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Monthly Archives: May 2009

Aid works! – well at least, for Chivas Regal


Douglas Alexander, British Secretary of State for Development, recently challenged me to stand with the poor and feel their pain at a public event sponsored by NDN. As a privileged politician, he has recently traveled to a few places where he has met some Africans and feels comfortable quoting them as representatives of the whole continent. He made clear that in fact Trevor Manuel, the Finance Minister of South Africa, was the voice…

Posted in Aid policies and approaches | 5 Comments

When Doing Nothing Equals Increased Aid

Nice dialogue going on here with the blog that is the scourge of wicked human rights violators everywhere, Wronging Rights (a blog that is also wickedly funny). Among other things, I worried that one of the posts on Mahmood Mamdani by Amanda Taub might be using the classic way to attack critics of infeasible, utopian schemes everywhere, which is to demand that the critic come up with their own utopian scheme to solve all…

Posted in Aid policies and approaches | 18 Comments

How to help the poor have more money? Well, you could give it to them

In 2007, people in the Western Province of Zambia lost their homes, their livestock and their crops when heavier-than-normal flash floods swept through their area. USAID’s office of disaster assistance stepped in with $280,000 worth of with seeds and fertilizer, training for farmers, and emergency relief supplies.

Two NGOs working in Zambia, Oxfam GB and Concern Worldwide, tried a different approach: they handed out envelopes stuffed with cash—from $25 to $50 per…

Posted in Aid policies and approaches | 19 Comments

Dani Rodrik’s moody industrial policies – the final questions

Dear Dani,

Thanks for your reply to my post.I am a bit frustrated with your statement that industrial policy just has different effects in different countries. If we just say “it works” with good outcomes and “it doesn’t work” with bad outcomes, then there is no way of contradicting this with evidence. ANY policy could pass this test. This kind of “theory” fits past data but cannot predict future outcomes – how do…

Posted in Aid policies and approaches, Economics principles | 7 Comments

Dani Rodrik responds to “How ethnic profiling explains Dani Rodrik’s fondness for industrial policy”

by Dani Rodrik

Hmmm. I think you misconstrue the nature of the debate and the argument. If my priors were that no Moslems are terrorists (“industrial policy never works”) and then I found that some are, I would think the evidence pretty compelling and alter my priors. (With apologies for the nature of the analogy, but I am following Bill’s line of thought…)

My point is to get people beyond their refusal to accept…

Posted in Aid debates, Meta | 8 Comments

BREAKING NEWS: Nation’s senior diplomat talks sense, inspires, is not babbling nonsense


On Wednesday night, US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton urged in a commencement address to NYU graduates to help “improve the world” AS INDIVIDUALS ACTUALLY DOING SOMETHING about hunger and extreme poverty.

[T]hese challenges … can no longer be seen just as government-to-government. There is a time and an opportunity, and with the new technologies available, for us to be citizen diplomats, citizen activists, to solve problems one by one that

Posted in In the news | 4 Comments

How ethnic profiling explains Dani Rodrik’s fondness for industrial policy

Airline passengers recently ejected an innocent Muslim family from an airplane because they were afraid the family were terrorists. Similar reasoning explains why Dani Rodrik favors industrial policy as a key to success.

Before getting overly critical of Dani, whom I admire a lot, let me confess I have frequently committed the same type of reasoning error myself, and so does virtually everyone else. But it’s still wrong.

All of us are making the…

Posted in Cognitive biases | Tagged | 15 Comments

Top 10 reasons to test “War, Guns, and Votes” for data mining


With a previous post on data mining, let’s examine one recent book as a possible candidate for tests of whether data mining could be a problem. Here are the top 10 reasons I chose this book:

10. Oodles of regressions were run

Author each morning

wondering whether, during the previous evening, Pedro, or Anke, or Dominic, or Lisa, or Benedikt, or Marguerite has cracked whatever problem we had crashed into by the time

Posted in Data and statistics | 13 Comments

Stories from around the web

First do no harm

In today’s FT supplement “The Future of Capitalism,” Gary Becker and Kevin Murphy urge caution on government interventions designed to resuscitate the global economy. In the rush to do something rather than nothing, we run the risk of maiming the only system that can deliver growth to those parts of the world that have so far missed out on the gains of global capitalism. (The previously published online version is

Posted in In the news, Technology | Tagged , , , , , | 5 Comments

Confused American liberals and conservatives need to get out more

Two recent discussions, one by the “conservative” Gary Becker (brought to my attention by Economist’s View) and the other by the “liberal” Alan Wolfe (which I saw at Cafe Hayek) BOTH seem confused about their own political creeds. This is apparently because of the peculiar way the US political system deals with people who like individual liberty. Becker claims them for the “conservatives” and Wolfe’s “liberals” are happy to get…

Posted in Economics principles | 14 Comments