Author Archives: Roving Bandit

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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How my economics PhD is going so far

Continued here: How my economics PhD is going so far

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Good news from South Sudan

Charlie Goldsmith emails with updates on the Girl’s Education South Sudan project:”Our majority-South Sudanese team are proud that South Sudan, which has been so beset by trouble in the last year, has the chance to show positive ways in which it is a world-leader. Charlie Goldsmith Associates have been particularly involved on design, technology for, and delivery of: The South Sudan Schools Attendance Management System, through which enrolment and attendance of individual pupils – almost 900,000 of them by now – from top to bottom of the education system is recorded, with schools asked to report daily to a freephone number through SMSs from teachers’ own phones.Cash Transfers to individual girls in P5-S4 and their families: more than 50,000 will be made in 2014, and around half a million, to 200,000 individual girls, by 2018. In 2015, we expect payment of the majority of these to be by M-Money. School capitation grants to fund investments in quality: almost 3000 schools have been approved to receive these grants, having passed hurdles including opening a bank account, and making a school development plan and budget, and there have been outstanding examples of value delivered, notably in terms of economical construction. GRSS is now looking at rolling this model of funding direct to service delivery units across to the health sector.

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This is why I don’t care about climate change

Well, not “don’t care at all”, but, you know, not as much as about poverty and development. Stefan Dercon puts it better than I ever have:Poverty reduction tends to be strongly linked to economic growth, but growth impacts the environment and increases CO2 emissions. So can greener growth that is more climate-resilient and less environmentally damaging deliver large scale poverty reduction? … We argue that there are bound to be trade-offs between emissions reductions and a greener growth on the one hand, and growth that is most effective in poverty reduction

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Value for money in technical assistance to governments

The DFID project completion report is out (here) for the South Sudan ODI fellows from 2009-2012. It’s pretty good. (this doesn’t include my cohort).the fellows delivered – and exceeded – the desired outputs and the programme has achieved – and exceeded – the desired outcome, at slightly under budget. Given the minimal oversight given to this programme by DFID South Sudan, a large part of the credit must go to the project partner, ODI, at least in respect of its selection and briefing of the fellows, who were very well suited to the tasks in hand. The majority of credit must, however, go to the fellows themselves, for undertaking their work professionally and working to sustainably build colleagues’ skills and capacity.

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