Sunday, May 30, 2010

Dutch elections and migration.

On June 9th there are elections in the Netherlands. We have 10 parties in parliament and they are quite different - we even have a party for animals in parliament [1] - so the different leaders battling over their party programs is great entertainment.

On May 19th Nyfer published a report arguing that non-western immigration into the Netherlands costs the Dutch government 7.2 billion euros a year. The report, commissioned by the PVV (the Dutch right-wing party) is here in Dutch. The reason is that these immigrants make more use of the welfare state and pay less tax than the average native. They are also more likely to be unemployed, criminal, etc.

I finally read the report (127 pages) while in the plane to the Netherlands. The report's scope is very limited; solely looking at the budgetary effects of non-western immigration on the Dutch government's budget. Given this the report seems solid.

Geert Wilders

Unfortunately (but expectedly), the PVV now uses it as ammunition in the Dutch election. To quote Geert Wilders - leader of the PVV - "Ten years of unchanged immigration policy means a cost of 72 billion for Dutch Society. The fact that mass-migration is also financially disastrous emphasizes the necessity of PVV's proposals such as an immigration stop for Islamic countries, a limitation on other immigrants and for upcoming 10 years not paying benefits to immigrants [own translation]."

Three things:
  1. How do we get Islamic countries to have a special treatment? That's only 1/3rd of all non-Western immigrants into the Netherlands!?
  2. In addition to the above, the PVV also wants to get out of the EU, get rid of the euro and stop all Dutch development aid. What world does he live in?
  3. I can't wait to start writing my dissertation. In Eastern Congo we find that migration is positively correlated with public goods provision. Can't wait to provide ammunition to PVV's opposing camps.
[1] The following ten parties are currently in the Dutch parliament (the ones starred are currently in the government):

Party Full name (in Dutch) Peter's summary Seats
CDA* Christen Democratisch Appèl The christen-democrats 41
PVDA* Partij van de Arbeid The labor party 33
SP Socialistische Partij The socialists 25
VVD Volkspartij voor Vrijheid en Democratie The liberals 22
PVV Partij voor de Vrijheid The right 9
GL GroenLinks The greens 7
CU* ChristenUnie The religious ones 6
D66 Democraten 66 The social-democrats 3
SGP Staatkundig Gereformeerde Partij The more strict religious ones 2
PVD Partij voor de Dieren Yes, a party for animals 2

That's science. From Dirk Jan.

A post from... the Netherlands, where I arrived last Wednesday (last week was therefore rather busy and thus no posts). To get things going again hereby a comic that goes to the heart of science.

Normally these "Dirk Jan" comics are about many different other topics: here another intellectually stimulating one, the sign reads "Men, please sit down while peeing".

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

USAID/QED conference.

It is 420am and I am at Penn Station; waiting for my train to Washington, DC. About a year ago we received a grant from USAID which made it possible to launch Voix des Kivus. I'm heading to a two-day "mid-term" conference - organized by QED - to present our project. Let's see.

Sunday, May 16, 2010


CAPERS - the Comparative African Political Economy Research Seminar - is a joint NYU-Columbia Working Group for scholars of African political economy and development. It takes place once a semester, a maximum of twenty people attend, and working papers are 'presented'. That is, because people read all the papers in advance, the hour that is booked for each paper is spend completely on discussion. A total of six paper are discussed, there is lunch in between and dinner afterwards. Of those six papers 3 are from faculty and 3 are from students, each faculty paper has a student from the other university as discussant, and vice versa for a student paper.

Last Friday the 3rd CAPERS took place; this time at NYU (last time was at Columbia). As always faculty to student ratios were high (around 1 to 3), and because everybody was well-prepared and we know each other by now and thus we feel free to say what we think the discussions were great. Great to be in in a room with smart people discussing African political economy and development issues!

Thursday, May 13, 2010

MONUSCO. Where is that "O" coming from?

Since years the world’s largest UN peacekeeping force (currently around 20,000 peacekeepers) is located in the Democratic Republic of Congo; MONUC after its French acronym for Mission de l'Organisation des Nations Unies en République Démocratique du Congo.

MONUC HQ in Sud Kivu.
Picture Simon made when we were in Bukavu last summer.

Recently the Congolese government has asked for them to leave (here). Kinshasa argues that the UN is no longer necessary; most of the fighting is over and its own forces are ready to fill the gap left by MONUC's withdrawal. I am not the biggest fan of MONUC, but this is nonsense and the UN should stay: fighting is not over (especially in the east) and Congolese forces are definitely not able to fill the gap: most haven’t been paid in many months, the Congelese army is guilty of raping and killing civilians, etc. It is more likely Kinshasa wants them to leave for two other reasons:
  1. On June 30 the DRC will celebrate its 50th year of independence from Belgium; indeed, symbolically it is probably not great to the world's largest foreign force in your country;
  2. Elections are coming up - expected in July 2011 for the legislative and October 2011 for the president - and MONUC not only did most of the logistics in the last one, they also monitor.
A new UN proposal is now on the table. The United Nations will withdraw 2,000 peacekeepers by June 30 (oh so symbolically), but the remaining 20,000 leave only when security improves, France's ambassador to Congo - Pierre Jacquemot - said on Monday. He also said that MONUC may be renamed to include an "S" in the acronym as the organization is refocused on security and stabilization: "The mission of 'MONUSCO' will be focused on essential tasks: the protection of the population and the stabilization of peace." Great; another acronym to learn. Btw, where is that "O" coming from? Security is Sécurité and Stabilization is Stabilisation in French; so no "O"s there. Are we talking about COngo or maybe Observation = Observation? Pierre Jacquemot: HELP.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Matthew effect.

This evening I read a literature overview by Duncan Watts of recent work on the analysis and modeling of networks and networked dynamic systems in mathematics, physics, sociology and computer science [1]. It briefly noted the Matthew effect; also know as the Yule process, the Gibrat principle, cumulative advantage, and, most recently, as the preferential attachment process. I like "Matthew effect" though, coming straight from the Bible which clearly explains the concept:

"For to all those who have, more will be given, and they will have abundance; but from those who have nothing, even what they have will be taken away." (Matthew 25:29, New Revised Standard Version)

[1] Duncan J. Watts. 2004. The 'New' Science of Networks. Annual Review of Sociology, 30, pp. 243-70.

Monday, May 10, 2010

Nicholas Christakis.

I just saw this TED talk by Nicholas Christakis; he is Professor at Harvard and works a lot with James Fowler. The people that read this blog once in a while - hi mom - know that I am very interested in "networks". That is, how behavior is influenced by a person's position in society. Christakis and Fowler also wrote a fantastic book called "Connected". Great TED talk!

Sunday, May 9, 2010

Clustering standard errors.

My dissertation's puzzle
Observation 1: The provision of public goods - roads, wells, schools, etc. - is crucial for economic development. Some villages in developing countries are able to provide them, while others are not. There is a large literature that asks: "Why?" The answer most often given is "(ethnic) diversity". The reason is that diverse villages have a harder time sanctioning non-contributors, preferences for public goods can differ across groups, and a million other reasons. Observation 2: Migration is one of the principal characteristics of the developing world; especially of conflict zones. In Eastern Congo, for example, almost 2/3rd of all people have been displaced by war at least once between 1996 and 2007. There is, however, no work that looks at the impact of migration on public goods provision. Puzzle: Intuitively one would expect that migration leads to less public goods provision: their arrival creates diversity (native versus immigrant), it could create tensions in the village, etc. So I carefully looked at our DRC data and found that villages with migrants actually have more public goods! Controlling for many confounds, this result held across the board: for wells, widening roads, clearing roads, patrols, schools and productive measures. Dissertation: In my dissertation, as a result, I will ask two main questions: 1) is this a causal story? 2) if yes, how this could this be? [1]

Clustered standard errors
When presenting my regression results I got the question: "Did you cluster your standard errors?". This is an important question. The data I used for these regressions is data from our baseline survey: in 2007 we held a survey among five households in each of over 600 randomly-selected villages in Eastern Congo, thereby obtaining information on over 3,000 households and well over 20,000 people.

Running a naive regression on this data is likely to give me wrong results because the standard errors that come with it assume that each observation is independent of all other observations in the data set. The latter, however, is not likely to be the case with my data because households of the same village are likely to be more similar on a wide variety of measures than are households that are not part of the village. As a result part of my data is correlated - this type of correlation is called intraclass correlation. The higher this intraclass correlation the less unique information each household provides and this has to be taken into account when running regressions; one has to inflate the standard errors to take this correlation into account. I therefore have to run my regression making sure that I cluster the standard errors at the village level (one can also use a multilevel model).

The answer to the above question was 'yes'; I had clustered my standard errors. Despite the fact that my standard errors - as expected - were substantially higher than would have been in the naive regression, I did not only find that (as the literature suggests) ethnic diversity is negatively correlated with public goods provision, migration (controlling for diversity and many other things) is positively correlated. Indeed a puzzle! One that I am very intrigued by and I hope to figure out why this could be the case in upcoming years.

[1] I have my proposal that includes a much more detailed discussion - also discussing endogeneity issues, hypothesizes different mechanisms how the relationship could be causal, etc. - that I will post online soonish.

Saturday, May 8, 2010

Flights, and upcoming months.

My flights for upcoming months are finally booked. It took some effort as it was an optimization problem with quite a few constraints: 1) I have to be in the DRC from July - January for fieldwork, 2) I had already booked a ticket Nairobi - Johannesburg because of the World Cup (here), 3) of course I want to see my parents, and 4) it should be as cheap as possible. Ready? Here we go:

May 25: New York -> Dublin -> Amsterdam;
June 15: Amsterdam -> Istanbul -> Nairobi;
June 18: Nairobi -> Johannesburg;
July 5: Johannesburg -> Nairobi;
January 12: Nairobi -> Istanbul -> Amsterdam;
January 26: Amsterdam -> Dublin -> New York.

So in June I stay several days in Kenya? Yep. Meeting a friend and getting to know Nairobi a bit. How do I get to the Congo? Normally one flies to Kigali, but the flights were really expensive (around $500). So, now I plan to take a bus to Kigali via Kampala (around $50). A great way to see a bit of Kenya and Uganda as well.

Friday, May 7, 2010


From xkcd:

Peter = ABD.

"A thesis proposal" is done. Now the rest.

Last Tuesday I successfully defended my dissertation proposal. In brief, in the third year of the PhD we are expected to write a dissertation proposal (takes about a year). Then, after finding two professors that sponsor the proposal, one has to defend it to a committee consisting of four professors. I did so last Tuesday. It was great to spend well over an hour with four very smart people discussing solely my dissertation. So, now I am “All But Dissertation”. That is, now it starts: I actually have to write that thing.

Wave of work
The days before my defense I avoided not-dissertation-related work. So, after celebrating Tuesday evening, I opened my Gmail Wednesday morning and clicked on my starred emails and almost fell over backwards. A brief summary of what’s ahead before I leave to Europe and Africa on May 25:
  • DRC network project (with Neelan): Finish games and protocol. Meet with several professors to make sure it makes sense. Run pilot at NYU lab. Revise our IRB application.
  • DRC impact evaluation (with Macartan, Caroline and Raul): Finish fill-out forms so that the field teams can geo-locate over 5,500 villages. Clean baseline survey. Present the evaluation design at CAPERS this Friday. And lots (lots!) of other preparation as Raul and I will be in the field for over 6 months.
  • CSDS (with Liz and Neelan): Build resource webpage. Write (sampling) code in R.
  • Sierra Leone network project (with Neelan): Finish protocol and survey questions. Meet with several professors to make sure it makes sense. Meeting at IRC's HQ downtown. Get IRB approval.
  • Logistics: Get Visas. After putting it in the washing machine (story here), I also need a new passport. Buy lots of stuff: flights, netbook, Kindle, external harddrive, etc. Sublease apartment.
  • Voix des Kivus (with Macartan): Write expansion protocol for our Technical and Field Coordinators (we are expanding from 4 to tens of villages). Macartan and I still need to get a lot of paid-out-of-our-own-pocket money back; so several hours with receipts ahead. May 18-19: USAID meeting in Washington. Get several batteries (designed by Columbia's engineering department) from Tanzania to our villages in the DRC, so that people don't have to walk for hours to charge their phones.
  • Dissertation: Formally work out my dissertation's mechanisms. Get IRB approval. Share proposal widely (policymakers, academics, people in the DRC, etc.).
All great stuff!

Sunday, May 2, 2010

The Office UK.

This has nothing to do with my dissertation. Although, maybe it does. It certainly keeps me away from work once in a while. The Office UK - and especially the regional manager David Brent - is absolutely brilliant; typical British-style humor. Hereby one episode:

I also recently came across this episode where David Brent visits Microsoft UK; absolutely fantastic!