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Easterly presentation

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Published on March 3, 2008

Author: Marcell

Source: authorstream.com

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How advocacy for Africa distorts research on Africa:  How advocacy for Africa distorts research on Africa NBER Africa Conference William Easterly (NYU) February 2008 Optimal advocacy story:  Optimal advocacy story Things are really awful right now… …but they can get a lot better thanks to our efforts… …and in fact, things are now starting to look up. Advocacy biases:  Advocacy biases First, portray Africa as worse than it really is… …then overemphasize factors that are most subject to change by aid agencies …and finally overemphasize positive turning points due to aid efforts Three examples of advocates making African problems look worse:  Three examples of advocates making African problems look worse Overstating extent of extreme phenomena like war The Africa poverty trap idea based on selection bias The Millennium Development Goals campaign Dire portraits of Africa:  Dire portraits of Africa Collier (2007, p.3) says that African nations “coexist with the twenty-first century, but their reality is the fourteenth century: civil war, plague, ignorance.” Celebrity activist Bob Geldof: "War, Famine, Plague & Death are the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse and these days they're riding hard through the back roads of Africa.“ Angelina Jolie: “how can we stand by and watch a whole continent be destroyed?” Of course, Africa does have a lot of poverty, poor social indicators, political conflict and violence. But do the above quotes accurately portray Africa? Slide6:  Media stereotypes (excessive focus on war, famine, child soldiers, etc.) reinforce advocacy bias The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse are not the typical experience for most Africans:  The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse are not the typical experience for most Africans Africa poverty trap:  Africa poverty trap Collier (2007) and Sachs (2005, 2008) separately conclude that Africa is in a “trap” or “vicious circle” of poverty, failed states, civil war, military coups, low savings, poor technology and infrastructure, etc., thus requiring outside rescue from aid and experts. Evidence on poverty trap:  Evidence on poverty trap Collier (2007) notes that Bottom Billion had lousy growth rates. Unfortunately, the Bottom Billion was defined at the END of the period, so there was selection bias – of course, those who are poor at the end of a long period are more likely to have had poor economic growth over the preceding period (along with more disasters that lower growth like war, political instability, etc.) In Sachs (2005, 2008), the selection bias is not so explicit but is still implicit: “poor countries fail to thrive” Ex-ante tests of poverty trap fail to confirm that initially poor countries have lower per capita growth than richer countries (Easterly, Journal of Economic Growth, 2007)). Substantial mobility in and out of Bottom Billion Poor growth is not persistent (Easterly, Kremer, Pritchett, and Summers 1993, since confirmed many times) Millennium Development Goals exercise portrays Africa as universal failure:  Millennium Development Goals exercise portrays Africa as universal failure “Africa…is the only continent not on track to meet any of the goals of the Millennium Declaration by 2015.” (UN World Summit Declaration, 2005) “Sub-Saharan Africa is the only region which, at current rates, will meet none of the MDG targets by 2015.” (follow-up to Blair Commission for Africa, communiqué, 2007) These statements on MDGs turn some African successes into failures (Easterly 2008):  These statements on MDGs turn some African successes into failures (Easterly 2008) Goal 1: recent high GDP growth (6% 2004-2007) in Africa is said to be still not high enough to cut poverty in half because of Africa’s low poverty elasticity. Goal 2: Africa is catching up on primary enrollment Goal 3: Africa is catching up on gender equality in education Goal 4: Africa has had a large absolute reduction in child mortality Goal 5: No data on trends in maternal mortality Goal 6: No data on trends in AIDS prevalence Goal 7: Africa is catching up on access to clean water Overemphasize factors that are subject to change by experts and aid agencies:  Overemphasize factors that are subject to change by experts and aid agencies Economic policies, total aid dollars, project interventions in health, education, infrastructure, agriculture. Unfortunately, research sometimes finds determinants of African development to be relatively unchangeable things like … …ethnic heterogeneity, artificial borders, ancient technology history. This doesn’t mean things cannot be changed in Africa, just have to be more creative. Positive news: Recent African growth has been good, and there are a number of private sector success stories:  Positive news: Recent African growth has been good, and there are a number of private sector success stories Large increase in private capital inflows Rapid expansion of technology driven by private sector (cell phones, PCs, Internet connections) Sectoral success stories like cut flowers in Kenya (captured 39% of European market) and textiles in Lesotho (rapid expansion in exports to US). Over-predicting turning points:  Over-predicting turning points “Policy action and foreign assistance … will surely work together to build a continent that shows real gains in … income in the near future.” (World Bank 1981) “This optimism can be justified by recent experience in Africa …”(World Bank 1984) “progress is clearly under way.” (World Bank 1986) “since the mid-1980s Africa has seen important changes in policies and in economic performance” (World Bank 1989) “African countries have made great strides in improving policies and restoring growth” (World Bank 1994) “Since the mid-1990s, there have been signs that better economic management has started to pay off” (World Bank 2000) The year “marked a turning point in the region’s evolution” (World Bank 2006) How is research distorted by excessively negative picture of Africa?:  How is research distorted by excessively negative picture of Africa? The more extreme the problem… …the more extreme the solution that researchers look for. Overemphasis on changeable things says that extreme solutions are possible. Extreme solutions researchers may be tempted to look for::  Extreme solutions researchers may be tempted to look for: Extreme Speed (crisis is urgent, so calls for rapid fix) Extreme Scale (look for policies with very large payoffs) Extreme Scope (look for integrated solutions that cover poverty, war, dictatorship, corruption, health, education, etc.) Research and reality:  Research and reality There may be NO policy feasible that has the desired extreme speed, scale, and scope. Real world experiences of development suggest that development is usually gradual (not speedy), each step has a payoff of modest scale, and steps are piecemeal (modest scope: one problem fixed at a time, not feasible to do everything at once) Moral of the story for researchers on Africa: don’t waste any more time looking for the Next Big Answer, let research be incremental. An awful lot of bad research motivated by: “what must we do to save Africa?” Good research begins with: what is actually happening in Africa? how are Africans themselves coping with problems? let stories of success emerge in unexpected ways.

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