Author Archives: Roving Bandit

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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How not to improve education in India

Some great analysis from MINT who highlight a new Government of India report, which ranks state education “outcomes”.What is odd is that the government rank has a negative correlation with the rankings of the Pratham report which directly measures learning outcomes.So what goes into the government “outcomes” index?- Number of teaching days- Teacher working hours- Enrolment rates- Drop-out rates- Primary-to-secondary transition ratesThese are all basically inputs, with the exception of drop-outs and transition rates, which maybe say something about quality. But none of them are actually directly measuring learning at all. Yet more evidence for the Lant Pritchett case that focusing on inputs or “EMIS-visible” metrics won’t get us quality learning outcomes, and measuring learning directly is critical to focusing policy attention on how to improve learning. HT: Abhijeet Singh

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Don’t shit on your own doorstep

I was talking to a water and sanitation programme manager a few weeks ago, who seemed frustrated that these stupid people kept crapping everywhere. Why would you shit on your own doorstep? The programme had several “behaviour change” interventions (horrible phrase, slightly Orwellian no?), but really, how hard should it be to not shit in the open?One of the great things about economics is that it does not assume that people are just being dumb. It treats people with respect, and assumes first that there is probably a good reason why they are doing something which might seem irrational. I don’t really know enough about water and sanitation, but I was suspicious of the idea that these recalcitrant natives just couldn’t figure out what was good for them.Does this paper prove me right?”latrine use constitutes an externality rather than a pure private gain: It is the open defecation of one’s neighbors, rather than the household’s own practice, that matters most for child survival.

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Important Research Funding Opportunities: Quantifying the economic impact of Shakira (for…

“Shakira Mebarak, world-famous singer and songwriter, is a devoted advocate for children. The singer, known professionally as Shakira, was appointed a UNICEF Goodwill Ambassador on 24 October 2003.”Which is all very well and everything, but surely what we all really care about is exactly how valuable is she to the UNICEF marketing team? And what is it about her that makes her valuable? Are singers more or less valuable than actresses?

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Why governments don’t like private schools?

Here are a few excerpts from the new textbook delivered to millions of primary school children in Venezuela:1. The first page of each [book] starts with the words “Hugo Chavez: Supreme Commander of the Bolivarian Revolution.” 2. They describe Chavez as the man who liberated Venezuela from tyranny, at times making him appear more important than 19th century founding father Simon Bolivar. 3.

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