Author Archives: Roving Bandit

The Political Economy of Underinvestment in Education

According to this model, the returns to education take so long that leaders need at least a 30 year horizon to start investing in schools. “In the context of developing economies, investing in schools (relative to roads) is characterized by much larger long-run returns, but also by a much more pronounced intertemporal substitution of labor and crowding-out of private investment. Therefore, the public investment composition has profound repercussions on government debt sustainability, and is characterized by a trade-o, with important welfare implications. A myopic government would not invest in social infrastructure at all.

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A research agenda on education & institutions

From Tessa Bold & Jakob Svensson for the DFID-OPM-Paris School of Economics research programme “EDI” 1. A focus on learning in primary is still essential – don’t get too distracted by secondary and tertiary2. More focus on teachers’ effort, knowledge, and skills3. How do we go from pilots to scaled-up programs?

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Stop highlighting our differences? #moreincommon

Last night at my local primary school Governor meeting one of the other governors objected to a table showing a disaggregation of recent pupil discipline issues categorised by ethnic grouping. “Should we really be calling children ‘White Other’ or ‘Black Other’?” Turns out these are the standard official government categories offered to students/parents to self-identify with. As a researcher I’m naturally interested in as many descriptive categories as possible to help understand the factors that drive differences in outcomes between individuals, but every time we ask the question we also ask people to think in ethnic or racial or national terms, highlighting our differences not the more in common. As Chris Dillow wrote recently in an excellent take-down of David Goodheart:”The thing is, we all have multiple identities: I’m tall, white, Oxford-educated, bald, heterosexual, male, bourgeois with a working class background, an economist, an atheist with a Methodist upbringing.

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The Political Economy of Public Sector Performance Management Reform

Reflections from Prajapati Trivedi, founding Secretary of the Performance Management Division in the Government of India Cabinet Secretariat, in Governance. “The new government of Prime Minister Modi never formally declared that it is closing the RFD system. It simply stopped asking the departments to prepare RFDs (performance agreements). Indeed, the government went on to appoint three more Secretaries for Performance Management as my successors.

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Liberia Fact of the Day

“The treaties that govern space allow private individuals and corporations to travel the stars, but only with the licensure and legal backing of an earthbound government. It’s similar that way to the laws of the sea. And today, on Earth’s oceans, more than 11 percent of all the tons of freight shipped is carried on boats that fly the Liberian flag (In contrast, U.S.-registered ships carry just 0.7 percent of the freight tonnage).In exchange for lower taxes and looser regulations, both the shipping companies of the present and the Martian explorers of tomorrow could pay to register their vessel with a small country they have no other connection to (Liberia earns more than $20 million a year this way) and carry its flag (and laws) with them, wherever they go.”Maggie Koerth-Baker at 538 (via The Browser)

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The key to better education systems is accountability. So how on earth do we do that?

And what do we even actually mean when we talk about accountability?Perhaps the key theme emerging from research on reforming education systems is accountability. But accountability means different things to different people. To start with, many think first of bottom-up (‘citizen’ or ‘social’) accountability. But increasingly in development economics, enthusiasm is waning for bottom-up social accountability as studies show limited impacts on outcomes.

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Rising DFID Spending hasn’t Crowded Out Private Giving

Last week I was poking around the ESRC’s ‘Administrative Data Research Network’ and discovered the Charity Commission data download website – containing every annual financial return made by every individual charity in England and Wales since 2007. The data comes in a slightly weird file format that I’d never heard of, but thankfully the NCVO have a very helpful guide and Python code for converting the data into .csv format (which was easy enough to use that I managed to figure out how to run without ever having really used Python). One obvious question you could ask with this data is whether the private income of international charities has dropped as DFID spending has gone up (more than doubled over the same period) – it is conceivable that people might decide that they could give less to international charity as more of their tax money is being distributed by DFID.That does not seem to be the case at all. There are two ways of identifying international charities – by their stated area of operation, or by their stated objective category. I’ve coded charities that have no UK activities as “International”, and also picked out the charities that ticked the box for “Overseas Aid/Famine Relief” as their activity category.

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Introducing… the Global Schools Forum

There’s nothing like sitting in a room full of people who build and run schools in the developing world to make you feel pretty inadequate. At least I did, last week at the Global Schools Forum. It can feel like a pretty long and abstract chain from the kind of policy research and evaluation that I do through to better policies and better outcomes, and I envy being able to see directly a tangible difference for real people.You may have heard of the emergence of some international low-cost private school chains such as Bridge International Academies, but the movement is growing quickly, and there are many new organisations trying to do similar things that you probably haven’t heard of – some profit-making, some non-profit, some that charge fees, some that don’t, international, local, big, small, and everything in between. The biggest school operator you don’t hear that much about is the Bangladeshi NGO BRAC, who run thousands and thousands of fee-free schools.Last week a whole range of school operators and the donors who support them gathered at the 2nd Annual Meeting of the “Global Schools Forum” (GSF); a new membership organisation of 26 school networks (of which 14 for profit and 12 non-profit) operating in 25 countries, and 17 donors and financing organisations, with networks ranging from 1 to 48,000 schools. Running one school is hard enough; trying to disrupt a dysfunctional system by growing a chain of schools is harder.

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LSE on the UK gov’s new housing plans

“The fundamental problems with housing remain the same as in the last fifteen years and of those the most fundamental is the lack of land for development. Only fundamental reforms of our housing supply process will help and this proposes none. Indeed it in some ways goes backwards. It goes from a set of (not very good) mechanisms delivered in 2007 with the Regional Spatial Strategies to a set of aspirational gestures.

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Cash-on-Delivery Aid for Trade Facilitation

One of the new ideas in our CGD trade-for-development-policy-after-Brexit paper was using the “Cash on Delivery” approach for trade facilitation. “Cash on Delivery” is an idea well developed by Nancy Birdsall and William Savedoff but still under-actually-piloted, and as yet not proposed for use in trade facilitation, for which it may actually be a really good fit. From the paper:”The UK can improve upon its existing Aid for Trade offer by making increased use of results-based programmes. “Cash-on-delivery” aid (paying for outcomes, not inputs) is most appropriate where local contextual knowledge matters, where the best combination of inputs is uncertain and local experimentation is needed, and where precise design features and implementation fidelity are most critical (see, for example, the discussion by Savedoff [2016] on energy policy). All of these criteria also apply to Aid for Trade.A typical Aid for Trade programme might carry out an extended diagnostic project to identify the constraints to change, and then design and contract a project to address these constraints.

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How to spend aid in fragile countries

The classic dilemma in figuring out how to spend aid money is the trade-off between: a) achieving scale and sustainability by supporting national government systems (but losing control), and b) keeping more direct control by working through NGOs, but sacrificing scale and sustainability.This trade-off is less acute when the recipient government is an effective service provider and respects human rights. Often however the countries that most need external assistance do so in large part precisely because they aren’t blessed with well qualified governments.One possible solution to this dilemma is providing mass cash transfers – a route to supporting poor individuals whilst side-stepping their government. Another (neglected?) route is supporting local service providers directly. An example of this is the Girl’s Education South Sudan provision of ‘capitation’ grants to schools (full disclosure, I was hired to do some analysis). This pipe provides both government and donor (currently DFID) finance direct to the school bank account (held by the school’s governing/managing committee).

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You don’t need to be a cosmopolitan to support more migration

New from Dani Rodrik:”how strong a preference must we have for our fellow citizens relative to foreigners to justify the existing level of barriers on international labor mobility? More concretely, let φ stand for the weight in our social welfare function on the utility of domestic citizens relative to the utility of foreigners.When φ=1, we are perfect cosmopolitans and we see no difference between a citizen and a foreigner. When φ→∞, foreigners might starve to death and we wouldn’t care. For the policy in question [allowing the movement of 60 million workers from poor to rich nations] to reduce social welfare in the rich countries, it turns out that φ must be larger than 4.5. Is a welfare premium of 450 percent for fellow citizens excessive

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How the UK can lead the world on trade for development

Prime Minister Theresa May has said that the UK will be a “global leader on free trade”. How can the UK use that opportunity to give the biggest possible boost to global development? If the UK wanted to be the world leader on trade-for-development, what would the policies look like? There are options to consider not only on tariffs, quotas, and preferences, but also on improvements in UK systems and aid for trade as well as taxation.I suggest some answers in a blog and paper with Ian Mitchell and Michael Anderson at CGD.

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Experimental Conversations

When I was studying for my undergraduate degree, probably the most enjoyable book I read I think I happened to stumble across in the library (back in the day when you had to actually go to the library to find book chapters and physical copies of journals to read), called ‘Conversations with Leading Economists’. The conversational style, discussing in conversational language how ideas came about and how theorists interacted with each others’ ideas and with data, was an amazing breath of fresh air, and a world away from the weirdness of the textbooks which often appear to pass down strange and seemingly grossly unrealistic theories and models of the world as if they were some kind of natural law. The list of interviewees includes Milton Friedman, Robert Lucas, Gregory Mankiw, Franco Modigliani, Paul Romer, Robert Solow. That conversational style can probably be slightly more commonly found these days in the post-blogging social media world, but there are still plenty of important thinkers who don’t very frequently blog or write op-eds (they’re busy being important thinkers), so Timothy Ogden has provided the wonderful service of writing up a series of interviews with some of the leading voices in both academia and policy on the use of randomized evaluations and field experiments in development economics.You can buy the book ‘Experimental Conversations’ here. Read the chapter with Angus Deaton for free hereAnd subscribe to Tim’s weekly newsletter here.

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