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Sunday, May 30, 2010

Then they came for me...

DC has a lot of great (and free) museums but none are as moving as the Holocaust Museum. I found myself there again today. It was my 4th time all in all. And every time, I seem to be struck by something I have not noticed before. Today it was this quote from Martin Niemoller:
First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out..
Because I was not a Socialist.

Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out..
Because I was not a Trade Unionist.

Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out..
Because I was not a Jew.

Then they came for me..
and there was no one left to speak for me.

Saturday, May 29, 2010

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

What Accomodation Each Country is Requesting for the World Cup

For Brazil: "hot hot coffee, hot hot coffee and hot hot coffee", a lot of cookies and no chocolate. They are bringing Portuguese chefs but will not be "taking over the kitchen"

The Italian team will be bringing their own pasta.

The Mexicans, "their own priest to conduct church services in a church on the premises."

For New Zealand: 8 houses beside a golf course. They would like their players to take golf courses.

The Ghanaian team had only one request - to watch their favorite programs on the African channel.

But the best comes from Diego Maradona, most known for the "hand of God." He has requested for the Argentine team's food to include:
Ten hot dishes a day as well as 14 different salads for every meal;
Three different pasta sauces with each meal and at least three puddings;
A braai once in three days; and
Ice cream to be available all day.
"Other requests included painting the rooms white and buying six PlayStations for players to use during their free time." And this luxury toilet,

You don't believe me. Check out this South African Times article.

Monday, May 24, 2010

A Profile of Esther Duflo: The Credibility Revolution in Development

The New Yorker profiles Esther Duflo, recent winner of the Bates Clark medal for her work on development economics. As I have mentioned in this blog earlier, Duflo is a driving force in what Joshua Angrist calls the "credibility revolution in empirical economics" which has led to a "consequent increase in policy relevance and scientific impact." She is founder of the well known research think tank, the Jameel Poverty Action Lab.

Unfortunately, the article is gated but I provide the parts I loved here:
Within economics, Duflo and colleagues are sometimes referred to as randomistas. They have borrowed from medicine, what Duflo calls a "very robust and very simple tool": they subject social policy ideas to randomized control trials as one would use in testing a drug. This approach filters statistical noise; it connects cause and effect. The policy question might be: Does microfinance work? Or: Can you incentivize teachers to turn up in class? Or: when trying to protect people from contracting malaria, is it more effective to give them protective bed nets or sell then bed nets at a low price?

Not everything can be subjected to trials. But when it can be done well, it should be. On opposition for control trials for development:
When we first started, there was a huge amount of resistance and hostility in the development community. We were reducing the complications of poverty to hard numbers! 'You shouldn't be experimenting on people!' OK, so you have no idea whether [a policy] works -- that's not experimental?

Policy, as much as possible, should be backed up by empirical evidence. On incremental change.
Duflo, borrowing an old phrase of the French left, argues that "there is not going to be le grand soir -- one day the big revolution, and the whole world is suddenly not corrupt. But maybe you create a small little virtuous group here and something else there. All these things are incremental." According to Duflo, the virtue of randomization is that it not only identifies the best remedies; it does so with a clarity that should be attractive to policymakers, who surely want to be associated with ideas that work.

Finally, she makes the profession sound like poetry (for some part of economics is art and heart as well.)
"It can't only be data," Duflo said. "Even to understand what data means, and what data I need, I need to form an intuition about things. And the process is as ad hoc and impressionistic as anybody's."
It can't only be data, but there must be data. "There is a lot of noise in the world. And there is a lot of idiosyncracy. But there is also regularity and phenomena. And what the data is going to be able to do -- if there is enough of it -- is to uncover, in the mess and noise of the world, some lines of music that actually have harmony. It's there, somewhere."

Does this Path Have a Heart?

From blogger extraordinaire, Chris Blattman, I have come across this quote from Carlos Castaneda:
Any path is only a path. There is no affront to yourself or others in dropping a path if that is what your heart tells you to do. But your decision to keep on a path or to leave it must be free of fear and ambition... Try it as many times as you think necessary. Then ask yourself and yourself alone this one question. Does this path have a heart? If it does, then it is a good path. If it doesn’t, then it is of no use. 

Friday, May 21, 2010

Rationalizing Political Dynasties

Suresh Naidu, foreign observer to the recent Philippine elections, shares this encounter with a politician from Davao:
I asked the new mayor of Davao, who is the daughter of the old mayor (and new vice-mayor) what she thought about political dynasties, given that the Philippine constitution has a clause authorizing Congress to legislate against them.

She said: (a) well, anyone can run in the election and (b) you have George Bush 1 and 2, no? Sigh
Like colonial father and son, eh?

I am surprised that a casual search using GoogleScholar shows a very thin existence of academic papers written about the topic. There are almost no published empirical papers even. Sounds to me like a good area to explore.

What books are out there on this topic? I have time to waste this summer.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Leaders not Thinkers

There’s a reason elite schools speak of training leaders, not thinkers—holders of power, not its critics.
Something random from Jordan Peacock. I searched around and it seems like the line is taken from this article on the disadvantages of an elite education. It is surprisingly a good read. A good note to self.

No reason, of course, for leaders and thinkers to be mutually exclusive. But it does make me wonder -- when Ateneo, or other top schools, speak of leadership, what does it mean?

Sometimes I feel that critical thinking is vastly under-supplied even amongst leaders; we are taught to think in the same way.

HT to Marginal Revolution

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Where Nobody Knows Where I Went to School

From Time Magazine's interview with Miguel Syjuco, author of Ilustrado. I think I would have answered the questions in exactly the same way.

On what drove him to leave the Philippines:
But I also wanted to see if I could make it on my own. I wanted to live in a place where nobody knew my last name and didn't ask where I went to school. I wanted to get by on my own merit.
On his diaspora:
I'm a Filipino. I'm nothing else but a Filipino. I'd like to be a writer, not just defined by race. It was Jessica Hagedorn who once told me, "Don't just try to be a Filipino writer. Try to be a writer."
It's funny that my boss had the exact same advice for me a few days ago about grad school: "Don't try to be a Filipino economist. Be an economist."

Is the book any good? (Hat tip to Leland Dela Cruz)

Saturday, May 8, 2010

What Every Girl Should Know: Nothing

A New York Times columnist writes about 50 years ago, and the knowledge about birth control,
What women did not have was the ability to figure out what actually worked. The powers-that-be believed that the only appropriate form of birth control was celibacy. “Can they not use self control?” demanded Anthony Comstock, the powerful crusader for the Sexual Purity campaign. “Or must they sink to the level of the beasts?”

Comstock managed to get New York authorities to grant him the powers to both arrest and censor, and he bragged that he sent 4,000 people to jail for helping women understand, and use, birth control. He seemed to take particular pleasure in the fact that 15 of them had committed suicide.

One of his targets was Margaret Sanger, a nurse who wrote a sex education column, “What Every Girl Should Know,” for a left-wing New York newspaper, The Call. When Comstock banned her column on venereal disease, the paper ran an empty space with the title: “What Every Girl Should Know: Nothing, by Order of the U.S. Post Office.”
This was 50 years ago and thankfully, women know better. But do they really? Do filipina women know?

I feel like the worst legacy of the religious movement has been the repression of information. Especially in the RP.

Thursday, May 6, 2010

Contract Teachers

Great stuff from Karthik Muralidharan, professor at the University of San Diego, who presented today a paper on contract teachers at CGD.
We present experimental evidence from a program that provided an extra contract teacher to 100 randomly-chosen government-run rural primary schools in the Indian state of Andhra Pradesh. At the end of two years, students in schools with an extra contract teacher performed significantly better than those in comparison schools by 0.15 and 0.13 standard deviations, in math and language tests respectively. Contract teachers were significantly less likely to be absent from school than civil-service teachers (16% vs. 27%).
The slide I loved most was this. Regular teachers in India are paid 5 times as more than contract teachers.

But the experiment tells us that contract teachers, who are less educated, less trained, and less paid are just as effective, if not more, than regular teachers. Can you now see the policy relevance?

In a perfect world, we'd like to have well-trained PhDs educate our children even at the elementary level. Sure, why not right? But imagine if you are the Secretary of Education, given a fixed, tiny budget. Which hiring would you give the most bang for the buck? It might be controversial to hire just contract teachers, but it might just be the most effective policy.

I'd like to see an analogous experiment applied to health. While doctors who don't want to practice in rural health clinics are often blamed for poor outcomes in these rural localities (the low doctor-to-patient ratio, blahblahblah), it might just be that the right policy for these areas is to train and hire local community health workers who are less educated and skilled. Sure, in a perfect world, we'd like to have top class physicians service these areas. But it's most likely that the health needs of these areas are so basic that paying so much more to lure a doctor from Manila, trained in surgery even, is not worth the cost. We can moralize all we want about how Manila doctors are greedy because they do not want to serve in, say, Mindanao but the right policy might be to focus resources on getting community health workers. Just a thought.

P.S. This guy Karthik by the way almost lured me away from Michigan to go to San Diego for grad school. Brilliant guy. I've never heard anyone talk so fast. Quick mind.

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

The Cult of the Presidency

Jeff Smith, professor at the University of Michigan, shares this excerpt from the book The Cult of the Presidency. I re-share only because I find this relevant to the Philippine situation. Our constitution was patterned directly after the United States'. It's nice to know how the US intended it to be, and how the executive office has changed for better or worse. A food for thought for constitutional reform.
The chief executive of the United States is no longer a mere constitutional officer charged with faithful execution of the laws. He is a soul nourisher, a hope giver, a living American talisman against hurricanes, terrorism, economic downturns, and spiritual malaise. He—or she—is the one who answers the phone at 3 a.m. to keep our children safe from harm. The modern president is America’s shrink, a social worker, our very own national talk show host. He’s also the Supreme Warlord of the Earth...
It wasn’t supposed to be this way. The modern vision of the presidency couldn’t be further from the Framers’ view of the chief executive’s role. In an age long before distrust of power was condemned as cynicism, the Founding Fathers designed a presidency of modest authority and limited responsibilities. The Constitution’s architects never conceived of the president as the man in charge of national destiny. They worked amid the living memory of monarchy, and for them the very notion of “national leadership” raised the possibility of authoritarian rule by a demagogue ready to create an atmosphere of crisis in order to enhance his power.
This was shared of course amidst Barack Obama's wonderful commencement address at the University during the weekend. I adore that speech by the way. But this made me think again.

Is the presidency too powerful? Ought it be that powerful?

Monday, May 3, 2010

A Fearless Forecast on China

 'Tis somewhat troubling:
China is “on a treadmill to hell” because it’s hooked on property development for driving growth, Chanos said in an interview last month. As much as 60 percent of the country’s gross domestic product relies on construction, he said. Rogoff said in February a debt-fueled bubble in China may trigger a regional recession within a decade.

Sunday, May 2, 2010

Taxing Emails?

I say it's a horrible proposal. Greg Mankiw floats the idea (suggested by one of his readers) in his blog:
I think an excellent Pigouvian tax would be a tax on emails. Many emails involve a negative externality (I don't really want to receive them) and almost all the ones I really want to get are worth much more than a penny or so to the sender. So a penny tax (say) on email would probably generate large amounts of revenue, mitigate an important negative externality, and have minimal inefficient disincentives. Since email servers are necessarily centralized and networked and all email senders are ipso facto connected to an ISP who is charging them for access the transactions costs and evasion problems seem low.
I'm calling him out on this one. Negative externalities refer to social costs that are not already covered by private costs. Pigouvian taxes are a way to correct for these externalities. But in this case, email sent from one party to another does not cost society at large. The costs are entirely shouldered by the sender who takes the time to write and the receiver who takes the time to read. Why tax then?

Ever heard of spam blocking and filters?

What this Blog is About

In lieu of my 50th post, I use Wordle to show what this blog is actually all about. And the most frequent words I use are:

Not at all surprised. But perhaps I should try subtlety more going forward.