I just finished reading Ray Fisman and Ted Miguel’s book, Economic Gangsters. The book covers their research on the micro-impediments to economic development. In many respects it is more of a tease than a treatise. Rather than explain comprehensively, the causes of mass poverty it provides chapters — each framed around their own research — that shed light on the problem. So there is a chapter on whether corruption is rampant throughout Indonesia and another one the parking infractions of UN diplomats. There is a chapter about the impact of bombing in Vietnam and another on smuggling into China.

For each you get the distinct impression of their importance. And it is hard to disagree with the general theme that getting the variables right for economic development is hard and it would be good if we could give peace a chance. But the value of the book is similar to Freakonomics: how do you scientifically work out what is the best approach? Which are the tighter constraints? What policies might stand a chance of success? This is a challenge that Fisman and Miguel have taken up in their own lives and the book is a journal of how far they have come. It is an excellent read; especially for those interested in policy evaluation, even if it does not leave you fully satisfied — but that is the fault of the world and not of the authors.