IDEAS home Printed from https://ideas.repec.org/
MyIDEAS: Log in (now much improved!) to save this paper

Instruments of development: Randomization in the tropics, and the search for the elusive keys to economic development

  • Angus S. Deaton

There 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 movement in development economics towards the use 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, this movement advocates 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 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. As with IV methods, RCT-based evaluation of projects 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.

If you experience problems downloading a file, check if you have the proper application to view it first. In case of further problems read the IDEAS help page. Note that these files are not on the IDEAS site. Please be patient as the files may be large.

File URL: http://www.nber.org/papers/w14690.pdf
Download Restriction: no

Paper provided by National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc in its series NBER Working Papers with number 14690.

as
in new window

Length:
Date of creation: Jan 2009
Handle: RePEc:nbr:nberwo:14690
Note: AG EFG HC
Contact details of provider: Postal:
National Bureau of Economic Research, 1050 Massachusetts Avenue Cambridge, MA 02138, U.S.A.

Phone: 617-868-3900
Web page: http://www.nber.org
Email:


More information through EDIRC

References listed on IDEAS
Please report citation or reference errors to , or , if you are the registered author of the cited work, log in to your RePEc Author Service profile, click on "citations" and make appropriate adjustments.:

as in new window
  1. Carl-Johan Dalgaard & Henrik Hansen & Finn Tarp, 2004. "On The Empirics of Foreign Aid and Growth," Economic Journal, Royal Economic Society, vol. 114(496), pages F191-F216, 06.
  2. List John A., 2007. "Field Experiments: A Bridge between Lab and Naturally Occurring Data," The B.E. Journal of Economic Analysis & Policy, De Gruyter, vol. 5(2), pages 1-47, April.
  3. Daron Acemoglu & Simon Johnson & James A. Robinson, 2000. "The Colonial Origins of Comparative Development: An Empirical Investigation," NBER Working Papers 7771, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  4. Raghuram G. Rajan & Arvind Subramanian, 2008. "Aid and Growth: What Does the Cross-Country Evidence Really Show?," The Review of Economics and Statistics, MIT Press, vol. 90(4), pages 643-665, November.
  5. Karlan, Dean S. & Zinman, Jonathan, 2007. "Credit Elasticities in Less-Developed Economies: Implications for Microfinance," CEPR Discussion Papers 6071, C.E.P.R. Discussion Papers.
  6. James J. Heckman & Sergio Urzua & Edward Vytlacil, 2006. "Understanding Instrumental Variables in Models with Essential Heterogeneity," The Review of Economics and Statistics, MIT Press, vol. 88(3), pages 389-432, August.
  7. Lisa Sanbonmatsu & Jeffrey R. Kling & Greg J. Duncan & Jeanne Brooks-Gunn, 2006. "Neighborhoods and Academic Achievement: Results from the Moving to Opportunity Experiment," Journal of Human Resources, University of Wisconsin Press, vol. 41(4).
  8. Joshua D. Angrist & Jörn-Steffen Pischke, 2010. "The Credibility Revolution in Empirical Economics: How Better Research Design is taking the Con out of Econometrics," CEP Discussion Papers dp0976, Centre for Economic Performance, LSE.
  9. Richard Blundell & Monica Costa Dias, 2008. "Alternative approaches to evaluation in empirical microeconomics," CeMMAP working papers CWP26/08, Centre for Microdata Methods and Practice, Institute for Fiscal Studies.
  10. Esther Duflo & Rema Hanna, 2006. "Monitoring works: Getting teachers to come to school," Framed Field Experiments 00142, The Field Experiments Website.
  11. Joshua D. Angrist, 1989. "Lifetime Earnings and the Vietnam Era Draft Lottery: Evidence from Social Security Administrative Records," Working Papers 631, Princeton University, Department of Economics, Industrial Relations Section..
  12. William Easterly, 2009. "Can the West Save Africa?," Journal of Economic Literature, American Economic Association, vol. 47(2), pages 373-447, June.
  13. Hansen, Henrik & Tarp, Finn, 2001. "Aid and growth regressions," Journal of Development Economics, Elsevier, vol. 64(2), pages 547-570, April.
  14. Reiss, Peter C. & Wolak, Frank A., 2007. "Structural Econometric Modeling: Rationales and Examples from Industrial Organization," Handbook of Econometrics, in: J.J. Heckman & E.E. Leamer (ed.), Handbook of Econometrics, edition 1, volume 6, chapter 64 Elsevier.
  15. Joshua D. Angrist & Alan B. Krueger, 1990. "Does Compulsory School Attendance Affect Schooling and Earnings?," Working Papers 653, Princeton University, Department of Economics, Industrial Relations Section..
  16. Steven D. Levitt & John A. List, 2008. "Field Experiments in Economics: The Past, The Present, and The Future," NBER Working Papers 14356, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  17. Paul Glewwe & Michael Kremer & Sylvie Moulin & Eric Zitzewitz, 2000. "Retrospective vs. Prospective Analyses of School Inputs: The Case of Flip Charts in Kenya," NBER Working Papers 8018, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  18. McCrary, Justin, 2008. "Manipulation of the running variable in the regression discontinuity design: A density test," Journal of Econometrics, Elsevier, vol. 142(2), pages 698-714, February.
  19. Robert J. Barro, 2012. "Inflation and Economic Growth," CEMA Working Papers 568, China Economics and Management Academy, Central University of Finance and Economics.
  20. R. Lensink & H. White, 2001. "Are There Negative Returns to Aid?," Journal of Development Studies, Taylor & Francis Journals, vol. 37(6), pages 42-65.
  21. James J. Heckman, 2000. "Causal Parameters and Policy Analysis in Economics: A Twentieth Century Retrospective," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, Oxford University Press, vol. 115(1), pages 45-97.
  22. Leamer, Edward E., 1985. "Vector autoregressions for causal inference?," Carnegie-Rochester Conference Series on Public Policy, Elsevier, vol. 22(1), pages 255-304, January.
  23. Robert J. Barro, 1996. "Determinants of Economic Growth: A Cross-Country Empirical Study," NBER Working Papers 5698, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  24. Xavier Sala-I-Martin, 1997. "Transfers, Social Safety Nets, and Economic Growth," IMF Staff Papers, Palgrave Macmillan, vol. 44(1), pages 81-102, March.
  25. Imbens, Guido W & Angrist, Joshua D, 1994. "Identification and Estimation of Local Average Treatment Effects," Econometrica, Econometric Society, vol. 62(2), pages 467-75, March.
  26. Christopher A. Sims, 2010. "But Economics Is Not an Experimental Science," Journal of Economic Perspectives, American Economic Association, vol. 24(2), pages 59-68, Spring.
  27. William Easterly (ed.), 2008. "Reinventing Foreign Aid," MIT Press Books, The MIT Press, edition 1, volume 1, number 0262550660, March.
  28. Abhijit Vinayak Banerjee & Alice H. Amsden & Robert H. Bates & Jagdish Bhagwati & Angus Deaton & Nicholas Stern, 2007. "Making Aid Work," MIT Press Books, The MIT Press, edition 1, volume 1, number 0262026155, March.
  29. Boone, Peter, 1996. "Politics and the effectiveness of foreign aid," European Economic Review, Elsevier, vol. 40(2), pages 289-329, February.
  30. de Mel, Suresh & McKenzie, David & Woodruff, Christopher, 2007. "Returns to Capital in Microenterprises: Evidence from a Field Experiment," IZA Discussion Papers 2934, Institute for the Study of Labor (IZA).
  31. Caroline M. Hoxby, 2000. "Does Competition among Public Schools Benefit Students and Taxpayers?," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 90(5), pages 1209-1238, December.
  32. Duflo, Esther & Glennerster, Rachel & Kremer, Michael, 2008. "Using Randomization in Development Economics Research: A Toolkit," Handbook of Development Economics, Elsevier.
  33. Edward Miguel & Michael Kremer, 2004. "Worms: Identifying Impacts on Education and Health in the Presence of Treatment Externalities," Econometrica, Econometric Society, vol. 72(1), pages 159-217, 01.
  34. Edward Miguel & Shanker Satyanath & Ernest Sergenti, 2004. "Economic Shocks and Civil Conflict: An Instrumental Variables Approach," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 112(4), pages 725-753, August.
  35. Guido W. Imbens, 2010. "Better LATE Than Nothing: Some Comments on Deaton (2009) and Heckman and Urzua (2009)," Journal of Economic Literature, American Economic Association, vol. 48(2), pages 399-423, June.
  36. Angrist, Joshua D, 1990. "Lifetime Earnings and the Vietnam Era Draft Lottery: Evidence from Social Security Administrative Records: Errata," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 80(5), pages 1284-1286, December.
  37. Bertrand, Marianne & Karlan, Dean & Mullainathan, Sendhil & Shafir, Eldar & Zinman, Jonathan, 2009. "What's Advertising Content Worth? Evidence from a Consumer Credit Marketing Field Experiment," Working Papers 58, Yale University, Department of Economics.
  38. Rodrik, Dani, 2008. "The New Development Economics: We Shall Experiment, but How Shall We Learn?," Working Paper Series rwp08-055, Harvard University, John F. Kennedy School of Government.
  39. James J. Heckman & Jeffrey A. Smith, 1995. "Assessing the Case for Social Experiments," Journal of Economic Perspectives, American Economic Association, vol. 9(2), pages 85-110, Spring.
  40. James Heckman, 1997. "Instrumental Variables: A Study of Implicit Behavioral Assumptions Used in Making Program Evaluations," Journal of Human Resources, University of Wisconsin Press, vol. 32(3), pages 441-462.
  41. N. Gregory Mankiw & David Romer & David N. Weil, 1990. "A Contribution to the Empirics of Economic Growth," NBER Working Papers 3541, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  42. Henrik Hansen & Finn Tarp, 2000. "Aid effectiveness disputed," Journal of International Development, John Wiley & Sons, Ltd., vol. 12(3), pages 375-398, 04.
  43. Rachel M. McCleary & Robert J. Barro, 2006. "Religion and Economy," Journal of Economic Perspectives, American Economic Association, vol. 20(2), pages 49-72, Spring.
  44. Esther Duflo & Michael Kremer & Jonathan Robinson, 2011. "Nudging Farmers to Use Fertilizer: Theory and Experimental Evidence from Kenya," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 101(6), pages 2350-2390, October.
  45. repec:feb:artefa:0087 is not listed on IDEAS
  46. Kanbur, Ravi, 2001. "Economic Policy, Distribution and Poverty: The Nature of Disagreements," World Development, Elsevier, vol. 29(6), pages 1083-1094, June.
  47. Patrick GUILLAUMONT & Lisa CHAUVET, 1999. "Aid and Performance: A Reassessment," Working Papers 199910, CERDI.
  48. Charles F. Manski, 1996. "Learning about Treatment Effects from Experiments with Random Assignment of Treatments," Journal of Human Resources, University of Wisconsin Press, vol. 31(4), pages 709-733.
  49. Kenneth I. Wolpin & Petra E. Todd, 2006. "Assessing the Impact of a School Subsidy Program in Mexico: Using a Social Experiment to Validate a Dynamic Behavioral Model of Child Schooling and Fertility," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 96(5), pages 1384-1417, December.
Full references (including those not matched with items on IDEAS)

This item is featured on the following reading lists or Wikipedia pages:

  1. Economic Logic blog

When requesting a correction, please mention this item's handle: RePEc:nbr:nberwo:14690. See general information about how to correct material in RePEc.

For technical questions regarding this item, or to correct its authors, title, abstract, bibliographic or download information, contact: ()

If you have authored this item and are not yet registered with RePEc, we encourage you to do it here. This allows to link your profile to this item. It also allows you to accept potential citations to this item that we are uncertain about.

If references are entirely missing, you can add them using this form.

If the full references list an item that is present in RePEc, but the system did not link to it, you can help with this form.

If you know of missing items citing this one, you can help us creating those links by adding the relevant references in the same way as above, for each refering item. If you are a registered author of this item, you may also want to check the "citations" tab in your profile, as there may be some citations waiting for confirmation.

Please note that corrections may take a couple of weeks to filter through the various RePEc services.

This information is provided to you by IDEAS at the Research Division of the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis using RePEc data.