Author Archives: Roving Bandit

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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I miss being wrong

My favourite morning cycle commute podcast at the moment is probably the Ezra Klein show, and the Ta-Nehisi Coates interview is excellent. The podcasts are usually about an hour long, but perhaps in tribute to the 4.5 hour interview that Coates just did with Barack Obama, this particular episode is a glorious 1 hour 40 mins long. This is exactly what the unlimited space in the long tail of the internet is for.There’s a good discussion near the end on the recurring Ezra Klein theme on changes in media and the death of blogging.”Because nobody wants to hear it. I used to blog, as you used to blog.

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The Case for Restrictions on New Charities

“Drawing upon the all-pay auction literature, we propose a model of charity competition in which informed giving alone can account for the significant quality heterogeneity across similar charities. Our analysis identifies a negative effect of competition and a positive effect of informed giving on the equilibrium quality of charity. In particular, we show that as the number of charities grows, so does the percentage of charity scams, approaching one in the limit. In light of this and other results, we discuss the need for regulating nonprofit entry and conduct as well as promoting informed giving.”Information, Competition, and the Quality of Charities, by Silvana Krasteva and Huseyin Yildirimb

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How much of a jerk do you have to be oppose aid?

Angus Deaton wrote a few months ago about “Rethinking Robin Hood” (he was also on EconTalk a couple of days ago).His argument is that a) the poorest in the US are maybe worse off than we think, and b) we should rethink the “cosmopolitan” ethical rule that places an equal weight on foreigners as co-nationals. Of course, he says, we shouldn’t totally disregard foreigners, we just have lower obligations to them, and greater obligations to people in the same nation as us. Which is all fine and everything, but its also a bit of a straw man. The interesting question, if we can agree that we have lower but not zero obligations to foreigners, is *how much* lower are our obligations to them?In one of my favourite ever blog posts (now offline, but summarised on Dani Rodrik’s blog), the anonymous blogger “YouNotSneaky” calculates how much you have to value the welfare of a foreigner in order to oppose immigration (or “How much of a jerk do you have to be to oppose immigration”). The answer is you need to think that our obligation to foreigners is less than 1/20th of our obligation to co-nationals in order to oppose any immigration

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The Education Commission & RISE

This post first appeared on the RISE blogThe recently launched report by the Education Commission has confirmed that a “business as usual” expansion of inputs is not going to fix the global learning crisis. The recently launched report by the Education Commission, led by Commission Chair Gordon Brown, a star-studded cast of global leaders (including Center for Global Development affiliates Larry Summers and Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala), and guided by Commission Directors Justin Van Fleet and Liesbet Steer, has brought fresh data and support to the research agenda at RISE. There is a global learning crisis on a massive scale and a “business as usual” expansion of inputs isn’t going to fix it.First, we’re very happy to see the high frequency of the word “learning”. Although educationists highlighted learning deficits of those in school (eg the 1990 Jomtien Declaration’s opening paragraphs stressed: “…millions more satisfy the attendance requirements but do not acquire essential knowledge and skills”), the UN Millennium Development Goals distorted the agenda onto an exclusive focus on enrolment and primary completion.

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The best teachers usually don’t know who they are

“Nobody tells me that I’m a strong teacher”.That’s what the best teacher in Los Angeles, Zinaida Tan, said in 2010 after the LA Times published the first ranking of teachers based on student progress. As the Guardian reports: “Tan taught at Morningside Elementary, a decent if unremarkable school with an intake of mainly poor students, many of whom struggled with English. Year after year, students were entering Tan’s class with below-average ability in maths and English, and leaving it with above-average scores. You might imagine that before the Los Angeles Times published its rankings, Tan would have already been celebrated for her ability by her peers – that her brilliance would be well-known to fellow teachers eager to learn her secrets. You would be wrong on all counts.When the Los Angeles Times sent a correspondent to interview Tan, they found her quietly carrying out her work, unheralded except by those who had taken her class and knew what a difference it had made to their lives

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Is the EU Financing Genocide in Sudan?

Update on the Worst Aid Project in the World: Yasir Arman, the main opposition leader in Sudan, alleges that EU money to support “migration management” in Sudan is actually being used to arm the Janjaweed Forces that carried out the genocide in Darfur.”We received specific and detailed information about a plan drawn by Omar El Bashir and his security apparatus to finance the Janjaweed Forces, reconstituted as the Rapid Response Force, from funds provided to Sudan by the EU, especially funds from the German Government and technical support from the Italian Government. This plan is under the direct supervision, control, and command of the Presidency of The Republic. It is executed by the National Intelligence and Security Service, of which the Rapid response force is part. This devilish plan, which was hatched and implemented over the past three months, has put the Rapid Response Force in charge of guarding Sudan borders with the false intention of curbing immigration to Europe, stopping human trafficking, and fighting terrorism. The goal is to link these forces to European interests through what is called “The Khartoum Process” to stop human trafficking

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What should NGOs say & do about private schools?

Susannah Hares from Ark and I attended a meeting with the senior staff of an INGO last week, along with a couple of other external invitees, to help them think through their position towards private schools and fees in education. We wrote up our recommendations & takeaways on the Huffington Post. First and foremost, it should reaffirm its principles: that education should be free; that government should be the guarantor but not necessarily the sole provider of education.Second, it should focus its education reform efforts on setting high expectations for all children and improving accountability for all schools, whether public or private. School inspections, good data, robust assessments: these are all critical components of a good system accountability and should apply to public and private schools alike.Third, in contexts in which substantial numbers of children already do attend private schools, the INGO could see if there are any clear market failures in the private sector that could be improved by government or NGO intervention. For example, training of teachers, or addressing information asymmetries through better community engagement.Fourth, where public-private partnerships are planned or in place, the INGO should challenge government and private sector partners to place equity and quality at the heart of any programme.

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Why School Systems Matter, and How We Can Fix Them

This post first appeared on the CGD blog Views from the CenterAccountability in school systems is essential to deliver better learning and accelerate progress in developing countries. What is still really lacking—and what RISE is working towards (such as with Lant Pritchett’s coherence paper)—is a coherent and complete analytical framework capturing the key elements of a system of school accountability that can explain the divergent experiences we have seen in school reform.The latest issue of the Journal of Economic Perspectives has a great symposium on schools and accountability, covering much of the research that motivated the development of RISE. Here are a few of the research highlights:Isaac Mbiti (part of the RISE Tanzania team) discusses “The Need for Accountability in Education in Developing Countries.” Brian Jacob & Jesse Rothstein dig into how we measure student ability in modern assessment systems (including some helpful discussion of what IRT can and can’t do). David Deming & David Figlio draw lessons from US experience with test-based school accountability systems, including caution about unintended consequences and ‘gaming,’ and noting that accountability seems to work best for low-performers. Julia Chabrier, Sarah Cohodes, and Philip Oreopoulos sum up what we can learn from charter school lotteries, re-emphasizing the point that charter schools seem to work best in neighbourhoods with poor performing schools.Here though I’m going to focus on Ludger Woessmann’s article, “The Importance of School Systems” to help break down the possible reasons for the differences in performance across systems.1.

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Reaching universal secondary school won’t solve the learning crisis

Secondary school graduates in Jakarta, urban Ghana, and urban Kenya, have worse literacy skills than primary school graduates in rich countries. More here on the RISE blog.

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What can we learn from Sociology about learning?

My summary on the RISE blog of the working paper from the RISE team main sociologist Susan Watkins (& Amy Kaler):”One of the key things that should strike you from this particular framework and this way of disaggregating the WDR04 accountability triangle, is that the Delegation aspect of accountability relationships in education systems is probably the least studied. The WDR04 has spawned a range of literature looking at the role of better information and better incentives for performance, and there has been plenty of research looking at financing and resourcing. But there’s next to nothing on delegation – what do parents and governments actually expect from schools? Much of the research on the economics of education looks at the effects of schooling on later outcomes, for example on earnings or health, but that is not the same question as what was initially intended.

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In praise of universalisation (& why it is distinct from Westernisation)

This is great from Scott Alexander:”the incorrect model of “foreign cultures being Westernized” casts Western culture as the aggressor, whereas the model of “every culture is being universalized” finds Western culture to be as much a victim as anywhere else. Coca-Cola might have replaced traditional yak’s milk in Mongolia, but it also replaced traditional apple cider in America. A Hopi Indian saddened that her children no longer know the old ritual dances differs little from a Southern Baptist incensed that her kids no longer go to church. Universal values have triumphed over both.”

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Update from the UK government about the Worst Aid project in the world

So I emailed my MP Meg Hillier about this EU aid project for detention camps in Sudan, who kindly wrote to the Foreign Office Minister for Africa, and sent me his reply. My response:Dear Meg, Thank you for raising this issue with James Duddridge. Unfortunately his reply does not reassure me at all. The “Better Migration Management” project description notes that “2 reception centres in Gadaref and Kassala, with custody rooms” could “in principle be funded” , and that one of the main risks of the project are that “Provision of equipment and trainings to sensitive national authorities (such as security services or border management) [could be] diverted for repressive aims; [leading to] criticism by NGOs and civil society for engaging with repressive governments on migration (particularly in Eritrea and Sudan).”Clearly Mr. Duddridge’s response, that training will be provided by Western NGOs, and money will not be given directly to the Government of Sudan, does not alleviate this risk of repression

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