Science - June 29, 2006

Economists win World Bank prizes

A Peruvian PhD and a Ghanaian MSc graduate from the Development Economics group were awarded prizes by the World Bank for the best dissertation and thesis on Thursday 13 June. ‘We regard the prizes as recognition of the empirical work the group does,’ said Professor Arie Kuyvenhoven.

Each year the Amsterdam Institute for International Development selects MSc and PhD theses on international development and the World Bank awards the prizes. ‘Each university can submit one thesis in each category, and in the past we have come second. But indeed, even the committee mentioned during the awards ceremony that it was a surprising coincidence that both prizes went to the same group this year,’ said Kuyvenhoven.

From the nine PhD entries the committee chose Javier Escobal’s thesis The Role of Public Infrastructure in Market Development in Rural Peru. ‘We were spoiled for choice with five PhD dissertations this year, but this was by far the best from the recent period,’ thinks Kuyvenhoven. ‘Dr Escobal used primary data from Peru to show that increased public investment does not necessarily lead to improvements in poverty eradication.’

The common wisdom that government investments always have a positive effect on poverty reduction therefore appears to be a too simple assumption. According to Escobal, to effectively help the poorest groups of the population it is important to solve regional-specific problems. Other government investments tend to benefit those who already have enough private means to overcome economic obstacles. ‘It is an interesting study of Peru, a mountainous country where public investments in road building, for example, can be of great importance for economic development.’

From twenty-two submissions, Nana Kufuor from Ghana won the first prize for his MSc thesis Effects of Trade and Exchange Rate Policies on Pineapple Export from Ghana, 1970 – 2003. Kufuor used an analytical model to process empirical data from a thirty-year period in Ghana, and showed that the protectionist trade policy for new agricultural products led to a strong rate of exchange, which in turn has had a negative effect on the export of traditional agricultural products. ‘I am very pleased that I have won this prize,’ said Kufuor, who received a travel grant of up to 2000 dollars. ‘I enjoyed meeting the World Bank officials. It was a difficult study to carry out, but I think it will be useful for the Ghanaian government. I have managed to accurately quantify the consequences of a particular policy using new econometric methods. I owe a lot to my supervisor Kees Burger. At present I am preparing to start my PhD in Oxford, on the same subject.’ / MV