Author Archives: Roving Bandit

The Continuing Saga of Rwandan Poverty Data

via Ken Opalo, there is new analysis out of the 2014 Rwanda poverty numbers that contradicts official Government reports, finding that poverty actually rose between 2010 and 2014. Professor Filip Reyntjens made a similar argument at the time, which I disagreed with. This new (anonymous) analysis in the Review of African Political Economy supports the conclusion of Reyntjens, based on new analysis of the survey microdata (with commendably published stata code). The key difference seems to be that their analysis updates the poverty line based on prices reported in the survey microdata rather than using the official Consumer Price Index (CPI) measure of inflation.What I took away from this at the time was the apparent fragility of trend data on poverty that depends on consumption aggregates and price data. I also drafting a follow-up blogpost that for whatever reason never got posted, so here it is

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Someone needs to show Paul Collier how to use Dropbox

“At the end of the lecture, the exhausted Prof Collier carrying a heavy bag was mobbed by autograph-seeking youths who had some questions for him. As the English professor was leaving the hall, a rogue whom he mistook for one of the Ooni’s people asked to assist him with carrying the bag. He handed it to him trustingly and like magic, the thief vanished into the thin air in a twinkle of an eye, with everything gone—money, passport, air ticket and most painful of all, a laptop filled with the professor’s writings. “My soul is missing,” a distraught Prof. Collier told me, a day after.” Sun News Online (Nigeria), ‘Agony of an Oxford Prof in Lagos’

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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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