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Invitation | The Tyranny of Experts Lecture and Book Launch

14 Feb


TOEYou are seeing this message because you were subscribed to the NYU Development Research Institute blog (formerly the Aid Watch blog). We are no longer publishing posts at this site, but wanted to invite you to the launch of Professor Easterly’s new book, The Tyranny of Experts: Economists, Dictators and the Forgotten Rights of the Poor. The event will take place at 6pm on Monday March 3, 2014 at the Great Hall at Cooper Union, New York City. Find more details and register here.

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1) Join the DRI mailing list to receive emails inviting you to our events and conferences (frequency: a few times per semester.)

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Thanks and we hope you’ll stay in touch!

Live Twitter Commentary on World Bank’s Dr. Kim Ending World Poverty

3 Apr


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Do free and competitive elections make a democracy? Maybe not

21 Feb

By Lauren Bishop

Tanzania looks an awful lot like a democracy. The East African nation has been holding multi-party elections since 1995, which international observers have deemed free and competitive. In Tanzania, votes are not miscounted, opposition parties compete actively, and the ruling party—the Chama Cha Mapinduzi (CCM), which has controlled the government since independence—seems to play by the rules.

But according to Bruce Bueno de Mesquita, NYU politics professor and DRI affiliated faculty member, Tanzania is in fact sliding down a slippery slope to autocracy, even as it maintains the trappings of a “transitioning” democracy. A working paper with Alastair Smith describes how Tanzania’s completely legal and institutionalized electoral laws are placing power in the hands of a small and increasingly entrenched elite.

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Does Aid Promote Autocracy?

17 Sep

This is NOT the Nobel Symposium panel with Jeff Sachs and others, for which the video isn’t available yet. It IS a 3-minute clip of a talk Bill gave at the Swedish think tank Timbro while he was in Stockholm.

Are Glasses the New TOMS Shoes?

30 Jul

By Lauren Bishop

There has been a lot written about the TOMS Shoes buy-one-give-one (BOGO) model and its shortcomings, but what about other companies that boast BOGO? Take Warby-Parker, for example, the purveyor of hip eyeglasses that advertises “Buy a Pair, Give a Pair” at the top of their website. Must we now criticize Warby-Parker for their poor aid practices, too?

Despite their tagline, what the company actually does is donate money and glasses to partner organizations like the non-profit VisionSpring, which turns around and sells those glasses to people living on less than $4 dollars a day in Bangladesh, India, El Salvador, and South Africa.

VisionSpring does this by training their workers in basic business skills and eye exams, then sending them out into their communities to conduct free vision screenings and sell the glasses donated by Warby Parker. According to VisionSpring, it costs a rural customer between $6 and $11 to visit a doctor, purchase glasses, and pay for transportation, while VisionSpring customers get free exams in their own villages and can buy a pair of glasses for $2 – $4.

Both TOMS Shoes and VisionSpring take on the effects of poverty by distributing goods in low income countries. But VisionSpring also gives people jobs and an opportunity to improve their lot in a way which seeks to address the causes of poverty. As we’ve discussed before, TOMS can actually hurt local businesses that produce or sell shoes by flooding the market with free footwear.

Unlike rampant shoelessness, widespread lack of eye care is actually a major problem in the developing world. A study (pdf) in Sub-Saharan Africa found that over 80 percent of people between the ages of 5 and 93 who need glasses have never had an eye examination. An impact assessment (pdf) conducted by VisionSpring and the University of Michigan found that reading glasses improved wearers’ productivity and income. In general, having glasses allows adults to continue working despite deteriorating sight and helps vision impaired children succeed in school.

Shoes, on the other hand, are available even in the poorest corners of the world. In fact, many TOMS pictures and videos show children removing their own shoes to try on a TOMS pair. Giving away free shoes where footwear is sold locally may or may not improve school attendance, as TOMS claims it does, but it’s certainly not supporting independent business owners.


TOMS Shoes


Step 1

TOMS sells to US customers

Warby-Parker sells to US

Step 2

TOMS gives shoes to people in poor communities

Warby-Parker donates to VisionSpring

Step 3

Some local businesses suffer when shoes are given away for free

VisionSpring trains local entrepreneurs

Step 4

Kids grow out of their shoes, and TOMS returns to give more shoes

New businesses serve the local community

VisionSpring works to alleviate poverty by providing necessary employment. TOMS works to alleviate poverty by providing unnecessary shoes.

Lauren Bishop is Online Projects Assistant at DRI and an NYU MA student in International Relations.