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What if NCAA Basketball Tournament Teams were coached by Development Economists?

Tomorrow night is the next round of March Madness, the annual NCAA tournament that started off with 64 college basketball teams, now reduced to the “Sweet Sixteen” .

It is not widely known that some lower seeded teams in the tournament, who had to play much better teams, desperately sought advice from leading Development Economists.

A Columbia Professor said we already know the successful ingredients for a championship, just get lots of funding for the inputs to a victory. Each of his players was given a beautfiul new basketball but had no incentive to pass it or shoot it.

An Oxford Professor distributed “peacekeeping equipment” to his team, saying it was critical for his Good Team backed by the UN Security Council and the G-7 to win. The other team fled in panic, but was declared the winner by default by tournament officials.

An NYU Professor said a lower seed had never won the tournament and he saw no reason why it would be possible now. He and his team left for a vacation in Cancún.

Other Professors such as Duflo, Banerjee, and Karlan set up randomized trials for which plays work. Treatments included 3-point shots, driving layups, pick and roll, and passing to the open player, compared to a control group holding the ball still. The results were of considerable interest, but players got very confused trying to remember which study to cite and apply in each pressure-packed moment of the game. They did not make the Sweet Sixteen.

Hernando de Soto said the only thing that mattered was property rights. He called for secure titles to his team’s land. This team defended its own half-court successfully, but they were forced to recognize the other team’s rights also. There was not a lot of scoring.

Mohammed Yunus said it’s all about microcredit. He suggested empowering his team’s players with micro loans. This was a great success, as players all left the court to start small businesses selling beer and pretzels in the stands.

Finally,the team asking advice from George Mason Professor of Economics Peter Boettke made a Cinderella run into the Sweet Sixteen. What was his brilliant economics advice? Well, he chose not to give any, but he had actually played and coached basketball in high school and college.

Were the above characterizations inaccurate? Everybody can participate in the usual heavy betting on this tournament — fill out your own brackets below to determine who will advance to the semifinals and then the finals, and who the final winner will be.

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  1. JNLC wrote:

    Sachs repeatedly moves the (basketball) goals closer together until the two hoops are separated by no more than 3 feet. This results in the highest scoring game in NCAA history.

    Posted March 23, 2011 at 10:20 am | Permalink
  2. Sina Motamedi wrote:

    I hope this works…

    Sachs De Soto
    > Easterly De Soto Duflo De Soto Duflo Collier <
    Karlan Banerjee


    Posted March 23, 2011 at 10:38 am | Permalink
  3. Sina Motamedi wrote:

    nope. schucks.

    Posted March 23, 2011 at 10:38 am | Permalink
  4. William Easterly wrote:

    Sina, I am not getting what you are saying, could you clarify? Bill

    Posted March 23, 2011 at 11:40 am | Permalink
  5. Tim Ogden wrote:

    I think the really interesting thing here is that three experimentalists made the Elite Eight.

    That, in and of itself, is enough to project a trend for the next 50 years right?

    Posted March 23, 2011 at 12:29 pm | Permalink
  6. William Easterly wrote:

    Tim, tournament based only on general book authors, feel free to suggest others. Bill

    Posted March 23, 2011 at 2:12 pm | Permalink
  7. Seth Gitter wrote:

    Amartya Sen said his team has never had a shortage of points, they were just poorly distributed among the games.

    Joseph Stiglitz said his team would have won, but they had to get a second job to pay back the IMF instead of practicing.

    Dani Rodrick said his team was unable to defend against a triangle offense that simultaneously pursued democracy, national self-determination, and economic globalization

    Posted March 23, 2011 at 10:13 pm | Permalink
  8. Sina Motamedi wrote:

    Bill, I was trying to copy/fill the tournament tree with plain text!

    But alas, the HTML interpretted it incorrectly.

    Posted March 24, 2011 at 3:56 pm | Permalink
  9. William Easterly wrote:

    Sina, feel free to list your semifinalists, finalists, and winner. Bill

    Posted March 24, 2011 at 4:14 pm | Permalink
  10. Josh wrote:

    I am not sure if this is a fun way to actually discuss development ideas, or purely fun. I don’t understand why the tournament officials declared the forfeiting team the winner. Or why it is even a satire to give microloans to basketball players, and they open successful businesses. That is not a real commentary on basketball and development, it is just a disconnect between what is actually going on, and what the advice giver is trying to do.
    Unless this is the obvious point that I am missing. I don’t understand the further analogy of winning and losing in the bracket. My argument is to make a useful point out of this post. Use it to connect to people without PhDs or maybe basketball fans. Is that not the argument that mostly goes on in these blogs, how the rest of the world cannot understand our very practical and smart ideas about development and aid. The main point being that without a connection between the planner and people or country he/she is trying to develop, the plan will bust. The same goes for aid, because we must take it upon ourselves to establish a connection to educate those who average Americans who are giving aimless aid or doing unintentional harm, because they are unaware or unable to see the end results of thoughtless reactionary aid.

    Posted March 25, 2011 at 10:46 am | Permalink
  11. Matthew wrote:

    To me it seems as if the coaches who understand the game or whats necessary to win (seekers) had more success than those that tried to look good or accepted things at face value (planners). I think if develop economists took this approach to the game of development we would have more success stories in developing countries. I really like this concept for explaining how different approaches of development yield different results.

    Posted March 25, 2011 at 10:54 am | Permalink
  12. Brandon J. wrote:

    If only it was so easy, while the George Mason economist strategy worked in this scenario what about in real life? The George Mason scenario equivalent, from my interpretation of your post, to the IMF giving a country a loan and them telling that country, “Here, fix your problem.” While a few countries may figure it out on their own, a majority of the countries will not be able to achieve a successful outcome without advice from qualified economists and others who have experience with development. Even though professors Duflo, Banerjee, and Karla did not make it to the sweet sixteen, they put in the time to teach their teams the ins and outs of the game, which is vital if one wants to have long term success because in real life just sticking to one set plan, in the the George Mason professor’s case not giving any advice to his team, will not work for everybody.

    Posted March 25, 2011 at 1:14 pm | Permalink
  13. Robert Tulip wrote:

    Your pessimism is so sad. “An NYU Professor said a lower seed had never won the tournament and he saw no reason why it would be possible now. He and his team left for a vacation in Cancún.”

    Try, a Chinese leader said “To get rich is glorious” and won the tournament.

    Posted March 31, 2011 at 5:31 am | Permalink

4 Trackbacks

  1. By RadarLake » Randomized basketball trials on March 23, 2011 at 11:54 am

    […] a post at his blog, Aid Watch, he writes about what March Madness would look like if teams were coached by development economists. I get where he’s going with this but he made a bit of a mistake: Other Professors such as […]

  2. […] the rest here: What if NCAA Basketball Tournament Teams were coached by Development… AKPC_IDS += […]

  3. By Sense of humor in development? | Maoquai on March 25, 2011 at 11:53 am

    […] to remember to have a great sense of humor even in the most dire of topic. William Easterly asks, What if NCAA Basketball Tournaments Were Coached by Development Economists? This entry was posted in Uncategorized and tagged Development. Bookmark the permalink. ← […]

  4. By March Economic Madness! | Engines of Innovation on March 26, 2011 at 2:39 pm

    […] On a social entrepreneurial note check out this blog from Aid Watch . University professors from around the country offered advice on the best strategies for an NCAA team: What if NCAA Basketball Tournament Teams were coached by Development Economists? […]

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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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