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Katrina Lewis
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I found Ester Duflo’s paper to be an important read. She included statistics measuring a variety of factors in both different countries and time periods, yet again and again they led to the same conclusion: gender inequality is hurting economic development because countries are not tapping into their women’s potential. I appreciated that Duflo did in several instances point out that empowering women can have costs associated with it. Empowering women is an undeniably important mission, but as with most policy decisions, it comes with tradeoffs. The example I found most compelling was the one considering funding scholarships for girls versus resources that could help both boys and girls, like hiring new teachers or deworming students. Even though I am an advocate for girls and women, this example made me think about the equity of spending the public’s money on resources for one gender over resources for both. I think Duflo did a great job of explaining how situations like the one at hand can be rationalized: “Policies that explicitly favor women need to be justified, not just in terms of being necessary to bring about gender equality, but in terms of gender equality itself being desirable and worth the cost it implies,” (1063). In the long run, there is no tradeoff between helping women instead of helping everyone because empowering women benefits everyone, as both Sen and Duflo show in various different ways. Duflo’s paper reminded me a lot about the conversations my poverty studies class is having about impoverished women and their children. We recently read “Inequality at Birth” by Janet Currie, which looks at the difference between babies born to less educated mothers and babies born to more educated (often college educated) mothers. Currie uses birth weight as her measure of health at birth because although it is an imperfect measure, it is the best available and the most widely reported. She finds that, isolating for other factors, women receiving an additional year of college education reduces their babies’ potential for low birth weight by 10 percent. More education for the mother in general leads to a healthier outcome for her baby at birth. Currie suggests that incidences of low birth weight matter because poor health at birth goes on to affect educational outcomes and thus economic outcomes later in life. We have read other papers, too, that have emphasized the link between mothers and their children, so as I read Duflo’s paper, I found myself thinking about how the consequences of not empowering women can be passed down. For example, because families think educating girls is less important than educating boys, girls attend fewer years of schooling, and already through that choice, girls are more at risk to later in life to have sickly children that are disadvantaged at birth.
Toggle Commented Oct 18, 2018 on ECON 280 for Friday at Jolly Green General
Rodrik’s piece includes many case studies to show that there is no one-size-fits-all approach to either igniting or sustaining economic growth. He asserts that the “higher-order economic principles” of property rights, sound money, fiscal solvency and market-oriented incentives are necessary, at least minimally, to experience growth, but otherwise growth is an individualized process. His piece is frustratingly honest about how little can be generalized about growth and the likelihood that lessons from one country can be applied with success elsewhere. In many ways, his paper’s conclusions about growth seem very similar to a common class phrase—“it depends.” I think that reading Krugman’s piece last week about the limitations of economic models was a great set up for the Rodrik reading. Krugman discusses how model users need to be aware of the assumptions tied to models and then expect to draw conclusions from models only when the assumptions can hold. You cannot use models, with all their assumptions, in any situation and expect to be able to draw meaningful conclusions. In the same way, you cannot apply growth strategies that were developed with consideration for one country’s “capabilities, constraints and opportunities” in another country and expect to see comparable growth rates. As Rodrik says, “institutional innovations do not travel well.” The other similarity I noticed between the works we read by Krugman and Rodrik was that they both support imperfect concepts. Krugman identifies many shortcomings of models, but in the end, he still thinks they are invaluable to the field of economics for what they can show us. Rodrik cannot boil the historical case studies down to a single, generalized growth strategy, but he still thinks there is a lot to learn from how countries have worked toward achieving the higher principles. He also shows that theories that have been proven to not stand in broad application, like the Washington Consensus, can still be beneficial to consider.
Toggle Commented Oct 5, 2018 on ECON 280: Rodrik Paper at Jolly Green General
Krugman makes two important points in “The Fall and Rise of Development Economics” that I think everyone studying economics should understand. The piece is especially applicable for our class since he illustrates his broader assertions using economic development models, but I would argue that this piece has value outside of the specific field of development economics. I think his piece would help first-time econ students especially because he explains the complexities of using models in a readable, digestible way through his use of anecdotes. My main takeaways from the piece were that (1) models are unrealistic in many ways but (2) they are nonetheless necessary in the field of economics. Krugman does not hide that he thinks models are “silly” in the sense that they are often based on “clearly untrue simplifications.” He notes that economists have to make assumptions when designing models because, as he explains through the anecdote about Dave Fultz, “the unrealism of Fultz's model world was dictated by what he was able to or could be bothered to build -- in effect, by the limitations of his modeling technique.” I think the fact that he acknowledges the shortcomings of models makes his ability to advocate for their importance far greater because if he only addressed the pro-model side, it would be easy to undermine his argument by pointing out the deficiencies of models. Krugman goes on to state that shortcomings aside, models are still necessary in the field of economics because they ensure that findings are “codified in a reproducible -- and teachable -- form.” Moreover, so long as more insight is gained than is lost, a model is doing its job. He importantly defines what makes for a good model because his definition gets at the commonly held belief that a good model has to represent reality. Rather, “it is a good model if it succeeds in explaining or rationalizing some of what you see in the world in a way that you might not have expected.”
Toggle Commented Sep 27, 2018 on ECON 280 for Friday at Jolly Green General
As I was reading the article, I found myself thinking back to Amartya Sen’s Development as Freedom, and more specifically, his view on institutions within a country. “There is a need to develop and support a plurality of institutions, including democratic systems, legal mechanisms, market structures, educational and health provisions, media and other communication facilities and so on,” (53). I think this need for institutions is shown by the findings of Wang, Wong and Yip as summarized in Table 4. I think that having established institutions would help countries foster the table’s six development-enhancing factors. On the other hand, I can see how institutions can be viewed as the sources of the four development-retarding factors as well. I think the difference between institutions being development-enhancing or development-retarding comes down to whether the countries’ political systems allow citizens to hold the institutions accountable. I do not think it is a coincidence that in the above quotation Sen lists democratic systems as the first institution that a country needs. I found the country studies section to be the most interesting part of the article because I do not know a lot about the backgrounds of developing countries. The section helped me make the connection between countries’ histories, the development-enhancing and development-retarding factors they have experienced and their recent growth patterns. The one country’s history that I think could have been better explained, however, was that of Chile. The section about the Chicago boys did little to describe how the group of economists improved the economy and rather focused on the outcomes they achieved, which seemed rather insufficient, in my opinion, for an article aimed at explaining drivers of development.
Toggle Commented Sep 20, 2018 on ECON 280 for Friday at Jolly Green General
I think Jeffrey Sachs makes an important point when he defends the implementation of the SDGs, saying “the world should aim not to merely to achieve the MDGs where they have not been met, but to carry on with the task initiated at the very start of the UN itself” (2208). I think that distinguishing between the SDGs and the MDGs is also helpful because by branding the SDGs differently, Sachs distances them from the criticism that the MDGs received, which improves the chance of the SDGs being widely adopted. Sachs does a solid job addressing the shortcomings of the MDGs. The most significant correction I think he made in structuring the SDGs was adding status check points throughout the 15-year period because I think the goals are too big to achieve without first breaking them down into smaller, more manageable pieces. I think the other revisions he makes are valid, too, but I would argue there are two areas where he could have made more of a change to the structure of the SDGs after observing the MDGs. First, I think that the SDGs should lay out different goals for developed versus developing countries. I understand that the SDGs are worldwide goals, but I think that developed and developing countries should have different expectations laid out for them because they start from very different places. It is not reasonable to expect developing countries to achieve the same goals as developed countries in the same period of time. Second, I think that the SDGs should be prioritized, which was a common criticism of the MDGs, as the textbook points out. I think that if the SDGs were prioritized, several goals would be wholly completed as opposed to a lot of goals partially completed, which would be a more productive use of resources.
Toggle Commented Sep 13, 2018 on ECON 280 at Jolly Green General
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Sep 7, 2018