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Launch of the Center on Global Economic Governance

On Thursday, April 26, 2012, Columbia University’s School of International and Public Affairs launched its new Center on Global Economic Governance (CGEG). The event featured a keynote address by Alan Krueger, Chairman of the White House Council of Economic Advisers, followed by a panel discussion on the European crisis. 

Columbia University Provost John H. Coatsworth opened the launch of CGEG, an idea which was born under his tenure as Dean of SIPA in 2008. 

"The global economic crisis made us all painfully aware of the need to understand global economic policy," he said. 

 The Director of the new center, SIPA Professor Jan Svejnar explained CGEG’s mission:

"We envision CGEG producing a new wave of policy recommendations on global economic issues, stressing excellence and impact," he said.

Svejnar then introduced his former student, Alan Krueger, and his keynote address, “Reversing the Middle-Class Jobs Deficit.” Krueger outlined President’s Obama’s plans and economic policies to revive the middle class.

"The middle class jobs deficit is both cyclical and structural," he said. "Reversing the middle class jobs deficit requires playing both good defense and good offense. Both are necessary.

Defense means that we as a nation want to hold on to and promote as many good jobs as possible. Offense means we want to provide opportunity for new companies and training for workers to meet the demands of the modern workforce.”

Watch Krueger’s full address above, or read more about the speech on:

After Krueger’s remarks, SIPA Interim Dean Robert Lieberman introduced the panel, "Will Europe Derail the World Economy?" as the first of many such global economic policy conservations stemming out of CGEG.

"This is the kind of discussion which we think can only happen at a place like Columbia and SIPA," Lieberman said.

"There’s no such thing as national or local public policy anymore. The challenges that the United States faces are deeply interconnected with things that happen elsewhere in the world. It’s to that new kind of challenge to which SIPA and our new Center for Global Economic Governance are devoted."

Watch the panel discussion above, moderated by Kathleen Hays of Bloomberg Radio and featuring SIPA Professors Guillermo Calvo, Merit E. Janow, Sharyn O’Halloran, Jeffrey Sachs and Svejanar

This event was also live-tweeted. For highlights and notable quotes from both Krueger’s speech and the panel, click here:

- Michelle Chahine

"Untouchables:" Students Examine Health Care Access for Nepalese Dalits

At left, Vivik Yadav (MPA ‘12) and Mai Shintani (MIA ‘12), with a group of Dalits in Nepal. 

A team of five students is working with the Samata Foundation in Nepal this semester to help assess the health care access for the marginalized Dalit population. 

Two team members, Vivek Yadav (MPA ’12) and Mai Shintani (MIA ’12), conducted field research in early January. They visited a Dalit compound, as well as met with NGOs, UNICEF, WHO, and government officials in Nepal.

“One of the goals of the January trip was to narrow our focus of what the project is, because earlier it was just too broad,” said Yadav. “So now we’re looking at exactly what health policies are in Nepal and how they relate to marginalized communities.

Secondly, what access issues do Dalits face when it comes to health care? How do their economic conditions, their educational background… affect their ability to access health care? And thirdly, what discrimination they face at the point of health care delivery.”

Shintani and Yadav interview members of the Dalit population in Nepal.

The rest of the team, Nadia Hasham (MIA ‘12), Kiryn Lanning (MIA/MPH ‘12), and Tsufit Daniel (MPA/MPH /12), will be traveling to Nepal in mid-March.

“We’re going to be there a little over two weeks,” said Lanning. “We also hope to capture more of the voice of the Dalit community, because as of now, we’ve already done a lot of interviews with policymakers and organizations working around these issues, but we really want to hear it from the communities that are most affected by this.”

The team explained that their deliverables include policy recommendations as well as next steps for the Samata Foundation. But an important component of the project is documenting and understanding the complex issue.

“There are so many different social constraints and circumstances and historical discrimination that are compounded within this one particular population,” explained Lanning.

So understanding this nexus of discrimination is huge, and as a human rights organization, which is the agency we’re working for, being able to capture that in many different sectors and be able to apply it to policy would be amazing. 

Basically, when we first started this, we were told that there’s no literature or understanding around health care access for this population, particular to Nepal. There’s a lot of literature on it in India, and there’s been a lot of work around it, but in Nepal there hasn’t been much.”

Lanning added that Nepal is currently designing its constitution, so this is an important time to bring these issues to light.

- Michelle Chahine

Photo credit: Mai Shintani (MIA ‘12)

View more of this team’s and other student photographs from the field.

From the Big Apple to Alabama: SIPA Student Joins the Immigration Debate

An unauthorized immigrant mother showing Paola Medina the empty mobile homes of former neighbors who have fled Alabama since the enactment of HB 56.

The spring semester at SIPA nearly always means Capstone Workshops for second-year students. But for Paola Medina (MPA, MSSW ‘12), her workshop came a little earlier because of her dual degree work with the School of Social Work. What came next for Medina was a front-row seat for one of the most contentious debates in the United States today: immigration and states’ rights.

"A recent team of students worked with Human Rights Watch (HRW), a Washington, DC-based organization, that supports efforts to preserve and to protect basic human rights of people around the world,” said Professor Paul Thurman, faculty adviser to the team. “The group studied whether certain federal provisions reduced crime reporting by illegal aliens in specific Virginia and Arizona counties.”

Their assignment was to conduct quantitative analysis examining the effects of Section 287(g) of the Immigration and Nationality Act. The goal was to see if there was an effect on calls for emergency services (namely the police and fire departments) in counties that had anti-immigrant policies. The team examined undocumented populations.

“It’s a population that is in the shadows,” explained Medina. “So it’s difficult to document. What you can do are statistical inferences.

In the end, our recommendation to Human Rights Watch was to have a survey team assess what is happening.”

Medina and her teammates were doing their research from New York based on existing data sets.

“Human Rights Watch usually does qualitative research,” added Medina. “They wanted to have us do some quantitative work. I think when talking to policymakers you need the quantitative data to support the stories behind an issue.”

Through the relationships she built while working on the Capstone Workshop, Medina landed an internship in the U.S. Division at Human Rights Watch. She began last September and remains there until the end of this academic year.

In October, she traveled to Alabama as a consultant, along with U.S. Program researcher Grace Meng, to assist with research for a report on the state’s controversial new immigration law: the Hammon-Beason Alabama Taxpayer and Citizen Protection Act, commonly known as HB 56.

Medina and Meng were there to get a better understanding of what was happening after the law was enacted and to see how people were being affected.

“When we landed in Birmingham, we went right to work,” said Medina. “We met with local community organizers. We spoke to people doing work on the issue.

We went to a rural area outside of Birmingham and spoke to a pastor. He mentioned people leaving the church because they were leaving the state… We also spoke to two members of his church that day, one of them undocumented. So we got a good feel of what was going on in the community.”

Prior to the HB 56, these two U.S. citizen girls partook in several activities, such as soccer practice and games. Now, their undocumented parents are too afraid to drive them to these activities in fear of getting detained.

A Mexican restaurant owned by an unauthorized immigrant single mother who has resided in Alabama for seven years and in the U.S. for 12 years. 

An unauthorized immigrant who has lived in the U.S. for 12 years sits with her US citizen grandson in her Mexican restaurant. Alabama’s new immigrant law could prevent her from renewing her business permit when it expires this year.

An Alabama immigrant family that has been affected by the recent law and that has been living in fear since its passage.

Read the full report here: No Way to Live: Alabama’s Immigrant Law

Currently, Medina is working on her own project at HRW, focusing on undocumented longtime resident immigrant youth in the U.S., conducting policy research and analysis for what will hopefully become an upcoming report that she will co-author.

- Michelle Chahine

photo credit: © 2011 Grace Meng/Human Rights Watch

In a best possible scenario, in an ideal world, we would have science to help inform global policy questions - instead of just throwing darts on the board.

Geoffrey Johnston, PhD candidate in SIPA’s Sustainable Development program.

Geoffrey Johnston’s research focus is malaria, especially malaria drug resistance.

"There is only one drug now, and people are worried the parasite will become resistant," explained Johnston.

The World Bank and the Global Fund give subsidies to provide drugs at a low cost. But that creates a dilemma, which lies at the heart of Johnston’s research.

"If you provide drugs for cheap, resistance will spread. If you don’t, people can’t afford it, and people will die," he said.

"Public policy issues are the balance: how much should the subsidies be? What is the right level?"

To help answer these questions, Johnston is trying to understand the biology of the parasite and its transmission, working closely with lab biologist David Fidock from Columbia’s Department of Microbiology and Immunology and epidemiologist David Smith from Johns Hopkins University. He has published a paper with each scientist:

"There is a push right now for interdisciplinary and multidisciplinary work," he noted. "What’s common is that, in a team, you’ll have people with different skills to bring to the table."

Professors Scott Barrett and Jeffrey Sachs sit on Johnston’s thesis committee, so he receives regular feedback based on their on-the-ground experience.

Johnston hopes his research, along with that of his peers in the PhD program, will make a difference and inform policy makers.

When it comes to policy surrounding malaria, he elaborates on a decision by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation that eradication of malaria is the goal of its global health program:

"If we eradicate malaria, it will be like landing on the moon.

We’ve only eradicated polio, and we had a very efficacious vaccine then. We don’t have a vaccine for malaria. We have one drug - and a spray and bed nets.

People are asking us, with those tools, how far can we go?

It becomes a question of how much you want to spend. Are we diverting too much to just one of the maladies in the developing world? Are malaria, tuberculosis and AIDS taking up too much of the pie in international aid funding…? Should we fund capacity building instead?”

There are a lot of questions that need to be answered before the right policies are created, according to Johnston. That’s where he hopes the science behind global development issues will come in to play.

That’s essentially what the program tries to do: take an analytical approach to policy issues and get the best scientific background and research on the topic, bringing a scientific skill set to a problem of global import.”

Instead of just throwing darts on the board.

- Michelle Chahine

The Rise of BRIC: Impact on Global Policymaking

SIPA’s inaugural BRICLab Conference was held on December 2 at Columbia University’s Low Memorial Library, co-sponsored by Forum das Americas and HSBC.

The co-directors of the BRICLab, Christian Deseglise and Marcos Troyjo, introduced the new initiative, which aims to focus on the BRIC countries - Brazil, Russia, India, and China - and their impact on the global scene.

"November 30 was the 10-year anniversary of the BRIC concept,” said Deseglise. “The BRICs are very different countries. It is very difficult to compare them… The concept of BRIC is hard to define, but the intuition that they are in a league of their own and have the potential to impact the world is still there. The next 50 years will be shaped by what BRIC countries want for themselves and their elite; what BRIC countries want for and from the world.”

The first session of the conference was moderated by James Crombie, editor of Bloomberg Brief, and include the Vice President of Brazil Michel Temer.

"We need this BRICLab,” said Temer. “Are we going to head to a legal, institutional and juridical nature of BRIC like in Europe? To break customs, borders. I do believe that defining what BRIC is, is fundamental. We need to take into account these countries… I hope we can in this discussion come to a conclusion that begins to suggest the nature of BRIC.

The second panel discussion was moderated by CNN International anchor Luis Velez, and included remarks from Stefan Wagstyl, emerging markets editor at the Financial Times. During the Q-and-A, Wagstyl addressed to possibility of the BRICs working together as a unit, but said conflict is inevitable.

"China is the biggest opponent of a permanent seat for India on the United Nations Security Council," he said. "The BRICs couldn’t agree on a candidate for IMF director and lost an opportunity to demonstrate their influence."

The final session of the conference focused on the changing power and business dynamics brought on by the rise of the “B” in BRIC - Brazil. It featured remarks by Sergio Cabral Filho, Governor of the state of Rio de Janeiro.

We just elected the first woman president, and I see a brilliant future for Brazil. All regions of Brazil are undergoing development. There is not doubt that the BRICLab will have a lot to debate and study.”

SIPA Dean John Coatsworth delivered the closing remarks. In an editorial featured in a Special Edition of VOTO magazine about the BRICLab, Dean Coatsworth wrote: 

The BRICLab will promote SIPA and Columbia University as a destination for current and future BRIC leaders to discuss topics important to their nations’ development… The BRICLab will inititally offer a 14-week graduate course and guest speakers, programs through SIPA’s Picker Center for Executive Education, and an annual conference for policymakers, business and academic leaders, and students.

This event was live-tweeted @ColumbiaSIPA. For more quotes and description, click here for an archive of tweets from the event.

-Michelle Chahine

Insurance and Hospital Stays: Q&A with Professor Douglas Almond

Professor Douglas Almond recently published a new article in the American Economic Journal: Economic Policy, titled “After Midnight: A Regression Discontinuity Design in Length of Postpartum Hospital Stays.

In his paper, Professor Almond, with Professor Joseph Doyle from MIT, looked at how insurance can cause overuse of health care, due to economic concepts like moral hazard and adverse selection. They found that health insurance allowing longer stays in the hospital after childbirth does not lead to additional health benefits. 

What led you to the topic, and why did you choose to cover it via the lens of economics, in an economics journal, rather than health or medical policy?

Visiting a hospital in Boston when a friend’s first son was born was the impetus for the paper. For some reason, I read the discharge policies, which drew a sharp distinction between births before versus after 8 p.m.  

My co-author Joe Doyle and I originally tried to get requisite natality and discharge data from the State of Massachusetts, but they repeatedly denied our request. I think the reason our request was denied was because the particular econometric approach proposed (regression discontinuity design) was unfamiliar in the biomedicine and public health community, and more popular in economics.

This remains the case, and that leads to the second part of your question. In general it can be an uphill fight for an economist to publish in medical journals, and in our case I think this was exacerbated by the novelty of the methodology.  

Why is your study important?

I think our study is important because it assesses the impact of relatively clean and exogenous variation in length of stay in a context where stay lengths are already quite short on average (when compared to other countries, or in the U.S. prior to significant managed care penetration). This “short stay” context suggests exogenous changes to stay length might have important health impacts, so we were surprised to find they didn’t have detectable ones.

Further, our study lingers on the question of what the affected population (“compliers”) look like, which I think helps speak to the generalizability of natural experiments like ours.

How did you conduct your research, using data from hospital admissions and releases? Physicians’ reports?

My co-author at MIT Sloan, Joe Doyle, obtained the restricted access data from the State of California that reported exact time of birth. These California data merged together information from the birth certificate with that from the hospital discharge record.

Do you have a conclusion, based on your specific study of additional significant costs for no health benefits in the case of hospital care for childbirth, that could apply to the health care system at large? 

We found that hospitals seem to do a good job of providing requisite medical care within a surprisingly short time period following routine births.  Thus, laws requiring a minimum stay length for routine childbirths appear to generate unnecessary costs.

In your opinion, how can these unnecessary costs be removed from the system? Do you have an estimate of how much these costs are, in the case of your study for example?

I think that by including the vast majority of deliveries that are routine, mandates for minimum hospital stay length were unnecessarily broad.  We estimated that the mandates have a price tag of about $1.1 billion per year (over $10 billion since 1997).

That said, there may be some important benefits of increased stay length, such as parental peace of mind, that go unobserved in our data and therefore uncounted by our analysis.

- Michelle Chahine