Sunday, January 4, 2009

Highlights from AEA, day 2

It was a very interesting day:
  1. Another paper by Nathan Nunn has caught my attention. This one, on the colonial origins of mistrust in Africa, suggests what I have hypothesized for many years: colonialism is partially responsible for the poor levels of trust in Africa. This is the beginnings of a solid argument that colonial legacies are responsible for poor governance and high levels of capture by elites, especially in extractive colonies.
  2. Richard Akresh and Damien de Walque find evidence that the Rwandan genocide is responsible for decreases in education, and so may have long-term effects on the Rwandan economy. Its an interesting paper, though I am not a fan of their instrumental variable approach - which uses the distance to the Ugandan border to instrument for safety - since this is also the major road network into Rwanda from East Africa. Chris Blattman has a much better identification strategy for the causal effect of conflict on education.
  3. The highlight of the day was the session Experiments on Collecting Socio-economic Household Data in Low Income Countries (no links to any of the papers are up yet). I am doing some experiments on profit measurement in Uganda, so it was nice to see other work that tries to better understand the measurement tools social scientists use. There really isn't much work on what is best practice for survey questions, and the major outcome of the discussion is that a lot more study is needed before anyone should feel confortable with any questions they ask. At the end there was an interactive discussion with Quy-Toan Do and Joachim De Weerdt on using small laptops during data collection in the field. I've used PDAs before, but they're very limited in what they can do. The proliferation (and subsequent reduction in cost) of micro PCs is making computers a very attractive option. Sadly, battery power is still bad, so using them in Uganda may not be the right way to go yet.
  4. The Union of Concerned Scientists, which sounds like a (nerdy) superhero team, had a booth display. They are a nonprofit group focused on studying the effects of climate change. I urge everyone to check them out.

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