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The Power and Pitfalls of Experiments in Development Economics: Some Non-random Reflections

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  • Christopher B. Barrett
  • Michael R. Carter

Abstract

Impact evaluation based on randomized controlled trials (RCTs) offers a powerful tool that has fundamentally reshaped development economics by offering novel solutions to long-standing problems of weak causal identification. Nonetheless, RCTs suffer important and underappreciated pitfalls, some of which are intrinsic to the method when applied to economic problems, others that are the result of methodological boosterism. Among the pitfalls are ethical dilemmas, uncontrollable treatments that result in a 'faux exogeneity,' distortion of the research agenda, and a tendency to estimate interventions' abstract efficacy rather than their effectiveness in practice. We illustrate these points through the literature on smallholder capital access and productivity growth. Ultimately, we argue for a methodological pluralism that recognizes all identification strategies' limitations. Copyright 2010, Oxford University Press.

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Bibliographic Info

Article provided by Agricultural and Applied Economics Association in its journal Applied Economic Perspectives and Policy.

Volume (Year): 32 (2010)
Issue (Month): 4 ()
Pages: 515-548

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Handle: RePEc:oup:apecpp:v:32:y:2010:i:4:p:515-548

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Cited by:
  1. Sarah Baird & Craig McIntosh & Berk �zler, 2011. "Cash or Condition? Evidence from a Cash Transfer Experiment," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, Oxford University Press, vol. 126(4), pages 1709-1753.
  2. Henrik Hansen & Ninja Ritter Klejnstrup & Ole Winckler Andersen, 2011. "A Comparison of Model-based and Design-based Impact Evaluations of Interventions in Developing Countries," IFRO Working Paper 2011/16, University of Copenhagen, Department of Food and Resource Economics.
  3. Quisumbing, Agnes R. & Baulch, Bob & Kumar, Neha, 2011. "Evaluating the long-term impact of antipoverty interventions in Bangladesh: An overview," IFPRI discussion papers 1077, International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI).
  4. Jimena Hurtado, 2014. "Albert O. Hirschman y la economía del desarrollo: lecciones para el presente," REVISTA CUADERNOS DE ECONOMÍA, UN - RCE - CID.
  5. Gentilini, Ugo & Omamo, Steven Were, 2011. "Social protection 2.0: Exploring issues, evidence and debates in a globalizing world," Food Policy, Elsevier, vol. 36(3), pages 329-340, June.
  6. Barrett, Christopher B. & Bachke, Maren E. & Bellemare, Marc F. & Michelson, Hope C. & Narayanan, Sudha & Walker, Thomas F., 2012. "Smallholder Participation in Contract Farming: Comparative Evidence from Five Countries," World Development, Elsevier, vol. 40(4), pages 715-730.
  7. González-Flores, Mario & Bravo-Ureta, Boris E. & Solís, Daniel & Winters, Paul, 2014. "The impact of high value markets on smallholder productivity in the Ecuadorean Sierra: A Stochastic Production Frontier approach correcting for selectivity bias," Food Policy, Elsevier, vol. 44(C), pages 237-247.
  8. Garg, Teevrat & Barrett, Christopher B. & Gómez, Miguel I. & Lentz, Erin C. & Violette, William J., 2013. "Market Prices and Food Aid Local and Regional Procurement and Distribution: A Multi-Country Analysis," World Development, Elsevier, vol. 49(C), pages 19-29.
  9. Barrientos, Armando & Villa, Juan M., 2013. "Evaluating antipoverty transfer programmes in Latin America and sub-Saharan Africa: Better policies? Better politics?," Working Paper Series UNU-WIDER Research Paper , World Institute for Development Economic Research (UNU-WIDER).
  10. Barrett, Christopher B. & Bachke, Maren E. & Bellemare, Marc F. & Michelson, Hope C. & Narayanan, Sudha & Walker, Thomas F., 2010. "Smallholder Participation in Agricultural Value Chains: Comparative Evidence from Three Continents," MPRA Paper 27829, University Library of Munich, Germany.

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