What should I ask Chris Blattman?

I will be having a Conversation with Chris soon, alas no associated public event.  What should I ask him?

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Over-rated / Under-rated: Social Impact Bonds

How much can premature deindustrialization b slowed, detained, reversed? Can developmentalism still pull poor countries into mid-income or better?

Everyone always asks Chris about a) the value of RCTs in development economics, and b) unconditional cash transfers. While important, these questions have been asked so often.

I'd love to hear what he thinks the results from his RCT with Stefan Dercon on factory work in Ethiopia imply about structural transformation and industrialization more broadly?

Secondly, what does he think we currently "know" about conflict and conflict resolution at the micro level. This is his area of expertise and it would be great to get his take on the cumulative state of knowledge in this field.

Everyone always asks Chris about a) the value of RCTs in development economics, and b) unconditional cash transfers. While important, these questions have been asked so often.

I'd love to hear what he thinks the results from his RCT with Stefan Dercon on factory work in Ethiopia imply about structural transformation and industrialization more broadly?

Secondly, what does he think we currently "know" about conflict and conflict resolution at the micro level. This is his area of expertise and it would be great to get his take on the cumulative state of knowledge in this field.

Overrated/underrated: United Nations Peacekeeping

Yes would love to hear him expand on his work in Ethiopian factories. He still says that without manufacturing taking off in Africa it doesn't seem realistic for Africa to create enough broad based growth yet few development economists focus on this at all.

I find Blattman's work insightful and honest. Looking forward to the conversation.

What has living in the US as Canadian thought him about the benefits and drawbacks of Canadian political culture and system?

His recent research on Ethiopian sweatshops seems to imply that overall benefits are at the cost of personal losses (or at least suboptimal outcomes) for the workers themselves. Does this mean wide-scale industialization is not possible anymore, especially with rising standards?

What would he recommend to the Trump presidency for development, keeping in mind the adminstration's current brand of conservatism?

Ask him about the case for colonialism article debacle. He veers pretty left but he was very critical about the treatment of the author.

What is the most underrated national development story in his view?

Maybe ask him for his take on Acemoglu and Robinson?

And Sachs' response.

If there is a trade off between using aid to help the poorest (eg free anti malarial bednets) and using aid to try and promote growth (a more uncertain proposition), which would he prefer and why.

From Blattman's About Me page (https://chrisblattman.com/about/): "In the end, though, my work ethic and habits derive from two years cooking chicken at a vaguely militant KFC outlet. After a manager resembling Hulk Hogan forces you to clean grease traps, you can handle pretty much anything." My education occurred while working for a soda bottler in a small town. My job was light accounting, closing out the day's business by having each route salesman account for the cases of soda that he did not return to the plant at the end of the day (very basic). I calculated the number of cases not returned, did the math (different prices for different sizes and brands), then added up the salesman's cash and charge receipts to make sure a equaled b. A late teen at the time, I had no idea how these adults must have viewed me when I informed the salesman that he was short. If I had been the salesman, I would have punched the little bastard. Alas, none did. A lesson I will never forget: integrity and pride in one's job are not a function of one's education, income, or status. This was some 48 years ago, and I have not forgotten what I learned from these very hardworking Americans.

"If I had been the salesman, I would have punched the little bastard."

Punching the bosses son in the face is a job ending move.

His take on ACLED + derived research

Ask Chris:

1. What he thinks about the tradeoffs between pleasing journal reviewers (and project donors) and developing knowledge that is practically useful for actual policymakers and governments in developing countries (and how should experimental researchers weight these tradeoffs)?

2. As a development economist, what is the one politically-incorrect research finding that he wishes more people cared about?

Really good questions. Think the institutional biases within development need some scrutiny and I think Blattman would give honest answers to the questions you raised.

I really enjoy your work too! When will Cowen interview you? :)

My guess is that Chris has interesting views of the intersection of development and religion. Both in terms of the motivating force of what often passes for "development" work from US based NGO's and the impact of that work in developing countries in terms of how those forces become embedded. You can come up with a much smarter question than I on that front but but I'd be curious as to what he thinks "secular" and "religious" development camps can learn from each other and his thoughts on religion as a "development force."

he does, partially because of his work, and partially because his BIL has very interesting writings on the subject, but from a completely different viewpoint.. https://www.amazon.com/Slow-Kingdom-Coming-Practices-Justice/dp/0830844554/ref=asap_bc?ie=UTF8

I think it's his BIL, some type of extended family i believe.

I asked the headmaster of a school system in Tanzania to give me the top 5 of his wishlist... I expected books, computers, paper, pens, etc... His answer: 1. water 2. a chain saw... I realized I know nothing! Ask him what do we get wrong about development...

Ask him about his opinion of Problem-Driven Iterative Adaptation (https://bsc.cid.harvard.edu/publications/escaping-capability-traps-through-problem-driven-iterative-adaptation-pdia) and what role he thinks it should or should not play in development.

I seem to recall his work on ethiopian sweatshops noting that the hardest thing to find is mid level accountants and managers. Why are those things so hard to find? Is the wage for these employees too high? Why can’t they be trained on the job? What are the structural impediments here that I’m missing?

I hope Chris can address these too but here is my take on those questions as I have been working with a leather goods manufacturer in Uganda for the past three years. The business landscape in East Africa is characterized by large companies and then micro enterprises. Small and medium enterprises (SMEs) which grow to large companies are very rare. As a result there isn't anywhere for managers to learn and get experience. What talent is there is already working with the large companies. The talent gap for the rest of the companies to pick from is very large.

Managing is something that is difficult to train. The best training is on the job but as I said these jobs don't exist the way they do in the West or in a traditional development setting. It is incredibly hard to operate as an SME in Africa. Everything is set up for the big guys. Governments (especially Ethiopian's) like it this way. Hope that helps a bit.

James

As a researcher studying causes and consequences of violence, does he have any familiarity or particular views on Rene Girard's "Violence and the Sacred?"

What were the best and worst thing about Columbia SIPA? What are the best and worst things about UChicago Harris?

Field implementation guy here... focused on agriculture...
Question: Has he seen any successful credit/financing programs for small-business people and/or SMEs? My experience is that this is overlooked and most programs just assume banks/MFIs will lend (which they don't).

"Evidence based medicine" has been the in vogue in my field of medicine for the past two decades. Recently, skepticism is creeping in as to the validity and utility of 'evidence based medicine,' even when the evidence is the gold standard of RCTs. Thjis skepticism seems primarily due to the argument that RCTs are actually only capable of studying a very small amount of 'things.' Does he foresee RCTs losing their luster in other fields as well?

How high has a basic income to be to make him change his life.

Broadly, I can see 3 ways for governments to reduce inequality: direct transfers (tax rich, spend on or give to poor), improving access to opportunities (job training, education, etc.) and improving bargaining power of workers in relation to capital (unions, labor laws – with maybe some efficiency costs).

How much of each of these should developing countries pursue?

Ask about external validity and general equilibrium effects. If working in a factory/sweatshop is bad for an individual, does that mean it's bad for the country? If cash transfers are good for an individual, does that mean it's optimal for countries to increase taxes and plow the money into unconditional cash transfers?

where is that talking with tyler episode with matt levine?

Look for Levine on Feb 14.

thanks (no need to ask Blattman then)

what did he learn from the chicken wars. https://www.vox.com/the-big-idea/2017/3/14/14914996/bill-gates-chickens-cash-africa-poor-development

if he continues to be a huge advocate for the standing desk. https://chrisblattman.com/2014/06/10/best-argument-ive-heard-standing-desks-date/

his current thoughts on whether development agencies fly business class. https://chrisblattman.com/2009/05/09/should-development-agencies-fly-business-class/

world bank: did paul romer make a difference? is it still relevant for development? does the president selection matter and who would trump pick? what would he pick as a topic for the world development report?

YES. Please ask these questions. Also ask about his favorite travel items and what has been most / least useful (over/under rated even).

Ask him if he thinks all the resources spent on his own research would have had more impact as cash transfers.

Ask him about the lack of SMEs in Sub Saharan Africa (the "missing middle"). This directly relates to his work on factories in Ethiopia and where he thinks research needs to go.

If he had $1m to give to charity, who would he give it to?
If he had $1bn to give to charity, who would he give it to?
If he had $100bn to give to charity who would he give it to?

I've used some version of this question in virtually all the interviews I've conducted for international development jobs.

What does the median economist/global development thinker fail to appreciate regarding order and violence? What did Chris learn from creating his order and violence course?

Where in Africa does he recommend people visit as tourists to get a better understanding of what's going on?

How does Chris see China's involvement in Africa?

What questions about development does Chris think matter, but he doesn't know the answer to?

I would also like a question on China in Africa.

Chris Blattman designs some pretty innovative exam questions, and has previously written on his blog about how he admires some of the questions that you have set your own students.
Ask him about how examinations need to evolve going forward, and not just in America. How should people in higher education in Africa and Asia think about designing better, more effective examinations that de-emphasize rote learning?

why is the part of Virginia that withdrew from the union still called Virginia while the part of Virginia that did not withdraw is called West Virginia?

How much unpleasant bossing around of Africans by rich Chinese do you expect to occur in the next 20 years? Which continent will have the least amount of bossy people from other continents making life more unpleasant for people on the continents they decide to move to?

Did Rene Girard care about people more because of his academic successes, or less? Was he a good person? Is the misuse of Haiti aid funds the next big "Metoo" movement? (just kidding, of course it is not)

I'd like to know both what counterinsurgency and what management consulting advice Chris would give to the First Order ahead of Episode IX.

What would Chris do differently if he could go to college and grad school again? Asking for my students.

Ask him about strategies for traveling with small children and how he & Jeannie approach co-parenting.

I'm biased (this is part of my work), but I think as interesting as what Chris has done in the past is what he's planning. He's the academic lead on a new initiative to promote research on peace and recovery in conflict-affected states (wars, ethnic violence, state oppression, humanitarian crises, social order in the absence of good state institutions). You can get an idea of what he thinks the field needs from this outline of what we don't know but need to find out
https://www.poverty-action.org/sites/default/files/publications/Peace-and-Recovery-Program-Guiding-Principles-and-Funding-Priorities-January-2018.pdf

What is Impact Evaluation 4.0 (see his two previous slide decks by these names)?

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