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Monthly Archives: September 2009


Maybe I have a biased selection, but it seems like every sensible economist, political scientist, development worker, and journalist that I know thinks our current course in Afghanistan can have only one outcome — disaster. Disaster for Americans, for our NATO allies, AND for Afghans.

Why is nobody listening?

Posted in In the news | 12 Comments

Explaining Slavic female tennis comparative advantage mystery

A reader had a provocative explanation, posted as an anonymous comment on the blog post on the Slavic tennis women mystery:

Soviet-bloc eugenics. If you look at the biographies of the Russian tennis players, like Kuznetsova and Petrova, they are the product of the marriage of two Olympic athletes.

Nadia Petrova: Petrova’s father Victor was a leading hammer thrower, while her mother Nadezhda Ilyina won a bronze medal at the 1976 Montreal Olympics in the

Posted in Economics principles | 5 Comments

Links to Make You Think

If a group of lions is a “pride,” a group of development professionals is a ________.

More and more mzungus (whites) fall truly, madly, deeply in love with Africa. (via Scarlett Lion)

Book-burner to be new head of UN education and culture efforts (UNESCO)? We wonder if the UNESCO Sex Ed book that Chris Blattman satirized might be the first to go on the bonfire under new management.

None of…

Posted in In the news | 9 Comments

Africa desperately needs trade links: a pictorial essay

In all the debates about free trade, we can forget sometimes that international trade is not optional for a very small, very poor country. If there are any kinds of returns to scale at all in many sectors, and casual observation and much research suggests there are, then a tiny domestic market will rule out any serious domestic production in many, many sectors (is the Gambia going to be making refrigerators any time soon?) So…

Posted in Big ideas, Economics principles, Maps | 20 Comments

Supermodel vows to stay naked till USAID funds reach starving children

Supermodel Miranda Kerr posed nude on the cover of Rolling Stone, announcing she would not put her clothes back on until USAID funds reached starving children affected by the drought in East Africa. She criticized USAID for tying aid to purchases from American farmers and shipping companies, leading to delays of many months in food reaching famine victims, causing thousands of premature deaths.

Oh, we can only dream. Sorry, this post is fake.…

Posted in Badvocacy and celebs | 12 Comments

Harvard President’s proposed fix for The University: more Bad Economics?

Drew Gilpin Faust writes on “The University’s Crisis of Purpose” in the current NYT book review. Most of the essay is superb, about not just justifying college education by its vocational payoff, but also the study of truth & beauty for their own sakes.

I liked also this: “Universities are meant to be producers not just of knowledge but also of (often inconvenient) doubt…to serve…as society’s critic and conscience.” (wow, thanks for justifying my own…

Posted in Economics principles | 7 Comments

Slavic Tennis Women and Aid Agency Specializations

A recent post talked about the advantages of specialization in general, and for aid agencies in particular. But what should you specialize in? Obviously, in your “comparative advantage,” which is economists’ laborious jargon for “what you’re good at.” But where does comparative advantage come from and how do you find your own?

These thoughts were prompted by watching US Open tennis on TV, where anyone who can read their –ova’s and –ieva’s is struck…

Posted in Economics principles | Tagged , , | 17 Comments

Good news: Aid agencies are beginning to catch the dumb-as-rocks projects

The NYT recently ran an article chronicling the failure of the now-abandoned Women’s World Market, a 2007 donor-funded mall on the outskirts of Kabul. The project was set up with money from GTZ, the German bilateral aid agency, the small business arm of USAID, and the private savings of an Afghan entrepreneur.

Posted in Aid policies and approaches, Economics principles | 3 Comments

Our Critics Are Starting a Bill Easterly Watch

We received a request by Bryan Turner to submit a post on Aid Watch critical of this blog’s approach. Since we are in favor of debate, we accepted his proposal and here is the blog post he submitted yesterday–Eds.

by Bryan Turner, founder and coordinator of Students To End Extreme Poverty and Youth Engagement Coordinator of Make Poverty History Canada

I actually agree with much of what Professor Easterly writes and he does some great…

Posted in Aid debates, Meta | 20 Comments

Beyonce’s Secret for Greater Aid Effectiveness

One of the oldest ideas in economics is gains from specialization. Adam Smith talked about it 233 years ago. All of us are good at a small number of things and suck at most everything else. The economy as a whole produces more because we each specialize in what we do best and then trade with everyone else.

beyonce-performing-3.pngWe see Beyoncé specializing in music videos, which she trades to Bill Gates for his specialized production…

Posted in Big ideas, Economics principles | 18 Comments