The new nobel and Colombia

Oct 17, 2021 – 5:30 a.m. m.

Joshua Angrist, a professor at MIT, one of the winners of the Nobel Prize in Economics this year for his contributions to the study of causal relationships between different variables, carried out together with other prominent professionals research on a successful educational program in Colombia and the effect of the coca plantations in this country.

In two major publications in the American Economic Review From 2002 to 2006, Angrist and his colleagues – including another Nobel laureate, Harvard economist Michael Kremer – analyzed the social impact of PACES, an ambitious scholarship program for 125,000 high school students, created by the Gaviria government in 1991. Their Causal analyzes showed that those who benefited from PACES had lower school dropouts, better results on ICFES tests, and higher high school completion rates, as well as a reduction in the number of early marriages.

As the years went by, encouraged by the interest and previous studies of Angrist and his co-authors, the different works that continued to analyze the lives of PACES beneficiaries showed that they had, first, better performance in tertiary education and, later , better job results in terms of income and the probability of belonging to the middle class. The cost benefit analyzes also proved that this program was highly profitable in social and tax terms. However, despite its success, the benefits for thousands of young people in strata 1 and 2, and international academic recognition, PACES was suspended in the second half of the 90s as a result of union pressure, with the complacency of the Government of the time.

In 2008 Angrist and the Colombian economist Adriana Kugler analyzed the impact of the large increase in coca plantings in Colombia since 1994, after interdiction efforts on drug trafficking in Peru and Bolivia caused the production of that plant to shift. to our environment. The first thing the authors found was that the growth of coca crops generated greater violence, in line with studies that predict the direct association of a boom in monetary resources with violence (and not a relationship between poverty and violence, as is sometimes postulated). But the most interesting thing is that they found no evidence that the expansion of the large coca business in large remote areas improved the living conditions of its rural population, except for some relatively minor effects on the labor market. From this study it is concluded that the bulk of the profits from the coca business are concentrated in drug traffickers and the powerful armed groups that protect them.

In addition to his direct interest in these problems in the country, Angrist’s great contribution has been the development of statistical techniques for impact evaluation, which are widely used today in the different social sciences and which allow the analysis and evaluation of the effects of different policies and Government decisions that, if the harmful influence of pressure groups (such as that which caused the death of the PACES program) are taken into account and avoided, can benefit the poorest and improve income distribution.

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The new nobel and Colombia

Hank Gilbert