IPA’s weekly links

Guest post by Jeff Mosenkis of Innovations for Poverty Action.


  • As described in a long piece from New York Magazine, millions of people have been told by a Harvard psychology website they are secretly racist, despite no consensus on the underlying research. You may recall the debate where Hillary Clinton referenced “implicit bias” responding to a question about police shootings. She was referring to a prominent line of research in psychology based on the Implicit Association Test (IAT). The computerized test measures millisecond differences in reaction times and has been promoted by prominent researchers, including the chair of Harvard’s psychology department, as a measure of unconscious bias. Millions of people who have taken it, often as part of training, for school, or a job, conclude they are unconscious racists. However, as the piece describes, measurement experts have pointed out that it’s not clear what the test measures, how reliable it is, or what it predicts (TL;DR there are questions about both internal and external validity). In part because it’s based on millisecond differences in reaction times, results can vary widely based on arbitrary decisions by the researchers in how to score it, and studies can be heavily influenced by outliers. Critics worry that the aura of science and promise of a direct route to the unconscious may also be a red herring, distracting from clear evidence of explicit bias in areas like policing.
  • Two University of Washington professors offer a syllabus for a course they’re proposing, “Calling Bullsh*t.”  It covers how to distinguish fact from fiction in science, statistics, and news (you can follow them on twitter @callin_bull).
  • Lessons from the flat screen TV industry on why trade protectionism ultimately may undercut domestic industry anyway (summary: innovation happens abroad if you stop it from happening domestically, and ultimately products find a way to get around the tariffs anyway.)
  • Analyzing a survey of prominent economists’ opinions, sociologists argue that they aren’t polarized, but clustered:

    Moreover, we argue that social clustering in a heterogeneous network topology is a better model for disciplinary social structure than discrete factionalization. Results show that there is a robust latent ideological dimension related to economists’ departmental affiliations and political partisanship. Furthermore, we show that economists closer to one another in informal social networks also share more similar ideologies.

  • In Uganda, Malawi, and Chile, Dupas, Karlan, Robinson & Ubfal find that simply making it easier to access bank accounts is not enough to help the poor save more.
  • Life in authoritarian states is mostly boring and tolerable.

Keep this handy for your next conference (And if you ever don’t get an XKCD reference, check the explain XKCD wiki.)


The 10 things that guide how I give to charity

Blog reader Brian Holtemeyer wrote to me with this question:

My wife and I want to donate some money to a social cause. She wants to donate to domestic causes (e.g. Planned Parenthood, Black Lives Matter, etc). I’m more inclined to donate to an international cause because the returns seem higher (e.g. water wells in Africa). Do you know of anyone who’s done work trying to figure out the ‘best’ cause to donate money to? Clearly it’s very subjective, but I’m sure very smart people have already attacked this question, and just wondering if you’re aware of any of it.

This is a hard question. I haven’t seen any system for determining the highest impact charity that I buy (I’ll get to GiveWell below). So the best I can do is tell you how I personally think about it and give.

  1. We tend to give at least 10% of our income away a year. I would like this to be higher, but my moral ideals are in tension with my somewhat selfish decisions to buy a large house and send my kids to the UChicago Lab School. But we aspire to give more over time and probably will.
  2. Even though I think that dollars go further abroad, I split my spending between domestic and international causes. This is partly because I already give so much time to international development. But it’s mainly because I’ve come to believe that being a member of a city or country brings certain responsibilities and obligations.
  3. We’re in the peculiar situation where, because of our work, Jeannie and I know some truly amazing people in poor countries who need some help with university fees or child assistance or something else. Many are social workers in some fashion. About half our giving ends up supporting people where we have some personal tie. I think this is a terrific way to give if you have those connections. For others this will be needy neighbors or family, and I’m not such a utilitarian that this troubles me.
  4. The other half of our giving goes to established charities. I think it’s important for charities to have regular, predictable support, and so even though my donation is a drop in the bucket I almost always set up automatic and recurring monthly donations.
  5. Organizations like GiveWell have models for evaluating the highest impact charities in terms of savings lives. As a result, almost all of these charities are international and focus on health. The one exception is GiveDirectly, which is my personal favorite number one charity. They give cash to the poorest, directly. In addition to giving money monthly, I freely offered them the ad spot you see on this page, and I hope you’ll click and donate. See GiveWell’s summary for more information. I know the founders and leaders personally and they’re among my favorite people in the world.
  6. Otherwise I’m not so keen on GiveWell’s model that I put my money behind it. My personal view is that the means and end to human well being is good government and political rights and freedoms. Now, it is extremely difficult to know how to be effective, who is any good, or measure the impact of a dollar. So be it.
  7. That’s why internationally we give monthly to Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch, and domestically we give to the ACLU, the Southern Poverty Law Center, the Democratic National Committee, Planned Parenthood, and the National Immigration Law Center. We also give to the International Rescue Committee, who in part focus on good governance, but also work on refugee relief more broadly–an issue close to our hearts. Jeannie also runs the research department for IRC and is in charge of measuring impact. So we’re in a good position to know that those are good dollars spent.
  8. We also give to two small organizations where we know the founders. Our friend Scott founded and runs Arbor Brothers, who find and support social entrepreneurs in the NYC area to really scale up what they do. Jeannie’s brother founded and runs Haiti Partners, a faith-based organization that focuses on education in rural Haiti.
  9. We also like to give locally in our city. This year we’ve started giving to Chicago Coalition for the Homeless and Heartland Alliance. There are similar anti-poverty organizations in any city. Even though I am a cash transfer evangelist, I do this instead of handing cash out on the street because even I worry about the impact of that kind of giving. But I would like to see (maybe one day run) the randomized trial of cash in the US. And if there were a US organization handing out cash I would probably support it.
  10. Last, I give small amounts monthly to the public services I use the most. This includes the local National Public Radio station and the Wikimedia Foundation, which runs Wikipedia.

I think I could improve my giving in a few ways. I’m not sure what the best US organizations are for political change, and I worry that I’ve defaulted to the obvious large ones. I’m pretty sure my giving looks like the stereotype of the wealthy white liberal elite of America. I would also like to find more organizations that organize grassroots political action in developing countries to support. Suggestions, comments, and criticisms are welcome.

IPA’s weekly links

Guest post by Jeff Mosenkis of Innovations for Poverty Action.


  • Last weekend I had an op-ed with Annie Duflo about 2016, citing Max Roser’s observations that for humanity as a whole, things have been getting better than better, and describing new results from the past year of poverty research. But Roser himself also had a very thoughtful piece about why people always think the world is getting worse, locally and globally. His observations:
    • Bad things (crime, disasters) happen suddenly, while good things (reductions in poverty, disease) play out over years or decades, which media is not structured well to cover.
    • Our own demand-side effects on the media. Our brains’ evolved negativity bias leaves us as attuned to dangerous/alarming things. (“Almost Everybody in America Made it Home Safely Tonight” is a headline nobody would click on.)
    • Education-wise, global trends fall in between history and statistics so don’t get taught.
  • Evidence Action, which tries to see if evidence-proven ideas can scale, is looking for researchers with ideas that have been RCT tested and are ready for (careful) broader scaling. Learn more & submit your ideas to them here (Deadline Feb 3).
  • Some reminders for those freezing at the Chicago ASSA conference, particularly job candidates:
  • A paper and gift from Fiona Burlig:

    We’ve got new methods (and software) for choosing sample sizes in panel data settings that properly account for arbitrary within-unit serial correlation, and yield properly powered experiments in simulated and real data.

  • If you have a lot of time on your hands, like are nearing retirement, you may enjoy David Roodman’s deep dive into deworming findings, and why different analyses of the existing data can come to different conclusions. Part one and part two.
  • FYI, so far in 2017 President Obama has articles in the Harvard Law Review and New England Journal of Medicine (not even his first there). So there go your excuses for not getting that write-up finished.


Where should you visit in Uganda as a tourist?

A friend asked me this question and I decided to turn my long email into a blog post, to somehow justify the ridiculous amount of time I spent on the email. The big buyer beware warning here is that I haven’t been to Uganda in a few years, and I haven’t does touristy things since 2007. So my knowledge is out of date. Hopefully readers can add and subtract in the comments. Continue reading

Does foreign aid buy votes for bad governments? This study from Uganda shows the opposite.

A whopping 40% of Uganda’s government budget comes from foreign aid. This is a regime that is getting more and more autocratic, going the way of an Ethiopia or (I fear) a Zimbabwe. So of all the angst about aid, and critiques of foreign assistance, it’s surprising that I don’t hear this one more often: is foreign aid propping up bad guys? It seems irresponsible not to know the answer.

I would have thought the answer was “of course we are propping up thugs”, but data from one program in Uganda points in the opposite direction: people who got a big government grant for their business worked to get the opposition election. I don’t know exactly why, but it looks to me like a little increase in wealth freed people from patronage machines.

A few years ago I evaluated a fairly successful government employment program in Uganda, where cash grants of about $400 helped young people increase their self-employment and earnings by about 40%. At the time we also collected data on how much people participated in the 2011 elections, what parties they liked and disliked, and other political behavior. But like a lot of academics I have more data than I can analyze. Plus once I found this result I never knew what to make of it. So it took years before I could write up a real paper with my two coauthors, Mathilde Emeriau and Nathan Fiala. It’s now up.

The cash grants went out in 2008. This was a pretty meritocratic program. It didn’t target political supporters, it had little pork, and the government couldn’t take it back. The Ugandan government was hoping that good development policy would build its political support in the north of the country.

But instead of rewarding the government in the 2011 elections, compared to the random control group, the people who actually got the grant increased their opposition party membership, campaigning, and voting. Opposition voting went from 12% to 16%, a one third increase.

We went through a bunch of possible explanations. As with most experiments, it’s hard to figure out why something happened, especially if the result was unexpected. (We’d geared our survey questions to understand the opposite result.) But we did notice one interesting pattern: higher incomes are associated with opposition support, and income changes seem to account for a god part of the treatment effect on voting.

This possibility has been dangled out before. Beatriz Magaloni has some work on Mexico arguing that financially independent voters are less dependent on favors from the ruling party. Nancy Hite has some unpublished work from the Philippines suggesting that microfinance untangles people from politicized loan networks.

I wonder if what we’re seeing in Uganda is a bigger phenomenon: that financial independence frees the poor to express their political preferences publicly, since they’re less reliant on patronage and other political transfers. If so it’s a micro-level version of an old fashioned story about how democratization follows from economic development.

Given how much money countries give away in aid, this seems like an important question to answer. One easy way to add to the evidence is the huge number of randomized trials of anti-poverty programs. Simply adding on post-election questions from the regional barometer studies (Afrobarometer, Latinobarometer, etc) would go a long ways to increasing the evidence.

Downstream studies are also a good idea, where you go back for another round of survey data after an election. That’s how Hite got her Philippines data. And we will go back to Uganda next year for the 9-year follow up, and will get information on the 2016 elections while there. This is low hanging fruit for grad students and junior faculty.

This is why politicians fear cash transfer programs

The title of the UK Daily Mail article is “Just when you thought it couldn’t get any worse… YOUR cash is doled out in envelopes and on ATM cards loaded with money.”

Standing in line, Pakistani families wait at a cashpoint used to withdraw money on cards loaded with funds from British taxpayers.
More than £1billion of our foreign aid budget has been given away in cash over the past five years, it can be revealed today.
Despite warnings of fraud, officials have quietly quadrupled expenditure on cash and debit cards that recipients can spend at will.
The budget has soared from £53million in 2005 to an annual average of £219million in the period 2011-15. MPs last night compared the foreign cash handouts to ‘exporting the dole’.

This is essentially a response to the UK aid agency leading the move to cash transfers in the name of efficiency and effectiveness. And arguably less corrupt that other aid programs.

IPA’s Weekly Links

Guest post by Jeff Mosenkis of Innovations for Poverty Action.


  • Chris Blattman is on the EconTalk podcast talking about his work with Stefan Dercon on sweatshops in Ethiopia. As an economist who studies poverty, one of the interesting things he learned from hanging out in factories is what the owners say is really constraining them from growing. It isn’t lack of funding or infrastructure, it’s lack of middle management. What they really need to grow are people good at accounting, HR, mergers, and the like:

    “they need all of these skills that we don’t usually think about as poverty or development economists. … They say, ‘I can only do so much. I have all this capital; I made all this money,’ in real estate or trading or mine money or ill-gotten gains or wherever they got this money. And they only have so much time. So they really need people who can organize. And they need people who can help them execute transactions, whether it’s buying a company or helping them build sales contacts and do things overseas.”

And a big thanks to Cara Vu for editing help.


IPA’s weekly links

Guest post by Jeff Mosenkis of Innovations for Poverty Action.

And to those job candidates who don’t get your first choice, it’s good to have a backup:


Finally, the Master’s degree designed for people who want to do serious research or a PhD

When I arrived at Harris earlier this year, my eyes popped out a little when I found out this program existed: a Master’s degree that is part public policy degree, part research apprenticeship, and part intensive research methods training. It’s designed to be a stepping stone to either a PhD or serious quantitative research jobs in academia, think tanks, or policy organizations. If this sounds like you, apply.

It’s called the Master of Arts in Public Policy with Certificate in Research Methods, or MACRM. If you’re thinking of applying for a policy masters (or even if you’ve already applied to the Harris MPP) give this one serious thought.

  • It’s only 15 months long, running from September to the following December
  • In addition to the policy courses available in your area of interest (e.g. conflict, development, labor markets, education, health…), you take the Harris PhD courses during the academic quarters, focusing on economic theory, game theory, advanced statistics/econometrics, political economy, and quantitative modeling
  • You work on a faculty member’s research project for 10 hours a week during the academic quarters and during the summer as a research apprentice

Typically you come in designated to work with specific faculty. We like this program so much, that those of us associated with The Pearson Institute for the Study and Resolution of Global Conflicts are going to get heavily involved in this program and try to recruit and train the very best people.

Besides me, those faculty include Jim RobinsonOeindrila DubeEthan Bueno de Mesquita, Jeannie AnnanRoger Myerson, Luis Martinez, and Austin Wright. That’s not counting some of the amazing hires we hope to be announcing in 2017.

Continue reading

IPA’s weekly links

Guest post by Jeff Mosenkis of Innovations for Poverty Action.

Brazil Pope Stamp

  • Thomas Schelling, the Nobel laureate known for his work applying game theory to strategy died this week. Obituary in the New York Times. When he got the prize in 2005, Tyler Cowen listed these six major areas to which he contributed (even more from Cowen here).
  • One of my new favorite podcasts is “Tell Me Something I Don’t Know” from the New York Times and Stephen Dubner. A panel of smart people (often a mix of academics, writers, and comedians) judge a (prescreened) audience of smart people who come prepared with an interesting fact. Mostly though, it’s a fun time listening to smart funny people be surprised and learn new things. (iTunes)
    • Another really good podcast was Cowen’s interview with Harvard anthropologist Joseph Henrich who has tested predictions of psychology and economics in small-scale societies around the world (spoiler alert, Americans are different from everybody). His larger current work is on how societies evolve over time. He talks about how cultural factors like developing the ability to offload information from memory into writing affect our biology and change the shape of history. Keep listening for the Q & A at the end for more anthropologist’s view of the tribe known as economists (episode 16 on iTunes).
  • The World Bank pledged $75 Billion to helping poor countries, and will raise a third of it through bond markets and private debt to make it less dependent on government backers such as the U.S. The bank says it will also start investing directly in private infrastructure projects rather than financing country loans. (h/t Justin Sandefur.)
  • U.S. climate scientists are rushing to copy their data before the new administration comes in.
  • Heckman and colleagues report on a 35-year follow-up of two randomized intensive birth-to-5 y.o. programs that were randomized in the 70’s. The programs were expensive (including education, nutrition, and healthcare), but they estimate large returns, with every dollar invested yielding $6.50 in benefit. Heckman’s summary, Washington Post (h/t Shoshana Griffith).
  • When the Pope comes to town, do birth rates change? Bassi & Rasul found there happened to be a survey in the field in 1991 Brazil. The data was collected before, during, and after the visit of Pope John Paul II, who had a strong anti-contraception message:


    We use this fortuitous timing to identify that persuasion significantly reduced individual intentions to contracept by more than 40% relative to pre-visit levels, and increased the frequency of unprotected sex by 26%. …  we find a significant change in births nine months post-visit, corresponding to a 1.6% increase in the aggregate birth cohort. Our final set of results examine the very long run impact of persuasion and document the impacts to be on the timing of births rather than on total fertility.


  • And, if you’ve enjoyed these past 91 weeks of links and are going to be shopping on Amazon, start with this link and a portion will go to Innovations for Poverty Action, who’s been gracious enough to let me spend the time doing it:




IPA’s Weekly Links

M-PESA transaction


We estimate that access to the Kenyan mobile money system M-PESA increased per capita consumption levels and lifted 194,000 households, or 2% of Kenyan households, out of poverty.



IPA’s weekly links

Guest post by Jeff Mosenkis of Innovations for Poverty Action.

030223-N-8119R-001 At sea in the Indian Ocean (Feb. 23, 2003) -- Navy doctors, Cmdr. Donald Bennett (left), and Cmdr. Ralph Jones (right), perform surgery on a civilian crewmember in one of the operating rooms aboard the Military Sealift Command (MSC) hospital ship USNS Comfort (T-AH 20). Comfort is deployed in support of Operation Enduring Freedom. U.S. Navy photo by Lt. Cmdr. Roy Rice. (RELEASED)

  • Chris Arnade is is a physics Ph.D. turned Wall Street trader, turned sociologist, documenting the post-industrial/forgotten towns in the U.S. He often tweets about  the disconnect between economic statistics and things that can’t be measured, particularly a pervasive feeling of hopelessness in the left-behind towns.
    • Thanks to Bill on this blog for pointing me to his EconTalk interview.
    • Here he takes issue with Krugman’s view of the political economy.
    • Here he argues that Universal Basic Income makes sense to an economist’s point of view, but not to a sociologist’s, because it will socially divide the country up into givers and takers, sowing further resentments.
    • His argument is that academic researchers have a limited view of the world through data sets, but recommends spending more time in other parts of the country. (I’ve heard development economists often say RCTs were very helpful to molding their understanding of development because it got them to go to the places they were studying and talk to people there.)
  • David Evans and Ana Popova show that if you give the poor money they don’t smoke or drink it away:

    We conduct a meta-analysis to gauge the average impact of transfers on temptation goods. Results show that on average cash transfers have a significant negative effect on total expenditures on temptation goods, equal to −0.18 standard deviations. This negative result is supported by data from Latin America, Africa, and Asia, for both conditional and unconditional cash transfer programs. A growing number of studies therefore indicate that concerns about the use of cash transfers for alcohol and tobacco are unfounded.

  • Some researchers think that some of China’s 30 million demographically “missing girls” (with the implication of abandonment/infanticide) are actually there, they’re just not officially registered in the census because of an implicit understanding between families and local authorities.
  • Tim Ogden makes the case for investing in microcredit. Even though on balance it’s not currently a poverty fix, it’s a working business model reaching many of the world’s poor. It’s time to experiment and see how to make it work better.
  • New Zealand to compensate organ donors (not to make money, but just paying for their lost wages so they at least break even). I believe the only market for kidneys is in Iran, and Tina Rosenberg did a nice examination of it here.
  • Your memory is not like a computer’s. A nice primer on memory and a good reminder if you’re planning to administer a 4-hour recall survey.

A sad reminder for parents – if you don’t talk to your kids about version control, they’ll just learn it on the street.


Image above via Wikimedia Commons.

Come work for me in Chicago

I’m hiring a Research Associate (RA) for 1–2 years. Apply here.

This is usually a recent master’s or undergraduate student with strong quantitative skills who manages and analyzes data, helps manage my field projects, and generally helps me usher a project from fundraising and human subjects approval all the way to the academic paper and policy presentations. Data analysis is 75% of the job, and I will train and work with you closely. There are also some administrative and financial responsibilities, an there is sometimes short term field work involved around the world. Finally, the RA will also help me coordinate the new Peace & Recovery program at Innovations for Poverty Action (IPA) and the new Crime and Violence initiative at the Poverty Action Lab (J-PAL).

Most of the RAs who have worked with me in the past are interested in a PhD in economics, political science, or policy, and they usually go on to programs in the top five or ten departments. I’d like to think this is partly because of the experience and training, but it’s also because really terrific people apply. Please apply!

The RA will be employed by Innovations for Poverty Action, but will have a formal University of Chicago affiliation and sit with me at Harris Public Policy and the Pearson Institute.

The ideal start date is March or April, but a later or earlier start date is feasible for the right candidate. After all, many people will be graduating from university in the spring and I am open to waiting for them to finish.

In terms of qualifications, strong statistical skills and STATA usage is a must, as is English fluency. Lots of other skills and experiences will be an advantage: previous research and field work experience; Spanish language skills; other computer programming or machine learning experience; great writing skills; and great managerial skills.

J-PAL and IPA manage all the hiring and so you must apply here. Please note: Writing me directly isn’t recommended because others manage the initial hiring process and I get involved after they have a short list.

Note this is part of the large annual recruitment drive by J-PAL and IPA, and you can apply via the same process for a range of similar positions with other faculty and projects.


IPA’s weekly links

Guest Post by Jeff Mosenkis of Innovations for Poverty Action.


  • If you’re going to be traveling, or just want something to listen to, we’ve put together another IPA Great Holiday Travel Podcast Playlist of episodes we liked. It also includes a few brand new podcasts and a podcast discovery app that look promising.
  • Russia is following South Africa, Gambia and Burundi’s example and withdrawing from the International Criminal Court, and the Philippines is considering leaving as well. My (limited) understanding is that the U.S. hasn’t ratified it, so it’s not like we’re bound by it either.
  • Sweden’s top traffic safety expert explains their biggest barrier towards moving to zero traffic deaths isn’t engineering, it’s economists’ implicit assumptions:


    The largest resistance we got to the idea about Vision Zero was from those political economists that have built their whole career on cost-benefit analysis. For them it is very difficult to buy into “zero.” Because in their economic models, you have costs and benefits, and although they might not say it explicitly, the idea is that there is an optimum number of fatalities. A price that you have to pay for transport.


    • Jim Yong Kim expressed a similar sentiment (see the link in our podcast post above) about what it was like at Partners In Health in the early days of arguing for HIV drugs for Africans.
    • The idea that we accept traffic deaths as inevitable is not a coincidence. We call them airplane “crashes” and see them as unacceptable. But in the early 1900’s automobile manufacturers introduced a marketing campaign to rebrand auto collisions as “accidents,” which makes them seem inevitable:

      So a lot like the industrial safety people invented this cartoon character called Otto Know Better (ph), who was careless and getting injured, the pro-automobile people – manufacturers, auto clubs, auto dealers – invented caricatures of careless pedestrians because most of the people cars were killing then were pedestrians, not other people in cars.


  • The Weird Economics of Ikea
  • Investing in “soft skills” training, even in the high-turnover world of female garment workers in Banglauru, India, paid for itself several times over:

    Treated workers are less likely to leave during the program, and exhibit substantially higher productivity up to nine months after program completion. This leads to being assigned to more complex tasks and a greater likelihood of promotion. Treated workers are also more likely to enroll in workplace skill development and production incentive programs.

And the Golden Radiator Award nominees for best and worst development ads are up, you can vote for the finalists. Here was one of the good ones (also check out David Evans’ playlist of funny development commercials):

Happy Thanksgiving everybody.

Image above via Alex Graves on Flickr

IPA’s weekly links

Guest post by Jeff Mosenkis of Innovations for Poverty Action.


  • I’m taking a wild guess there will be a spike in researchers looking at elections data for 2016. A reminder that you can get an advance look at the American National Elections Survey (ANES) questions, design and preregister your study, and get it pre-accepted to a number of political science journals all before the data comes out (and get a $2,000 prize).
  • Michael Lewis has a Vanity Fair article based on his new book about Israeli psychologists Daniel Kahneman and Amos Tversky (above), the fathers of what would become behavioral economics. It’s about their friendship, and like Lewis’ other stories, about outsiders who end noticing something different and changing a whole field.
  • How spring rolls became the go-to snack in Senegal.
  • Another chapter of the U.N. response to South Sudan peacekeeping failures from a few weeks ago. Though a Kenyan general was dismissed, it was Chinese troops who abandoned their posts. The WSJ has a feature on how China is grappling with deaths of their peacekeeping soldiers there and the costs of their involvement. Complicating the relationship, some of their troops may have been killed by Chinese-manufactured weapons.
  • In press, a nationwide survey of rural Indian schools finds 24% of the teachers absent, at a cost of $1.5 billion/yr. Making sure teachers show up is among the cheapest ways to improve education, according to Muralidharan, Das, Holla, & Mohpal (h/t Lee Crawfurd). The NYTimes referenced the finding in a profile of an armed teacher truancy officer in Uttar Pradesh who has become a local celebrity.
  • A bleg and a reminder. For the comments below – we’re looking for podcast episode recommendations for this year’s Great Holiday Travel Podcast Playlist (last years’ is here).
    • And if you’ve enjoyed these last 87 weeks of links, consider a donation to IPA. If you do it by the end of this weekend an anonymous donor will match it, effectively doubling your contribution. Bonus, if you tweet or email me that you did, we’ll select (randomly of course) some to mail a souvenir from the Ghana arm of last year’s Banerjee, et. al. Science paper.

IPA’s weekly links

Guest post by Jeff Mosenkis of Innovations for Poverty Action.


  • Through Nov 20, an anonymous donor is doubling donations to my employer, Innovations for Poverty Action (IPA), who uses rigorous research to find effective poverty solutions. (Some examples here, and pictured above: some of our Burkina Faso research staff about to ride out in the rainy season).
  • Some would like to digitize payments and schedules for Nairobi Matatu private buses. The technology exists, but one barrier is the operators, who benefit from the unpredictable system, conducting their own informal “surge pricing” off the books.
  • Tyler Cowen’s conversation with cognitive scientist Steven Pinker was interesting. As was the one with Jon Haidt, who studies how moral reasoning drives political beliefs, and why people with different political leanings often don’t understand one another.
  • Dani Rodrik’s letter in support of Ricardo Hausmann. (h/t Vincent Armentano)
  • More than 800,000 drinking water filters were distributed in Kenya, supported by carbon credits sold for water that would supposedly not have to be boiled (you can buy some here). By coincidence a separate (IPA) RCT was going on in the same area, so they added on questions about the filter use, and found only 19% of people reported using them 2-3 years later. Summary in this press release, paper here.
  • India is changing its currency, asking people to trade in 23 billion notes in circulation. One stated goal is to eliminate the higher denominations to combat corruption and tax evasion. Kenneth Rogoff has made the same argument for the US:

    Well, I think that a lot of the money – these big bills – is used to facilitate tax evasion and crime. We all use cash in our everyday life, but we don’t use hundred-dollar bills. We’re not using 500-euro notes. And yet these account for mountains of cash out there. I think they’re being used in tax evasion and by criminals of all types.

  • Pam Jakiela’s great response to Deaton and Cartwright’s RCT critique.

And a reminder from Max Roser:

Links I liked

  1. We live in a strange world: Cubs World Series celebration ranks as 7th largest gathering in human history (less than the funeral of Ayatollah Khomeini but more than the Haj or the 3.5 million people at a 1994 Rod Stweart concert in Brazil)
  2. New developments in Chinese growth strategy
  3. Guido Imbens on synthetic control matching
  4. J-PAL has graduate student fellowships for conducting pre-publication re-analysis
  5. The snake versus iguana nature video that everyone is talking about is really that amazing
  6. Vin Diesel wrote, produced and starred this surprisingly good short film that paralleled his real life struggles of landing roles due to his multiethnic appearance (Spielberg saw the film and casted him in Saving Private Ryan, thus launching his career)

Phantom poll changes

From Benjamin Lauderdale and Doug Rivers writing at YouGov:

We believe that most of the bounces seen in surveys this year represent sampling noise that can be reduced or eliminated by adopting by better statistical methodology. We risk a repetition of 2012 where polling swings were largely statistical mirages. The convention and first debate bounces in 2012 were mostly the consequence of transitory variations in response rates. Fewer voters were changing their minds than were changing their inclination to respond to surveys.

Most telephone polls use independent samples, so the respondents in one week’s poll are different from those in another week’s. This makes it impossible to distinguish change in individual vote intentions from changes in sample composition from week to week. It is possible that five percent of the electorate switched from Clinton to Trump over the past week (decreasing Clinton’s lead by 10 points). But it’s also possible that nobody switched and apparent swings are due to differences in sample composition.

YouGov draws its samples from a large panel of respondents. In most of our polls, there is little overlap from one sample to another. However, sometimes the same respondents are recontacted to see whether their opinions have changed. For example, after the first presidential debate in September, we reinterviewed 2,132 people who had told us their vote intentions a month before. 95 percent of the September Clinton supporters said they intended to vote for her. None of them said they intended to vote for Donald Trump, but five percent said they were now undecided, would vote for a third party candidate, or would not vote. Of the Trump supporters, only 91 percent said they were still planning on voting for Trump. Five percent moved to undecided, one percent to Clinton, and the rest to third party candidates or not voting. The net effect was to increase Clinton’s lead by almost four points. That was real change, though significantly less that the ten point change to Clinton’s lead seen in some polls.

Other events, however, have not had any detectable impact on voting intentions. We did not see any shifts after the release of the Access Hollywood video, the second or third presidential debates, or the reopening of the FBI investigation into Clinton’s emails. When the same people were reinterviewed, almost all said they were supporting the same candidate they had told us they were supporting in prior interviews. The small number who did change their voting intentions shifted about evenly toward Clinton and Trump so the net real change was close to zero.

Although we didn’t find much vote switching, we did notice a different type of change: the willingness of Clinton and Trump supporters to participate in our polls varied by a significant amount depending upon what was happening at the time of the poll: when things are going badly for a candidate, their supporters tend to stop participating in polls. For example, after the release of the Access Hollywood video, Trump supporters were four percent less likely than Clinton supporters to participate in our poll. The same phenomenon occurred this weekend for Clinton supporters after the announcement of the FBI investigation: Clinton supporters responded at a three percent lower rate than Trump supporters (who could finally take a survey about a subject they liked).

The bolded italics are theirs.

IPA’s weekly links

Guest post by Jeff Mosenkis of Innovations for Poverty Action.

So when we moved to Cincinnati, we got the cheapest apartment we could find. It was the lowest apartment in the building, and we got hit by a summer storm. So what didn’t get destroyed by water got destroyed by mold. And I was, I think, seven and a half months pregnant, eight months pregnant at the time.

So I was calling every charity I could, thinking, I just need a chair. For – for whatever reason in my head, if I could just get a chair, then everything else would be fine. But I needed a place to sit. I, I got in touch with one charity who said, yeah, you can come and pick up a chair but we’re gonna need you to go to a resume-writing class. And I said, “For what?” and they said, “Well, because we need you to be looking for work and trying to better your situation; we don’t just give charity to just anybody. We need to make sure that you’re, you know, invested, you got some skin in the game.” And I said, “Okay, when is the resume-writing class?” And he gave me two different times. And I said, “Well, I have to be at work at both of those times.” And they said, “Well, if you want the charity you have to show up to the class.” And I was like, “If I come to the class I’ll get fired.” And this woman was telling me how I really needed to learn to write my resume so that I could find gainful employment, so that I could get the stupid chair that was probably worth five bucks.

That is what personal responsibility means to somebody on welfare. It means here are these stupid hoops that we’re gonna make you jump through and then we’re going to give you a solution that absolutely won’t work for you. It’s that kind of just over and over beating your head against these ridiculous regulations and these double-blinds that don’t make any sense. And the whole thing is set up specifically to humiliate you as much as possible because what we need poor people to do in America more than anything else in the world is know their place.

  • That from an amazing series busting myths about poverty in America from On The Media. The series goes into the many double binds the poor are often put in to get themselves out of poverty, because of societal myths about the causes of poverty. They also show how media portrayals of the poor can be driven by reporters searching for confirmatory stories to play to their audiences, typically focusing on the personal qualities of the individual, rather than circumstances they’ve been put in.
  • Zimbabwe is becoming a cashless economy because they don’t have cash.
  • A good primer from Planet Money on what happened to Venezuela’s economy (Shorter version here, Even shorter version: dependent on oil, imported lots, and spent oil profits on social programs. When things went bad, they pegged the currency to dollar, which the government controlled access to which means scarce everything.)
  • The U.N. fired the head of its South Sudan peacekeeping operation following a report documenting failures to help when local troops broke into a compound housing foreign aid workers, torturing and raping there.
  • Why the U.N. keeps repeating a misleading statistic that 75 percent of Liberian women were raped.
  • A story circulated this week about a medical study of male injectable birth control being stopped because men couldn’t handle side effects that sounded similar to those of female birth control. The “Men are wusses” story was more hasty science reporting. Vox pointed out if the reporters had dug a little deeper they would have found that most men wanted to continue the study but a safety monitoring panel stopped it because:

The 320 men who participated in the research reported a whopping 1,491 adverse events, and the researchers running the trial determined that 900 of these events were caused by the injectable contraceptive.

My favorite of this past weeks’ #EconoPumpkin entries