Why Good Policy Requires Responsible Communication and Consumption of Research

Over on the Shared Justice website, I (with Katie Thompson) wrote a piece on responsible communication and consumption of research. We focus this post on the recent dust-up with respect to research into the welfare effects of participation in payday lending. Here is an excerpt:

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Max Weber and the (so-called) Protestant Work Ethic

It is about time I wrote about this topic on this blog.

The Freakonomics podcast ran an episode last week entitled, “Is the Protestant Work Ethic Real?” The majority of the episode focused on research by Gharad Bryan, James Choi, and Dean Karlan evaluating the effects of a faith-based development program implemented by International Care Ministries in the Philippines. I wrote about this paper, back in March, but this podcast brings up a couple additional points worthy of discussion.

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Podcasting with the Accord Research Alliance

I while back I posted about a neat new podcast run by some of the individuals who make up the Accord Research Alliance. The Accord Research Alliance is a group of people who are interested in implementing monitoring, evaluation, research, and learning initiatives in their work with faith-based international development. One of their members, Nathan Mallonee from Living Water International, was nice enough to invite me to contribute to their podcast series. We recorded the episode a while back and the podcast is now available.

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The Effect of School Vouchers on Spiritual Practices

A new working paper, by Daniel Hungerman, Kevin Rinz, and Jay Frymark, entitled, “Beyond the Classroom: The Implications of School Vouchers for Church Finances“, was just released via the NBER working paper series. Although the paper still needs to be peer reviewed, I think it provides valuable insight. Here is the abstract (emphasis added):

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Measuring what Matters (a new podcast on evaluation in faith-based development)

Last week I was introduced to a new podcast organized by the Accord Research Alliance (a group of faith-based development organizations) focusing on the intersection of faith-based development and impact evaluation. This is much overdue service and one that I hope survives the test of time.

The Soundcloud page for the podcast is here.

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Evaluating ‘Transformational Development’ – Forthcoming in F&E

I’m happy to report that a paper stemming from my fieldwork in Kenya is (finally) being published in the Faith & Economics journal. Although F&E is a relatively niche journal, it is my first peer-reviewed research publication in an academic journal and reports on work I performed before I even began my MS program. The paper is titled: “Learning Toward Transformation: Evaluating Material, Social, and Spiritual Change in Western Kenya, here is the abstract:

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An Economist Takes on the Parable of the Good Samaritan

Who will help those in less-fortunate situations when everyone believes that someone else will do the job? This is the question that Ted Bergstrom addresses in a new paper published in the American Economic Journal: Microeconomics entitled: “The Good Samaritan and Traffic on the Road to Jericho“.

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[Book Review] Slow Kingdom Coming

Over the past few weeks – in the break between semesters – I’ve been able to find time to read. I’ve read less than I wanted to (of course), but have thoroughly enjoyed each of the books I read. In this post, I will review one of these books, Slow Kingdom Coming: Practices for Doing Justice, Loving Mercy, and Walking Humbly in the World by Kent Annan. Kent is an author and speaker on the broad topic of faith-based development. He is the co-director of the NGO, Haiti Partners, which works in Haiti providing educational opportunities to children. Additionally, Kent is a brother in law to (probably) the most famous development economics blogger ever, Chris Blattman, and this relationship shows when Kent writes about data and rigorous evidence.

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Reflections on the Past Week

Like many people, I’ve spent the last week numb – and to be perfectly honest – shocked. I process best by writing and I’ve written a lot over the past week. Most of this writing won’t be shared (not on this blog anyway). I’ve thought a lot about what the role of this blog is in the wake of the 2016 election. The answer, for now, is to keep on writing and sharing thoughts. The tagline of this blog is “International Development, Economics, Policy, and Theology”. In many ways, each of these topics are impacted by last week’s election results. At the moment there is so much uncertainty about international development (what will happen to USAID?), economics (will we change the way we talk about and teach international trade?), and policy (what will the role of rigorous evaluation of policies be in the new administration?) that I, myself, am having trouble gathering my thoughts. Theologically, however, no verse of the Bible sums up my thoughts better than Romans 12.

Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God—this is your true and proper worship. Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.

Over the past 18 months (or so) perhaps the most meaningful patterns in this world have been our political ideologies. Paul calls us to “… not conform to these patterns, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind.” Notice Paul mentions the human mind. He could have said heart or soul, but he said mind. To me, renewing of the mind sounds a lot like learning. Never stop learning, never stop questioning your own perspectives of how the world works – or ought to work. Be your own toughest critic. This is so that, as Paul writes, “… you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is…” This sounds like the age-old process of trial and error, which requires humility so that we can see the errors in our thoughts, words, actions, and judgements.

For by the grace given me I say to every one of you: Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought, but rather think of yourself with sober judgment, in accordance with the faith God has distributed to each of you. For just as each of us has one body with many members, and these members do not all have the same function, so in Christ we, though many, form one body, and each member belongs to all the others. We have different gifts, according to the grace given to each of us. If your gift is prophesying, then prophesy in accordance with your faith; if it is serving, then serve; if it is teaching, then teach; if it is to encourage, then give encouragement; if it is giving, then give generously; if it is to lead, do it diligently; if it is to show mercy, do it cheerfully.

This is Paul’s call to love and cherish diversity. Another defining factor of this election season, and particularly the campaign of the President-Elect was rhetoric that sounded quite contradictory to the sentiment Paul is writing about here. The demographics of the United States have dramatically shifted. Whether or not this is seen as a good thing depends a lot on one’s exposure to people who are “different” from them. I’ve been fortunate to spend quite some time in places where I was the obviously “different” one, so my response to the demographic change is influenced by these experiences. Regardless of our experiences, however, Paul calls us to consider the gifts that a diverse body can provide.

Love must be sincere. Hate what is evil; cling to what is good. Be devoted to one another in love. Honor one another above yourselves. Never be lacking in zeal, but keep your spiritual fervor, serving the Lord. Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer. Share with the Lord’s people who are in need. Practice hospitality.

Read that verse again. Keep track to the numerous commands Paul lists.

“Be sincere” “Hate evil” “Cling to good” “Devote yourself to others” “Honor others over yourself” “Never lack zeal” “Keep spiritual fervor” “Serve the Lord” “Be joyful in hope” “Patient in affliction” “Faithful in prayer” “Share with those in need” “Practice hospitality”

So much of the campaign of the President-Elect failed to follow these commands. So much of what has happened since the election has failed to follow these commands. Lord have mercy.

Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse. Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn. Live in harmony with one another. Do not be proud, but be willing to associate with people of low position. Do not be conceited.

Last Wednesday – the day after the election – a friend suggested that we fast for the day. The next day, another friend reflected on the experience, “Fasting provided a constant reminder throughout the day. I am thankful for this, especially as a white male. Every time my stomach grumbled (often) I was able to think about everyone who is hurting, all the different groups of people. I would think of myself, the pain that I am experiencing is nothing in comparison to the pain and hurt and fear of others. And I even knew mine would only be the duration of a day, not years. I hope that I was hurting, lamenting, groaning WITH them.”

Never before have we had a President-Elect that has actually said so many hurtful and divisive things about members of our country. Paul calls us to “rejoice with those who rejoice and mourn with those who mourn”. If you are an avid reader of Paul’s letters you’ll notice a parallel to 1 Corinthians 12:26 “If one part [of the body] suffers, every part suffers with it. If one part is honored, every part is honored with it.” Throughout his writing, Paul is pretty clear about how Christians should react when others are hurting.

Do not repay anyone evil for evil. Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everyone. If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone. Do not take revenge, my dear friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: “It is mine to avenge; I will repay,” says the Lord. On the contrary:

“If your enemy is hungry, feed him;
if he is thirsty, give him something to drink.
In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head.”

Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.

Remember this, today and forever. “Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.”