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Aid Watch blog ends; New work on development begins

Today, after two years and four months, we end the experiment that was the Aid Watch blog.

We think the experiment was a success. We’ve had a great time blogging here. Thank you all for reading and writing back, and to our wonderful guest bloggers, for helping to make Aid Watch a source for way-outside-the-Beltway commentary on aid. Your response continues to exceed our expectations.

Some of you may be surprised. This was not a sudden decision; we have been talking it over with a few others for some time now.

The simple reason for ending the blog is that we want to free up our own time for writing longer and more substantive pieces, both academic and non-academic, on development.

The blog is a hungry mouth that always wants to be fed, and the longer projects we’d like to take on don’t fit in with those constraints.

Economists are professionally trained to be wary of diminishing returns to any one activity, and to be entrepreneurial about starting new activities. Although we’ll still write about aid, we plan to move away from aid criticism as our main focus, and put more emphasis on the high-stakes development debates going on now. We still believe that more aid will reach the poor the more people are watching aid, but, as we’ve always known, there’s a lot more to development than aid.

Fortunately for us all, there are many other good blogs on aid and development that have sprung up since we started Aid Watch, from smart establishment blogs like Development Impact at the World Bank, to lonely aid workers blogging from Malawi (check the sidebar for our recommendations).

The blog will stay at its current web address, and all the archives will remain available and searchable. Check for updates on our work at the DRI web site.

Signing off for now,

Bill and Laura

 

| Posted in Meta | 83 Comments

Coming out as a feminist

UPDATE 9 am, Saturday, May 7: Another round with Matt (see comment below), another unnecessary reassurance for Offended White Males: yes I completely agree that nobody is automatically guilty or evil based on their gender and race.

Jessica Mack from the great blog Gender Across Borders, interviewed me on feminism in development yesterday, find it here. I had never voiced before what I said in the interview. Some were pleasantly surprised, a few forgot to include the word “pleasantly.”

One commenter…

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| Posted in Aid policies and approaches, Human rights, Women and gender | 31 Comments

African Universities: Creating True Researchers or “Native Informers” to NGOs?

In a recent speech addressing the Makerere Institute of Social Research in Uganda, Mahmood Mamdani described the state of academic research and higher education in Africa as dominated by a “corrosive culture of consultancy.”

Today, intellectual life in universities has been reduced to bare-bones classroom activity. Extra-curricular seminars and workshops have migrated to hotels. Workshop attendance goes with transport allowances and per diem. All this is part of a larger process, the NGO-ization of

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| Posted in Academic research | Tagged , , | 24 Comments

The Great Manhattan Africa Luxury Coffee Tour

Welcome to Manhattan, tourists! Today’s tour will accomplish three things: (1) you will find great coffee places, (2) you will find great coffees from Africa, and (3) you will end poverty in Africa. OK, both coffee people and aid people tend to exaggerate, so don’t take (3) literally, unless you are from the Earth Institute.

What better place to begin Manhattan coffee mania than at Stumptown Coffee Shop? This place takes African coffee so seriously,…

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| Posted in Field notes, Maps, Trade | Tagged , | 24 Comments

Development before security…is a killer

In an article that just might have been overshadowed by bigger news out of the “AfPak” region Sunday night, the New York Times reported on USAID’s project to build the Gardez-Khost Highway in Afghanistan. This 64-mile stretch of road meant to connect the two mountainous southeastern provinces of Paktia and Khost is shoddily constructed and incomplete after 3 years.

Not least among the problems was that construction began before the region was cleared

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| Posted in Aid policies and approaches, In the news, Military aid | 21 Comments

Controlled experiments and uncontrollable humans

Bill reviewed two much-awaited books for the Wall Street Journal last weekend: Poor Economics by Abhijit Banerjee and Esther Duflo, and More Than Good Intentions by Dean Karlan and Jacob Appel.

The Good:

The books’ signal achievement is in addressing two disgraceful problems that beset humanitarian aid. The first is that the effectiveness of aid is often not evaluated at all; the second is that even when aid is evaluated, the methods are

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| Posted in Academic research, Books and book reviews | 4 Comments

Money buys happiness after all

Does happiness rise with income? Are people in poor countries less happy than people in rich countries?

Much of what we thought we knew on this topic comes from a famous 1974 study by economic historian Richard Easterlin. Easterlin found that within countries, rich people tended to be happier than the poor. But contrary to expectation, rich countries as a whole were not happier than poor countries. And even stranger, in the US, when per…

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| Posted in Academic research, Books and book reviews | 19 Comments

More Tales of Two Tails

The following post is by Dennis Whittle, co-founder of GlobalGiving. Dennis blogs at Pulling for the Underdog.

An eloquent 3 year-old would have been better asking “What the dickens are you talking about?  Who is defining success?  Who says failure is bad, anyway?” – Joe

Earlier I blogged about aid cheerleaders and critics. Each camp argues about the mean outcome of aid rather than the distribution of impact among projects. Both camps agree that some…

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| Posted in Aid debates, Metrics and evaluation | Tagged , , , , , , | 8 Comments

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…

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| Posted in Big ideas | Tagged , | 15 Comments

Cash transfers: What are they good for?

There is convincing evidence from a number of countries that cash transfers can reduce inequality and the depth or severity of poverty. For example, in Brazil a combination of cash transfer programmes accounted for 28 percent of the total fall in the Gini index (a summary measure of inequality) between 1995 and 2004….

Well-designed and implemented cash transfers help to strengthen household productivity and capacity for income generation. Small but reliable flows of transfer income

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| Posted in Academic research | 15 Comments

How the South was Lost

Vivek Nemana is an economics graduate student in New York University and a student worker at DRI.

UPDATE: Art Carden makes an important emphasis regarding this post and contibutes an ungated link to his paper. See comments/bottom of post.

Last week marked 150 years since the beginning of the Civil War. Victory for the North meant more than the preservation of the Union. It meant that slavery could no longer continue as a viable…

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| Posted in Academic research, History, Human rights | Tagged , , , , , , | 19 Comments