Ideas to Action:

Independent research for global prosperity

Views from the Center

CGD experts offer ideas and analysis to improve international development policy. Also check out our Global Health blog and US Development Policy blog.


No, British Medical Journal, the Emigration of African Doctors Did Not Cost Africa $2 Billion

Last week the respected British Medical Journal published a back-of-the-envelope calculation by Mills et al. suggesting that the emigration of physicians from Africa cost the continent billions of dollars and saved billions for the countries of destination. I share and appreciate the authors’ concern for strengthening health care systems in Africa. But the numbers they calculate are deeply flawed, and their unfortunate arithmetic should be ignored by policymakers.

Kenyan Economist Offers First Independent Evaluation of Millennium Villages Project

A remarkable study reached the public last week. It is the first independent, rigorous, firsthand evaluation of the Millennium Villages Project (MVP), an effort by the United Nations and Columbia University whose admirable goal was to show that “the poorest regions of rural Africa can lift themselves out of extreme poverty in five year’s time.” The new study shows that the MVP is far from reaching that goal at its flagship site.

The Millennium Villages Evaluation Debate Heats Up, Boils Over

The Millennium Villages Project, now underway in villages across Africa, is a keystone of United Nations efforts against global poverty. For years there has been a largely behind-the-scenes debate about how that project is evaluating its impacts. In the past week that debate suddenly heated up. A lot.

If Randomized Evaluations Are So Great, Why Don’t Businesses Use Them?

This is a joint post with Michael Clemens.

Michael Clemens recently wrote me, saying that he gets asked this question a lot. I do, too. So I was interested when he brought my attention to a 2007 article in Forbes that discusses a number of companies that do use randomized studies. I wasn’t surprised to see Google in the list, but I never imagined that all the junk mail that I receive from Capital One might be guided by sophisticated research (though it hasn’t convinced me to sign up yet!). Progressive Insurance apparently discovered profitable lines of business (middle-aged motorcycle drivers) by randomly accepting a portion of applicants who would normally be rejected and studying their claims behavior. According to Hunt Alcott, other companies that have used randomized studies include H&R Block, PNC Bank, Amazon, Subway and Harrah’s Casino.

Trillion-Dollar Bills on the Sidewalk: Why Don’t More Economists Study Emigration?

Economists who study globalization pay lots of attention to trade and capital flows. They have spent generations researching how much better off the world could be if there were fewer international obstacles to voluntary, mutually beneficial trade and investment. If there’s a twenty-dollar bill on the sidewalk—economists’ old catch-phrase meaning an opportunity for big gain at small cost—why not pick it up?