Question 16

Coordinator sub-sub-post 1 Comment

To what extent do you agree with the following comment? “I would add that as we have entered an era of global systems change, mirrored by the problems in the SDGs, the conventional fixation on singles measures for complex issues is increasing being challenged – reflected by this very webinar. The transformational Global 2030 Agenda requires complex systems analysis that recognizes the inherent interdependencies and thus complexities of the SDGs. This is problematic for evaluation methods such as RCTs, that rely on assessing effects of single treatments on individual outcomes that control for all other observable and non-observable characteristics that can influence the casual change process. Such approaches fail to assess the effects of multiple inputs on multiple outcomes that characterize large-scale, open-system comparisons required for highly complex challenges like climate change, chronic poverty, etc. They also miss out on unintended outcomes outside the casual logic, which is critical for transformation, which, in addition to being.”

Lant: I mostly agree with this. Two points.

One, the “global systems change” agenda is coming on but the “national systems change” is hardly complete and what the last 60 years of development have produced is massive variance across countries, with “developing” countries like Korea and Chile joining the OECD and yet many countries still at very low levels of all aspects of national development (e.g. Somalia, Malawi, Haiti, Guatemala, etc.)

Two, economics is a mode of studying complex adaptive systems and its fundamental point is that agents interacting in structured ways can produce desirable outcomes none of the agents intended. Which is why economists focusing on narrow questions that are not about systems is a misallocation of time and talent (as we economists need to broaden, not narrow, our tools and understanding).

Editors: We fully agree, and the pandemic is a great illustration of this (see our response above related to the poll).