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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.
In the last few days, a delicate dance of reconciliation between Myanmar and its estranged foreign creditors reached its final measures. At the Club de Paris---the collective negotiating forum for creditor governments such as Japan and the United States---a press release just announced a debt deal with the poor and long-isolated Asian nation. The creditors committed to what is by Paris Club standards an exceptionally generous deal: cancelling half the debt in arrears---Myanmar defaulted in 1998---and instituting a 15-year repayment schedule for the remainder, including a 7-year grace period. Because the interest rates on most of these the loans are low, typically about 1%, this stretching out of repayment further reduces the debt's economic cost ("net present value" or NPV). Overall, the NPV will fall 60%. Meanwhile the World Bank and Asian Development Bank made their first loans to Myanmar in more than 20 years, in the process erasing their own arrears issues with the country.
This Thursday, the World bank will host the unveiling of the latest edition of the best-known ranking of think tanks, which is produced by the University of Pennsylvania. The public event will reveal whether the Brookings Institution has lost its hold on "Think Tank of the Year," which tanks made the top 50 worldwide, which are best in Latin America, and so on.
CGD senior fellow David Roodman has won the inaugural Stata Journal Editors’ Prize for what the editors termed “two outstanding papers:” How to do xtabond2: An introduction to difference and system GMM in Stata and Fitting fully observed recursive mixed-process models with cmp. Each article describes how to use a computer program he wrote to extends Stata, a widely used statistical toolset. Roodman’s papers have been cited thousands of times. The prize citation concludes:
I'm delighted to congratulate my colleague David Roodman on his winning the first ever Editor's Prize of the Stata Journal for his 2009 and 2011 articles. Here is one of the more easily understood bits of the citation:
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.
This year marks the 10th anniversary of 2000 Jubilee debt relief movement, in which religious organizations, development NGOs, and policymakers pressed successfully for deeper, faster debt relief for the world's poorest countries. What did the movement achieve? What pitfalls and policy opportunities lie ahead?
CGD fellow David Roodman discusses the beginning of the Jubilee movement.
On Wednesday, September 29, 2010, CGD experts were joined by key actors in the movement to assess the legacy of the Jubilee. The event featured presentations by CGD Senior Fellow David Roodman and Todd Moss. The chair of CGD'd board, Ed Scott, and Minister Counselor Lars Petter Henie of Norway provided opening remarks. The morning and afternoon panels were moderated by CGD's Lawrence MacDonald, vice president of communications and policy outreach, and Nancy Birdsall, CGD's president.
The morning panel focused primarily on the evolution of the Jubilee movement and its growing impact in the last decade. CGD fellow David Roodman explains in his essay The Arc of Jubilee that the Jubilee 2000 movement, which called for the cancellation of the foreign debts of the poorest nations, reached its zenith in the late 1990s and 2000—and then, by design, shut down. In the space of a few years, it became one of the most successful international, non-governmental movements in history.
Jamie Drummond on why the Jubilee movement gained support from both secular and religious institutions.
Roodman concludes that nongovernmental groups have shown that they can exercise power by educating members of the public and engaging them in the policymaking process. The success of Jubilee 2000 led directly to creation of new, high-profile NGOs in the 2000’s such as DATA and the ONE Campaign (now merged). It advanced an advocacy style that exploits the power of stars such as Bono; uses media old and new with savvy; strikes a strongly centrist stance (in the U.S. context, bipartisan); and subtly melds secular and religious appeals. In particular, Jubilee progeny unlocked more than $50 billion in U.S. government funding for global health in the 2000s, mainly for HIV/AIDS treatment in Africa. This aid flow dwarfs the new funds generated for debt relief. See David's full speech here, view the handout, or read his full paper here.
Masood Ahmed explains the importance of the process of engaging heavily indebted poor countries in the Jubilee movement.
In transition between the morning and afternoon panels Masood Ahmed, director of the Middle East and Central Asia Department at the IMF, offered a first-hand perspective of how international financial institutions are approaching the issue of odious debt and what obstacles remain for the process of debt cancellation. Ahmed explained that in the World Bank there was always the sense that debt relief was a "crazy idea". In fact there was never any concern about where the money for debt relief would come from, but rather people within the World Bank were concerned that these efforts had short-term benefits and long-term consequences.
Speaking to these concerns, Todd Moss followed by arguing that the International Monetary Fund is partially at fault due to its proven systematic overestimates of growth for heavily indebted poor countries. Additionally, even as past debt was relieved, the sustainability of low-income countries' debt was eroded by new, even greater official lending—primarily by IFIs. Between 1989 and 2003, new nominal lending to HIPCs was twice as large as the amount of nominal debt relief provided. In the early 2000s, several donor governments, think tanks, and civil society organizations began to realize that the HIPC Initiative did not provide a lasting solution to the problem of unsustainable debt in poor countries.
Todd Moss outlines some of the crucial elements of the evolution of the Jubilee movement.
However, despite sound academic support for debt relief, the reality of instituting any kind of debt cancellation policy for the heavily indebted poor countries still remains grounded in a quagmire of bureaucracy both on the scale of governments and international finance institutions. Some members of the afternoon panel raised doubts about whether there was any statistically significant evidence that debt relief was an effective tool for aid of the heavily indebted poor countries.
Clay Lowery discusses the difficulties of instituting policy changes in the face of governmental bureaucratic gridlock.
The panel ultimately offered conflicting assessments of how to proceed with the future of the Jubilee movement. Panelist Seema Jayachandran posited that the status quo had to be changed in order to give poor countries better opportunities to avoid the burden of illegitimate lending. The idea of debt relief in itself can be a powerful tool in spurring economic growth for the HIPCs, but it is by no means a sweeping solution regarding the issue of odious debt.
Another approach, set forth in a recent CGD working group report, is to prevent odious debt from forming in the first place. The report, Preventing Odious Obligations: A New Tool for Protecting Citizens from Illegitimate Regimes, proposes an agreement that could declare that successor governments to a (named) illegitimate regime would not be bound by contracts that the illegitimate regime signs after the declaration. Some rogue investors might operate in defiance of the system, but this new approach would still help free successor governments from concerns about repudiating illegitimate contracts.
The Burnside and Dollar (2000) finding that aid raises growth in a good policy environment has had an important influence on policy and academic debates. We conduct a data gathering exercise that updates their data from 1970-93 to 1970-97, as well as filling in missing data for the original period 1970-93. We find that the BD finding is not robust to the use of this additional data. (JEL F350, O230, O400)
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?
This working paper by CGD research fellow David Roodman provides an original synthesis and exposition of the statistical theory behind one of the most influential studies of the impact of microcredit on borrowers (Pitt and Khandker, Journal of Political Economy, 1998). The present paper also documents Roodman’s program, called cmp which for the first time makes it easy for other researchers to apply these methods. The program implements a "maximum likelihood" estimator for "fully observed, recursive, mixed-process systems of equations," and runs in the commercial statistical analysis package, Stata.
CGD working paper 26, "New Data, New Doubts: Revisiting "Aid, Policies, and Growth" by CGD non-resident fellow William Easterly, research fellow David Roodman, and Ross Levine (also published as "Aid, Policies, and Growth: Comment" in the American Economic Review, June 2004), concludes that the Burnside and Dollar (2000) finding that aid raises growth in a good policy environment is not statistically robust. This dataset is a four-year panel covering 1966–97. It includes all the Burnside and Dollar data and Easterly, Levine and Roodman's expanded data set.