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Please help us praise Millennium Villages…

UPDATE 4: 3rd nomination for positive. Day 3 of silence from MVP

UPDATE 3: another nomination for positive evaluation (Michael Clemens paper), another energetic disavowal by the author (see comments below).  

UPDATE 2: oops, author of only nomination so far says it’s not so positive– see comments

UPDATE: received first nomination of positive review

On Twitter, @bill_easterly noted yesterday’s Aid Watch post :

On Millennium Villages: this is not my own predictable response, this is independent guest post

Which immediately got the reply on Twitter:

intentional irony? your guest posts are as “independent” as any MV self-assessment

Aid Watch will let its guest posters defend their own independence, but in the meantime let’s find another guest poster that will pass our critic’s most stringent independence test. In short…

…could somebody please send us a strongly positive evaluation of the the Millennium Villages.

Our critic rightly notes that self-assessment is not what anybody is looking for, so  the only restriction is that the evaluators of course must not be part of the MV program themselves, i.e. must be independent.

This is not satire. Aid Watch would be very happy to hear from those evaluators of the MVs who have the strongest possible positive portrayal of the results of the MV intervention. We will post summaries of these evaluations without comment on Aid Watch.

UPDATE: received first nomination of a positive review of MVs: an article in Vanity Fair.

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  1. Alan Hudson wrote:

    It amuses/worries me that there’s a need to point out that the post is not satire. Perhaps all posts could start by stating whether or not they’re satire? Then potential-readers could filter for the substance or the satire. This post might be satire.

    Posted February 3, 2011 at 5:50 am | Permalink
  2. Vivek Nemana wrote:


    We have the “Satire/Parody” category for exactly that purpose. The only problem is that the Satire category is sometimes satirically used or parodically not used at all.

    Posted February 3, 2011 at 9:01 am | Permalink
  3. David Zetland wrote:

    I am independent of the MV project and my assessment is neutral. I will endorse and and all MVs upon payment of a proper grant for independent study and evaluation, hopefully without needing to leave my desk.

    Terms negotiable. You know where to find me.

    Posted February 3, 2011 at 10:53 am | Permalink
  4. Nina Munk wrote:

    Dear Bill, I’m not one to quarrel with anyone who calls attention to an article I have written…. so thank you for nominating my Vanity Fair article about the MVs. However, I (respectfully) disagree that my article represents a “strongly positive evaluation” of the project. Please read the whole article, right to the end, being sure not to skip over the references to: Sachs’s messianism, the confrontations in the village of Dertu, and the meeting with Musseveni. At the risk of sounding self-promoting, I pride myself on the depth of my reporting, on my skepticism, and, yes, above all, on my independence. My article is about as balanced as it gets, which means it is neither a wholly positive nor wholly negative review of the MVP.

    Posted February 3, 2011 at 12:07 pm | Permalink
  5. Charlotte Warren wrote:

    Complete threadjack:
    A friend of mine (whom I love dearly but who is a bit prone to woo and conspiracy theories) has invited me to watch a film with her, “The End of Poverty?” by Philippe Diaz. I haven’t seen the film in full but judging from the clips I have seen and some reviews discussing the contents, I have to say that it sounds like a pretty dodgy film. The criticisms of colonialism are probably fair enough, but a lot of it sounded like extreme-left claptrap and waffle.

    Bill Easterly, you were apparently interviewed or quoted in some capacity in the film. Part of me feels uncomfortable at commenting on a film I have not seen in full, but as someone who has read your book and liked most of it, I am surprised that you’d apparently associate yourself with a production which seems to raise so many red flags in terms of analysis.

    Would appreciate hearing your side of the story, anyway. Cheers. Thanks as always for the interesting blog.

    Posted February 3, 2011 at 11:24 pm | Permalink
  6. sam wrote:

    Is this a joke? Are you seriously running a contest for the most positive portrayal of a MV? Well, it reads that way. So, why would anyone turn evaluation into some sort of wacky contest? The reality is quite plain: like most things, in the world of development as in others, there are some positives and some negatives to MV interventions. But when you are opposed wholesale to any interventions, then what’s the point of inviting any evaluations anyhow? I mean, come on. Who are you kidding? You are opposed to any interventions. Period. If they are labeled development, you think it’s a bad idea. Why not just come out and say that? (I know, you have, but maybe not so baldly….) That’s my general impression reading this blog off and on for two years or so – well, show us some positive evaluations of development interventions if I’m way off base! Hmmm, wonder if I’ll see any on here…

    Posted February 4, 2011 at 12:35 pm | Permalink
  7. David wrote:

    Kristof’s 6-part series in the NY Times from about a year ago might be worth looking at. It’s a fairly positive (if not completely glowing) account of the MV in Koraro.

    Posted February 4, 2011 at 1:43 pm | Permalink
  8. DRDR wrote:

    From Clemens & Demombynes:
    “As the World Bank Chief Economist for Africa Shanta Devarajan has observed, our evidence does suggest that the MVP has had some positive short-run impacts on people’s lives. So there is no reason to overstate the impacts.”

    Shanta writes:
    “In short, Clemens and Demombynes have undertaken the first evaluation of the MVP. They have shown that the MVP has delivered sizeable improvements on some important development indicators in many of the villages, albeit with effects that are smaller than those described in the Harvests of Development paper. Of course, neither study answers the question of whether these gains are sustainable, or whether they could have been obtained at lower cost. These should be the subject of the next evaluation.”

    That’s probably your winner for “strongest possible positive portrayal of the results of the MV intervention.” And Aid Watch has extensively linked to Michael Clemens in the past already.

    So I believe this exercise has fully addressed the criticism I tweeted. I see no evidence that Aid Watch is selectively linking to the independent MVP evaluations that match Bill Easterly’s views.

    Note: I am in not affiliated with the MVP or Earth Institute.


    Posted February 4, 2011 at 3:09 pm | Permalink
  9. Alan Beattie wrote:

    The Overseas Development Institute’s assessments of the MVP was broadly positive though doubted its scalability:

    Posted February 4, 2011 at 4:20 pm | Permalink
  10. Casey wrote:

    Dear Bill,

    I was working with clinic based health care staff in Sauri, Kenya (Full disclosure: with UNAIDS, but with significant support of MVP) whose area overlapped both MV areas and not. I hadn’t been fully convinced one way or another before that trip, but the strongest positive (though anecdotal) review of the MV happened when talking to nurses and clinical officers. They kept asking if the other areas which they cared for could become part of the MV project, as they felt that the CHW and health program lead to much better health for those within the MVs and the surround villages would be healthier for inclusion. After that, I decided that whatever else may be wrong with the system, those who would know best had decided they had a positive impact. Just my two cents.


    Posted February 4, 2011 at 4:46 pm | Permalink
  11. Michael Clemens wrote:

    @DRDR: Thanks for your thoughtful comment. I agree with what Shanta posted: the rough differences-in-differences calculations that Gabriel and I did suggest that, for some of the indicators at some of the sites, progress was faster over time at the sites than at nonintervention sites. That evidence is compatible with a positive effect of the Project on some indicators in some places, though it doesn’t constitute a rigorous evaluation of the Project.

    The main problem with the Project’s statements of its own “impacts” and “achievements”, which have continued this week, is that the attribute the entire change at the site to the Project’s effects, which assumes that nothing would have changed without the Project’s intervention. That assumption, we show, is generally false and sometimes wildly false. So while Shanta’s right that the differences-in-differences evidence is compatible with some positive short-run effects in some places, it unfortunately also reveals that the Project’s own statements about its effects are greatly exaggerated in some cases.

    And they should know better: this is not just any other NGO project. Its evaluation reports bear the stamp and good name of Columbia University, one of the leading institutions of scientific investigation on earth.

    Beyond this, to me the question of short-term impacts that Shanta comments on, while true, is not the most interesting evaluation question. Does anyone doubt that spending many millions of dollars in a subsistence-level rural community can cause short-term changes in livelihoods? To me that’s so obvious that it doesn’t require evaluation. What does require evaluation is whether or not changes thus wrought tend to last after the massive infusion of aid, and this is a very open question. Our differences-in-differences data can’t say anything about that, nor can the MVP’s own current evaluation protocol. The MVP should be urged to evaluate their claims of long-run effects with a long-run evaluation.

    Unless the goal is to put all of Africa on permanent external life-support, which I think many of us can agree is not what the aid community has in mind.

    Posted February 4, 2011 at 5:01 pm | Permalink
  12. Louise wrote:

    In 2006, Amartya Sen offered this criticism of Bill Easterly’s book, “The White Man’s Burden”:

    “Unfortunately, his overblown attack on global “do-gooders” obscures the real point: that aid can work, but only if done right.”

    This criticism applies to many things, one of them being the blog post above.

    My heart sinks when I see how you spend your energy and intellect.

    Posted February 5, 2011 at 1:07 pm | Permalink
  13. Roberto wrote:

    I suggest reading the Schlesinger article in Harper´s, a report rather than evaluation, but with direct eyes on MVIs

    Posted February 7, 2011 at 8:44 am | Permalink
  14. D. Watson wrote:

    Actually, sam, Aid Watch has posted a handful of successful interventions and given cautious thumbs up to several others, pending evaluation. They also regularly allow the other side of arguments to post their entire response without comment or complaint. This does not read as a contest to find the one most glowing report, but to deliberately and selectively draw out positive reports (“those evaluators” not “the most positive evaluators”). I will grant you, this would be a LOT easier to demonstrate if Bill and Laura could add a “success” tag to their categories so you could find them easily, and I will also grant you that their success stories tend to be clumped together [ie – This is Success Story Week, just to prove we’re not really evil]. 😉

    Aid Watchers,
    Keep up the good work.

    Posted February 9, 2011 at 4:45 pm | Permalink

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    The Aid Watch blog is a project of New York University's Development Research Institute (DRI). This blog is principally written by William Easterly, author of "The Elusive Quest for Growth: Economists' Adventures and Misadventures in the Tropics" and "The White Man's Burden: Why the West's Efforts to Aid the Rest Have Done So Much Ill and So Little Good," and Professor of Economics at NYU. It is co-written by Laura Freschi and by occasional guest bloggers. Our work is based on the idea that more aid will reach the poor the more people are watching aid.

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