Big ideas/ the secret to development is...

Physics Envy in Development (even worse than in Finance!)

Andrew Lo and Mark Mueller at MIT have a paper called “WARNING: Physics Envy May Be Hazardous to Your Wealth,” also available as a video.  The takeaway, which is equally relevant to Development as to Finance (the actual topic of the talk),  is that inability to recognize radical UNCERTAINTY is what leads to excessive confidence in mathematical models of reality, and then on to bad policy and prediction. 

Imagine how much harder physics would be if electrons had feelings! (R. Feynman)

When Fat Cats Bet on Fat Tails

UPDATE 9:30am get me rewrite! Readers ask for more clarity on what my point is, so a little added rewriting.
There has been a lot of passionate moral debate about US income inequality (Greg Mankiw recently got a torrent of abuse for the horrific sin of admitting that he was a rich person).  But you have to UNDERSTAND income inequality before you CONDEMN it. By the end of this post, I’ll suggest a different angle.

And now going for the Aid Watch record on global charity cluelessness…

Aid Watch received the following tidbit from a trusted source. It was posted on a community list-serve:
Does anyone have any old men’s size  8.5-9.0 sneakers they would like to get rid of? Like, lawnmowing sneakers, that sort of thing?  I’m running a mud race on Sunday and at the end the muddy destroyed sneakers will be donated to Green Sneakers, a non-profit that recycles old sneakers and donates them to people in need around the world. If you have a decent pair that can withstand a mud run, I’d be happy to take them off your hands.

Stop me before I paradox again

Robin Hanson offers these thoughts on big-picture thinking (HT Dennis Whittle):
I’ve …noticed that among smart folks, the most successful keep their smarts on a short leash. They use their smarts to make the sale, win the case, pass the test, get published, etc., but they don’t use much smarts to consider whether they really want to make the sale, win the case, etc. …

David, Ban, Bill, and Alice

The always wonderful David Rieff takes on the MDG summit:
With the fatuousness that has marked his administration from the outset, the U.N. secretary general, Ban Ki Moon, has now issued a document called “Keeping the Promise,” timed to coincide with the 2010 meeting of the U.N. General Assembly and the summit on the organization’s so-called Millennium Development Goals that is taking place simultaneously.

Knowledgeable, powerful expert in charge of development strategy admits he is fictional

Just a day after completing the country’s Comprehensive Development Strategy, the expert in charge of Development admitted that he does not actually exist. The expert had done a superb job prioritizing the needs of the poor across 9 major sectors and hundreds of development interventions, not to mention mainstreaming gender and the environment. He had calculated the country’s financing requirements to attain the Millennium Development Goals, as well as the country’s needs for neutral, humanitarian peacekeeping forces to end the civil war, along with a post-conflict strategy to re-integrate combatants, and a timetable for fair, competitive elections.

Be Careful What You Export

Our distant ancestors had a biological constitution awfully similar to our own, and, like us, only 24 hours in a day. Arguably the main reason we have so much better lives than them is that we have better ways of doing things (broadly conceived). So it makes a great deal of sense that much of the work in development planning and foreign aid consists in exporting ways of doing things. Technology and scientific know-how are the most easily obvious examples, but we also export methods of organization and governance.

A Lecturer answers The Big Question

Two of my favorites, Chris Blattman and Megan McArdle , recently had a great dialogue on “is aid depressing?” I don’t have anything to add–read them!
However,  their dialogue does remind me of  The Big Question that I and many others get whenever we give lectures on economic development. Inevitably, after every single lecture I have ever given, the first question is … What Can I Do to End World Poverty?
How to respond? On one hand, I want to (and usually do) salute the questioner for their willingness to give of themselves for those less fortunate. I admire their idealism and commitment.

What aid critics could learn from movie critics

The Wall Street Journal yesterday had an article on “2010: worst movie year ever?”. Movie critics have a way with words that leaves us aid critics in the dust.
Hollywood is fighting a war on numerous fronts, and losing all of them.
And movie critics are even worse at something aid critics are often accused of: much more focus on the negative than on constructive positive suggestions — “just stop.”

Thank you, World Cup fans, I now understand institutions for development

UPDATE July 8, 2010 12:10pm: link to a great new article on the spontaneous evolution of rules in the history of football (see end of post)
I learned a lot from the furious debate that followed the post about rules vs. norms, regarding whether Uruguay cheated Ghana.

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