Policy experiments, economic paradigms

Dani Rodrik’s recent post on development economics took me back to my graduate days at the UEA’s School of Development Studies on the — then brand new — MSc Agricultural Economics course (1984-85) managed by Frank Ellis and Steve Biggs. Their liberal course and seminar-based teaching approach was a breath of fresh air. Franks Ellis´s lectures would contribute to his “Peasant Economics: farm household and agrarian development” (CUP, 1988), and later influential work on rural livelihoods. Other lecturers included, inter alia, Richard Pearce, John Harris [“Political Economy Rural Development : Theories of Peasant Economy and Agrarian Change” (Hutchinson, 1982)], and Piers Blaikie [“The Political Economy of Soil Erosion in Developing Countries” (Longman, 1985)].

Steve Biggs lectured on agricultural innovation and participation — and Dennis Rondelli’s “Development Projects as Policy Experiments” was a key text.

The idea that development approaches and policy ideas in, for example, Africa are really very different to those in the UK or US is fundamentally odd to me. We simply don’t always know where the “where the problems lie” and by necessity and choice need ” to acknowledge that the key problems may differ from setting to setting, and to adopt an explicitly experimental attitude to policy selection and formulation.”

But is this really a paradigm shift? I have long been an advocate of Bill Easterly’s approach — conditional funding based on country’s own efforts at policy reform, and Dani’s own emphasis on the recognition of pluralism (and I have no little time for Sach’s big bang): perhaps it may be from those in ivory towers, but for those involved in discussing, bargaining & negotiating policy it is the only approach. Putting in place the institutional arrangements (and funding) for collective M&E is admittedly more difficult.


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