Paul Romer *and* the World Bank

I have no direct knowledge of the situation, but here is an extensive report from Bloomberg.  The summary headers are:

  • Paul Romer to give up management of research department
  • Researchers chafed against push to communicate more clearly

But there is more to the story than that.  And here is the FT story:

But some said Mr Romer’s management style, particularly over what some saw as a dogmatic approach to clear writing, was key to the move, citing the recent spat over “and” as evidence.

Circulating a draft of the upcoming World Development Report, Mr Romer warned against bank staff trying to pile their own pet projects and messages into the report. The tendency, he argued, had diluted the impact of past reports and led to a proliferation of “ands”.

“Because of this type of pressure to say that our message is ‘this, and this, and this too, and that …’ the word ‘and’ has become the most frequently used word in Bank prose,” he complained in an email.

“A WDR, like a knife, has to be narrow to penetrate deeply,” he added. “To drive home the importance of focus, I’ve told the authors that I will not clear the final report if the frequency of ‘and’ exceeds 2.6%.”

The 2.6 per cent bar, Mr Romer told the FT, marked the current frequency of “and” in scholarly writing. It also, according to an analysis of bank reports going back decades that he commissioned, was roughly where World Bank report authors landed in the institution’s early years.

But the use of the word “and” over the years had doubled to almost 7 per cent in World Bank reports, Mr Romer pointed out in a January memo to his staff.

I will now have to be more conscious about the use of those three little letters…

Comments

Let's see, Mr. Romer tells everyone that economics is (and economists are full of) bullshit on his way to the World Bank and things don't work out well with his relationship with, you know, economists at the World Bank. Who knew?

Considering his criticisms was aimed at a specific group of macroeconomists, I'm inclined to say you're misrepresenting the situation. That said, I do realize that comments sections are pretty much the gossipy housewives of the Internet world, where accuracy takes a back seat to mudslinging and impotent sarcasm.

You need to lighten up, Will.

Apparently the "deep bank" is a thing too; and they don't take kindly to people who ask them to shed the jargon with which they shield their empty ideas from critical analysis.

Who knew "and" was jargon?

Who knew that discussing apples and oranges arguments in the same sentence could be such a reliable way of luring readers into making category errors?

Is "and" an apple or is it an orange?

Both and neither.

The frequency of "and" in Tyler's most recent Bloomberg piece (g vs r) is 17/740 or 2.3%? It makes the cut.

http://www.csgnetwork.com/documentanalystcalc.html

I hope he told them to eschew bullet points, that irksome punctuation of the last few decades. It's not that they are necessarily badly used, but they are predominantly badly used.

I hope, too, that he abolished the absurd "Executive Summary", the lame expression for what used to be called a Summary, or an Abstract, or a Synopsis.

Perhaps it's just a matter of taste, but when did the ugly "the below diagram" come to replace "the diagram below"? I hope banned the ugliness.

And (!) I hope he banished anyone who wittered on about 'beyond the parameters ...' or 'within the parameters ...' If the fuckers don't know the difference between a perimeter and a parameter then off to Outer Mongolia they must go.

For a super long report, you need something longer than an abstract (150 words or so) or "summary" (maybe 1 page max).

It should have all the key points, and be sufficient for someone who needs to know basically what all's in there but will never have the time to read it. So ... more than an "abstract" which will just summarize interest/relevance, literature, methods, data, results and maybe a main policy recommendation.

A gaggle of economists who disdain economizing on verbiage. Scarcity for thee but not for me!

"more than 600 economists who work in DEC" .... "showing a willingness to cut redundant positions and insisting on term limits for senior staff"

"insisted presentations get right to the point, cutting staff off if they talked too long"

I like the sound of this chap.

My first instinct would be to blame those parasites jerking off for decades in cushy jobs without any market tests at the World Bank. But I remember Paul Romer here in Honduras 6-8 years ago, when he was involved in the project of the "start-up cities". The first time he met some political push-back, he just left everything behind without trying to make it happen. It would probably have been useless, but I found to throw the table up and walk away at the first problem a bit childish. I guess they are both to blame. By the way, your taxes are paying the fat salaries of all these clowns.

"but I found to throw the table up and walk away at the first problem a bit childish"

If you don't walk away then you end up with something like the Cortlandt housing project that you'd have to blow up anyway.

FYI, the World Bank of the 1980s and the World Bank of the 2000s are hardly recognizable to each other.

The first was the second instrument (after IMF) of the structural adjustment programs which literally (statistically) led to many millions of deaths and results in a much less educated population than there would otherwise have been. (Macro stability was achieved in most cases).

The second is an organization that at all times asks what the poverty effects of a policy are, while always always looking to growth, which obviously supports the ability to repay.

Any individual that feeds off the victims of the State, the taxpayers in this case, is a parasite by definition.

Regarding the utilitarian argument, I live in Honduras and I have business in all Central America. I know well these disgusting people and their idiotic investments, usually to help some criminal politician. Besides, there are now private equity and venture capital firms in all regions of the world, even in poor, small, desperate places like where I live. If the investment has a positive rate of return, the market is there to finance it, these gangsters are relics of an arrogant, positivistic past.

Wondering how much of and-ism is due to forecasting CYA-ism. Like most things, probably needs more Tetlock.

Maybe Paul watched this when he had a fever or something:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GKNX6dieVcc

Fortunately none of the Harry Potter books have the word "and" in the title.

Possibly, a resolution of this critical economic research problem would be replace every third "and" with the word "or."

Would the problem be solved by hiring more PhD's or firing PhD's?

Prediction, increases are coming in the use rates of: together with, along with, with, as well as, in addition to, also; besides, furthermore

I think that was rather clever of Romer, actually.

Though I will say back in college I found Romer's textbook to be too stark and unapproachable.

I worked at the World Bank for years and I can only confirm the findings of the study and the assessment of Paul Romer. And yes, there is resistance to change, I believe, because of some insecurities of doing things differently.

But I can hardly believe that Rommer was relieved of his management duties for simply pressing for clearer communications. What I read between the lines of the Bloomberg and FT articles is that the way he went about it was the problem. If he was highly unproductive in pushing for necessary change, then he was a bad manager. It's a good thing his responsibilities were taken over by someone else. Here's hoping she will continue his quest for clearer communications.

In established institutions, the hive mind is difficult to penetrate.

Kevin Drum gives Tyler a shout-out.
http://www.motherjones.com/kevin-drum/2017/05/paul-romer-and-parataxis-world-bank

"Wouldn't the sentence 'I want to put a hyphen between the words Fish and And and And and Chips in my Fish-And-Chips sign' have been clearer if quotation marks had been placed before Fish, and between Fish and and, and and and And, and And and and, and and and And, and And and and, and and and Chips, as well as after Chips?" -Martin Gardner
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_linguistic_example_sentences

Can can can can can can can can can can. ("Examples of the can-can dance that other examples of the same dance are able to outshine, or figuratively to put into the trashcan, are themselves able to outshine examples of the same dance". It could alternatively be interpreted as a question, "Is it possible for examples of the dance that have been outshone to outshine others?" or several other ways.)

So we just say "supply demand" now?

Seems abrupt.

“supply dem”

As an enormous perpetrator of long, complex, and accretional sentences, I have to agree that use of "and" assumes the audience is not only interested but focused and smart. None of these should be assumed for the public at large. And aren't we all part of the public at large?

That will shut down the operation of all computers which are based on and- nand- or- nor- xor- xnor- gates.

Replace "ands" with "qubits" which may or may not be there in the text as long as you dont look at them. Rather than two it is the virtual conjunction of all possible states in the multiverse.

Unless the and is part of the question, "and then what?" then Romer is probably right.

Considering that the report summarizes a great many things, it should be assumed that the word "and" will be used more often than in reports on fairly specific things.

Setting the bar at the same average as found in literature which deals with much more focused things (2.6%) is dumb. You'll just get people wasting effort to find other ways to word the lists with fewer "ands", which is not a productive use of time.

A few easy options come to mind. Instead of being explicit about a list of three or more, use an ambiguous form which does not use "and", and instead say "etc" at the end of the list (easier to be lazy in not exhaustively identifying more important points). Changing lots of "ands" to "as well as", "in addition to", etc. can also help to meet the target with value added being zero or possibly negative. Etc.

This is nonsense. Do people really believe that Romer would be sidelined because he suggested that people use less of a particular word? This is a senior VP position just below the president at a large influential organization. He oversees a budget of millions and hundreds of employees. There are other things going on.

Comments for this post are closed