Instruments, randomization, and learning about development
AbstractThere is currently much debate about the effectiveness of foreign aid and about what kind of projects can engender economic development. There is skepticism about the ability of econometric analysis to resolve these issues, or of development agencies to learn from their own experience. In response, there is increasing use in development economics of randomized controlled trials (RCTs) to accumulate credible knowledge of what works, without over-reliance on questionable theory or statistical methods. When RCTs are not possible, the proponents of these methods advocate quasi-randomization through instrumental variable (IV) techniques or natural experiments. I argue that many of these applications are unlikely to recover quantities that are useful for policy or understanding: two key issues are the misunderstanding of exogeneity, and the handling of heterogeneity. I illustrate from the literature on aid and growth. Actual randomization faces similar problems as does quasi-randomization, notwithstanding rhetoric to the contrary. I argue that experiments have no special ability to produce more credible knowledge than other methods, and that actual experiments are frequently subject to practical problems that undermine any claims to statistical or epistemic superiority. I illustrate using prominent experiments in development and elsewhere. As with IV methods, RCT-based evaluation of projects, without guidance from an understanding of underlying mechanisms, is unlikely to lead to scientific progress in the understanding of economic development. I welcome recent trends in development experimentation away from the evaluation of projects and towards the evaluation of theoretical mechanisms.
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Bibliographic InfoPaper provided by Princeton University, Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs, Research Program in Development Studies. in its series Working Papers with number 1224.
Date of creation: Mar 2010
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Randomized controlled trials; mechanisms; instrumental variables; development; foreign aid; growth; poverty reduction;
Other versions of this item:
- Angus Deaton, 2010. "Instruments, Randomization, and Learning about Development," Journal of Economic Literature, American Economic Association, vol. 48(2), pages 424-55, June.
- C01 - Mathematical and Quantitative Methods - - General - - - Econometrics
- C80 - Mathematical and Quantitative Methods - - Data Collection and Data Estimation Methodology; Computer Programs - - - General
- D60 - Microeconomics - - Welfare Economics - - - General
- F35 - International Economics - - International Finance - - - Foreign Aid
- I32 - Health, Education, and Welfare - - Welfare and Poverty - - - Measurement and Analysis of Poverty
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Blog mentionsAs found by EconAcademics.org, the blog aggregator for Economics research:
- Economics: Art or Science?
by Maxine Udall (girl economist) in Maxine Udall Girl Economist on 2011-01-15 08:42:17
- Deaton - Instruments, Randomisation and Learning about Development
by Liam Delaney in Geary Behaviour Centre on 2010-07-24 18:57:00
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