Category: Development

Development Bloat

I can’t even have a road built without including a nutrition component as part of the project. A nutrition component–as part of a road construction project!

That’s how a former student who works for one of the biggest development organizations in the world expressed his frustrations with development and aid work these days when I had dinner with him in Washington, DC last summer. In my student’s view, “development” had become too many things.

I was initially skeptical of his claim. After all, one of the first things I teach the students in my development seminar is that there are no silver bullets; the causes of underdevelopment are many, and tackling just one problem is unlikely to lift an entire country out of poverty.

But the more I think about it, the more I remember often having had a “That is development?” reaction when reading articles about development in academic journals, specialized magazines, and newspapers. For example, here is a list of things that are considered by many to be part of the process of development: Continue reading

New Working Paper: Explaining the Persistence of Female Genital Cutting in The Gambia

Why does female genital cutting (FGC) persist in certain places while has declined elsewhere? Using survey data from the Gambia, we study an important aspect of the persistence of FGC, namely the relationship between (i) whether a woman has undergone FGC and (ii) her support for the practice. Our data exhibit sufficient intrahousehold variation in both FGC status and in support for the practice to allow controlling for unobserved heterogeneity between households. First, our results suggest that a woman who has undergone FGC 40 percentage points more likely to be in favor of the practice, from a baseline likelihood of 40%. Second, our findings indicate that 85% of the relationship between whether a woman has undergone FGC and her support for the practice can be attributed to individual- or household-level factors, but that only 15% of that relationship can be explained by factors at the village level or beyond. This suggests that village-wide pledges against FGC, though they have worked well in neighboring Senegal, are unlikely to be effective in the Gambia. Rather, policies aimed at eliminating FGC in this context should instead target individuals and households if they are to be effective.

That’s the abstract of my most recent working paper (see here for the RepEc version, and here for the SSRN version), “All in the Family: Explaining the Persistence of Female Genital Cutting in The Gambia,” which my former Masters student Tara Steinmetz (who was a Peace Corps volunteer in The Gambia) and I have been working on for quite some time. A previous version had been circulated for the Midwest International Economic Development Conference, but this one is considerably improved. As with any working paper, the caveat that these results have not yet been through the peer-review process applies. Continue reading

The Developmental Paradox

I have been working on a paper on the political economy of agricultural protection in the United States with my colleague Nick Carnes. For his dissertation (and forthcoming book White-Collar Government, which you should go pre-order now if you haven’t already done so), Nick has assembled a nice data set on the legislators of the 106th to the 110th US Congresses (i.e., for the period 1999 to 2009) which, with a little bit of research assistance, allows us to look at the roll-call votes of US legislators on the 2002 and 2008 farm bills, among other outcomes.

I will dedicate a post to that paper when we have a manuscript that is presentable, but I wanted to talk about the “developmental paradox,” since this is something that has been coming up frequently in my research and teaching, and because most readers of this blog are probably unaware of the paradox. Continue reading

Is Industrial Policy the Key to Haiti’s Economic Development?

At the industrial park, female workers wearing chartreuse aprons and headscarves stream out of the blue factory buildings on their lunch break. Frandline Joseph sits outside. She sews for Sae-A and says she doesn’t like the work: “I don’t have time to sit.”

But she also says that she had no job before her current one, and life has improved since finding employment. “Now I work for 200 gourdes,” [Note: $5 daily -- MFB.] she says, and can pay her daughter’s school fees in a country with a virtually non-existent public education system. “Before the park, I worked for nothing.”

Her story is similar to other published accounts, and that of Rosedaline Jean, a 22-year-old who’s worked for Sae-A for five months. “Before, I lived only by the grace of God,” says Jean. “Although I don’t have a husband or children, my life wasn’t easy because I wasn’t working. When I got here, a lot changed in my life.

“This isn’t the ideal job,” she continues, “but it’s better than nothing. I don’t intend to make a career in this job. I plan to start a business, and I’m already saving for it. But it’s difficult, because my salary is practically nothing.”

From an article by Tate Watkins in The Atlantic. Continue reading

The Miracle of Microfinance?

This paper reports on the first randomized evaluation of the impact of introducing the standard microcredit group-based lending product in a new market. In 2005, half of 104 slums in Hyderabad, India were randomly selected for opening of a branch of a particular microfinance institution (Spandana) while the remainder were not, although other MFIs were free to enter those slums. Fifteen to 18 months after Spandana began lending in treated areas, households were 8.8 percentage points more likely to have a microcredit loan. They were no more likely to start any new business, although they were more likely to start several at once, and they invested more in their existing businesses. There was no effect on average monthly expenditure per capita. Expenditure on durable goods increased in treated areas, while expenditures on “temptation goods” declined. Three to four years after the initial expansion (after many of the control slums had started getting credit from Spandana and other MFIs), the probability of borrowing from an MFI in treatment and comparison slums was the same, but on average households in treatment slums had been borrowing for longer and in larger amounts. Consumption was still no different in treatment areas, and the average business was still no more profitable, although we find an increase in profits at the top end. We found no changes in any of the development outcomes that are often believed to be affected by microfinance, including health, education, and women’s empowerment. The results of this study are largely consistent with those of four other evaluations of similar programs in different contexts.

A new working paper (older, ungated copy here) by Duflo et al. The emphasis is mine.

This is consistent with another careful study (link opens a .pdf file) by Crépon et al. of the impact of microfinance in Morocco, where there authors also find that microfinance has no discernible impact on the usual development indicators (i.e., consumption, health, education, etc.)

To be sure, microfinance does appear to have some impacts, as the abstract above indicates — just not the miraculous impacts that are often touted by microfinance advocates.