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Microfinance, foreign aid, Commitment to Development Index, debt and debt relief
David Roodman, a former CGD senior fellow, worked at the Center from March 2002 to July 2013. His work at the Center focused on microfinance, debt relief, and aid effectiveness. His widely praised book Due Diligence confronts questions about the impacts of microfinance and how it should be supported. He wrote the book through a pathbreaking Microfinance Open Book Blog, where he shared questions, discoveries, and draft chapters.
Roodman was an architect and manager of the Commitment to Development Index since the project's inception in 2002. The Index ranks the world's richest countries based on their dedication to policies that benefit the 5 billion people living in poorer nations; it is widely recognized as the most comprehensive measure of rich-country policies towards the developing world.
Roodman wrote several papers questioning the capacity of common cross-country statistical techniques to shed light on what causes economic development. He co-authored a 2004 American Economic Review paper that challenged findings of World Bank research that aid works in a good policy environment. His non-technical Guide for the Perplexed builds on analysis of methodological problems and fragility in other studies. Among econometricians Roodman is best known for his computer programs that run in the statistical software package Stata; articles about them won him the inaugural Stata Journal editors' prize in 2012. Also in 2012, Roodman aged off the RePEc list of top young economists in the world, at number 6.
The pendulum of public perception has swung against microfinance. That leaves the thoughtful observer, wary of extreme claims in any direction, with a puzzle. Is microfinance a bane or a boon or in between?
Twenty-five years ago today, I walked into Building 1 of the Microsoft Corporation’s wooded campus in Redmond, WA, and reported for work as a programming intern. I had a pretty good time that summer. What I remember most is wondering whether I should buy a bit of stock in the company—and then spending all my earnings on long-distance calls to my new girlfriend.
Julia Clark and David Roodman investigate whether better ranking of think tanks is possible by exploiting modern tools for measuring citations in both traditional and new media, as well as in academe. They find that with modest effort the status quo of ranking the tanks can be improved.
Traditional measures of development divide the world into categories such as developed and developing, rich and poor, and North and South. While indexes such as CGD’s Commitment to Development Index (CDI) can be useful for roughly defining which countries contribute the most to helping the world’s poorest, it is more difficult to account for rising countries like Brazil, China, and India that are improving their commitments to a to a more fair and prosperous global order. Which countries are going above and beyond in their commitments to global citizenship?
Since beginning the process of reengagement with Myanmar in the last year, many lenders to the country have cut or refinanced its debt. David Roodman finds that the debt relief, by most standards, has been overly quick and large. While the regime that racked up the debt may have been odious, the current regime, he says, does not mark enough of a break from the old to warrant odious debt cancellation. Roodman says more refinancing, contingent on further reforms, instead of cancellation may have been more appropriate.
[I am honored to host Matt Flannery as my first guest blogger. My October 2 post about Kiva generated copious commentary and tweeting. Accepting a guest strays somewhat from the construct of this blog, but seems highly appropriate in this case.--David Roodman]
This is Matt Flannery, Co-Founder and CEO of Kiva.
I recently read and enjoyed David’s article “Kiva Is Not Quite What It Seems”. The article is well-written and thoughtful, and has generated a lot of passionate responses. I'm writing here because I thought it would be helpful to hear from Kiva, as part of this dialogue, to increase understanding about what Kiva does and where it is going.
I see Kiva as a public property, “owned”, in a sense, by its three main constituents---the entrepreneurs, the lenders and the MFI partners, all of whom we serve. It is a delicate balance to serve all three at once. Sometimes it may seem that, for a particular decision, one has to benefit at the expense of the others. However, this is a short-sighted way of looking at things.
I firmly believe that, in the long run, each of Kiva’s constituencies want the others to be well-served, as they are all inter-connected, and rely on each other in their shared efforts towards poverty alleviation. What is needed to create this environment of mutual support is rich communication, promoting greater understanding around the challenges and needs of each constituent.
The Kiva website serves as the hub for that communication to take place. However, large gaps in communication still remain. We at Kiva have a long way to go to increase the level of understanding between the three parties and this article sheds some light on certain areas where we can improve.
CGD fellow David Roodman and Jonathan Morduch a landmark evaluation of the impact of microcredit on poor households in Bangladesh. They replicate the study's statistical analysis and put an end to the controversy surrounding it by showing that it fails to rule out reverse causation. A positive association between microcredit and household spending, for example, may merely indicate that richer families borrow more. With these studies in doubt, solid academic evidence that microcredit reduces poverty is even scarcer than previously understood.
This working paper by CGD research fellow David Roodman provides an original synthesis and exposition of the literature on a particular class of econometric techniques called "dynamic panel estimators," and presents the first implementation of some of these techniques in Stata, a statistical software package widely used in the research community. Stata is designed to encourage users to develop new commands for it, which other users can then use or even modify. In this paper, Roodman introduces two commands, abar and xtabond2, which is one of the most frequently downloaded user-written Stata commands in the world. Learn more
Microfinance is a widely celebrated strategy for helping poor people in the developing world. Leading microfinance institutions, including the Nobel Peace Prize-winning Grameen Bank, reach millions of clients. CGD research fellow David Roodman and Uzma Qureshi analyze why some microfinance institutions succeed in covering costs, earning returns, attracting capital, and scaling up. They conclude that financial imperatives can explain much about how microfinance products are designed, for example, the common emphasis on group lending to women. Thus the business acumen of microfinance innovators is underappreciated. But more rigorous study is needed to understand when and where these design choices help clients.
When aid projects proliferate, donors often seek better oversight through smaller projects. While this may improve administration, it burdens recipient governments with reporting requirements and donor visits. CGD research fellow David Roodman suggests in a new working paper that big projects are best for countries that get more aid, have better governance, or have less revenue. He also shows how donors who care most about their own success tend to divide their aid portfolios into more, smaller projects to draw the recipient's resources away from other donors. This reduces development.
In this working paper, David Roodman and Scott Standley analyze the use of tax incentives in rich countries to promote private charity. They discuss tax policy as de facto aid policy, and policy implications.
At a time when the international dialogue surrounding development is focused on increasing the quantity of aid, this paper focuses on how each dollar of foreign assistance can be more effective in reducing poverty. Using a sophisticated mathematical modeling process, the author explores the phenomena of project proliferation and absorptive capacity in foreign aid delivery.
In this working paper, CGD research fellow David Roodman describes the methodology of the foreign aid component of the 2012 edition of the Commitment to Development Index. The CDI ranks 22 of the world’s richest countries on their dedication to policies that benefit the 5.5 billion people living in poorer nations. Moving beyond standard comparisons of foreign aid volumes, the CDI quantifies a range of rich-country policies that affect poor people in developing countries
The launch of the Global War on Terror (GWOT) soon after September 11, 2001 has been predicted to fundamentally alter U.S. foreign aid programs. In particular, there is a common expectation that development assistance will be used to support strategic allies in the GWOT, perhaps at the expense of anti-poverty programs. In this paper we assess changes in country allocation by USAID over 1998-2001 versus 2002-05. We find that any major changes in aid allocation related to the GWOT appear to be affecting only a handful of critical countries, namely, Iraq, Afghanistan, Jordan, and the Palestinian Territories. Concerns that there is a large and systematic diversion of U.S. foreign aid from fighting poverty to fighting the GWOT do not so far appear to have been realized.