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Category Archives: Big ideas

Stop me before I paradox again

Robin Hanson offers these thoughts on big-picture thinking (HT Dennis Whittle):

I’ve …noticed that among smart folks, the most successful keep their smarts on a short leash. They use their smarts to make the sale, win the case, pass the test, get published, etc., but they don’t use much smarts to consider whether they really want to make the sale, win the case, etc. …

In contrast, on average smart folks gain far less success

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David, Ban, Bill, and Alice

The always wonderful David Rieff takes on the MDG summit:

With the fatuousness that has marked his administration from the outset, the U.N. secretary general, Ban Ki Moon, has now issued a document called “Keeping the Promise,” timed to coincide with the 2010 meeting of the U.N. General Assembly and the summit on the organization’s so-called Millennium Development Goals that is taking place simultaneously.

And yet, in true Alice in Wonderland style, the

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Knowledgeable, powerful expert in charge of development strategy admits he is fictional

Just a day after completing the country’s Comprehensive Development Strategy, the expert in charge of Development admitted that he does not actually exist. The expert had done a superb job prioritizing the needs of the poor across 9 major sectors and hundreds of development interventions, not to mention mainstreaming gender and the environment. He had calculated the country’s financing requirements to attain the Millennium Development Goals, as well as the country’s needs for neutral, humanitarian…

Also posted in Satire and parodies | Tagged | 12 Comments

Be careful what you export

Our distant ancestors had a biological constitution awfully similar to our own, and, like us, only 24 hours in a day. Arguably the main reason we have so much better lives than them is that we have better ways of doing things (broadly conceived). So it makes a great deal of sense that much of the work in development planning and foreign aid consists in exporting ways of doing things. Technology and scientific know-how are…

Also posted in Grand plans and aid targets, Trade | 13 Comments

A Lecturer answers The Big Question

Two of my favorites, Chris Blattman and Megan McArdle , recently had a great dialogue on “is aid depressing?” I don’t have anything to add–read them!

However,  their dialogue does remind me of  The Big Question that I and many others get whenever we give lectures on economic development. Inevitably, after every single lecture I have ever given, the first question is … What Can I Do to End World Poverty?

How to respond? On one hand, I…

Also posted in Poverty | Tagged , | 11 Comments

What aid critics could learn from movie critics

The Wall Street Journal yesterday had an article on “2010: worst movie year ever?”. Movie critics have a way with words that leaves us aid critics in the dust.

Hollywood is fighting a war on numerous fronts, and losing all of them.

And movie critics are even worse at something aid critics are often accused of: much more focus on the negative than on constructive positive suggestions — “just stop.”

Stop making movies like “Grown

Also posted in In the news | Tagged , | 16 Comments

The answer is 42! Why Development is not about solutions, it’s about problem-solving systems

UPDATE, Wednesday, July 14: I’m glad we had a good reflective discussion in the blogosphere on these ideas, not the usual polemics. Thanks to all of the bloggers I’ve noticed who have now commented on this post: Aid Thoughts, Nancy Birdsall at Center for Global Development, Innovations for Poverty Action, Metamorphoses, PSD Blog at the World Bank, and Dennis Whittle at Global Giving (please let me know if I left anyone out).…

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Thank you, World Cup fans, I now understand institutions for development

UPDATE July 8, 2010 12:10pm: link to a great new article on the spontaneous evolution of rules in the history of football (see end of post)

I learned a lot from the furious debate that followed the post about rules vs. norms, regarding whether Uruguay cheated Ghana.

My original notion was that intentionally breaking the rules to prevent a loss was cheating, and that it was too bad norms prevalent in Football World did not…

Also posted in Economics principles | Tagged , , | 23 Comments

The Androids are coming, is aid ready?

This post is the second in a series by Dennis Whittle. Dennis is the CEO of GlobalGiving, an international marketplace for philanthropy.

In my last post, I argued that the “operating system” used by the current international aid agencies is stuck using IBM punch cards while the rest of the world has moved on to cell phones, laptops, and iPhones.

In the old system, you had to type programs into a stack of hundreds…

Also posted in Technology | Tagged , | 8 Comments

Rules vs. Norms in Development, or more importantly, Did Uruguay cheat Ghana?

Today there is a great discussion of rules vs. norms because it applies to something people REALLY care about: World Cup football. Uruguayan player Luis Suarez illegally blocked a sure Ghana goal with his hands, a goal in the last seconds that would have won Ghana the game. He was ejected according to the rules and Ghana awarded a penalty kick, which they missed, and then Uruguay subsequently won.

Did Suarez cheat? An article on GhanaWeb says yes.  Others

Also posted in In the news | 46 Comments