Tyler Cowen Interviews Chris Blattman

Listen to the entire interview here.

Some interesting observations from Chris:

On cash transfers:

What we found is, the initial result after two and four years was like other places seeing big advances in incomes. People get cash. They’re poor. They couldn’t invest in some of their ideas, but they had good ideas, and so they take off.

Now what we’ve seen is, essentially, they’ve converged with the people who didn’t get the cash. The people who didn’t get the cash have caught up because they saved and accumulated slowly and got up to the point where they have the same levels of success.

They converged to a good level. But this means that cash transfers are much more of a temporary acceleration than they are some sort of permanent solution to poverty.

On Botswana’s economic growth miracle:

There’s a few pat stories that say, “Well, they idiosyncratically established a parliamentary government before they discovered their diamonds and, through some magical set of circumstances, maintained this good governance. And the diamonds fed growth and prosperity.”

But that doesn’t seem very persuasive. There’s another story that’s waiting to be told, and I don’t know the answer to it.

On the correlation between stateness and development:

First, my personal experience, whether it’s the little regression I get to run by working in places as diverse as Liberia and Uganda, in Ethiopia and Colombia, that correlation is more apparent than any other correlation.

Why do I think it’s there? I think it’s there because partly it’s a proxy for a general level of social organization that we, as a society, have figured out a way to solve certain collective action problems, that we’ve figured out a way to make certain types of collective decisions in a way that does not have to devolve into conflict. And as a result, we’re able to, on some sense, do everything more effectively — it’s like a general-purpose technology.

Conversational Chris comes off as a much broader thinker than some of his famous papers let on. He is also genuinely committed to knowing the contexts within which he works — which, in my view, is the key reason why his works on violence stand out in the literature.

I hope he is still considering writing a book.

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