This paper provides the first experimental evidence on the effect of increased competition on the prices and quality of goods. We rely on an intervention that randomized the entry of 61 retail firms (grocery stores) into 72 local markets in the context of a conditional cash transfer program that serves the poor in the Dominican Republic. Six months after the intervention, product prices in the treated districts had decreased by about 6%, while product quality and service quality had not changed. Using a theoretical model, we arrive at the conclusion that the poor segments of the population in these markets care the most about prices and much less about quality. Our results are also informative to the design of social policies. They suggest that policymakers should pay attention to supply conditions even when the policies in question will only affect the demand side of the market.
Twitter is a great social medium for academics.
Really: My presence on Twitter over these past three years has given me a few research ideas, it has allowed me to meet a number of like-minded academics I would otherwise not have met, and it has given my research more attention from other researchers and policy makers than it otherwise would have received.
In short, Twitter is an excellent means of keeping one’s thumb on the pulse of one’s interests–in my case, agriculture, development, and food policy.
The foregoing is true most of the time. Sometimes, Twitter is
where hope goes to die simply maddening. I will simply leave this exchange — which I had last Thursday on Twitter — here for posterity, without any further comment. Just know that the first tweet was responding to someone who was saying that she was now consuming an all- (or maybe it was mostly) organic diet–and that my last tweet in this exchange went unanswered.
- Foucault’s Pendulum, by Umberto Eco. This is my favorite novel of all time, so for Christmas, I decided to get a first-edition copy of it in Italian (the last time I had read it in Italian was back when I lived in Rome in 2001). It is probably the most erudite novel I have had a chance to read, and it serves as my cultural litmus test: every time I read it, I realized I have learned something new since the last time I read it.
- Meditation and Its Practice, by Swami Rama. I had been meditating for a few years when a friend recommended that I get this short book and use the method it teaches to meditate. Since I read it earlier this year, my meditation has significantly improved, as has my life as a consequence of being a better meditator.
- Fire and Ashes: Success and Failure in Politics, by Michael Ignatieff. Ignatieff was a professor at the Harvard Kennedy School when he was asked to go into Canadian politics and quickly became Leader of Opposition. In this book, he discusses the mistakes he made in the process, and what he has learned from those mistakes. This book is the antidote to all those academics who think they would be so much better than politicians at public policy making.
- Satan Franc-Maçon, by Eugen Weber. Weber is best known for his brilliant Peasants into Frenchmen, a classic of state building and modernization theory, and which every student of development should read and re-read. In this little book (sadly not available in English), Weber curates and presents documents related to the Taxil hoax, which was intended to discredit Freemasons and mock the Catholic Church. To this day, some people still believe that Freemasonry is a Luciferian cult because of Taxil, and it is likely that the internment of Masons in Nazi death camps happened in no small part because of Taxil.
- An excellent article on quinoa in Harper’s (subscription required, unfortunately).
- Arun Agrawal, the editor of World Development, is now on Twitter.
- James McWilliams on the tyranny of TED Talks: “The irony of TED is that its promotion of original thought is undercut by the format’s canned requirement that the message inspire without challenging.”
- Call for Papers for the Joint EAAE/AAEA Seminar: “Consumer Behavior in a Changing World: Food, Culture and Society.“
- Finally, a MOOC I’d want to take: Science and Cooking: From Haute Cuisine to the Science of Soft Matter. And it’s free (except for the opportunity cost of time, of course.)
A few weeks ago, I had the pleasure of chatting with Jeremy Cherfas about my work on food prices and social unrest for Eat This, his biweekly podcast. You can listen to the podcast here.
Jeremy also interviewed my colleague Cullen Hendrix, from the University of Denver’s Josef Korbel School of International Studies, about his own work on food security.