New Standards in Development Data

LSMS Team Members, Talip Kilic (PhD ’08, American University), Harriet Mugera, John Ilukor and Wilbert Vundru Drazi II, are currently in Mbarara, Isingiro, Masaka and Bukomansimbi districts of Uganda, working alongside the Uganda Bureau of Statistics (UBOS) management (Director Patrick Okello) and field teams; the Precision Agriculture Research Group of the University of New England (Andrew James Robson & Derek Schneider); and the World Agroforestry Center in support of the Methodological Experiment on Banana Variety Identification and Soil Fertility Measurement (BaVIS) field operations.

BaVIS is attempting to test the accuracy of (i) farmer-reported information on banana variety names and attributes compared to DNA fingerprinting of banana leaf samples; (ii) sub-meter spatial resolution satellite imagery based remote sensing of banana varieties compared to DNA fingerprinting and high-accuracy spectroscopy measures of banana leaf samples; and (iii) low-cost, handheld sensors for field-based soil fertility measurement compared to wet chemistry informed lab-based infrared spectroscopy.

The methods that are being tested are specific to a 10x10m sub-plot that is placed randomly in one randomly selected banana plot of each of approximately 600 households interviewed with the World Bank Survey Solutions CAPI software across the four districts of interest.

Credit to the World Bank’s Living Standards Measurement Study Facebook page for this great post and pictures. Visit their page to stay up to date on their work!

Professor Spotlight: Boris Gershman

Boris Gershman has been on the faculty of American University since 2012. Born and raised in Moscow, he came to the United States in 2007 and earned his PhD degree in Economics from Brown University in 2012. His primary research focuses on the deep determinants of long-term economic growth and development and the economics of culture. He is also active in the field of agent-based computational macroeconomics. Professor Gershman’s recent work has been published in the Journal of Development EconomicsJournal of Economic GrowthJournal of Economic Behavior & Organization, and Macroeconomic Dynamics.

He has also recently been featured in Bild and Seeker:

Witch Hunt in the 21st Century

Labeling Women Witches Remains a Powerful Tool for Social Stigmatization


Professor Spotlight: Evan Kraft

Evan Kraft specializes in the economics of transition, monetary policy and banking issues. He served as Director of the Research Department and Adviser to the Governor of the Croatian National Bank. His scholarly work includes studies of soft-budget constraints and their impacts in former Yugoslavia, macroeconomic stabilization in transition countries, banking efficiency, lending booms, deposit growth and financial stability, and monetary policy under dollarization.

Professor Kraft regularly posts contributions on The Hill. Catch up on his most recent and earlier blogs below.

“Economy weathers political storms in 2017, but tests lay ahead” (1/1/2018)

“Here’s to Janet Yellen, the steady hand the US economy needed” (11/25/2017)

“Trump turning Fed choice into ‘Central Bank Apprentice'” (10/28/2017)

“Decoding ‘Fedspeak’: Officials stumped by low wages, inflation” (10/13/2017)

“Little ado about much: Fed ready to move past Great Recession” (9/21/2017)

“After Charlottesville, Fed chair race wide open” (9/14/2017)

“On financial regulation, who will you believe, the criminals  or the cops?” (9/2/2017)

“The dollar’s swoon: There’s smoke, but where’s the fire?” (8/10/2017)

“Tale of the tape: Who should head the Fed, Yellen or Cohn?” (7/28/2017)

“Yellen’s House testimony a ‘lovefest’ compared to past visits” (7/13/17)

“Unusually candid Fed chief recognizes trade’s dark side” (6/30/2017)

“Prodding productivity is pivotal to procuring prosperity” (6/16/2017)

“Hopefully, conservatives’ infrastructure ideas fall on deaf ears” (5/14/2017)

“For the Federal Reserve, to shrink or not shrink is the question” (4/14/2017)

“Latest trade data show shrinking deficit, but don’t be misled” (4/6/2017)

“Don’t be surprised to see the Fed give inflation some leeway” (3/27/2017)

“Currency stockpiles point to vulnerabilities of global economy” (3/11/2017)

“Stronger economy warrants interest rate hikes, but trouble may lay ahead” (3/3/2017)

“Yellen rightly defends Wall Street reform against House GOP criticism” (2/18/2017)

“‘Inflation dragon’ still slumbering, but could awaken soon” (2/1/2017)

“With import tax, we pay for the wall, not Mexico” (1/27/2017)

“Buyers beware: Inflation rising after several sluggish years” (1/18/2017)

“December jobs report shows economy at, or near, ‘full employment'” (1/9/2017)

“New minimum wage hikes help more people than they harm” (1/4/2017)

“After liftoff, Trump-Fed clash could be in the offing in 2017” (12/15/2016)

“Trump boosted Christmas spending? Doubtful” (12/27/2016)

Cents and Sensibility

Professor Jon Wisman notes that “critics from outside the discipline, and from inside (generally heterodox economists such as institutionalists, Marxists, and most recently behavioral economists) have insisted that the mainstream conception of human behavior is not only scientifically inadequate, but socially perverse” in response to the new book by Gary Saul Morson and Morton Schapiro:  Cents and Sensibility.

“In its early years as a developing social science, economics (called political economy at the time) embraced Jeremy Bentham’s utilitarianism to define its theoretical understanding of human behavior. For Thomas Carlyle, this meant that at its core, economics was ‘pig philosophy.’ Social critic John Ruskin was of the same mind, and directly called economics ‘pig philosophy.’ Undeterred, mainstream economics continued to refine, or perhaps better said, reduce, its conception of human behavior to the fundamental position of utilitarianism until today it could be expressed as ‘humans are calculatingly rational self-interested actors.’ Although it’s no longer emphasized, presumably they do so to maximize pleasure and minimize pain, just as Bentham claimed.

However, ever since Carlyle and Ruskin, critics from outside the discipline, and from inside (generally heterodox economists such as institutionalists, Marxists, and most recently behavioral economists) have insisted that the mainstream conception of human behavior is not only scientifically inadequate, but socially perverse insofar as it instructs folks as to how they should behave (studies have found students of economics less generous than students generally). And now, hot off the press is another broadside against our discipline’s understanding of human behavior. It’s Cents and Sensibility by Gary Saul Morson and Morton Schapiro (Princeton University Press/Princeton University Press). Morson teaches language and literature and Schapiro is an economist. Their book probably won’t change the minds of many mainstream economists any more than did the countless earlier works attempting the same thing, but it’ll provide lots of fresh fuel for their critics.”

View more thoughts on Cents and Sensibility in “Why economists need Tolstoy.”


The “other” AEA: American Evaluation Association

PhD students Chang He and Stephan Lefebvre have been working in the Learning Evaluation and Accountability Department (LEAD) of Oxfam America on the project “Old Data, New Ideas for Gender Justice.” The project saw He and Lefebvre reanalyze data from completed agricultural development initiatives in order to add a substantive gender component to the analysis. He completed an analysis of the R4 Rural Resilience Initiative in Senegal, a partnership between Oxfam American and the UN World Food Project, while Lefebvre produced a report on the results from a randomized control trial in Haiti on the System for Rice Intensification (SRI). They presented their work at the American Evaluation Association conference in Washington, D.C. on November 6-11, 2017.

The Emerging Evaluators Fellowship Program allowed He and Lefebvre to gain valuable experience working with practitioners and policy experts at Oxfam while contributing statistical analysis and writing policy briefs. Lefebvre noted: “This was a great fit for Chang and me, especially in light of our coursework in PGAE (Program on Gender Analysis in Economics). The team at Oxfam doesn’t shy away from the technical issues – we had many debates about different econometric approaches and robustness tests – and they also integrate feminist analysis into all of their evaluation and accountability work.” 

Professor Ignacio Gonzalez Garcia

Professor Ignacio Gonzalez Garcia is our newest faculty member, joining American University’s Department of Economics this Fall after completing a Ph.d at the European University Institute and a post-doc at the Columbia University Graduate School of Business.

With two colleagues from the Bank of England, Professor Gonzalez co-organized the Workshop on Growth, Stagnation and Inequality, promoting dialogue about key macroeconomic trends.

His conference paper with Lidia Brun (Universite libre de Bruxelles) finds that changes in the structure of capital taxation and the increase in monopoly rents have increased Tobin’s Q, reduced investment and worsened inequality. Read the paper here: