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David Roodman's Microfinance Open Book Blog

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Sorry it's been so quiet around here. I've been engrossed in things that have not made me think new thoughts about microfinance. One is rewriting the 20-month-old chapter 1, which has been a pleasure. I know more now, and am more confident. I am switching more to the first and second person; incorporating lessons from Style: Toward Clarity and Grace (hat tip to Tim Harford) about making sentences cohere; and applying the teachings of Andy Goodman on telling stories (my story, in this case, about how I came to organize the book).

Also, I just guest-taught for Ethan Kapstein, who is on the faculty of the University of Texas in Austin. Here's a tidbit from the talk, done in Easterly's interrupted tradition of putting old ideas in fresh comedic togs. I showed this slide illustrating the many things that must go right for microcredit to lift someone out of poverty:

 

 

Then I showed this awesome video:

 
 

(One amazing thing about this video is that it is a single continuous camera shot.)

The punchline: It took OK Go and its merry band of engineers more than 60 tries to make this machine work---not even counting the runs that flaked out almost immediately. Did you catch the pile of smashed TV's at 2:43? But OK Go just shows us the one time it all worked.

Get it?

Promoters of microfinance and other causes do the same thing. True believers in our work, we search for the best stories to vivify our theories about how our work makes the world a better place. Even if they're not representative.

To be fair, I bet it didn't/wouldn't have taken 60 more tries to succeed again. Probably the Rube Goldbergians learned as they went. Microfinance institutions learn too.

[On the making of the video.]

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CGD blog posts reflect the views of the authors drawing on prior research and experience in their areas of expertise. CGD does not take institutional positions.