Thursday Linkage

13 March 2014, 2058 EDT

We’re on spring break here in Austin, Texas so this will be a short post as I’m just back from some SXSW events (trying to steer clear of the drunk drivers). Mostly, I’ll link to some news from the blogosphere, including changes at the Monkey Cage (4 new additions) and Foreign Policy (Drezner and Lynch depart). I also link to some good exchange on RCTs and Bill Easterly’s new book on experts and development. Oh, and Les Gelb goes off on all parties with respect to Ukraine (Crimea secession/join Russia referendum this weekend!). I’m also including a playlist of the bands I’ve seen at SXSW which I hope to add to.

Monkey Cage Adds 4

  • The Monkey Cage added four new folks, political economist Chris Blattman, who writes about development, Kim Yi Dionne who writes about health issues in Africa, occasional guest Duck blogger Laura Seay who writes about Africa and governance, and long-time Foreign Policy blogger Marc Lynch, who writes on the Middle East.
  • Laura’s first post for them reported on a new study that assessed whether “slacktivism,” liking a campaign on Facebook for example, was a gateway to deeper political activity: the answer – depends on how public the activity is (reinforcing findings from political psychology and elsewhere flagged in Sasha Issenberg’s Victory Lab
  • Kim’s first post flags five things in Africa that you probably don’t know, namely that civil conflict is on the decline (not sure if I believe that), voter turnout is similar to the US, that there are more women MPs in African parliaments than in the U.S. Congress (though not sure how important that is as a barometer), that some countries are holding presidential debates, and that remittances are set to exceed foreign aid

Foreign Policy drops/loses at least 2

  • I don’t know if this is some kind of house cleaning or what but both Dan Drezner and Marc Lynch left. Lynch already transitioned to the Monkey Cage, and I’m sure Dan will be fine.
  • I wonder if it is related to the phasing out of blogs at Foreign Policy and editor Rothkopf’s response to Nick Kristof’s broadside against the academy

RCT’s, Bill Easterly, and Development

  • Lant Pritchett suggests that RCTs are the ultimate in faith-based activity and wonders whatever did China and India do to raise millions out of poverty without RCTs?
  • Evidence Matters blog tries to put RCTs into perspective and notes that some cases flagged for scale-up (deworming and water treatment) are not actually based on numerous RCTs
  • Chris Blattman reacts to Pritchett but puts in a good word for RCTs and suggests that they are a good way to learn and infuse policy with evidence:

But I do expect the evidence to infiltrate the way economics is taught, the way policy is talked about, and the received wisdom. This might take years or decades. Sometimes it will happen quickly, the way that the wind has fallen out of the sails of micro-finance and filled those of cash transfers.

  • Bill Easterly in his new book The Tyranny of Experts rejects the notion that development is a technical exercise (I agre). He also tries to make the case that development happens when governments have already moved away from authoritianism (if I understand the argument right from the brief things I’ve read, excerpt here)
  • I’m not sure what his advice is for encouraging states to become less authoritarian. If suggests the international community should get out of the way, then Easterly is danger of becoming a caricature rather a careful and nuanced critic of the development industry, whose flaws he has captured nicely before. I’m not sure if getting out of the way will help millions survive HIV/AIDS.
  • The FT has a review and echoes my view:

Yet he could have explored in more detail whether today’s health technologies, even if parachuted in by donors, also have the power to invert the chain of causation and lift people out of poverty. Projects to develop and disseminate life-saving vaccines, anti-malarial bed nets, drugs and diagnostics have undoubtedly extended millions of people’s lives.

Les Gelb

  • He let’s everybody have it for posturing on Ukraine unhelpfully:

Russians, Americans, Europeans, and Ukrainians plunge on toward the all-time foreign policy record for venality, lying, hypocrisy and self-destructive maneuvers. They show no shame and scant regard for consequences. At this moment, Russia is the most to blame for having transformed a very bad situation into a crisis. Top U.S. officials contribute with their daily evocation of saintly principles that the United States itself has often defied. Experts and politicians goad the White House on with demands for tough actions against Russia that they surely know will fail. Europeans continue their feckless ways. And most Ukrainian leaders of all stripes and ethnicities remain monumentally corrupt and rhetorically dishonest.


The view from the gig I went to at SXSW yesterday, and my playlist below.