Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Aid Effectivess DOES NOT= Development

When I first heard about the new book by Jessica Cohen and Bill Easterly on What Works in Development, I was downright excited.

Then I looked at the papers posted online , the combined texts of which look like this

... and listened to the podcast of the book release event at Brookings on January 21, the transcript of which looks like this

I finally got a hold of a copy of the book itself. If you are interested in techniques for assessing the impact of aid (and, parenthetically, why cross-country macroeconomics is difficult to the point of being, well... pointless) I urge you to order up a copy right now. An impressive list of the usual suspects in development economics shares insights as to what we Think we really Know about aid from Randomized trials.

But "what works in development"? I think not.

What is my view of what works in development? Here's one picture (the text of chapter 3 from The Coming Prosperity):


Many other plausible pictures are possible... None resembles an economist's navel.

More to follow on this general topic... including why framing the search for solutions in global development as Easterly vs. Sachs is a bit like framing the search for solutions to the obesity epidemic as Coke vs. Pepsi.


  1. Hi Phil. My book addresses science for development - though it isn't getting the play that Easterly can command, science has a lot more to offer to the poor...The New Invisible College: SCience for Development, also from Brookings...-Caroline

  2. Wordle is new to me - but I'm not clear what these images actually tell us about the book. (Actually, I do know that they don't tell me anything.)

  3. Thanks for the comment.

    The only thing these images convey is *what is in the book*. That is, they represent word frequencies. For example, you can't talk about "entrepreneurship" without using the word "entrepreneurship" or a synonym thereof. (You will find that word to be absent from "What Works in Development?" just as it barely appears in other books by Bill Easterly--vague talk of "searchers" notwithstanding.)

    In other words, this isn't a picture. It is a verbal histogram-which is to say, data.

    Try it with something you have written:


    Doing so give you a better sense for the accuracy with which it represents content.