Can the SEC Cut Down on Foreign Corruption?

Resource-rich developing countries have long struggled to overcome the "resource curse," which includes a strong streak of corruption, but now they're getting a little help from the SEC.  Here's Jeff Colgan of Foreign Policy:

[T]he SEC finally enacted long-overdue regulations requiring any oil company that is publicly listed on a U.S. stock exchange to report the tax, royalty, and other payments it shells out to foreign governments where it operates. Previously, companies were able to conceal this information, enabling a culture of corrupt payoffs that kept the petrodollars flowing into authoritarian leaders' coffers -- even where it directly contravened U.S. interests.

Colgan argues that in addition to helping developing countries, the regulation will reduce violence, which is good news for the U.S. as well.  "Research shows that oil-producing states led by revolutionary governments like that of ousted Libyan leader Muammar al-Qaddafi are more than three times as likely to instigate militarized international conflicts as a typical state," he writes.

Happiness Up, Poverty Down

This is a crosspost from Consultative Group to Assist the Poor (CGAP).

There was plenty of encouraging information shared at the recent “Reaching the Poorest 2012” meeting, convened by CGAP and the Ford Foundation. Together with my fellow researchers, I was among the panelists who presented the findings of well over five years worth of randomized control trials evaluating the impact of the Graduation Model. The projects that were evaluated in Bangladesh, Pakistan, Honduras, and India showed an impact on the livelihoods of the poorest that were targeted. The results were mostly heartening – they showed that Graduation Program participants typically improved their food security, stabilized and diversified income, and increased their assets.

The benefits we’re seeing in the lives of the poorest are big and important. The results are strong evidence that the Graduation Model can work. (We’ll know even more in a couple years when we have full results from seven pilots, with more sites and longer term results to see if results sustain themselves.) One of the most intriguing, and I believe important, results is the simplest: happiness went up in the two sites where “happiness” was measured (Honduras and West Bengal).  As part of the surveys to measure the impact of the program on their livelihoods, participants were also asked a series of questions on their general level of happiness and mental health. Often we talk about consumption and income as a measure of wellbeing.

Hope and Poverty

Is there a role for hope in poverty alleviation programs?  According to a recent speech by economist Esther Duflo, there is. Duflo looked at a BRAC program in West Bengal; program participants were given a "small productive asset" (a cow, a goat, or some chickens) and a small stipend to encourage participants not to immediately eat the animal. The results were significant:

Well after the financial help and hand-holding had stopped, the families of those who had been randomly chosen for the BRAC programme were eating 15% more, earning 20% more each month and skipping fewer meals than people in a comparison group. They were also saving a lot. The effects were so large and persistent that they could not be attributed to the direct effects of the grants: people could not have sold enough milk, eggs or meat to explain the income gains. Nor were they simply selling the assets (although some did).

The Future of USAID

Foreign Policy has published an interesting interview with Rajiv Shah, a United States Agency for International Development (USAID) administrator and former Gates Foundation employee.  Here's Shah on his efforts to bring a business-like mentality to USAID:

I've tried to bring that business-like rigor and the tendency to ask questions -- some would say I ask far too many questions -- to make sure that when we're spending taxpayer resources, we're doing it with that absolute focus that we are making an investment against generating a result.

Acemoglu and Robinson Answer Your Questions

Last week, we solicited your questions for economist Daron Acemoglu and political scientist Jim Robinson, who just published a new book called Why Nations Fail: The Origins of Power, Prosperity, and Poverty and are now blogging on a variety of interesting development topics.

Their thoughtful responses below cover everything from robber barons to the artificial construction of African nations to whether the race of a country's leaders determines its success.  A big thanks to Daron, Jim, and all our readers for another great Q&A.  

First, a note from Daron and Jim: "We thank everybody for these excellent questions and comments. We had to pick a few to be able to provide detailed answers.

Wondering Why Nations Fail? Bring Your Questions for Daron Acemoglu and James Robinson

When it comes to economic ideas, Daron Acemoglu never thinks small. Widely acknowledged as one of the most insightful economists alive, Daron seems to have brilliant things to say about any and all things economic.

When you have that sort of gift, you might as well go after the biggest problems imaginable.  Thus his latest book, Why Nations Fail, written with Harvard political scientist James Robinson.

It is an awesome piece of work.  So full of ideas and wisdom, but still so easy to read.  I just love it.  Daron and Jim have agreed to take your questions about their new book, so please leave them in the comments section below.  To get you started, here's the table of contents:

Why Nations Fail

One of the great experiences of my stint in grad school was taking Advanced Macro classes from a fellow who at the time was regarded as a promising young professor at MIT -- Daron Acemoglu.  It was well worth making the bike trip from Harvard, down Mass. Ave., to learn from him.  He is surely the most productive economist alive.  And his frequent collaborator Jim Robinson may just be the most interesting political scientist.  Their joint research program — figuring out what works and what doesn't in economic development -- involves asking some of the most important questions any social scientist can ask.  

Food Aid: Bad for Peace?

A new working paper (ungated version here) by Nathan Nunn and Nancy Qian may have interesting implications for U.S. policy on humanitarian aid. We've blogged before about the "crowding out" effect of food aid, but this research points to another alarming effect:

[A]n increase in U.S. food aid increases the incidence, onset and duration of civil conflicts in recipient countries. Our results suggest that the effects are larger for smaller scale civil conflicts.

System D: The Shadow Economy is the Second Largest in the World

In 2009, the OECD concluded that half the world's workers (almost 1.8 billion people) were employed in the shadow economy. By 2020, the OECD predicts the shadow economy will employ two-thirds of the world's workers.

This new economy even has a name: "System D."

In a new article (accompanying photoessay here) for Foreign Policy, Robert Neuwirth explains:

System D is a slang phrase pirated from French-speaking Africa and the Caribbean. The French have a word that they often use to describe particularly effective and motivated people. They call them débrouillards. To say a man is a débrouillard is to tell people how resourceful and ingenious he is. The former French colonies have sculpted this word to their own social and economic reality. They say that inventive, self-starting, entrepreneurial merchants who are doing business on their own, without registering or being regulated by the bureaucracy and, for the most part, without paying taxes, are part of "l'economie de la débrouillardise." Or, sweetened for street use, "Systeme D." This essentially translates as the ingenuity economy, the economy of improvisation and self-reliance, the do-it-yourself, or DIY, economy.

International Aid and Mobile Cash Transfers

We've blogged before about the many applications of mobile phone technology in developing countries, especially when it comes to mobile banking. In much of the developing world, particularly in Africa, mobile phones are thriving in remote villages, while access to electricity, clean water, schools and government services is weak at best; yet cellular service is strong.

A new research paper by Jenny C. Aker, Rachid Boumnijel, Amanda McClelland and Niall Tierney analyzes the effectiveness of yet another mobile application gaining strength in the developing world: cash transfer programs. After a drought in Niger in 2009 and 2010, Concern Worldwide, an international NGO, provided "unconditional cash transfers to approximately 10,000 households during the 'hungry season,' the five-month period before the harvest and typically the time of increased malnutrition."

Instead of distributing cash in the usual way, the NGO conducted a randomized experiment: one-third of targeted villages received a monthly cash transfer through a mobile system called zap; another third received manual cash transfers, and the remaining third received manual cash transfers plus a mobile phone.