious and this may have many repercussions on labour markets, especially those where employees have unsupervised interactions with vulnerable groups. A rational response to such changes would be an increase in demand for insurance against these risks. I model union membership as a form of private legal insurance, where the decision to join is partly determined by the perceived threat of having an allegation made against the agent.

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Learning goals

Nic Spaull makes the case for one simple learning goal for South Africa:“Every child must read and write by the end of grade three.”I think he is absolutely right. You hear often from international education types that we must resist the simplification of goals, and account for broader objectives such as citizenship etc, but the fact remains that the majority of children in Grade 3 in South Africa, and by implication most other developing countries, can’t read (and understand) a simple 30 word story such as this one below. I actually heard in a meeting at ODI last year that “it would be a tragedy if the post-2015 education goals were reduced to simply all children being able to read and write and do sums.” On the contrary I think it would be a tragedy if we let there be any more distraction from ensuring children have the most basic and fundamental skill of being able to read to learn. On the political economy of education systems, Nic also posts an interview with a teacher explaining how unions in South Africa control appointments within schools. “When you are selecting a Head of Department (HOD) for the school there are 2 parents from the SGB and 1 teacher, the principal is there but cannot vote

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Why be a consultant (with Mokoro)?

“Martin Adams never set out to be a consultant, but found himself stuck in an office job and so decided to go freelance ‘in places where I wanted to be and with people I liked.’ For him, this is the most rewarding part of being a consultant. For Liz Daley, ‘consultancy enables you to be your own boss and work flexibly and independently. This is a great asset if you have other responsibilities that you are very committed to – like being a parent in my case. It gives you variety of assignments and clients, which is good for intellectual stimulation.

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We can be (British) heroes

A reminder, whilst we are celebrating the ‘British Schindler’ Sir Nicolas Winton, who saved 669 mainly Jewish children from Czechoslovakia in 1939, that actually saving so many lives is entirely achievable for the average person in the modern world. Toby Ord, founder of Giving What We Can, has estimated that you can save a life for around $250. So to save 669 lives would cost you a little over £100,000, or spread over a 45 year career, £2,300 a year. Nicolas Winton has a knighthood, a statue at Prague railway station, Czechoslovakia’s highest honour (the Order of the White Lion), and a small planet named after him.

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Let them drown

3,000 people have drowned already this year trying to cross the Mediterranean to the EU, in pursuit of a better life. It is official UK government policy to not try and rescue such people, because that would only encourage others. I somehow find it hard to believe that even staunch opponents of immigration really think we should just stand by and watch people drown. via Duncan Stott and Phil Davis

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