Reflections on evidence in the age of #FakeNews

The keynote lecture at this year’s CSAE conference was given by Macartan Humphreys from Columbia Univsersity. Titled ‘Researchers just ran a randomized control trial in Africa and you won’t believe what they found: Reflections on evidence in the age of fake news and discredited expertise‘ the lecture set out to be entertaining and topical at the same time. Lukas Hensel, DPhil student at CSAE, discusses the main takeaway messages of the keynote. Continue reading

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Closing session: The Future of Donor Agencies in Africa

What should be the role of donor agencies in Africa in the coming years? This is the question that is central to this year’s CSAE Conference closing session. Our speakers for this session are Lindy Cameron (DfID), Albert Engel (GIZ) and Matthew Spencer (Oxfam). Stefan Dercon (CSAE) will chair the session, which starts at 16:30 UK time. Unfortunately, there is no video feed available for this session. Continue reading

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Debunking myths about forced migration

Darfur refugee camp in Chad (Creative Commons Mark Knobil from Pittsburgh, USA)

During first plenary session of the CSAE conference (video here), Stefan Dercon, Tuesday Reitano, Isabel Ruiz and Philip Verwimp debunked a series of myths about forced migration.

First, they reminded us that the so-called refugee crisis in Europe is only the tip of the iceberg. The 10 countries hosting the highest number of refugees are actually not in Europe, but in developing countries. Developing countries hosted 86% of the world’s refugees in 2014. Continue reading

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Macartan Humphreys: Researchers just ran an RCT in Africa and you won’t believe what they found! (Watch live!)

Macartan Humphreys (Columbia University) is this year’s keynote speaker at the CSAE Conference, with a keynote provocatively titled Researchers just ran a randomized control trial in Africa and you won’t believe what they found: Reflections on evidence in the age of fake news and discredited expertise. You can watch the keynote live through our livestreams. The session starts tomorrow (Monday) at 9.30am. Continue reading

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Watch: our session on African Refugees and Migrants

Migration is one of the topics high on the development agenda. In our first keynote session of the CSAE Conference, Tuesday Reitano (Global Initiative against Transnational Organised Crime), Isabel Ruiz (University of Oxford) and Phillip Verwimp (Université Libre de Bruxelles) will share their views on migration and development and in particular on what policies should be pursued with respect to refugees coming from African countries. Stefan Dercon (CSAE) will be leading the discussion.

Continue reading

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The CSAE Conference 2017 is about to begin!

From tomorrow onwards, CSAE will host one of the largest conferences on Development Economics, the annual CSAE Conference (Sun 19 – Tue 21 March 2017).

Three days, with 109 sessions, covering a wide range of topics, varying from macroeconomic and fiscal policy to education, firms, labour, health, household behaviour and much more! We have some exciting plenary sessions coming up as well: Macartan Humphreys, from Columbia University, will hold a keynote speech on Reflections on evidence in the age of fake news and discredited expertise, and there will be two panel sessions, one on African refugees and migration and one on the future of donor agencies in Africa. Continue reading

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Links round-up

Every week, Ranil Dissanayake updates us on the latest interesting links and other readings he came across. Ranil is a Senior Economist at the UK Department for International Development, but the opinions expressed in his writings are entirely his own and do not represent the views of his employer.

Well, I’m back in London and while it’s not the 30-degrees-and-the-sea-everywhere-you-turn Salone was, there are worse places to be in the spring. Add that to a genuine surfeit of cricket (most of which I was too busy to follow in Freetown), and it’s been a pretty soft landing (well, if you exclude the fact that we conceded 450+ to Bangladesh at home). It’s been a ridiculously busy week between the travel, landing to a firestorm of deadlines and the cricket, but I did manage to read some economics and general marginalia this week – and it was a pretty good crop. Continue reading

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Links round-up

How da bodi?

Apparently, that’s how you greet someone in Krio, the lingua franca of Freetown. Unless, of course, someone is pulling my leg, which is always somewhere between ‘likely’ and ‘certain’. I’ve been here since Sunday and since the boat trip from the airport to town it’s been fascinating. Parts of my trip have brought to mind the line a particularly perceptive colleague used to describe some programmes he’d seen offering direct support to firms: “It’s like releasing tadpoles into a toxic lake”. Still, there’s plenty to be positive about, too and it seems like an amazing place to work. Today’s links are a little threadbare, and you can blame the office here for keeping me so busy with meetings (all productive!). But I’m here till early next week, and I’ve come equipped with bird guide and binoculars and I fully intend to put them to work this weekend.

 1.       It was International Women’s Day this week (indeed it was a national holiday in Sierra Leone) so a few good links about gender to kick off. First, 538 takes stock of progress on the original issues highlighted in the first women’s strike in the US in 1970. I should point out ‘good’ links don’t necessarily mean ‘happy’ ones at this point. Second, Vox looks at the gender wage gap and the relative stagnation of progress in the 21st Century. I think it understates the challenges of occupational segregation, but hey – how many mainstream media outlets even use the phrase? Lastly, Markus Goldstein (whose Gender Innovation Lab is probably the home of my favourite research into gender and economic development in the world) posts a very nice summary of work by Oriana Bandiera and Greg Fisher (among others) on whether women respond differently to wage incentives than men. Related and brilliant: dialogue in the movies, broken down by the gender of the character.

2.       “I want a Lululemon pair of yoga pants, not the ones from Target.” I was not expecting to read Dietrich Vollrath say this in a blog about the profit share in GDP and its implications for productivity, but he does. And the article is typically excellent, another piece of forensic investigation into the economy undertaken through readily available statistics. It’s a skill too few have.

3.       One of Branko’s more personal blogs, about how he learnt economics and his relationship to Friedman and Samuelson. It’s easy to forget that we all learn in a cultural context which shapes us in many more ways than we may initially realise.

4.       Sad! Low ratings! Crooked! Fake news! Actually, this link is only about fake news, and if I was more liberal with the truth and a better headline writer I’d call it about the fake news of Fake News. But really it’s simpler than that. We notice changes much more than levels: fake news might have grown recently, but it’s still a small portion of overall news consumption and probably doesn’t affect our views very much. We don’t need extra help to remain in our echo chambers.

5.       The great Give Directly experiment on a universal basic income in Kenya gets very good coverage from Vox, and commentary from Justin Sandefur. Justin uses the phrase ‘disintermediating the state’ (that’s ‘cutting out the middleman’). I get the need to do so sometimes. But I also think it can’t be our default. It will be brilliant to eventually see the results of GD’s experiment – it’s genuinely one of the most revolutionary that the development field has put up. I hope, though, even if it’s brilliant, we don’t switch everything to this approach. The state matters for many things, even when it’s bad at most of them.

6.       And lastly, Chinese State-Owned rap videos. I have no words.

 Have a great weekend, everyone!


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Links round-up

Hi all,

 These links seem often start with obituaries these days (which is probably down to nothing more than my age, and consequently the ages of my role models and intellectual heroes growing up – many of who were 30-40 years older than me). This isn’t an obituary, but it created the same kind of awful sensation in the pit of my stomach: news that Joel Embiid, after 31 games of games of pretty much unprecedented brilliance for a young player, has been ruled out of playing basketball for the rest of the NBA season. To put that in perspective, over the last 4 years, he’s played around 6 months of competitive basketball, during which time he’s managed to be so brilliant that he was chosen with the third pick in the NBA draft and it’s been suggested he may already be one of the greatest centers ever. It will absolutely suck if his career never takes off because of his brittle bones and ligaments. Sigh. Oh well, at least Eoin Morgan has just bashed a century. [And of course, as soon as I finished that sentence, he was run out].

 1.       On to a happy link first – how’s this for an awesome technology: a mosquito trap sophisticated to differentiate between different species, collecting them automatically so we can analyse the pathogens borne in the blood they’ve sucked from people they’ve bitten. It could provide information to feed into public health programmes or simply be used to analyse how diseases and disease burdens change. Amazing.

2.       There are many superb lines in this Russ Roberts blog. One is “I am answering your question, I told him. You just don’t like the answer.” Another is published and true are not synonyms”. He talks eloquently and honestly about the limits of knowledge in economics (you could apply this to many, many other disciplines, but Roberts happens to be an economist) and the reticence of many to acknowledge them. He also, as an aside, talks about the famous Autor finding about the effect of China on US manufacturing jobs, mentioning that a recent paper suggests that it overestimates this effect. The funny thing is, as Francis Teal pointed out to DFID in the keynote talk at our economics conference last year, Autor’s findings are already that most of the decline in the US is explained by non-China factors.

3. Here’s another academic disagreement that’s been getting good coverage recently: Laurence Chandy and Brina Seidel (or Gertz, I’m getting confused…) did some work suggesting that we can now just redistribute our way out of poverty. Three very good articles point out the substantial problems here. First Berk Ozler notes how hard it is to know exactly who’s poor, and how poor. Second, Chris Blattman points out how hard it is to know what changes will work at scale and maintain long term support. And lastly, an excellent piece by Maya Forstater at CGD making the additional points that the related Sumner/Hoy redistribution would wind up redistributing from the poor to the slightly poorer, driven by a fairly arbitrary poverty line. She adds in a few kicks at shoddy thinking about taxing the super-rich and tax havens, to boot.

4.       Via Adam, a new VoxEU article on the effect of migrants at firm level in France. Here’s a spoiler: it’s good. First, it’s associated with an increase in firm-level productivity. Secondly, it’s associated with an increase in capital investment. Thirdly, it’s associated with an increase in exports. And lastly, it’s associated with an increase in the wages of their native-born colleagues. Good thing migration is so popular all the world round, right?

5.       This is definitely one for the economists only: Noah Smith on the virtues of structural econometrics and quasi-experimental econometrics. I really strongly recommend that all economists read it, though – I don’t think most people quite appreciate some of the points he makes about the limitations of experimental econometrics, though those of econometrics based on big (often crazy) models are rather better rehearsed.

6.       In which Alex Tabarrok discovers that development is complicated.

7.       And to close it out, this is a special brand of crazy that I find almost endearing: an American man has taken out a full page ad in The Times essentially declaring that he is the King of England. Well, I suppose whatever Idi Amin can do

 I’m traveling next week, so the links might be a little late or threadbare next Friday. Apologies.

 Have a great weekend, everyone!


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Links round-up

Hi all,

 So it seems like every week these e-mails start with an obit or some cricketing insanity. This week we’ve got both: first India’s continuing attempt to re-popularise binary coding outside of the computing field (just look at all the 0s and 1s in this scorecard), and secondly the passing of Kenneth Arrow (significantly closer to a century  at 95 than any of the Indian batsmen). Tim Harford has a nice, short appreciation here. Arrow was such a foundational figure in modern economics it’s almost a surprise to realise he wasn’t long-dead already. It’s a sign of how relatively young modern economics is that the co-author of the First and Second Fundamental Theorems of Welfare Economics (all capitalised, of course, because very econ student learns the FTWEs) could also be a co-author of a ground-breaking letter stating the economic risks posed by climate change. Arrow was a remarkable economist and inspired further remarkable economics: Amartya Sen made his name extending and critiquing Arrow’s Impossibility Theorem, already a canonical finding in economics 45 years ago.

 1.       You don’t need to be remarkable economist to recognise the mismanagement of the Venezuelan economy or be outraged at the consequences of it. Vox’s reporting of the numbers is a bit bizarre (“three quarters of respondents report losing an average of…” – wtf?), but it seems that the latest national surveying shows that most of the population has lost, on average, 19 pounds in body weight over the period of the crisis. This amounts to a crime against humanity, frankly; and I can’t believe this isn’t a bigger deal around the world. What’s worse is that the political leadership responds to this stark evidence with increasing certainty in their own capabilities. I’d say it couldn’t happen anywhere else, but events across Western Europe and in the US prove me wrong. This is what scares me the most: we feel that if things turn bad, people will recognise their mistakes and change course. No: they may well just double down on what caused the damage in the first place.

2.       Speaking of economic mismanagement, you know your new currency isn’t taken seriously when it trends on ebay as a collector’s item. That doesn’t exactly speak of market confidence that it’s going to last long, does it? However, since each bond note is selling for more than its dollar value in Zimbabwe, maybe the Reserve Bank should just cut out the middleman and start selling the notes as a novelty gift to foreigners? (thanks to Adam Lyons for pointing me to that one).

3.       Let’s pile on some more bad news, while I’m still frothing with outrage: apparently, we’re all at risk – banking crises in other countries can cause domestic banking crises even in the absence of direct financial ties or trade relationships. That bodes well for the next five years.

4.       To cheer us up a little, I thought the James Martin memorial lecture given by David Miliband recently was excellent. He mounts a sturdy defence of DFID and singles our new Economic Development Strategy and our work on the Jordan Compacts for particular praise; and he inches towards an approach to reconcile global and local politics.

5.       There’s hope, too, in this excellent New Yorker piece on behavioural science and its role in policy making in the US, using the example of Flint, Michigan. We constantly make little movements of progress that help us build a better world. The shocks that push us back are more visible, but the war will be won by the creeping tides of progress.

6.       There are echoes of this in this Tim Harford piece about setting rules and targets – we’ve made a lot of progress in identifying patterns, which has left us open to new mistakes – and we keep working out ways to get around them.

7.       And lastly, because the first half of this e-mail was a total downer, let’s end on a joyous note: Boogie Cousins has just signed to play alongside Anthony Davis in New Orleans, which means they’ve finally found an on-court combo cool enough to overcome the tragedy of being called ‘the Pelicans’ (seriously, I love birds but when they were selecting names did they just ignore the teams called things like Thunder, Rockets, Bulls, and all those other awesome things to pick that?!) And if you’re not enough of a basketball tragic to be excited by that, here’s Giannis Antetokuoumnpo (it’s pronounced exactly how it’s spelled) dunking the soul right out of Steph Curry. It’s only 28 seconds and watch it for the look on DeAndre Jordan’s face at 0:20s.

 Have a great weekend, everyone!


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