Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Brought to you by the letter M

MDGs, MVs, Migrants, and Monsters

How to make the inevitable next round of development goals more realistic, achievable, and productive.- Todd Moss of CGD says:
  1. Bottom up, not global down.
  2. Based on ambitious yet reasonably achievable expectations.
  3. Aimed, where possible, on intermediate outcomes.
  4. Considered warning markers rather than operational goals.
  5. Able to identify success
Speaking of the MDGs, the one where we have made the least progress worldwide is reducing maternal mortality. Canada and the US are trying to raise more money to focus on them maternal mortality rates at the G8 and G20 meetings in two weeks.

Of course, we all know that Africa is failing most of the MDGs. Easterly points out, however, that that is partly an artifact of the way the goals were set up: some in levels, some in percentage change, other using other criteria. The thing is, a percentage increase of something good of which you have little is much easier than rising to a set limit the farther you are from it. Similarly, reducing something bad by a given percentage is harder than reducing it by a specific amount if you have a lot of that bad thing. Nearly every goal, however, was chosen in the hardest possible way:
Had the goals been chosen at the + signs instead - reducing poverty and increasing school enrollment by a fixed percent, for instance, Africa would look like it's doing much better.
I think the MDG design was unintentional after some conversation with the original creators of the goals, who did not intend the MDGs to be applied at the regional or country levels. What is less forgivable is the aquiescence in making Africa look like a failure after the bias was clear to anyone who would bother to check. Of course, there are areas and time periods where Africa has done badly, but is that any reason to take the successes and make them look like failures?

How have the Millennium Villages been doing? The first report is in, but not many people have been commenting on it, according to Aid Watch:
The new data give a picture of encouraging results across all sectors compared to the baseline. In Mwandama, Malawi, for example, bednet use for children under five increased from 14 percent to 60 percent and malaria prevalence for all age groups fell from 19 percent to 15 percent. Maize yields increased dramatically from .8 tons per hectare to 4.5 tons per hectare. 
Note: crop increases do not necessarily imply profit increases, but given the high subsidies they're receiving, I think that's a safe bet. The question is whether incomes increase by more than the subsidies and how long lasting the increases are after the donors leave: ie - is this enough to get the farmers out of the assumed poverty trap?
Unfortunately the results are also not that useful: Three years is too short a period to know how to interpret this dramatic increase in maize yields, for example. Is this consistent with normal variation in crop yields? Was 2006 an unusually good or bad year for maize? We don’t know.
The results also don’t help us determine whether current and future resources should be shifted away from other existing or even yet-to-be invented approaches, towards the MVP template. Will those short-term gains last beyond the timeline of the project? Can the project become self-sustaining?
Again, we don’t know, in part because not enough time has passed.
Investing in migration, Michael Clemens does some quick and dirty calculations for Bangladesh:
Hussain reports that the average Bangladeshi pays about $3,150 to migrate—mostly to the Middle East—covering costs of travel, intermediaries, and so on.  A stint abroad earns the average migrant $3,690 per year, or about $11,050 total for a typical three-year spell.  Of that, about $6,850 is either remitted home or brought home as savings. ...
That’s a stunningly profitable investment.  The large, up-front cost of emigration is yielding these migrants a 117% annual return. Most of that is spent in Bangladesh. For comparison, Mark Pitt and Shahidur Khandker estimate the returns to much-vaunted microcredit for Bangladeshi men at just 11%... .
Does Bill Easterly want to eliminate aid? Vote in the comments section.

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