Author Archives: Roving Bandit

The origins of "the dismal science"

“This viewpoint infuriates some critics of economics, to the extent that it earned the famous nickname of “the dismal science”. Too few people know the context in which Thomas Carlyle hurled that epithet: it was in a proslavery article, first published in 1849, a few years after slavery had been abolished in the British empire. Carlyle attacked the idea that “black men” might simply be induced to work for pay, according to what he sneeringly termed the “science of supply and demand”. Scorning the liberal views of economists, he believed Africans should be put to work by force.”That’s Tim Harford.Wikipedia has more:”However, the full phrase “the dismal science” first occurs in Carlyle’s 1849 tract entitled Occasional Discourse on the Negro Question, in which he was arguing for the reintroduction of slavery as a means to regulate the labor market in the West Indies: Not a “gay science,” I should say, like some we have heard of; no, a dreary, desolate and, indeed, quite abject and distressing one; what we might call, by way of eminence, the dismal science. It was “dismal” in “find[ing] the secret of this Universe in ‘supply and demand,’ and reducing the duty of human governors to that of letting men alone.” Instead, the “idle Black man in the West Indies” should be “compelled to work as he was fit, and to do the Maker’s will who had constructed him.”[4]“In which case I’m proud to be dismal.

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Do teachers skip class because of low pay?

Teacher absenteeism is a huge problem in developing countries, wasting up to a quarter of all spending on primary education in developing countries.The 2014 Education for All Global Monitoring Report, which was launched in London last week, puts the problem mainly down to the low pay and poor working conditions of teachers.”While teacher absenteeism and engagement in private tuition are real problems, policy-makers often ignore underlying reasons such as low pay and a lack of career opportunities. … Policy-makers need to understand why teachers miss school. In some countries, teachers are absent because their pay is extremely low, in others because working conditions are poor.

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You won’t believe these 8,000 children who are actually going to starve to death today

I’m trying to write a pithy summary or pick a smart quote from Abhijeet Singh’s new blog about malnutrition up on Ideas for India but it’s hard not to just be deeply depressed when thinking about malnutrition. We apparently live in the 21st Century where flying robots and self-driving cars are real things, yet we aren’t collectively bothered enough to do anything about the 8,000 children who starve to death every single day (three million a year). And that’s partly because as humans we’re more interested in what is interesting than what is true or what is important. 8,000 children starving to death everyday is just something that happens.

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What do (cutting-edge, leading, academic) development economists do?

Apparently not what developing country policy-makers want to know about. Jeffrey Hammer has a fairly damning report from the recent IGC conference in Lahore on the World Bank blog. The IGC funds research by many of the world’s top development economists, and apparently none of them are answering the kind of policy questions that were posed at the conference by the Chief Minister of Punjab, Pakistan (a state of more than 100 million people). He wanted to know about how to allocate resources across sectors (which requires value for money and cost-benefit analysis, not just impact evaluation), and how to raise more revenues. What he got was precisely identified studies on the impact of policy tweaks, without any costing.

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What do development economists do?

A series of youtube interviews profiling the careers of 6 development economists; Angela Ambroz (IGC, former ODI fellow & JPAL), Luca Pellerano (OPM and IFS), Peter D’Souza (DFID), Sarah Lilley (Save the Children), Henry Mphwanthe (ODI fellow), and Aarushi Bhatnagar (Phd student and World Bank consultant).

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The new childcare subsidy in the UK

The IFS:”Today’s announcements indicate that the Government’s main motive is to help parents move into work. As we pointed out in the IFS 2014 Green Budget, we know remarkably little about the impact of the policies to support childcare that have been introduced in England in recent years. And there is no consistent evidence from other countries that childcare support has large effects on parental labour supply. While today’s announcements bring welcome simplifications to the new Tax-Free Childcare scheme, and an increase in generosity that will certainly be welcomed by families on Universal Credit using childcare, and better-off families who spend more than £6,000 a year on childcare, the extent to which it will deliver its intended goals is essentially unknown.”and Chris Dillow:”It’s fitting that Nick Clegg should have announced an increase in the state subsidy for childcare, because the policy is a sanctimonious front for something that is inegalitarian and economically illiterate.”

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What should DFID do internationally (i.e. not in client countries)?

From the Development Studies Association:DFID is discussing what their priority international actions should be over the next 2-5 years and beyond. By international actions they mean actions that use their spending, effort and influence to cause something to happen outside the borders of the intended beneficiary countries, but which indirectly benefits them. This broad definition includes global public goods, such as international financial regulations or a global climate deal; but also spending to alleviate problems with high spillover effects across many poor countries such as via peacekeeping efforts or communicable disease; or actions which improve the actions functioning of global markets. In short, they aim to refresh their possible international policy agenda with new or better ideas. Stefan Dercon has been asked to lead an initial consultation both within and outside DFID to set up a focused set of priorities and to ensure that DFID concentrates on those international actions that are both the most important for poverty reduction and where DFID could have the most impact.Please download a short note that sets out the task and the context.

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Development as… a better postal service

Francis from Oregon writes:”I am a young postcard collector working on a geography project. For this project, I would really love a postcard from Sudan or South Sudan. Do you know of anyone who would be happy to send me one? I would be so happy and grateful for your help. Of course in return I would be more than happy to send the sender a beautiful postcard (or anything else they might need) from Oregon in the U.S

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Coach Zoran and his African Tigers

A new documentary, about the first ever manager of the first ever South Sudanese national football team. His name is Zoran, and he swears like a trooper. It’s an entertaining story, filmed in 2012 and set against the backdrop of some beautiful footage of Juba amidst the excitement and optimism of independence (in 2011). Particularly poignant due to the recent return to conflict.It’s available on the BBC iPlayer for the next month, watch it while you can (there are free VPN solutions for those not in the UK).

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The political economy of why flights are so expensive in Africa

Andrea Goldstein of the OECD emails an old but very interesting paper (ungated here) in response to my post on the AfDB blog about African Airlines.He makes two points and offers two recommendationsFirst, in the experience of OECD countries, “liberalisation delivers in terms of quantity, quality, and cost of air transport.”Second, what allowed liberalisation to take place was a political dynamic, driven by interest groups (trade associations and organised consumers) pushing for reform.So what can or should the OECD do to support policy reform?One, establish an international authority capable of enforcing safety standards (the ICAO is an obvious candidate).Two, aid could be used to accelerate the restructuring and privatisation of African airlines.Neither of these address the issue of opening the skies, which is down to African governments, and African consumers and trade groups to lobby for.

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Development as… no measurable increase in happiness

Recent Chinese economic growth has led to half a billion people being lifted out of poverty, without doubt just an amazing wonderful story. The poverty rate halved in just over a decade. Human development – measuring not just income but also health and education, has also leapt.And happiness? Nothing. No change at all

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Why are there so few blogs by British academic economists?

In the US, to name just a few, you haveMankiwKrugmanDeLongAcemoglu/RobinsonBeckerThomaCowen/TabarrokEasterlyBlattmanRodrikLandsburgMcKenzie/Ozler et alCaplanIn the UK I countSimon Wren-LewisHenry OvermanDanny QuahMatt CollinHypotheses:1. The bandwagon effect – Mankiw and Krugman are really high profile and have been blogging for years – when the leading textbook author and a Nobel prize winner are blogging then its probably ok (although this bandwagon effect could also effect UK academics)2. Differences in administrative/teaching burdens?3. A selection effect – in the UK terminal masters programmes are more common, so natural writers quit before then complete a phd and get sucked into academia4. A simple quantity effect – some fixed % of academics are likely to be interested in blogging, and there are just many more top economists in the US than the UK (about 6 times more according to this list).What am I missing?

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Why voluntourism might even just do some good

When Pippa Biddle wrote last week about “the problem with little white girls,” she was adding to a rich vein of development self-flagellation. I just ventured to google “why voluntourism is good,” and the top 3 hits were:”Beware the voluntourists intent on doing good””Is voluntourism doing any good? No!””Does ‘voluntourism’ do more harm than good?”Pippa writes of her own experience as a voluntourist, including the wonderful story of the Tanzanians staying up all night to rebuild the wall that the white American girls messed up, so they wouldn’t know what a terrible job they did.”It would have been more cost effective, stimulative of the local economy, and efficient for the orphanage to take our money and hire locals to do the work, but there we were trying to build straight walls without a level.”But here’s the thing – if Pippa had never gone to Tanzania, she would never have sent her money there. We know this. Despite the dizzying scale of global inequality, the vast majority of charitable spending by individuals in rich countries is spent in rich countries, not poor ones

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More affordable housing for London?

“Affordable housing” is a phrase which needs to go on the banned list. What does it even mean? Something to do with affordability, and something to do with social (subsidised) housing. Mira Bar-Hillel of the Evening Standard notes the wikipedia definition – affordable for someone on median income – coming to a back-of-an-envelope value of around £100,000 (assuming a mortgage of 4 times a £25,000 salary).She then seems to go off the rails a bit discussing the application of this concept to an actual development – the new central London Mt Pleasant development.”of the 700-odd flats proposed, fewer than 50 may be for social renting. It also means that, based on current prices in the area, the private flats could easily fetch a total of over £4bn.

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