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June 03, 2008



mmm... it sounds like a convincing argument, except for the fact that learning vanishes...
I don't think that developing economies learn from what they suffered 20 years ago. I mean after a traumatic experience they learn, they put in practice their new knowledge, but after 10 years they forgot what they suffered and fall back into bad policies. In short, bad policies of the 70s are reverted in the 80s/90s the latest, but are reinstated in the 00s. This is the only explanation I can find for what's going on in some Latin American countries.


I agree with you in substance, but just a couple of rhetorical points:

I don't think you should characterize everything as "soft evidence," because that implies that evidence itself doesn't have a lot of value. It does, and there's a big difference between making decisions based on rigorous impact evaluations and making decisions based on guesswork. The trend towards the former is a very positive one. Rather, I think a better way to put it is that there are lots of different ways of generating hard evidence, of which randomization is only one.

I also think you might be emphasizing the idea of experimentation a little too much, in a way that could be misleading particularly to non-economists. One way to think about it is, in the real world the choice set of all policies is basically anything a person of below-average intelligence could be talked into thinking is a good idea. You aren't talking about experimenting among all of these policies- you're talking about experimenting across a very narrow subset (one that is informed by mainstream economic theory and empirical evidence). Going too far with the experimentation metaphor does a disservice to what you're really talking about, as I think some of the Mao comments allude to. I might describe your approach more along the lines of accepting that each case has its own set of unknowns, rather than in terms of experimentation. Not to mention, "its own set of unknowns" kind of rolls off the tongue, doesn't it?

Dani Rodrik

Ben --

Very useful clarification, thank you. I always forget how much I take for granted, and it is very useful to be reminded of it...


hmm, it explains a lot, learn by experience, so every counttry will be ruined, could not learn from others must make the mistakes yourself, Zimbabwe did not learn from others, made same mistakes, South Africa has not learnt same mistakes. I guess best teacher is to be burnt, but seeing somebody elses burns should be a lesson not to play with fire.

Michael Seifu

I think Collier's assessment seems a bit simplistic and optimistic. Africa's economic performance was abysmal in the 1970s and 1980s. Whatever improvements we observe now signify a catch-up process as opposed to a pay-off from a long term learning process. Secondly, in as much as learning from the past helps for policy making it is also the case that success hinges on overcoming the new and quickly changing realities of today and tomorrow. I have a few reservations in that regard. What happened the NEPAD Peer review mechanism? Despite its huge promises, it just fell prey to political manipulations of leaders in the region. Consider how governments after governments in the region use the Chinese link to tradeoff global pressures on good governance. Who is to say that Africa is not playing its usual peripheral role as a supplier of primary commodities to fuel Chinese growth? These and many events in the region put the assertion that Africa governments enhanced their policy making for good in doubt. As a final reminder, take a note of the facts that African growth is being speargheaded high commodity prices. It is only when the rainy days arrive that we can for sure say Africa economic growth has indeed been robust.

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