Future Development Reads: 6 surprising findings in development economics

Over the past few weeks, several unexpected findings have been published challenging views on different areas of economic development. Here’s a selection of my favorites.

Perhaps the most provocative paper of the past two weeks has been on whether it is more important for an organization to have good individual statistics or to be a good team player in development, authored by Lant Pritchett, senior fellow at the Center for Global Development. The paper simultaneously dismisses sectoral advocacy (“we must spend more on [fill in the blank]”) and the donor community’s quest for a direct link between inputs and outputs. The discussion around the paper has been equally interesting, with Justin Sandefur, also a senior fellow at the Center for Global Development, summarizing it as, “Invest in think tanks, not girls’ education.

Three other papers have recently gained attention for their use of rigorous analysis to arrive at seemingly surprising (but ultimately reasonable) results:

  • From the Department of Economics at MIT, Alonso Bucarey’s job market paper shows that free college tuition crowded out chances for poor students to enroll in selective programs for which they would otherwise have qualified.
  • World Bank economists Harun Onder, Apurva Sanghi, and others find, using night light data, that the net economic effect of Somali and South-Sudanese refugees in Kakuma, Kenya was largely positive.
  • Researchers Quy-Toan Do, Mohamed Jelil, Jacob Shapiro, and others used satellite images of gas flaring to determine that the Islamic State was making considerably less money from oil sales than previously believed.

Finally, two papers shed new light on the way in which transparent information influences citizens’ behavior: