My #NEUDC2018 Recap

This past weekend, I had the pleasure of attending the North East Universities Development Consortium (NEUDC) conference. I presented my paper on the impact of the Dodd-Frank Act in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) and surrounding countries (working paper available here and presentation slides here). It was an excellent conference and a wonderful experience (not least of which because Cornell University kind-of feels like Hogwarts).

Much has already been summarized and much more will be written, so I will just highlight a few presentations of papers that I think are particularly cool and interesting.

Note: This is by no means an exhaustive list of each of the neat and credible papers presented at NEUDC this year. For this, see the micro-summaries of all 150+ (!) papers by Dave Evans. Also, I’ve refrained from linking to papers that include a note to “not circulate”.

Information, credit, and inputs: the impacts and mechanisms of a program to raise smallholder productivity by Deutschmann, Duru, Siegal, and Tjernstrom

Across sub-Saharan Africa, agricultural productivity lags behind that of other regions in the world. Additionally, poverty (particularly persistent poverty) is largely concentrated in rural areas. Therefore, boosting agricultural productivity in rural areas of sub-Saharan Africa is a clear policy goal. Unfortunately, this task is remarkably challenging. One organization that seems to be making some progress is the One Acre Fund. The programs of the One Acre Fund are specifically designed to address the multiple binding constraints that many smallholder farmers may face in rural areas. This strategy is a breath of fresh air since it seems quite unrealistic to think that only one constraint (say, for example, access to credit) is the only thing holding poor farmers back from achieving prosperity. Performing a randomized control trial, the authors find that participation in One Acre Fund programs causes statistically significant and economically meaningful changes in both yields and profits. The authors do a host of further analysis testing for mechanisms and performing heterogeneity analysis. This is an awesome paper!

Income, Psychological Well-being, and the Dynamics of Poverty by Mo Alloush (paper available here)

A popular idea suggests that income (economic well-being) influences psychological well-being. A perhaps less well-known idea is that psychological well-being influences economic well-being. If both of these ideas are correct, then it is possible that such a feedback loop could act as an important mechanism that traps people in poverty. That is, low levels of economic well-being cause low levels of psychological well-being and—in turn—low levels of psychological well-being cause further low levels of economic well-being. Even if you have only experienced introductory statistics, estimating the causal effects of these sorts of dynamics is quite a difficult challenge. The author overcomes the associated statistical challenges by using a unique source of data that allows for a specialized identification strategy. Results confirm the idea of an economic to psychological and a psychological to economic feedback loop in well-being. Moreover, these effects seem to be strongest amongst the poor, suggesting the existence of a psychological poverty trap.

Making a Gangster: Exporting US Criminal Capital to El Salvador by Maria Micaela Sviatschi (Note: due to an illness, this paper was not actually presented. However, I reviewed this paper in preparation for the conference and think it is too good not to share)

This paper reports three important findings on the short and long-term effects of US criminal (and non-criminal) deportations to El Salvador. First, US deportations increased crime and homicide rates in El Salvador. Second, US deportations decreased educational outcomes and the accumulation of human capital of children in El Salvador. Finally, all of this feeds back to the US. Aiming to escape increased rates of crime and homicides children flee from El Salvador to other countries (such as the US) and are subsequently deported. The author calls this vicious cycle a violence trap. I like this paper because it works hard to test the validity of a well-known story—of a backfiring effect of US deportation policy—with credible empirical analysis. Also, the title is great!

Long-term and Intergenerational Effects of Education: Evidence from School Construction in Indonesia by Akresh, Halim, and Kleemans

Almost anyone who has studied development economics is familiar with Duflo’s (2001) paper on the impact of school construction in Indonesia. (So, far in my PhD program it has been assigned at least three times.) This follow-up study looks at the “long-term” effects of the program. Namely, what happened to the kids of the students who attended more school because of the school construction program? The authors find evidence of important long-term and intergenerational effects. First, as adults students who directly benefited from the school construction program are more likely to be working in the formal sector and less likely to work in the agricultural sector. Second, these effects are transmitted on to the next generation, particularly for daughters of adults who were directly exposed to the school construction program.

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