Skip to content

Category Archives: Big ideas

Me-ism, and other Reasons for Economists to Think Big about Development

Why should economists continue to work on such ambitious Big Ideas in Development — what drives Development?  Freedom? Property Rights? Human Capital? Whether you are just like ME?

One good reason is that most people are going to have their own Big Ideas anyway.  If economists and other social scientists refuse to discuss Big Ideas, then people will just base them on some random anecdote or on laughably casual empirics. (I once heard a prominent non-development economist say he understood underdevelopment after his…

Tagged , | 15 Comments

The Answer

….that no single key, no formula can, in principle, solve the problems of individuals or societies; that general solutions are not solutions, universal ends are never real ends….

…that liberty–of actual individuals, in specific times and places–is an absolute value; that a minimum area of free action is a moral necessity for all men, not to be suppressed in the name of abstractions or general principles so freely bandied about by the great thinkers of

Also posted in Entrepreneurship, Grand plans and aid targets | Tagged , , , | 19 Comments

The “guy named Bob” theory of Development

Development discussions often seek “answers” to “how to develop?” But to whom do we tell the answers? We assume the existence of someone who can take our answers and turn them into actual Development. Let’s call this person “Bob,” as in the following diagram:

But who is Bob? Of course, many autocrats would happily volunteer to be “Bob,” and many development experts show some sympathy for such a “benevolent” autocrat. Indeed the whole Bob theory of development seems…

36 Comments

Skeptics and thermostats

UPDATE 12:50PM: Please assume I’m an idiot (see end of post)

Many have suffered from being in a building where there was a centralized thermostat for the whole building (or the whole floor), with the predictable result that some rooms are way too hot or way too cold. (Sounds like a metaphor, watch for it…)

Things were even more extreme in the former Soviet Union, where there were centralized heating plants for a whole city, and the hot…

Also posted in Economics principles | 26 Comments

The 100 Bestest Global Thinkers

The Foreign Policy magazine ranking of the top 100 Global Thinkers just came out. The rankings can be a bit mysterious, like college football rankings that confuse Texas Christian University with a real football team.

I myself had a two-year run in the top 100 for still unexplained reasons. Alas, a late-season loss to Collier State University doomed my chances this year. I wouldn’t mind as much if there were not way too many…

Also posted in Badvocacy and celebs | 12 Comments

The Rock Star theory of rising inequality and development successes

from Alan Krueger’s study of “Rockonomics”

Top 1% Rock Stars are getting more and more of Rock Income.

The explanation? Cheaper audio equipment means top stars can capture more of the market. Why listen to the second-rate stars when the first-rate produce an unlimited number of recordings for you to listen to them? (And then you want to go to their concerts too?)

Does this have something to do with the general rise in inequality in…

Also posted in Technology | 6 Comments

G20 summit’s Seoul Development Consensus: please comment

UPDATE: OK I give up, I’ll be the bad guy again (see end of post)

I present selections of the text of the Seoul Development Consensus for Shared Growth without comment, inviting instead the readers to comment:

Be economic-growth oriented and consistent with the G20 Framework for Strong, Sustainable and Balanced Growth

Prioritize actions that tackle global or regional systemic issues

Differentiate, yet complement existing development efforts, avoiding duplication

Focus on feasible, practical and accountable measures to

Also posted in Aid policies and approaches, Organizational behavior | 10 Comments

Physics Envy in Development (even worse than in Finance!)

Andrew Lo and Mark Mueller at MIT have a paper called “WARNING: Physics Envy May Be Hazardous to Your Wealth,” also available as a video.  The takeaway, which is equally relevant to Development as to Finance (the actual topic of the talk),  is that inability to recognize radical UNCERTAINTY is what leads to excessive confidence in mathematical models of reality, and then on to bad policy and prediction.

Imagine how much harder physics would

15 Comments

When Fat Cats Bet on Fat Tails

UPDATE 9:30am get me rewrite! Readers ask for more clarity on what my point is, so a little added rewriting.

There has been a lot of passionate moral debate about US income inequality (Greg Mankiw recently got a torrent of abuse for the horrific sin of admitting that he was a rich person).  But you have to UNDERSTAND income inequality before you CONDEMN it. By the end of this post, I’ll suggest a different angle.…

22 Comments

And now going for the Aid Watch record on global charity cluelessness…

Aid Watch received the following tidbit from a trusted source. It was posted on a community list-serve:

Does anyone have any old men’s size  8.5-9.0 sneakers they would like to get rid of? Like, lawnmowing sneakers, that sort of thing?  I’m running a mud race on Sunday and at the end the muddy destroyed sneakers will be donated to Green Sneakers, a non-profit that recycles old sneakers and donates them to people in need around the

Also posted in Grand plans and aid targets | 12 Comments