Italy’s Election Results Are Bad News for All of Us

Italy’s Election Results Are Bad News for All of Us

An interesting look at the results of this week’s elections in Italy. It seems that political theatre and the failure of politicians to make important decisions while facing economic crises (US continued budget brinkmanship, Chavez and Economics in Venezuela, etc.) is becoming a pandemic. Not sure what will happen in Italy, but after reading this blog post none of the most likely outcomes outlines by Douglas Elliot sounds all that great.

The MCC Effect

Does the MCC Effect Exist?

This is an interesting post at the Center for Global Development’s Rethinking US Foreign Assistance Blog summarizing the current body of knowledge to the effects of the Millennium Challenge Corporation’s (MCC) Eligibility Indicators. The blog itself is an interesting quick read, and has a lot of good links to different studies looking at the influence of the MCC in policy application. I would definitely recommend checking out the new study by Parks and Rice that inspired this CGD blog post. While it isn’t  by any means a rigorous impact evaluation it is still an interesting survey looking at how MCC and other international indicators have influenced policy makers and development practitioners. I found two things found in the study particularly interesting.

  • The survey data suggest that the policy influence of external assessments may have more to do with signaling credibility to investors, creditors, and donor agencies than directly influencing specific aid allocation decisions. Parks and Rice 2013. p.3

I thought this was interesting. It means that for many policy makers the indicators created by external agencies like the MCC serve more as a cover of legitimacy to making certain reforms. Meaning, that instead of creating a push for previously unlikely reforms, it is more a facilitating tool that enables or eases the process of gaining legitimacy on public reforms that were already on the table. This doesn’t mean that the indicators don’t have value, it just weakens the effect of external indicators. It changes the counter-factual. No longer are we talking about indicators leading to reforms that wouldn’t have happened prior to the indicators. Instead it is talking about facilitating the implementation of reforms that were already being considered.

  • Politics matter, and politicians like all individuals respond to incentives. 
MCA Policy Influence. (Parks and Rice Feb 2013, p. 4)

MCA Policy Influence. (Parks and Rice Feb 2013, p. 4)

These incentives greatly impact how influential the specific MCC indicators are towards pushing reform. I copied and pasted the following graph from the Parks and Rice study because it illustrates the limitations of external indicators in influencing policy makers when they contradict local socio-political incentives structures. As we can see the more political the indicators get the less readily they are accepted by policy makers in their decision making progress. Does this mean that these political indicators should be dropped? Probably not, but it just suggests that we should be realistic as to how influential external indicators can be, and try to build up awareness of how these indicators are tied to beneficial results that have short-term as well as long term benefits for implementing countries, and perhaps more importantly potential reform implementer.

Book Review: Invisible Armies: The Impact of Disease on American History

Invisible Armies

Invisible Armies: The Impact of Disease on American History by Howard N. Simpson
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

By now, we take for granted that disease was important, but the categorical way that Simpson documents hundreds of moments where disease played a deciding role in critical outcomes was shocking. Many of the stories were already familiar to me, but having all of them stringed together in a single 500 year narrative lends an impressive weight to the effects of micro-organisms in the development of the modern world.

This book isn’t the newest, having been published in 1980. So some of the novelty of the issue of the effects of disease on civilization and history has been lost if you have read more recent books like Guns, Germs, and Steel: The Fates of Human Societies. Nevertheless, this book is an interesting look at the often critical impact of disease on the development of the United States. It is also a fairly easy and quick read. If you have limited time don’t want to read multiple books on the topic I would recommend Guns, Germs, and Steel before Invisible Armies. However, I still think this book is pretty interesting and worth reading despite it being over 30 years since its publication.

Chavez is back…or is he?

Chavez’s Return Spurs Doubts, New Speculation

I didn’t think this situation could get any shadier than Chavez being sequestered away in a hospital in Cuba, but I guess I was wrong. Chavez supposedly is back as reported by the Venezuelan government, and there isn’t any specific reason to believe otherwise, but the strange way that the government has handled his “disappearance” from public life is odd to say the least. The government’s actions basically beg people to ask what is being hidden, and lead to some spectacular rumor mongering and speculation, which can only erode society’s trust in the government. Assuming Chavez is alive and in Venezuela, which again there is no reason to believe otherwise at this time, it is hard to imagine a worse way of handling this situation.

The importance of Measurement in Development

WSJ: Bill Gates on the Importance of Measurement

There is nothing dramatically new in this short Wall Street Journal article from last month, but we can never have too much harping on the importance of collecting better data, and quality monitoring and evaluation (M&E) in development. Too many decisions are made on poor or incomplete data. Millions of dollars and hours of time are wasted on projects, without ensuring that positive outcomes are being achieved.

Without a doubt, better measurement needs to be stressed in the field of economic development world. Thankfully Gates, among many others, is doing more than just stressing the importance of measurement, they are trying to make real changes.

While the battle for convincing people of the importance of M&E isn’t fully complete, thankfully, consensus towards measurement is occurring. However, finding what and how to measure in complex multi-sector problems isn’t easy, and many of the incentives that development agencies face negatively impact the quality of measurement that occurs. Measurement is expensive, and many development agencies still think of measurement as a task apart from implementation. This leads to a mindset where money for evaluation takes away available money for implementation. This mentality needs to change. While it is easy to understand why we might think this is a trade off, this is a false decision. M&E is essential to all aspects of any project. Without it we can measure progress towards objectives, alter course to changing circumstances, or prove our effectiveness. M&E needs to be mainstreamed in development. Without this we cannot distinguish our success from our failures, which sure makes learning from past projects difficult. This mainstreaming cannot only happen at the implementation level. Implementing organizations work within a funding environment that has its own challenges and incentives. Thus, funding agencies need to prioritize money for these activities. Demanding M&E from their implementing partners, without allowing for realistic resources for quality M&E is a recipe for maintaining the status quo. Money needs to be set aside for improved M&E, and for training to ensure that quality metrics are used as objectives, and that accurate data is collected.

The Gates foundation has done much in pushing the development community towards greater rigor in their projects, and going beyond good intentions to trying to show that good intentions are being turned into positive outcomes.  I for one applaud their efforts and look forward to continued progress on this front.