Lant Pritchett is known for pairing careful empiricism with willful provocation: Several years ago he likened the notion of restricting immigration to apartheid. In his recent research, the former World Bank economist has advanced a similarly blunt argument -- that many poor countries, though they appear to be struggling toward a better future, are simply faking it. By measuring the development of institutions rather than actual outcomes, Pritchett argues, international organizations and aid donors have given rise to the phenomenon of "isomorphic mimicry": Like the viceroy butterfly, which mimics the appearance of a poisonous monarch to avoid being eaten, weak states are merely aping the institutional trappings of developed countries. In reality, many countries are stuck in a state of suspended evolution. "At the current rate of progress," Pritchett said this year, "it will take literally thousands of years for many developing countries to reach Singapore's level of capability."
Pritchett's solution is straightforward: Do a better job of measuring the things that matter. Rather than counting post offices, ask whether the mail is getting delivered. Rather than tallying the numbers of enrolled students, find out if they're learning anything. This may be easier said than done, but at least it's a start.
Muse Still Springsteen.
Stimulus or austerity? Stimulus.
America or China? Both, has to be both.
Arab Spring or Arab Winter? Winter, in the sense of winter wheat -- the seeds will get covered with snow but eventually lead to a harvest.
Reading list The Pale King, by David Foster Wallace; Flourish, by Martin E.P. Seligman; A Secular Age, by Charles Taylor.
Best idea Some of my students have founded an organization -- IDinsight -- to help organizations use the feedback from rigorous evaluation to improve their practices.
Worst idea Arizona's immigration law seems aimed at undermining America's greatest strength -- openness to ideas and people.
Arundhati Roy began writing her debut novel, The God of Small Things, in 1992, the year after India's near-bankrupt government embarked upon an ambitious agenda of economic liberalization. By the time Roy's book landed her a $1 million advance and the prestigious Man Booker Prize, India was riding a wave of economic growth that has quintupled the country's GDP since 1991.
But a collision between the outspoken left-wing artist and the rising Indian tiger was all but inevitable. A passionate critic of Hindu nationalism and India's nuclear and Kashmir policies, Roy pushed one too many buttons with Prime Minister Manmohan Singh's administration last year by visiting a training camp run by Maoist guerrillas. The government clamped down, threatening pro-rebel activists with jail time. Undeterred, Roy published a short book of essays on the Maoists, Walking with the Comrades -- so far staying out of jail in spite of doing so -- and made similarly incendiary visits to Kashmir to protest the Indian military campaign there.
Roy's support for the Maoists -- who are hardly blameless in a conflict that has now claimed 6,000 lives-may be misguided, but she has put her finger on the very real cost of India's economic boom. "We are watching a democracy turning on itself, trying to eat its own limbs," she warns.
No one expected the ungainly, towheaded London mayor and Telegraph columnist, previously best known for his bike-share programs and scandalous personal life, to turn into a global heavyweight. But as Europe collapsed around him -- and his own city erupted with anti-austerity riots -- Boris Johnson's lifelong bent toward a kinder, gentler euroskepticism started to seem incredibly prescient. In October, he defied his Conservative Party -- and leader and rival David Cameron (No. 39) -- to call for a referendum on bringing Britain out of the EU. "The British people haven't had a say on Europe since 1975," he pointed out.
Johnson spent the year pushing back against what he called "snooty Europhiles" in Berlin and Brussels who would belt-tighten the continent's way into monetary unity. About the London riots, when he was criticized for staying on vacation during the first rash of violence but responded with a string of very un-Tory stimulus measures including after-school programs for at-risk youth, he wrote, "We can be less squeamish about police violence, or we can be less squeamish about the realities of young people's needs." It's no surprise that Johnson seems headed for reelection next year -- and after that, many say, the top of the Conservative ticket.
Mari Kuraishi has proved that, thanks to the Internet, everyone can be a philanthropist -- and the giant development institutions no longer have a monopoly on efforts to improve the lot of the world's poorest. In 2000, the Japanese native left a successful career at the World Bank to found GlobalGiving -- a website she describes as an "eBay for philanthropy" that revolutionized the field by connecting a worldwide community of donors with ventures in need of funding. A decade later, hundreds of thousands of donors have pooled their funds -- the average donation is around $25 -- to give more than $50 million to more than 4,500 projects.
Kuraishi's interactive approach has allowed innovations to flourish in a way that has been impossible at bureaucratic and top-down institutions such as the World Bank. "With masses of active people," she has said, "we'll get more innovation, more creativity, more of a shot atsolving the problem of global poverty."
Muse Lady Gaga.
Stimulus or austerity? Stimulus.
America or China? America.
Arab Spring or Arab Winter? Arab Spring.
Reading list Bossypants, by Tina Fey; The Lost Books of the Odyssey, by Zachary Mason; The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks, by Rebecca Skloot.
Best idea Repealing "don't ask, don't tell."
Worst idea Forgiving student debts.