So my bottom line is that the practice of development economics is at the cusp of a significant opportunity. We have the prospect not only of a re-unification of the field, long divided between macro- and micro-development economists, but also of a progression from presumptive approaches with ready-made universal recipes to diagnostic, contextual approaches based on experimentation and policy innovation. If carried to fruition, this transformation would represent an important advance in how development policy is carried out.It's hard to care about synthesizing trends within the field if you're not an economist. But what is crucial for development policy, since economists have such a heavy hand in such policy, is this trend: "a progression from presumptive approaches with ready-made universal recipes to diagnostic, contextual approaches based on experimentation and policy innovation." The inverse - the orthodox practices and theoretical frameworks, that is - has long been a source of deep frustration for those of us who work on international development issues from other fields or from the ground up. "Development" has come to entail something that did not have to be the case, constructed upon a linear conception of historical progress, and theoretical tools operating far beyond their legitimate bounds of application and accepted as foundational. See this earlier discussion on what I personally think is a more fruitful direction within applied economics.
But we need more work. Macro-development economists will have to recognize more explicitly the distinct advantages of the experimental approach and a greater number among them will have to adopt the policy mindset of the randomized evaluation enthusiasts... Micro-development economists, for their part, will have to recognize that one can learn from diverse types of evidence, and that while randomized evaluations are a tremendously useful addition to the empirical toolkit, the utility of the evidence they yield is restricted by the narrow and limited scope of their application.
In the end, macro-development economists have to be humbler about what they already know, and micro-development economists humbler about what they can learn.
Saturday, May 24, 2008
Dani Rodrik thinks that the divisions between macro-economists and micro-economists in development economics is dissipating. In a brief essay discussing, in part, the merits of experimentalist approaches, he concludes,