Ideas that went nowhere…..
….. because life got in the way.
Okay, that’s a bit melodramatic. Let’s start again. It used to be the case that to have a professional career as an economist in America, you needed a PhD. That’s changing a lot. There’s a general glut of PhDs. And organisations such as the IMF are now more interested in people with practical experiences than half a decade or more of often impractical academic training. In any case, outside America, PhDs were always for those who wanted to pursue an academic career. So, other than the vanity of being addressed as Dr Rahman, I’ve never really seen much return from doing a PhD.
And yet, every now and then, I think about the ideas over the fold and wonder what might have been.
1999 – Return migration
This was around the time when phrases such as Asian diaspora or Non-Resident fill-in-your-country started entering popular lexicon. But the professional literature was still based on the 1960s/1970s debates around the models and estimates of brain drain or lack thereof. The idea was to explore when and how return migration would make sense, possible extent and effect of such migration on both host and source countries, and policy implications.
2000 – Economics of online file-sharing
This was when Napster just emerged. The idea was simple — the best ideas usually are: how would the standard microeconomics handle online file-sharing, who gained and lost, in both partial and general equilibrium setting, under different market conditions. This would have been a fairly theoretical project, as relevant data was simply not available at the time.
2005 – Education policy and economic growth
Education is important for economic growth — this is a simple, seemingly uncontroversial statement. You don’t need an economics degree to get this. But turns out that the relevant policy lessons are anything but simple. During the 1980s and 1990s, across the developing world, a lot of effort had gone into getting kids to school. By the mid-2000s, we saw that there wasn’t any simple correlation between investment in education and pick up in economic growth. School quality was probably more important than quantity. But how do you get quality school? Do you invest heavily in teachers’ colleges? But who teaches the teachers? Is the marginal dollar better spent on tertiary education? But without demand for university graduates in productive sectors, will the graduates end up in competitive rent seeking? Meanwhile, how influential were direct public investment relative to NGOs and demand coming from the private sector?
2011 – Indian exceptionalism
Over time, and across countries, economic development is accompanied by industrialisation and urbanisation — people move from villages and farms to cities and factories, that’s the story of economic development. Indian experience, however, is somewhat odd. It has been much less industrialised and urban relative to its per capita GDP. Why? Dig deeper, it turns out that the average Indian doesn’t move much. Is it because of the heterogeneity? As for industrialisation, or lack thereof, is it the legacy of Nehruvian socialism? Or are there other factors at play?
2013 – Urbanisation in emerging Asia
In 2008, Paul Krugman won a Nobel prize for, among other things, his work on economic geography. In 2009, World Bank published a groundbreaking report linking economic geography with development. In 2011, urban protests around the world caught public imagination. And yet, there has been surprisingly little policy synthesis in key emerging Asian countries. Hence the project.