17 December 2009

Articles and Books of the Decade from IDS Staff

I am a big one for lists.

I asked my colleagues for their top reads of the decade, and this is what they sent me. You will see contributions from many disciplines, nationalities and paradigms. This is one of the things that makes IDS so wonderful (admittedly I am biased).

I hope you find this an enjoyable and useful read--I discovered several books and papers through this process and I hope you will too. To find out more about the authors click here.

Jeremy Allouche

James Mahoney. 2001. The Legacies of Liberalism: Path Dependence and Political Regimes in Central America. Johns Hopkins University Press.

I enjoyed this book since it brought back the long term historical perspective needed in social science approaches and did so in a solid methodological 'American' way, bringing together long term processes and 'rational' decision making, bringing the path dependency approach and methodology to political science and international relations. The book illustrates how nineteenth-century economic liberalism represented an important historical critical juncture for the region. In particular it analyses the legacies of the introduction of liberalism in the 19th century on the national development strategies and political economy of Central America. As we look forward in development in 2010 we need to remember to learn from the past.

Niagalé Bagayoko

Jeremy Weinstein. 2006. Inside Rebellion: the Politics of Insurgent Violence. Cambridge University Press.

This books deals with why rebellions abuse civilians in some contexts and not in others. Its purpose is to shift the focus of a body of research from the causes of civil war to the question of the determinants of violence within civil wars. In conceptualizing strategy as a problem of institutional choice, Weinstein explains the distinct set of organizational challenges confronted by rebel leaders and then turns to the factors that shape how individual respond in the process of organizing violence. The main strength and originality of the book is the methodology: bringing the tools of ethnographic research to bear on internal dynamics of rebel organizations. The author chose to draw heavily on personal perspectives on rebellion. The book reflects Weinstein’s interpretation of the stories told by individuals who participated in and experienced rebellion. Finally, the book offers a starting point for thinking about how instruments of influence mobilized by policy-makers may vary in their effectiveness across rebel organizations.

Marc Berenson

Jason Brownlee. 2007. Authoritarianism in an Age of Democratization, New York: Cambridge University Press.

Brownlee begins with a very timely and apt puzzle for the 2000s: why is authoritarianism so darn persistent in some areas of the globe? Through extensive and unique field work in four fascinating and important cases—Egypt, Iran, Malaysia and the Philippines, Brownlee discovers that the role that ruling parties play in authoritarian states and in particular the degree of strength and solidarity that these parties maintain is a deciding factor in whether and how such parties rule on—even by holding elections. This book argues that the answer to the conundrum of authoritarianism—and all the ramifications of authoritarianism for the welfare of multitudes of people around the globe—lies in the origins, histories and paths of political institutions. There is still a good bit of the world that proves to be highly resistant to the democratization bandwagon.

Robert Chambers

Gomathy S. Parasuraman, Kumaran Raj and Bina Fernandez. 2003. Listening to People Living in Poverty, Books for Change, 139 Richmond Road, Bangalore 5321747, 350 pages, paperback.

This is a shocking reality check based on over 250 life stories of people living in poverty in Bangladesh, India, Nepal, Pakistan and Vietnam, as told to ActionAid researchers. 29 of these life stories are recounted in the book. They surprise and inspire. They ignite outrage at the gross injustices and exploitations of our world, and admiration for those who live in poverty and struggle against appalling odds for a better life. They make you angry. They drive you. They energise. And beyond that, what makes this such an outstanding book, and top of my list, is that these are not just case studies. The authors have used them as an empirical basis for analysis that is at once passionate, scholarly, insightful and original, shedding light on aspects of poverty, like the labouring body, which are central to the experiences of many poor people but easily and often overlooked by professionals.

Lawrence Haddad

Diana Coyle. 2007. The Soulful Science. What Economists Really do and Why it Matters. Princeton University Press.

Economics is in the doghouse right now. This book reminds me of why I like economics. It shows how economics has adapted itself to incorporate irrational human behaviour, the interconnectedness of human behaviour and how it has moved beyond a strict adherence to the neoclassical model, incorporating complexity and uncertainty as friends, not enemies. One day all undergraduate economics textbooks will be like this.

Susie Jolly

Ipek Ilkkaracan and Gülsah Seral. 2000. “Sexual Pleasure as a Woman’s Human Right: Experiences from a Grassroots Training Program in Turkey.” pp. 187-196 in Pinar Ilkkaracan, ed., Women and Sexuality in Muslim Societies. Istanbul: Women for Women’s Human Rights.

Women for Women’s Human Rights, a Turkish NGO, has run human rights trainings for over 5000 women in rural, often conservative Muslim areas of Turkey. These trainings include a session on exploring sexual desires, which introduces the concept of ‘sexual pleasure as a woman’s human rights’. This session is overwhelmingly the most popular with trainees! This short snappy book chapter tells the story of these trainings – an encouraging account that shows us that even in contexts of violence and constraint, openings can be created for pleasure, enjoyment and happiness in life. An influential book in women’s health circles and beyond.

Patrica Justino

Roger Petersen. 2001. Resistance and Rebellion: Lessons from Eastern Europe. Cambridge University Press

The main question is very simple: How and why do ordinary people rebel against powerful and brutal regimes? And so is the main conclusion: the choices and behaviour of ordinary people matter significantly in making change happen. However this is a complex scientific analysis on the significance of collective action, and one of the very best illustrations on how to undertake true theoretical and empirical multidisciplinary analysis.

Elizabeth Maddison

Paul Collier. 2008. The Bottom Billion, Oxford University Press

For me, coming new to the development landscape (I am the Director of Strategic Operations at IDS), this book is a great example of writing for the general reader – making learning and research accessible; it is an effective polemic – a snappy title capturing something profoundly important, entering public discourse and influencing public policy. It is properly provocative, evidence-rich, critical, challenging – and finally (just) optimistic.

Edoardo Masset

Karla Hoff and Priyanka Pandey . 2006. Discrimination, Social Identity, and Durable Inequalities. The American Economic Review, Vol. 96, No. 2 (May, 2006), pp. 206-211

There are at least three reasons why I like this article. First, it is trying to answer one of the most difficult questions in social sciences: why there is so much inequality and discrimination in the world? Second, because is a bit like the collider at CERN. The collider tries to explain the universe by looking at the infinitively small. Similarly this paper wants to explain caste discrimination by exploring a few young minds in a small Indian village rather than by grand theorising. Finally, I think it is a great example of the value of combining social sciences approaches: economics and psychology in this case. In fact I believe that economics may be doomed to failure if it doesn’t take this route more boldly.

Rachel Sabates Wheeler

Philippe Legrain. 2006. Immigrants: Your County Needs Them. Little, Brown.

This is a great book - myth busting, provocative, engages with contemporary agendas, political, built on evidence and written in a very accessible way. Fresh thinking about the X-word.

Hubert Schmitz

Dani Rodrik. 2007. Industrial Policy for the twenty-first century. Published in One Economics – Many Recipes: Globalization, Institutions and Economic Growth, Princeton 2007

Rodrik argues that getting the institutional setting right, with an adequate balance between autonomy and embeddedness on the part of government officials, is far more important than worrying about the precise policy instruments to be deployed. This proposition is not new for political scientists, but seeing it presented so clearly by an influential economist is new. The entire book is as good as this Chapter.

John Thompson

Kates, R.W. Clark, W.C., Corell, R., Hall, J.M., Jaeger, C., Lowe, I., McCarthy, J.J., Schellnhuber, H.J., Bolin, B., Dickson, N.M., Faucheux, S., Gallopin, G.C., Gruebler, A., Huntley, B., Jäger, J., Jodha, N.S., Kasperson, R.E., Mabogunje, A., Matson, P., Mooney, H., Moore III, B., O’Riordan, T., Svedin, U. 2001. Sustainability Science. Science 292:641-2.

Over the past decade, there have been significant attempts at defining a new science of Sustainability. Geographers, in particular, have highlighted the need for an integrative science linking natural and social sciences to address the challenges of global change and ‘regions at risk’ from natural hazards and disasters. Questions of scale interactions – across both space and time – and uncertainties resulting from complex system dynamics are highlighted in much of this work. A regional, place-based approach is also advocated, allowing such integrative approaches to environment and development problems to be pursued in located ways. Perhaps the most important publication to have emerged over this period is the multi-authored article by Robert Kates, William Clark, et al. on ‘Sustainability Science’, which appeared in Science in 2001. Since then there has been an explosion of interest in the subject, including the launch of multiple research programmes, graduate training courses and numerous specialised journals and websites featuring the latest writings on nature-society interactions and applying the resulting knowledge to create a sustainability transition around the world.


Richard Longhurst

John Le Carre. 2001. The Constant Gardener, Hodder and Stoughton.

A 'can't put down' narrative. It confronts issues of corruption, the role of governments and business and how civil society advocates confront these in turn. The producer of the film, Simon Channing Williams died earlier in the year, and he believed in responsible film making, to help the communities the film crew had met and worked with during the shoot. Therefore he set up the Constant Gardener Trust which has built sanitation facilities in the Kibera slums in Nairobi and a secondary school in the north.

07 December 2009

Politics in the Traders Port

The recent hacking into the email exchanges of scientists at the University of East Anglia’s Climate Research Unit--and the continued furore over their contents--shows how much is at stake in designing climate change policy. Too often the debate is described in the media as sceptics versus believers. The debate is much more nuanced---there are several dividing lines which generate a complex picture.

1. Is the earth’s changing temperature exhibiting a long term upward trend?
2. If there is a trend, does it have anything to do with human activity?
3. If it is human activity, do we need to change behaviour or will technology--working silently in the background-- solve most of it?
4. If we do need to change behaviour, does it need to be done quickly (i.e. perhaps sacrificing some growth today) or not?
5. If it does need to be changed quickly, do we only act nationally if it is within a multinational agreement?
6. Whether or not we only act within a multinational agreement, do poorer countries deserve help given that they have not caused the problems?
7. Whatever the actions we take, do we rely primarily on market forces or on governance agreements to incentivise behaviour change?

These choices describe at least 11 positions and there are many more with further twists.

The scientific consensus as described by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) Assessment Report 4 is that “Most of the observed increase in global average temperatures since the mid-20th century is very likely due to the observed increase in anthropogenic GHG concentrations”. Even this is contested by some. Beyond this, the evidence becomes less
certain. The projections look bad for most regions and especially bad for regions such as sub-Saharan Africa that have the least capacity to adapt. But in the wake of the economic models that could not warn us of the global financial crisis, rightly or wrongly, many people have lost confidence in the ability of equations to forecast anything.

We know that the use of science is political. Many would also say that the governance of science is vulnerable to ideology and the tribalism it brings. Given the state of climate science, it is surprising that there have not been more political science analyses of climate outcomes.

One analysis that has been getting a lot of airtime is by Bruce Bueno de Mesquita in the Nov/Dec issue of Foreign Policy. Bueno de Mesquita is a professor of political science at New York University. His game theory analysis of the talks at Copenhagen suggests failure. His argument centres on the assertion that anything which 192countries can agree to--without the clarity and urgency of the barbarians at the gate--will not ask them to do very much or, if it does, will not have any enforcement mechanism.

If the threats were more visible, even if we did not know their likelihood, then surely most would be willing, in effect, to buy a planetary insurance policy. But at the moment, too many people are willing to play Russian Roulette with the livelihoods of future generations. It is tough to convince people to buy insurance for something that has never happened before.

But all hope is not lost—far from it. Many think that if the US, EU, China and India can engage in a series of enforceable bilateral agreements on climate and trade then some kind of global deal can be worked out post-Copenhagen.

Back in the 12th century Copenhagen was called 'the Traders' Port'. Over the next 2 weeks there will be a lot of horse trading going on in that city. Let’s hope it is underpinned by real leadership from the big 4, otherwise the 15th Conference of the Parties (COP15) may end up generating a feelgood roadmap to a very bad neighbourhood.

05 December 2009

Progress in Measuring Progress?

Forty years ago Dudley Seers, one of the great development economists, published the “Meaning of Development” in which he called for GDP to be “dethroned”. As we end the first decade of the third millennium, GDP is still regal. Changes in GDP define whether we are in a recession, depression or boom. Goldman Sachs signal China and India’s emergence as global players on the basis of their GDP. International aid is targeted using GDP. The list goes on.

But the pursuit of GDP as a measure of progress is under attack. First, there is the work that seems to indicate a disconnect between GDP and people’s sense of wellbeing--the economist Richard Layard suggests that this delinking occurs around $20,000 GDP per capita. Second, there is the work that suggests current measures of GDP do not pay enough attention to the tradeoffs with future GDP (see Stern review). Finally, current measures of GDP don’t say anything about justice—who wins, who loses, and who makes the decisions.

Nicholas Sarkozy has set up the Commission on the Measurement of Economic Performance and Social Progress to look into the production of more relevant indicators of social progress. The Commission is chaired by Joseph Stiglitz and advised by Amartya Sen.

I have only read the long summary of the long report. But as far as I can tell there are no surprises.

The headlines are:

• focus on income and consumption (and wealth) rather than production
• focus on the household perspective
• give more prominence to distribution of income and well being
• well being is multidimensional with potential tradeoffs between different dimensions
• combine different measures of well being to generate different composite indices
• both objective and subjective indices should be collected
• sustainability is harder to measure than current wellbeing, aggregation between current and future wellbeing is often not meaningful and some natural environment indicators defy monetary equivalents due to irreversibilities.

This is all sensible and there are thorny technical challenges of measurement, comparability, and aggregation to be sorted out, but not that much that is new.

I am more interested in the political economy of indicators.

• How much of this is relevant for the poorest countries? Just because there is a statistical association between GDP/capita and wellbeing indicators at the lower end of the global income distribution does not mean GDP/capita is still regal. But in reality, many of the new indices are going to mean massive investments in the capacity of National Statistical Offices to collect them—will we set up a “progress partition” and does it matter? Are there cheaper ways to get human indices of human development? Indicators of infant nutrition may be one such set: valid across countries and combining concepts of current consumption and future potential.

• Many have long been pushing for greater use of the Human Development Index (which combines GDP, life expectancy and education attainments and enrolment), for a separate MDG on inequality, and for better measures of hunger....all to no avail. Why have these calls not landed on more fertile ground? There are many vested interests clinging to their indicators. What is the trigger to change the systems?

• Finally, note that the report is addressed, first of all, to political leaders. What capacity, incentives and willingness do they have to grapple with complex dashboard indicators in a context where decisions often have to be made quickly and where large minorities of their citizens do not believe in official statistics?

The Commission regards the report as opening the discussion rather than closing it. I hope that some of the dialogue will focus the political and institutional dimensions rather than solely on the technical. We are good at increasing the supply of credible indicators, but not at stimulating the demand for their credible use. Dudley Seers may have called for the dethroning of GDP in 1969 but it will not be easily dragged out of the palace.

01 December 2009

Is "power to the people" a panacea?

Two new papers have come to my attention recently. They are unusual in that they bring the tools of randomised controlled trials (RCTs) to the issue of participation in development interventions. RCTs are the random allocation of the intervention to treatment and control groups with baselines and follow up surveys.

The first, by Abhijit Banerjee and colleagues from MIT investigates the effectiveness of 6 types of participatory intervention on community involvement in schools, teacher effort and learning outcomes in Uttar Pradesh, India. One of the 6 interventions has a positive (large) effect on reading. The others have no effect. The interventions were designed as follows: 1: information on school norms and provisions is made available and large groups of school officials and community leaders are organised to discuss, 2: information on school norms and provisions made available and small groups of school officials and community leaders discuss, 3: as 1, but with design of a report card on school and community comparison with other schools and community discussion, 4: as 3, but with smaller groups, 5: as 3 but with training and encouragement of volunteers to show how child reading skills can be encouraged, 6: as 5 but with smaller groups.

Intervention 6 was the successful one, but only because of the added “direct control small group component”. In other words, giving villagers information about the state of their schools was not enough—it required encouragement and training, in small groups, to turn this information into an intervention that improved learning outcomes (intervention children were 60% more likely to decipher words than the control groups one year on).

They conclude that “it seems clear that the current faith in participation as a panacea for the problems of service delivery is unwarranted”.

The second paper is by Martina Bjorkman and Jakob Svennson (Quarterly J. of Economics May 2009) of Bocconi University and the Centre for Economic Policy Research and focuses on community based monitoring of public primary health care providers in Uganda. Here the intervention consists of a report card (designed by the community for its own treatment facility) and the development of a community contract between patients and medical staff. The community then used the cards to monitor facility performance. The intervention has large impacts on under 5 mortality rates and on weight for age scores for infants (underweight). The authors estimate that it costs $300 to avert a child death using this intervention which is well below the average cost of $887 for 23 other child survival interventions. The authors conclude by stating that “future research should address long term effects (of the intervention), identify which mechanisms or combination of mechanisms are important, and study the extent to which the results generalise to other social sectors.”

What do I take away from these 2 studies?

1. Using experimental methods to test participatory interventions seems possible, working closely with local groups to design the interventions

2. Continuing the cross-method investigation theme, can participatory research methods look at RCTs as a development intervention? Do RCTs introduce healthy or unhealthy dynamics and under which conditions?

3. Both studies are strong on internal validity (did the intervention have an effect?) but struggle valiantly to look at external validity (can we say anything about the range of contexts within which these can work?). The first study uses variation in intervention design to do this and the second uses regressions on sub-samples.

4. Neither study looks at empowerment of the community per se, regardless of learning or health outcome. If confidence and capability at the individual and collective level have been built up, might the true effects of the intervention in terms of outcomes come at a later stage rather than within structures that the community did not design (note the success of the UP intervention that was not constrained by the school system)?

5. Do the concluding sentences of the papers reveal the authors’ inherent biases? The first paper says that participation is not a panacea. Who said it was? Of course mindless application or participation is not going to work. We want to know when and what types of participatory intervention work. The second paper makes this point in a much more thoughtful way.

6. Finally, the cupboard for this kind of research is bare. We need more work of this kind to help us understand the conditions under which participation makes a difference to people’s lives—both the people directly affected and those such as infants who are indirectly affected.