Which countries do economists study?

by on October 18, 2010 at 10:41 am in Data Source, Economics | Permalink

Check out Stefan Dercon's excellent visuals, via Chris Blattman.  I wonder sometimes why Latin America is overstudied in development economics and similarly, why World Bank employees are often keen to work in that region.  How much is a) absence of jet lag from the U.S., b) relative ease of learning Spanish and Portuguese, and c) lower population densities than Asia, which in some ways make visits more pleasant, or d) income inequality, which means that life is quite good for visitors?  Are there other factors?

1 Sean Brown October 18, 2010 at 6:51 am

Probably more statistical data being collected and distributed or easily found than in Africa or developing Asia. Historical data also available from centralized, obvious locations (central banks, finance ministries, etc. rather than provincial archives in China or India). Remember how difficult is was for Yasheng Huang (native Mandarin speaker, I think) to gather any kind of good historical data for his groundbreaking Capitalism with Chinese Characteristics?

2 miu miu October 18, 2010 at 7:10 am

I guess the language is another reason. Many Americans can read Spanish.

3 Bruce Bartlett October 18, 2010 at 7:18 am

I think it's because of the outsized influence of US-based economists in the journals. I suspect that French economists probably have a special interest in Africa and British economists in India and the Middle East due to old colonial ties.

4 ChacoKevy October 18, 2010 at 7:32 am

What language you need in Latin America depends at what level of economic activity you are studying. Macro, sure, that's Spanish. Anything at the community level will require an indigenous language.

5 Nicholas Marsh October 18, 2010 at 7:53 am

I agree with the first comment. There is data in Latin America that can't (easily) be found elsewhere. Africa is full of Anthropologists.

6 John B. Chilton October 18, 2010 at 8:11 am

It would be interesting to wordles by country for PhD economists and for a data quality variable.

What's going on with Germany and France? You'd think they'd have better representation. Maybe we need a wordle for average publication rate by country.

7 Andrew October 18, 2010 at 9:06 am

Here is my analysis of how people present data

. . . . . . .

(The dots at the bottom actually say "Correct Histogram" "Correct Pie" "Correct Bar", etc.)

8 Marian Kechlibar October 18, 2010 at 9:38 am

Farmer, I wouldn't put Chile and Argentina into the same box. Chile is much more pro-business and does not suffer from bloated/corrupt public service and omnipresent unions. Judging from the quality of life there, it is a First World country already.

If it was placed on the European continent, it would be admitted into EU without hesitation and without temporary limits on labor movement.

9 Rahul October 18, 2010 at 9:44 am

A contrarian view:

The relatively high attractiveness of Latin American men and women in current American psyche. Might make visits, ummm….more pleasant. Does saying "hot Somalian girlfriend" have the same ring to it as "hot Brazilian girlfriend?"

Maybe, politically incorrect, but true. The role of libido in shaping human endeavors is under-appreciated.

*feel free to replace Brazilian by Colombian, Peruvian, Argentinian, Bolivian etc.

10 farmer October 18, 2010 at 9:51 am

@ agnostic

bolivia is the darling of the NGO world. There is oodles and oodles of research.

@ Marian-

as a former valpo resident, i assure you there is nothing in the EU like the callampas. It is important to note (for the curious readership) that parts of Chile are indeed quite well off (by any standard), but it's pretty clear that the chile at the turn of last century was much more wealthy relative to world standards than the chile of the turn of this century

11 Millian October 18, 2010 at 10:31 am

Easy access to time series data matters. It just doesn't exist in Africa.

12 Andrew October 18, 2010 at 10:52 am

Steve Sailer called to ask if you guys are sure you want cheap Asian grad students?

13 Asim Khwaja October 18, 2010 at 11:14 am

take a look at the paper on which Stefan's visual is based. I think it has a lot of additional results on the extent to which research is driven by data, country income etc: http://ssrn.com/abstract=1527362

14 Russell October 18, 2010 at 11:32 am

The U.S. dominates the academy and people tend to be more interested in their neighbors (and most interested in themselves).

@ChacoKevy Re: "Anything at the community level will require an indigenous language." That's only true in some places, not all of Latin America.

15 Marian Kechlibar October 18, 2010 at 11:48 am

PS: Now I realize that Ground Zero means for Americans the place where the Twin Towers stood. Sorry! I just meant "the epicentre of an explosion".

16 Jim October 18, 2010 at 12:17 pm

"Now I realize that Ground Zero means …"

I thought it was some completey different reference altogether and misread it as "District Nine."

17 David Zetland October 18, 2010 at 12:31 pm

Girls. Yep.

y chicos y la vida loca :)

18 Lara October 18, 2010 at 2:30 pm

What about the fact that there are many good academics from those countries?
There are many good researchers from Argentina, Chile, Brazil, Mexico, Colombia
(there are good academics from India as well and they study India …a lot!)

Also, in what sense is Latin America is overrepresented? you mean relative to its population? relative to the variety of economic problems it had/has? It is not clear to me that it is overstudied.

19 Mark October 18, 2010 at 4:08 pm

1 – most of the commentary here seems to reflect deep cynicism, don't you think there are more positive explanations? As in, the beginning developmental economist wants to study development instead of spending huge energy just to learn a language (Asian languages for those with no asian language background). This seems reasonable and logical to me.

2- slightly off-topic… but there are tons of science books for non-scientists etc., but seemingly very few economic history books for non-economists… feel free to correct me, I'd love some recs.

20 Anthony October 18, 2010 at 4:38 pm

The first wordle in particular seems distorted. Reading the original source, and the wordle FAQ, it appears that the font size is proportional to the frequency of the word. This means that the area each country name occupies is (roughly) proportional to the square of the frequency, which is why "Canada" occupies somewhat less than 0.2% as much space as "United States", despite actually accounting for somewhat more than 4% as many articles as the U.S.

21 ncchinesedude October 18, 2010 at 8:14 pm

high Gini coefficients>?

22 LC October 18, 2010 at 11:55 pm

I'd dare to say weather is much better in Latin America than in Asia and Africa, and healthcare conditions are better too (which might reflect better environment conditions or better economic conditions), two things that probably make working in Latin America more pleasant than in Africa or Asia (assuming most researchers are from western countries).

Latin America is the countryyard of US: helping latin america develop means better neighbours for americans. How does the "less immigrants" sentence fall into the discussion?

Last but not least: aren't europeans (and by that I include white people in North and South America descending from emigrated europeans over the centuries) over-represented in WB and IMF? Even more, weren't they over-represented in the past thirty years? It might be that we are more keen to help people more similar to us than people of different physical and especially cultural background. That might be not because of some form of "hidden racism", but maybe because it is easier to help people who share the same attitude, philosophy, mentality; in other words, to help people whose way of thinking and living we might understand.
I am loosely thinking about the "seekers" vs "planners" argument made by Easterly. If that is the case, it might be that in order to help Africa we need more Africans involved in the process, to help us understand, discover, and help.

23 JB October 19, 2010 at 5:27 am

Latin America doesn't seem to have any experiences that some of the Asian Tigers have had, with foreign direct investment leading to acquisition of technologies and the development of industry from the knowledge gained. This is an example where Latin America presents its own unique challenges, because proximity, language, and all of the above mentioned reasons ought to make LA a prime candidate for investment from the US, but development is still slow. Why is that?

I guess some of the same may be said for Africa, though. Just a thought.

24 Maurício October 19, 2010 at 10:17 am

I think that the reason why Latin America is overstudied in development economics is that the subject was born in a time (1940s-1960´s) when the region was a very important reference to it. There was also the political fear of another Cuban Revolution and the US government desire to promote an alternative development/reform agenda.

Those were the days where the work of the United Nations´ Economic Commission for Latin America (CEPAL, in the Spanish acronym) was influencing the thinking and public policy of developing countries all over the world. Economists like Raúl Prebisch (Argentina), Celso Furtado (Brazil), Aníbal Pinto and Oswaldo Sunkel (Chile) were read and discussed everywhere. And Latin America was researched by great scholars like Albert Hirschmann and Albert Fishlow.

So, there is more than a bit of "path dependence" here. Since Latin America was very important at the beggining of development economics, other scholars in the discipline continued to do research on the region, even if the most promising development policies were those of East Asian countries.

Best regards


25 Michael Roberts October 19, 2010 at 7:43 pm

Uhm, a lot of the Latin American component is just Mexico.

Mexico is very close the U.S. That would make it easy to get to.

That is also where on of my favorite coauthors went for field work. He once rode the whole way from Berkeley on a motorcycle. No kidding.


Transactions costs matter.

Comments on this entry are closed.

Previous post:

Next post: