Links I Like [11.14]

1. Should Political Science Research Influence Politics? Chris Blattman on the ethics of doing research that actually tries to makes things better in the real world

2. Always Regulated, Never Protected: How Markets Work
Money quote: “At the same time, the argument that what conflict-affected countries need is an increase in good jobs – for stronger growth and safer societies – is compelling yet reductive. For one thing, the data required to support the idea that unemployment breeds violence simply do not exist. For another, the mainstream economic policy lens renders most women’s work invisible, consigning participation in the reproductive economy to the margins. And finally, the evidence we do have actually suggests that the main problem tends not to be that people aren’t working, but that they are forced and locked into forms of economic activity that are exploitative and which fail to produce much in the way of decent returns. In many developing countries, underemployment is a far greater problem. People are working, but the labour market is not working for them. Millions end up in forms of self-employment, arguably not because they are ‘born entrepreneurs’ but rather out of a lack of viable alternatives.”

3. How Can Faith Based Groups Get Better at Campaigning for Climate Change? A Biblical climate change policy proposal

4. Private Sector Development Policy Innovation Lab – Call for for Innovative Ideas on SME Growth and Entrepreneurship

5. Health Tip: Find Purpose in Life The science behind theology

6. The Hipster Effect: When Anticonformists All Look the Same The applied math behind why people who can be described as being different from everyone, always look the same

Unsettling Resettlement

My research recently has been on the so-called secondary migration of refugees. I thought I’d share some informative maps I made on the impact of secondary migration on the dispersion of refugees across the United States. It is not too difficult to imagine the implications this has on US refugee assistance policy.

The first map is the initial resettlement locations of refugees at the beginning of fiscal year 2012.

Refugee Dispersion June 2012 - Projection

The second map is of the same group of refugees, a year later, after taking into account movement after resettlement.

Refugee Dispersion June 2013 - Projection

You are free to draw your own conclusions. One obvious one is refugees are much less spread out after they move around. Refugees seem to value living close to each other. A final overarching observation is perhaps refugee resettlement is a bit misleading, as a large number of refugees don’t settle in their initial placement location. I’d love to hear what you think of the maps in the comments section.

Refugee Flows by Region of Origin

I like data that tells a story. (Ok, who doesn’t?)

My time at MSU is made possible, in large part, from time and effort extended as a research assistant. My current assignment, through the North Central Center for Rural Development, is attempting to understand the nature and patterns of secondary migration of refugees in the US–specifically a 12 state region roughly defined as the Midwest. It is interesting work, mainly because I get to spend time reading and dissecting papers with graphs and data that tell really interesting stories. The figure below is from an excellent paper published several years ago by some folks over at Brookings.
Screen shot 2014-09-04 at 9.23.42 AMThis figure shows the major refugee flows from various regions of the world with notes on the historical events that correlate with these flows. A couple highlights:

(1) The spike of refugees from Soviet countries during the Cold War, and the inevitable decline starting in 1991.

(2) I don’t think many people think of many refugees coming from Europe, but until about 2000 that’s where the majority of refugees coming into the US originated from.

Finally (3) notice the incredible pinch in incoming refugees in the time immediately following September 11, 2001.

So, more on my research assignment, for those who are interested:

‘Secondary migration’ is sort-of a fuzzword (or phrase) in refugee resettlement circles. The overwhelming sense is that many–if not the majority–of refugees move from their initial placement very soon (within a year or so) after arrival in the US. It is not difficult to imagine why this is troubling for those concerned with refugee resettlement.

(1) Refugees are given state-administered assistance upon arrival (language training, job training, affordable housing, orientations, airport greetings, etc.) Most of these services are provided through local community organizations which, by law, need to be located within 50-100 miles (based on several network factors) of the refugee’s residence. Once the refugee relocates these services may be misallocated and wasted. Now, it seems, the issue here is: are these services actually valued by refugees? If not, we are wasting valuable monetary resources. If so, why would refugees willingly forfeit these potential benefits in a move?

(2) Secondary migration of refugees might be exactly what we want. It communicates agency on behalf of the refugee and provides them with freedom they previously did not have in their home country or refugee camp. If community integration is the ultimate goal of refugee resettlement then perhaps voluntary secondary migration is something that needs to be encouraged, rather than disincentivized.

(3) So we have this fundamental question: What is the purpose of refugee resettlement? To place refugees in a community in which they will successfully be integrated–socially, economically, politically, psychologically? Or is it to provide a gateway to the freedoms and opportunities of the United States, a threshold to a new life, rather than a final settling place.

There is a second reason why understanding the nature and patterns of the secondary migration of refugees is important. Perhaps this is not news to you, but almost all rural areas–and many small and medium sized cities and towns–are recognizing a rapid decline in population. If we can find ways to make these areas attractive to incoming refugees, then perhaps we can have a “win-win” situation. Refugees integrating into lives that flourish and rural communities and small cities regaining a population that contributes to the fabric of the community. From the aforementioned Brookings paper:

[Utica, New York, a] metropolitan area of 300,000 is characterized by population decline and an aging resident population. Once a vibrant industrial city, populated by immigrants from Germany, Poland, Italy, and the Arab world, Utica became part of the “Rust Belt” during the last few decades as factories closed and people migrated away from the Midwest and Northeast. Refugees are currently turning things around in some parts of Utica, taking advantage of the lower cost of housing in the city. Although still characterized by total population loss, Utica’s foreign-born population almost doubled in the 1990s as a result of refugee resettlement, helping to stem the tide of overall population decline. As Mayor Tim Julian explains, “The town had been hemorrhaging for years. The arrival of so many refugees has put a tourniquet around that hemorrhaging.”

Refugees have brought new entrepreneurial activity to Utica by opening restaurants, hair salons, grocery stores, coffee shops, and places of worship. ConMed, a medical equipment manufacturer and one of the largest employers in the region, has a workforce that is about half refugees. The newcomers have also revitalized declining neighborhoods, buying and renovating vacant housing, an affordable option thanks in part to the city’s economic decline and poor housing market.



One Year in Kenya [Lesson 2/5]

When reading anything start with the presumption that this is almost certainly wrong.

Being a research assistant really requires you to read and think for whomever’s research you are assisting. Research requires a certain level of non-emotional attitude. Reading must be done quickly and summaries must be with pith. Starting with this presumption helps, it may not be how you read in leisure, but it will make you a more efficient and a more appreciated research assistant.

There is an important caveat to this lesson: Starting with the presumption that everything is almost certainly wrong does not always lead to a contrarian conclusion, questioning everything no matter what is cliché and bullish. True critical thinking knows what to question, when, and where and what to appreciate and objectively support.

An example of this in the negative form comes from Pikettymania: Thomas Piketty, the now-famous French economist, published his take on wealth inequality in his best-selling book Capital in the 21st Century.

The book, as it should, made a huge splash upon its translation into English. Many (I mean, almost everybody who thinks about this stuff) wrote and published their thoughts on the book (and its famous equation: r>g) all over the economics blogosphere in the first half of 2014.

Chris Giles, an economics editor for the Financial Times, wrote his ‘critique’ on the so-called mathematical and statistical errors of Piketty’s analysis. His conclusion, Piketty is wrong, inequality is not actually rising.

Several weeks later, Piketty responded to Giles’s comments clearly (I mean with head spinning statistics) showing that his so-called mistakes were actually regular data maintenance methods accepted by anyone performing analysis on decades long time-series datasets.

While a careful reading of Piketty’s book starts with the presumption that it is almost certainly wrong, quality criticism should not follow the path Giles took: Starting with a pre-set conclusion and combing for a story to support that conclusion. Due to the weight of the implications of Piketty’s book much rigorous criticism must be deployed, but this must be done objectively and credit must be given where credit is due.

How to Write About Africa [An Example]

One of the cool parts about my job is I get to read. A lot. When I see anything that I think may possibly have something beneficial to contribute to my research, I place it in my ‘to read’ queue.

Most of what I end up reading, especially policy reports from think tanks, are interesting and informative but ultimately will not directly contribute my current research. Every once in a while, however, I come across a report that is different. The most recent East Africa Prospects report providing An Update on the Political Economy of Kenya, Rwanda, Tanzania, and Uganda by the Overseas Development Institute (ODI) is one of these unique reports.

Continue reading

Designing Research to ‘Succeed’

Several brilliant and whimsical verses from Robert Chambers and his new book Into the Unknown: Explorations in Development Practice:

How to Succeed with Irrigation Action Research 

Rural development’s all the rage
and irrigation’s reached the stage
when funds will flow if you can say
action research is on the way.
The title’s new, the techniques old,
the pickings rich for all the bold. 

Success eludes none but those fools
who do not heed some simple rules.
Reconnaissance you do not need
Prepare your programme with all speed.
For what to test no need to care,
choose any dogma that you hear.

Field leveling and OFD,
eight-hectare chaks, warabandi,
lining the channels or rotation
conjunctive use, participation—
pick any action that you will;
if fashionable, it fits the bill.

To choose the site, criteria
are simple, obvious and clear.
The most important one by far’s
a tarmac road for motor cars.
As well, it must be close to town
for rapid transit up and down.

Make sure the water flow is steady.
Have your staff there always ready.
If water’s short at system level
get it first and let the devil
take the hindmost at the tail.
For science, your interests must prevail.

Make sure the biggest farmers gain.
Their PR’s needed to explain
to VIPs on their brief stops
the splendid impact on their crops.
(Small farmers should not be a worry
No one will meet them in a hurry.)

Recruit the bankers to your team
and organize a credit stream
Good fertilizer, HYVs
and pesticides are sure to please.
And if you want to get first prize,
why then it’s best to subsidize.

So when it comes to harvest day
you’ll be all right—thanks NPK!
Crop-cutters, here’s the patch of field
where you will get the highest yield.
And non will know you are a liar
if you make it even higher.

If any area does badly,
cut it out, reject it gladly.
Say special factors made it fail—
a water shortage, pests or hail.
The only truth there is to tell
is found in place which do well.

So all is fine. You have succeeded.
The will to win was what was needed.
The yields are treble, water half,
you at the back, what makes you laugh?—
the farmers, they are satisfied.
It shows how very hard you tried.

Thus achieved the vital task.
In praise and glory humbly bask.
Honored for service and devotion—
who knows?—you may now get promotion.
If others fail to replicate
Poor honest fools, that is their fate.

(Delhi, early 1980s)