Saturday, March 13, 2010

Alwyn Young on Africa

Over at Free Exchange , as at many other Econ blogs, many Econ bloggers are taking seriously University of Chicago Econonomist Alwyn Young's research that Growth in Africa is on par with growth in any other part of the world. Young sees per capita consumption growth of 3.2 to 3.8 percent in the past 20 years, which, combined with a population growth rate of around 3 percent, means GDP growth of about 6.2 to 6.8%. Colour me suspicious.

Let me just point out that Alwyn Young is a snake-oil salesman, not a scholar, and that rule number one in reading anything with Alwyn Young's name on it is not to believe a word of it. This is the guy who argued that productivity growth in the People's Republic of China from 1978 to 1998, a period of economic growth unsurpassed in the whole of human history, was likely negative, and that the Chinese were merely making up their numbers. The creation of the data Young uses, by his own accounts, happened "over the years, by different individuals using diverse methodologies". According to Young "This produces senseless variation across surveys as, to cite two examples, individuals with the same educational attainment are coded as having dramatically different years of education or
individuals who were not asked education attendance questions are coded, in some surveys only, as not attending."

If that's the case, then Young likely could have used this data to find anything he wants. To his credit, Young recognizes that counter-intuitive results are easier to sell. Had he found that African growth was .8%, he'd have had no paper to sell. The paper is in some ways hilarious. Although all he is doing is measuring increases in consumption, and hence, there's no reason whatsoever for any math to be in this paper, complicated-looking math is a big part of this paper. What the paper does not have is a simple Table showing, for example, how much food people in Sub-Saharan African consumed in 1985 vs. today. That's probably because Alwyn Young doesn't have any idea of how much food these people are eating. And, although the paper includes a table with "children's weight", he does not include their ages. Why didn't he just include a simple table of the average height and weight of 7 year old boys in Uganda over time? I suspect it's either b/c he hasn't got that data, he's just got a smattering of data from different countries over different time periods, w/ no simple comparisons...

31 comments:

  1. It was completely new topic for me as I am not connected with Africa anyhow and I felt it was really interesting and informative. Thanks for grab my attention to completely new fact.

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  2. I'm reading through the paper now and I'm pretty sure that the comment you quote, on the data he uses, refers to the 'standardized "recode" files' and that he actually works with the 'original questionnaires and supplementary uncoded raw data'.
    To the extent that some manipulation of data is possible in the recoding process, your accusations have a valid base. To the extent that coding the raw files is necessary, your accusations are unfair.
    I do have other issues with the paper though (and I'm only on page 14).

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  3. As on the date of your article, he is a lecturer at the London School of Economics, not at Chicago University.

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  4. You do know that Alwyn Young is one of the best economists in the world, right?

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  5. know your role and shut your mouth

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  6. IT DOESN'T MATTER WHAT YOU THINK!

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  7. you know Alwyn Young and I held Helm's Deep overnight against endless hordes of orcs?

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  8. See it off!

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  9. Alwyn is the man, I wish I could make up questions with numbers that worked as nicely as he does... He is the only known Giffen good in existence, as his price goes up and he threatens to go to Harvard, LSE try to consume more of him. I once saw him cause two indifference curves to cross just by eye-balling them...

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    Replies
    1. Are you actually THE Iain Long?

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    2. Of course not. If HE were here, he'd consume the English with fireballs from his eyes, and bolts of lightning from his arse.

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  10. I heard he once fought the invisible hand and won...

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  11. John Maynard KeynesMay 13, 2012 at 10:14 AM

    In the long run, Alwyn is alive.

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  12. Alwyn never experiences diminishing returns

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  13. Alwyn gets me off...

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  14. Flat demand curveMay 13, 2012 at 11:04 AM

    ALwyn makes supernormal profits even during perfect competition,

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  15. Alwyn Young is the dominant strategy..

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  16. Inflation is always an Alwyn phenomenon

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  17. He has nice trainers

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  18. Alwyn beats Roger Federer at tennis every single time he plays him.

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  19. You know I was once at this lecture by Alwyn Young, and I had this laser pointer to screw with him for a joke...long story short...he caught the laser.

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  20. Alwyn Young live somewhere in the central bank known as the bliss point.

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  21. Alwyn and I made sweet, sweet love under the palm trees outside the Peacock Theatre

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  22. Of course you did, you do anthropology

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  23. This is an incredibly ignorant post. Alwyn Young is a world-renowned economist who has been widely regarded as having changed the terms of the debate about the rise of the East Asian Tigers, and you will never live up to his achievements.

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  24. Alwyn has a natural monopoly on awesomeness.

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  25. East Asian Tigers, i prefer East Asian Cougars. Pick them in Zoo Bar on Tuesday night after downing 8 pints of snake-oil.

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  26. Gianmarco OttavianoMay 23, 2013 at 2:08 PM

    I, like Moodigliani and Miller, have made some simplfying assumptions that allow Alwyn's work to be more accessible. I took a similar approach to his EC102 course, dumming it down nicely. In the case of the African Growth Model my assumptions allow me collapse his findings to simpler expression; "6"

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  27. 6, very interesting. Thats roughly a third of what i get through in a night, in pints of course.

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  28. Eugene Fama-FrenchMay 23, 2013 at 2:14 PM

    A oui, oui. Un baguette. Le Alwyn est pire que Polk.

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