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Greene Street: A Long History of a Short Block


First conceived of in 2011, this paper showcases the development story of a 486-feet north-south lane, today known as Greene Street, between Houston and Prince Streets in Manhattan that has experienced recurrent surprises in its four centuries of history. We find that development involves many changes in production as comparative advantage evolves, and that these changes are typically unexpected by policy-planners. If economic growth indeed has a large component for increases in productivity through reallocation and innovation, we argue that a detailed understanding of development at the micro-level is crucial for us to understand development at the national level. Read more.

Housing Affordability: Top-Down Design and Spontaneous Order

This paper examines cases of successful urban management achieved through a balance of spontaneous order and top-down planning. We show that while spontaneous development is the key to development, it will fail and result in chaos if not acknowledged and supported by the government. Read More.

Photo by shumei_thereEduardo M. C.Nam-ho ParkAntoine Belaieff and cliff hellis via Flickr.


Cross-border Technology Flows for Success: The African Mobile Revolution

Where technological opportunities in telecommunications and finance have created space for private entrepreneurs in Africa, they have drastically outperformed traditional state-owned and state-regulated telecom companies and banks. This paper shows how by bypassing poorly run, state-dominated land line systems, private indigenous African entrepreneurs have empowered the rural poor with the new Mobile phones technologies that now provide banking services, facilitate money transfer, and provide pricing information to farmers in local markets. Forthcoming.

Photo by YenkassaICT4D.atInternews Europethemepap and Direct Relief via Flickr.

How Much Do Leaders Explain Growth? An Exercise in Growth Accounting

This is a paper where we show that leaders, especially the autocratic ones, are overrated in their abilities to obtain economic results. Once we decompose the variations in growth rates into separate components, there is little that can be attributed to the leaders. Either benevolent or malevolent, “great men” simply do not matter as much as we thought in economic development. Forthcoming.

Photo by Vinoth ChandarLassi KurkijärviJames Walshmanhhai and David Cohen via Flickr.

European Origins of Economic Development

This paper demonstrates that much economic development outside Europe today can actually be traced back to the European settlers at colonial period. In addition, we show that this association is not independent of the channel of human capital accumulation, through which the European settlers probably shaped subsequent economic growth. Forthcoming.

Photo by Wikimedia Commons, Roger Viollet/Getty Images, WonderlaneBernal Saborio and mariusz kluzniak via Flickr.

Nations Matter, but Not as Much as You Think

Nation states do matter, if considering the extreme cases of North and South Korea, or East and West Germany. However, this paper shows that supra-national and sub-national regions can differ just as much as areas established by national borders. By deemphasizing the differences across borders, we confront the role of nation states in development, and show that a state-run “national development strategy” is often counter-productive. Forthcoming.

Photo by U.S. Army Garrison JapanRod WaddingtonPresidio of Montereydigitalpimp. and Sergii via Flickr.

Success in International Trade: The Surprising Size and Instability of Hyper-Specializations in Exports

An expanded version of a previous paper by Easterly and Reshef. this paper establishes the stylized fact that the nature of African exports is characterized by impermanent “Big Hits” not explained by global factors like global commodity prices, contradicting the traditional view that sees African exports as a passive commodity endowment fluctuating with global commodity prices. Whereas some of the African export determinants are conventional, other successes are triggered by idiosyncratic factors like entrepreneurial persistence, luck, and cost shocks, occurring in areas that usually fail. Forthcoming.

Photo by GusjeroneVillage InitiativeJim Sher and CIFOR via Flickr.

Development Lessons from the West Africa Cocoa Story

Government action is often described as key to development. This paper refutes the argument by telling the story of how the region of Ghana around Kumasi became the world’s largest producer of cocoa as a result of creative and enterprising individual farmers who experimented plantation techniques and brought the crop to new places after the discovery of New World. Although the colonial British government tried to claim credit for the Ghana’s eventual success for cocoa production, the evidence suggests it did more to hinder than to help. Forthcoming.

Photo by Jonathan Ernst/World Bank, Luke and Kate BosmansnrephotosAlexander Pajak and Peter Lockyer via Flickr.

The Fujianese Diaspora

This paper is a case study of the Fujianese diaspora that played a vital yet commonly underestimated role in the success of East Asian “tigers”. By describing how Fujianese gradually expanded on a tradition of building boats and ocean travel in an opening market, the paper deemphasizes the role of autocratic leaders in leading economic development but instead stresses the actions of spontaneous, entrepreneurial individuals. Forthcoming.

Photo by Motohiro SunouchiTimToine RooijmansSludge G and Kejing GU via Flickr.

International Banking and the Spread of Financial Access

Global financial innovators have transformed domestic financial systems around the developing world; they have been a far more positive force than national state leaders on domestic financial development. This paper tests the statistical association between the global banks and improved financial accesses across countries, and argues that liberty for individuals and firms to cross borders, enter new markets, and introduce new technologies is essential to overall economic development. Forthcoming.

Photo by DeusXFloridaMiroslav PetraskosopasnorMichael Duxbury and Sam valadi via Flickr.

Migration as a Vehicle for Development: Cultural Assimilation and the Dynamic Cost of Global Barriers to Land Mobility

Whereas for most people on earth the single greatest way to increase their own economic productivity is to move to a different country, policy barriers currently block international migration for most of the poor. Recent studies suggest that the dynamic cost of migration barriers is very small in that the large amount of cultural values and institutions that immigrants brought to rich countries must eventually overwhelm those of their own, offsetting the gains to migrants by losses to non-migrants. This paper assesses such claim by modeling the dynamic evolution of rules and norms in a group when new actors enter the group, and deriving the gains and losses from immigration over multiple generations. By doing so, it seeks to confront the impediments to migration in the name of preventing an ethically and empirically unviable concept of “Brain Drain”. Forthcoming.

Photo by The Jewish Agency for IsraelMcBethphilippe leroyerGustave Deghilage and Elvert Barnes via Flickr.

The Murid Ethic and Spirit of Entrepreneurship: Faith, Business and Mobility among Murid Immigrants in the Ivory Coast and Gabon

This paper features a case study that details the intricate network of the Mouride brotherhood based in Senegal, a Muslim brotherhood originating in the 19th century founded on a doctrine of hard work, charity and self-help. Today the network is a highly effective group of international traders extending to France, Spain, Italy, and New York City, usually as sidewalk dealers. This study will join a growing body of scholarly work that suggests that the spontaneous order of social and family relationships, culture, and self-organizing networks are crucial to economic development. Forthcoming.

Photo by Angela SevinSteve BuntingEvgeni Zotov and María via Flickr.

The Ethnic Group as a Vehicle for Development when Ethnicity is Endogenous

Motivated by the observation that individuals in several Asian countries identify with their nation as often as with their religious group, this paper sheds light on how the interplay between religious and national identity interacts with economic performance both within and across Asian countries. Forthcoming.

Photo by Neha SinghMr.TinDCDenish Cvincentraal and Chris Goldberg via Flickr.

Education and Social Mobility: Evidence from Colonial Benin


Photo by Mark FischerBrian KelleyFizzrShubert Ciencia and paolametro via Flickr.