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Dr. Pritchett’s Six Bitter Pills

Summary:
When Chris Blattman publicly asked, "As a development economist, what is one politically-incorrect research finding (a finding reflecting an unpopular belief) that you wish more people cared about?," Lant Pritchett swiftly rattled off six responses.  I stitch them together here, with Lant's permission.  Lant speaking:1. One of course is that the income gains to movers from migration are an order of magnitude bigger than any in situ development project/program gain.2. Another is that the variance of economic growth rates is much lower among democracies than non-democracies and hence (descriptively) nearly all episodes of rapid, sustained, (and hence poverty reducing) economic growth were initiated

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When Chris Blattman publicly asked, "As a development economist, what is one politically-incorrect research finding (a finding reflecting an unpopular belief) that you wish more people cared about?," Lant Pritchett swiftly rattled off six responses.  I stitch them together here, with Lant's permission.  Lant speaking:
1. One of course is that the income gains to movers from migration are an order of magnitude bigger than any in situ development project/program gain.

2.

Another is that the variance of economic growth rates is much lower among democracies than non-democracies and hence (descriptively) nearly all episodes of rapid, sustained, (and hence poverty reducing) economic growth were initiated by non-democratic regimes (e.g. Indonesia, China, Korea, Taiwan, Vietnam).

3.

Another is that on many individualized indicators of well-being (education, health, malnutrition, self-reported subjective well-being) the gaps between the sexes within poor countries are at least an order of magnitude smaller than the gaps between males in poor countries and females in rich (OECD) countries.

4.

Another is the point Dani Rodrik has made (and Branko and me using Engle curves and food shares not income) that the rich in poor countries (e.g. 95th percentile) are much poorer than the poor in rich countries (say 20th percentile).

5.

Another is that the high scoring students in poor countries on examinations like PISA (or equivalent) are much lower than even the average of the OECD--so while there are rich-poor gaps in the quality of education in poor countries this is not because the rich get a good education and the poor get a bad one but because the rich get a bad one and the poor get none at all (e.g. on a recent OECD study tertiary graduates in the capital city of Jakarta had lower measured literacy than high school drop-outs in Denmark, or when Indian states participated in PISA there were literally no students in the sample in the top two categories (5 and 6) of a six level scale of performance).

6.

The reason I wish more people paid attention to the last three is that in my view in development today there is too much attention to inequality within poor countries and not enough to the very low levels such that things are pretty bad even for the, say, 80th percentile.


Bryan Caplan
Bryan Caplan is Professor of Economics at George Mason University and Senior Scholar at the Mercatus Center. He has published in the New York Times, the Washington Post, the Wall Street Journal, the American Economic Review, the Economic Journal, the Journal of Law and Economics, and Intelligence, and has appeared on 20/20, FoxNews, and C-SPAN. Bryan Caplan blogs on EconLog.

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