Questions to ponder in development economics

I have been following the World Bank Development Impact blog for a while. Many posts are thought-provoking and touch the heart of development economic research. Here are a few questions worth contemplating.

1. What do we mean by “economic development”? The word has been used to mean too many things. Marc Bellemare’s brilliant piece in Foreign Affairs summarizes the issue in several sentences:

Many, if not all, of the aims pursued by development policymakers are laudable in and of themselves. The developing world would no doubt be better off with gender equality, and there may even be some poor people who would welcome the arrival of recycled soap, teddy bears, or clowns. But it is more than a stretch to categorize such efforts as part of development, which should focus on generating higher, more stable incomes. Indeed, many of those lofty development goals were attained by rich countries as a byproduct of such higher, more stable incomes — as individuals get wealthier, they demand better things from both the market and the state.

2. How do development agencies set their goals? Lant Pritchett argues that eliminating extreme poverty should not be the only goal of development organizations.

3. Does social de-segregation change students’ social interaction habits? Gautam Rao, a job market candidate at UC Berkeley, gave a recruitment talk in our department yesterday. His job market paper uses a policy change that requires elite private schools to mix poor students with rich ones and finds that interacting with poor kids make the rich kids more generous and less discriminative. Questions for future research include: How long do we need the interaction to be in order to induce such increase in generosity? Why are poor kids less generous after being mingled with rich classmates? How can we better measure the program’s impact on student academic performance?

4. Do the areas where many by economists conduct surveys and Randomized Control Trials reap the benefits of such research? Take a look at the current RCT, you will probably get a feeling that some places (such as Kenya and India’s Uttar Pranesh) are “overstudied”. Do they benefit from such research and foster better economic development?

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