People Are Brains, Not Stomachs

Alex Tabarrok over at MR has a fantastic summary of some of the works of this year’s three Nobel Prize winners in Economics. This paragraph on one of Michael Kremer’s papers stood out to me:

My second Kremer paper is Population Growth and Technological Change: One Million B.C. to 1990. An economist examining one million years of the economy! I like to say that there are two views of humanity, people are stomachs or people are brains. In the people are stomachs view, more people means more eaters, more takers, less for everyone else. In the people are brains view, more people means more brains, more ideas, more for everyone else. The people are brains view is my view and Paul Romer’s view (ideas are nonrivalrous). Kremer tests the two views. He shows that over the long run economic growth increased with population growth. People are brains.

Here is the abstract from Kremer’s QJE paper:

The nonrivalry of technology, as modeled in the endogenous growth literature, implies that high population spurs technological change. This paper constructs and empirically tests a model of long-run world population growth combining this implication with the Malthusian assumption that technology limits population. The model predicts that over most of history, the growth rate of population will be proportional to its level. Empirical tests support this prediction and show that historically, among societies with no possibility for technological contact, those with larger initial populations have had faster technological change and population growth.

Read Tabarrok’s entire post here. Highly recommended.

Since Sunday I’ve been asking around if the Prize got any mention on local radio in Busia, Kenya — the cradle of RCTs, if you will, and where Kremer conducted field experiments. No word yet. Will report if I hear anything.

What do poor people think about direct cash transfers?

Cash is great: more private consumption is better than less.

But societies organize out of poverty — through the provision of vital public goods and services. And low-income people know that.

This is from Khemani, Habyarimana and Nooruddin over at Brookings:

Screen Shot 2019-04-08 at 11.28.30 PMBuilding on prior work, we designed our survey questions to elicit views by presenting trade-offs: If the budget were spent on direct cash transfers targeted to poor people, it would come at the expense of other kinds of spending. Two different trade-offs with targeted cash transfers were presented in the allocation of (a hypothetical) additional budget for the block, a key local administrative unit in India. Respondents were told that since the (hypothetical) additional budget would be limited, the cash would come at the expense of either public health and nutrition services for children in their block or improving the quality of roads.

Of the approximately 3,800 respondents, only 13 percent chose cash if it came at the expense of spending to improve public health and nutrition (preferred by 86 percent of respondents). In contrast, if the cash came at the expense of improving roads throughout the block, the number rises to 35 percent of respondents choosing cash. These percentages are the same when we restrict the sample to respondents with little or no education, or to those who belong to historically disadvantaged caste groups. That is, the poor and less educated are overwhelmingly choosing public health over cash.

Read the whole this here.