You Say "Potato" ...  It is of course the international year of the potato.  Nunn and Qian  have a recent paper estimating the impact of the introduction of the potato from the Americas to Europe.  "According to our estimates, the adoption of potatoes can explain up to 26% of the observed post-1700 increase in population and 55% of the increase in the urban population share." 

posted June 19, 2008 at 7:20 p.m.


Easterly and Pfutze on Best Practices in Foreign Aid.  A Brookings Report.ranks aid agencies according to five measures of practices:  1.  Transparency;  2.  "Fragmentation" -- do agencies split their assistance into "too many" different projects;  3.  "Selectivity" -- does aid go to poor countries, or does it go to corrupt or autocratic countries;  4.  "Effectiveness" -- does aid take ineffective forms (tied aid, food aid, technical assistance);  5.  Overhead costs (and employees per dollar distributed).  Based on these  the top three ranked aid agencies are  World Bank (IDA),  United Kingdom, and African Development Bank.  The US's AID ranks 16 out of  37, tied with Nordic Development Fund and others.  World Food Programme ranks last, perhaps not surprisingly given how food aid enters into the "effectiveness" ranking  -- though the US and WFP both score 0 for effectiveness.

posted June 19, 2008 7:15 p.m.


Peter Singer on Charity.   Is charity a consumer good

One of the most significant factors determining whether people give to charity is their beliefs about what others are doing. Those who make it known that they give to charity increase the likelihood that others will do the same. Perhaps we will eventually reach a tipping point at which giving a significant amount to help the world's poorest becomes sufficiently widespread to eliminate the majority of those 25,000 needless daily deaths.  That is what Chris and Anne Ellinger hope their Web site, www.boldergiving.org, will achieve. The site tells the story of more than 50 members of the 50 percent League - people who have given away either 50 percent of their assets or 50 percent of their income in each of the last three years. Members ... are a diverse group of people. ... Most donors see giving as personally rewarding. Hsieh says that whether or not his giving has saved the lives of others, it has saved his own: "I could easily have lived a life that was boring and inconsequential. Now I am graced with a life of service and meaning." When people praise Hal Taussig for his generosity, he tells them, "Frankly, it's my way of getting kicks out of life."

posted June 19, 2008 3 p.m.


Report:  IPCC underestimated likely sea-level rise  According to a recent analysis published in Nature, the 2007 IPCC report "underestimated its effects concerning ocean temperature and associated sea level increases between 1961 and 2003 - by 50 percent." 

posted June 19, 2008 11:50 a.m.


UN:  Food Crisis in Zimbabwe.   From today's Washington Post.    Because of woeful governance and partly because of widespread flooding.

The United Nations estimates that more than 2 million people in Zimbabwe will need food assistance between July and September; that number is expected to rise to 3.1 million in October and peak around 5.1 million between January and March.   The latest crisis has been exacerbated by the rising costs of key imports, including food and fuel, and by government-imposed price controls that discourage farmers from growing basic staples such as corn.   But it also follows a decade-long economic decline that has shrunk the country's economy by about 44 percent since 1998 and led to the highest rates of hyperinflation in the world. Mugabe's land reform policies -- which transferred white-owned commercial farms to landless black farmers -- have dramatically undercut agricultural productivity. "The key economic indicators since 2001 paint a picture of rampant unemployment and underemployment," the report states. "For agriculture . . . 2008 may turn out to be one of the worst years since 1992."

posted June 19, 2008 7:50 a.m.