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May 29, 2008

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Barkley Rosser

Hope the child gets better soon.

Etienne Calame

Dear Mr Rodrik I will read your paper this weekend and wish full recovery to your child. I just would like to tell my opinion here. Some of our elites seem to think that common people will necessarily act like them; even they seem to think that Citizens of countries of the other side of the world will act like middle-class Americans or Europeans. The local cultures, customs and behaviors influence significantly the way people react to changes in their environment. I do not think that governments and international institutions can control the economy, they only decide for incentives and finally it is the people decision through their reactions that “decide” what the economy will look like. It is the consumer, or non-consumer, that makes the economy what it is. It is only when experts renounce to act as, and succeed to become prophets issuing eventually self-fulfilling prophecies that they can pretend to have a control over the mechanism. I support scholars and experts who think that economy science should be studied in the field and that interaction within and between populations should be understood before to decide for the right set of incentive to apply.

Anon

Thank you for posting this. I've always thought that economists don't talk enough about their children at work. In fact, I've always thought it was unfortunate that one rarely sees children walking up and down the hallways of an economics department.

I do hope the illness is nothing serious and that your son or daughter gets better soon.

Meredith Galbraith

Dear Dani,

This has nothing to do with your post whatsoever, but I was wondering if you had any advice for good master's programs out there in economics? While MPA/ID seems to be a great program for a public policy career, what about one for an academic career?

Specifically, if you were interested development / political economy, are there any master's programs you would recommend that let would allow someone like me to get a better idea of the field of study, while also taking a bunch of courses that would increase your chances of getting in to a good doctoral program?

Thanks!

Meredith

tweek

Meredith, there are tons of economics departments out there that have economic development as one of their fields. As for political economy, it's not as common, but I suggest you look at www.econphd.net, which has a rankings page (bit outdated though, 2004) and stroll through department websites looking for your field of interest / specialization.

Dani Rodrik

Meredith --

The trouble is that top U.S. departments do not really focus on master's degrees. It's mainly the Ph.D., and if there is a master's program, it's either there as a money maker or as a consolation prize for unsuccessful doctoral students. But in Europe there are good stand-alone master's programs. I would recommend LSE or Toulouse.

tgirl

Many Canadian universities offer master's degrees in Economics. UBC and Queen's have strong programs, for example.

Meredith Galbraith

Thanks very much! I'm glad I received a reply, I nearly resorted to posting on Mankiw's blog :)

rh

Dear Dani:

Your paper's reference to the Chinese inclination to experiment is very useful, especially in the context of the "hard evidence' the random evaluation folks call for.

But it gets me wondering, Why don't more governments do it? I can't help but think there is an "external validity" problem of some form lurking here, having to with the political system, the degree of central control, and the vision of the top leadership. My guess is that China's is a special case. As Lant Pritchett's paper at the conference suggests, experimentation --whether the "hard" type of the MIT poverty lab, or the soft type, is an old idea.

The fact that it's not tried much (at least it seems that way) suggests the devil is in the political details.

Thank you for the excellent paper and the links to the conference.

Emmanuel

Dr. Rodrik--the Easterly op-ed did not strike me as too constructive, either. I offer a retort on my humble blog that may be in line with you had in mind:

http://ipezone.blogspot.com/2008/05/thoughts-on-world-banks-new-growth.html

Justin Rietz

Meredith -

The economics department at San Jose State University in California has a good evening / weekend master's program. An added benefit is their Austrian school slant :-)

cg

Hi Meredith,

NYU offers a very solid stand alone masters degree program in Economics, perhaps one of the top stand alone econ masters programs in the nation (according to their website).

Duke also has a masters program in Econ I believe.

Chicago has a standalont masters program in social sciences. If you do that program and take a lot of econ profs/get econ prof recs, that may help your chances when you apply to grad school.

hope this helps!

Ritobaan Roy

Dear Dani,

I just finished reading your paper. Other than the external versus internal validity issue, you point out that top journals may not have an incentive to publish the results of two identical randomized evaluations in different settings. Maybe this would have an adverse impact on the academic careers of the randomistas?

There are other practical issues that make it difficult for developing country organisations to carry out a randomized trial at ground level. First, a randomized evaluation is expensive (consulting fees and out-of-pocket expenses of a large team of field researchers plus faculty from an overseas college working in a project location to name the obvious). Few developing country organisations, let alone NGOs in these countries, can afford this unless they are propped up by corporate or donor agency funds (or by the funds of the university where the core team of economists come from).

Second, a randomized evaluation is time consuming and takes a year or more to come up with the final numbers. Donor agency funded projects have shorter timelines to showcase results to both the recipient government and to the government to which it reports to. So these agencies tend to stay away from randomised trials of micro-interventions. (I understand that the World Bank’s OED is now increasing its use of such trials but I haven’t come across a visibly increasing number of World Bank funded trials in India, surely a good place to begin?)

As for NGOs, apart from the prohibitive costs, does it really pay to conduct such a lengthy exercise all for the sake of some numbers? I would wager it does not as NGO funds are hardly dependent on any evaluation. In most cases, they are funded because of their track record of community work, relationship with community heads and local government officials and perceived integrity (many NGOs in India are fly-by-night operations).

For government agencies, the financial aspects are not important but the political implications of randomised trials are. While a case can be made that an evaluation that ‘proves’ the successful effect of an intervention can be used to garner political support for more of that intervention, what happens when an evaluation shows up a generously funded government intervention to have had no or very little effect on the indicators that it was trying to influence? I can safely say that key ministries in the government of India do not want to be put under that sort of scanner. (Could one imagine the Ministry of Health, one of the more notorious ministries in India and recently implicated by the World Bank for massive corruption in drug procurement, open its doors to randomised trials on a large scale?)

Next, take a look at Banerjee and Duflo’s Abdul Latif Jameel Poverty Action Lab (PAL) that has carried out, and is working on, several randomised trials in India. They rope in local NGOs to provide ‘buy-in’ with the local community and a team of Indian field coordinators, typically local boys and girls, to do the spade work of collecting the data. Though I don’t know how these projects are funded by PAL, I am quite sure that these NGOs (e.g. Pratham or Sewa) could not bear the full costs of such evaluations through a period of one year or more. In that case, the funds for the projects are coming out of research grants or from the funds of some usually US university or from corporate firms (or some combination of all three). So it is the researchers who are financially supporting the others to finish the research.

Also, PAL has a good working relationship with a think-tank in Chennai (Institute for Financial Management and Research) that is financially supported by ICICI Bank, one of India’s largest banks. ICICI’s interest is to gain insights into the country’s promising microfinance and rural credit market which it believes can be better understood by randomised evaluations. IFMR is now a place for regular workshops on randomised trials conducted by the PAL team and researchers from other US universities (e.g. Dean Karlan of Yale who also works on microfinance and credit products).

In short, randomised trials will not naturally be taken up by governments, NGOs or donor agencies working in developing countries just because it is ‘internally valid’ because of time, cost and political considerations. In that case, they will be driven by funding from corporate (towards business interests like the pharmaceutical industry) and research funds (towards the publications of young assistant professors) – as is the case with PAL and IFMR.

Best regards,
Ritobaan
New Delhi, India

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