Author Archives: Roving Bandit

Is rescuing migrants from the Med good value for money?

Thousands of people die each year trying to cross the Mediterranean to seek asylum in Europe. Christopher and Regina Catrambone, American and Italian entrepreneurs, decided to take matters into their own hands and set up their own private rescue mission. Naturally when I read that”a fundraising drive by the activist organisation Avaaz reached $500,000, slightly less than a month’s costs”, I started wondering about cost effectiveness. Elsewhere the Guardian article states”Setting up Moas was not cheap, with monthly operating costs of up to €600,000″and “The Phoenix rescued 1,462 people in 10 weeks”So let’s go with the higher figure of €600,000 per month – over 10 weeks (2.3 months) that is a total cost of €1.4m (roughly $1.6m or £1m). And to save 1,462 people, that is a cost of £700 (~ $1000) per death averted.Is that a lot or a little?

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Effective Altruism, RCTs, NGOs, & the Government End-Game

Good Ventures just gave a $25 million unrestricted grant to Give Directly on the advice of Givewell. That’s a lot of good news in one sentence, but it’s not even the best part. Givewell buried the lede when they mention around paragraph 20 that; “GiveDirectly plans to discuss partnerships with the following types of institutions:- Donor aid agencies- Developing country governments (national and local). (For example, several governors in Kenya have already approached GiveDirectly about running cash transfer programs in their counties.)”That’s what it’s all about. To really get sustainability and scale in social policy you need government involvement – that’s why the best NGOs combine a mixture of immediate direct service delivery in places where government just doesn’t have the capacity to deliver, with support to interested governments to build that capacity for the longer-term, often at the local level where administrators struggle to actually implement well-designed central policy documents, and with innovation in new models of service delivery, that governments might later adopt, of which GiveDirectly is clearly a strong example

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New education economics papers

A few papers caught my eye from last month’s repec new education economics papers feed. All from developed countries, but such is economics, a lot of the interesting new research happens on rich countries where the researchers are more likely to know about interesting policies and institutional features to study, and where there is better data (both problems which RISE is seeking to address, by encouraging collaborations between developing country-based researchers and leading academics based at top universities in rich countries, and also by funding new data collection in developing countries). “Quantifying the Supply Response of Private Schools to Public Policies” by Michael Dinerstein and Troy Smith looks at a reform in New York which increased the budget for some public schools, finding an increase in enrolment at these schools, and that nearby private schools lost business and were slightly more likely to shut down. In an interesting twist, whilst the reform improved quality at the public schools that received extra money, the movement of some students from higher quality private schools to lower quality public schools meant that overall outcomes from the school system were not improved. All of which reminds me of the recent story from Rwanda that some private schools seem to be going out of business by the growth of public schools

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How much does the new deworming replication matter for Effective Altruists?

It doesn’t at all, as far as I can tell. As Calum points out, what matters is the systematic review of evidence not one study. And the new Cochrane systematic review doesn’t seem to have responded to the criticism from Duflo et al to their 2012 review, that it ignores quasi-experimental and long-term evidence on positive impacts of deworming (specifically Bleakley 2004, Ozier, and Baird et al).A replication of the famous Miguel and Kremer deworming paper that launched the whole RCT in development economics movement, is published in the Journal of International Epidemiology today (along with comment from Hicks, Kremer, and Miguel, and reply from the replication authors), with coverage in the Guardian and by Ben Goldacre for Buzzfeed. You may remember Berk Ozler’s review of the draft of the replication paper back in January – concluding “Bottom line: Based on what I have seen in the reanalysis study by DAHH and the response by HKM, my view of the original study is more or less unchanged.”You can probably expect to see more on the replication coming from @cblatts, which I’m not going to get into, but back in 2012, Givewell were convinced that the Cochrane review shoudn’t change their recommendation to donate to the Schistosomiasis Control Initiative or Deworm the World. The ambiguity does make me a little queasy, and pushes me more in the direction of GiveDirectly (I see basically zero risk that giving $1000 to someone on a very low income can really be totally wasted, in the way that an ineffective drug could theoretically have zero impact).

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Migration fact of the day

“Today, approximately 7 million Indians work in six GCC countries, which is more than 50% of estimated 13 million foreign workers present in the GCC. The Indian workers in GCC remit about US$40 billion i.e. around 57% of the total remittances, i.e. US$70 billion India receives annually. Besides contributing significantly to the national forex reserves, the remittances received directly by the workers’ families help in poverty alleviation, support local business, promote entrepreneurship and generate employment.”That’s Zakir Hussain on the World Bank blog

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Calling Education Researchers…

I just got back from the fourth of seven events being held around the world drumming up interest in bidding for the RISE “Research on Systems of Education” project. There is £21 million of DFID money to be split between 5 country research teams (with a preference for bids from Ethiopia, Nigeria, Ghana Pakistan, India, Indonesia, Vietnam, or other DFID focus countries) to study reforms that are happening to education systems that might credibly have a big impact of student learning. EOIs due 23rd August. strong turnout for Abuja @riseprogramme meeting and #educationsystems reform discussion! @LeeCrawfurd pic.twitter.com/GV3gsNQQvX— Mari Oye (@marimoye) July 13, 2015 There is plenty more information on the CGD website and the new RISE website, but to make things really easy, here are a few key links about the project and how to bid (very helpfully put together by Mari).RISE Research Director Lant Pritchett and Justin Sandefur presenting the research agenda (Video)Slides (PDF)Expression of Interest scoring criteria (PDF)Full RISE Terms of Reference (needed for proposal due November) (PDF) Frequently Asked QuestionsOnline form for submitting any additional queriesRegistration for matchmaking for looking for research partners (optional) Lant Pritchett’s book, “The Rebirth of Education”

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New evidence on (lack of) external validity

“Site selection bias” can occur when the probability that a program is adopted or evaluated is correlated with its impacts. I test for site selection bias in the context of the Opower energy conservation programs, using 111 randomized control trials involving 8.6 million households across the United States. Predictions based on rich microdata from the first 10 replications substantially overstate efficacy in the next 101 sites. Several mechanisms caused this positive selection. For example, utilities in more environmentalist areas are more likely to adopt the program, and their customers are more responsive to the treatment

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Celebrating more Brits

The population of the UK has increased by 500,000 in the last year. Unlike what you may read elsewhere, this is great news.- British people are great – having more of us is better- London is the best part of Britain, and not coincidentally the most populous and densely populated part- Population growth is concentrated in cities – Larger cities support economies of scale, more specialisation and diversification, enabling the clusters of activity and agglomeration that drive innovation- A larger population means a greater supply of innovators – A larger population means a greater demand for innovators, and a bigger market for producers- A larger population means more people to share the burden of fixed costs, including national debtOf course there are costs to crowding, and we need to plan for more infrastructure provision (not least building more housing), but that’s just part of life and really shouldn’t be beyond our wit.

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Global Organ Trade

Here’s a great idea from Al Roth, the 2012 Economics Nobel Prize winner.Al got his prize for developing his theoretical matching ideas into a computerized kidney exchange – so if you want to donate a kidney to a family member but you aren’t the right match, you can find another pair of people in the same situation from a different city and criss-cross the pairing, so both kidney transplants can go ahead.In his new book (reviewed here by Alex Tabarrok), Al proposes extending the kidney exchange internationally. “Mr. Roth, however, wants to go further. The larger the database, the more lifesaving exchanges can be found.

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Graduate Jobs in South Sudan

Looking for your first job in international development? Charlie Goldsmith is hiring in South Sudan;”International development work is generally best done by people of the country in question: there is no shortage of talent in and from any of Somalia, South Sudan, DRC, or any other FCAS place you might name, only the conditions in which it might be deployed and developed. But there is still a role in development work for people from the Global North if they have the right skills, the humility, understanding and connection to apply them well where they are sent, and hopefully the intention to continue to apply them in this work for the medium term. That doesn’t just mean water engineers and hard-bitten Treasury hands, it can also mean the high-achieving, high-potential generalists/fast-streamers that any organisation, the world over, would be glad to have.

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Innovative education financing modalities from 1862

Apparently payment by results isn’t quite so new. “The reference here is to England’s Payment by Results school reform of 1862. According to the Revised code of the Department of Education in Britain in 1862, capitation grants to schools were reduced and payments were made to school on the basis of students passing on-site examinations given by inspectors in reading, writing and arithmetic. There has been much debate among historians about what the payment for results reform really accomplished.

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The learning crisis in Sierra Leone

“Mohammed’s father is an illiterate petty trader. Although he never got any school himself, he has always been determined that Mohammed [13] should get a good education. When Mohammed joined us, we asked him, as we ask all our students, to complete a word reading assessment. The assessment, which we administer one-to-one in the child’s home, involves reading out a list of 90 words that increase in complexity and difficulty, and from the number and difficulty of the words read correctly an inference can be drawn about the student’s reading age based on UK norms.

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Does spending on education increase learning?

Evidence from the Guardian UK university ranking, which scores universities both on their value-added (final exam scores minus pre-university exam scores – a measure of how much students learnt at university), spending, and student-staff ratio. aaaand surprise surprise, spending looks totally uncorrelated with learning.Smaller class sizes do seem to be doing something (small sample sizes, correlation not causation, yadda yadda), which makes you wonder what the high-spend, large class-size universities are spending all their money on.

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National Development vs Poverty Reduction, in charts

These charts by Branko Milanovic deserve looking at again and again. A few years ago Adrian Wood told my entire economics class to print off the Angus Maddison long-run world GDP chart and stick it on our walls so we’d look at it every day. I’d suggest adding the Milanovic chart alongside it.I was struck earlier today (whilst listening to the latest Development Drums) how these charts could be used to illustrate the comparison between anti-poverty programs and National development that Lant talks about.Projects to increase an individual’s income in developing countries can help people get a better livelihood amongst those available in that country, but they probably aren’t going to change the overall set of opportunities facing people living in a country. If you want to earn yourself rich, you need to sell stuff to rich people – that means exporting goods or services to rich countries (trade), moving to a rich country to sell your labour (migration), or encouraging rich people to come visit your country (tourism).Graphically, the most successful ever anti-poverty program might at best move a bunch of people from point A to point B. By comparison, migrating lets someone move from point C to point D

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