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Anti-corruption in contexts where corruption is widespread only works if you can separate people who are violating rules for reasonable reasons from other people who are violating rules for unreasonable reasons. And if you can identify the people who are violating the rules for reasonable reasons and solve their problems so they can comply with rules, they become your allies.

Mushtaq Khan

If you’re living in the Niger Delta in Nigeria, your best bet at a high-paying career is probably ‘artisanal refining’ — or, in plain language, stealing oil from pipelines.

The resulting oil spills damage the environment and cause severe health problems, but the Nigerian government has continually failed in their attempts to stop this theft.

They send in the army, and the army gets corrupted. They send in enforcement agencies, and the enforcement agencies get corrupted. What’s happening here?

According to Mushtaq Khan, economics professor at SOAS University of London, this is a classic example of ‘networked corruption’. Everyone in the community is benefiting from the criminal enterprise — so much so that the locals would prefer civil war to following the law. It pays vastly better than other local jobs, hotels and restaurants have formed around it, and houses are even powered by the electricity generated from the oil.

In today’s episode, Mushtaq elaborates on the models he uses to understand these problems and make predictions he can test in the real world.

Some of the most important factors shaping the fate of nations are their structures of power: who is powerful, how they are organized, which interest groups can pull in favours with the government, and the constant push and pull between the country’s rulers and its ruled. While traditional economic theory has relatively little to say about these topics, institutional economists like Mushtaq have a lot to say, and participate in lively debates about which of their competing ideas best explain the world around us.

The issues at stake are nothing less than why some countries are rich and others are poor, why some countries are mostly law abiding while others are not, and why some government programmes improve public welfare while others just enrich the well connected.

Mushtaq’s specialties are anti-corruption and industrial policy, where he believes mainstream theory and practice are largely misguided. To root out fraud, aid agencies try to impose institutions and laws that work in countries like the U.K. today. Everyone nods their heads and appears to go along, but years later they find nothing has changed, or worse — the new anti-corruption laws are mostly just used to persecute anyone who challenges the country’s rulers.

As Mushtaq explains, to people who specialise in understanding why corruption is ubiquitous in some countries but not others, this is entirely predictable. Western agencies imagine a situation where most people are law abiding, but a handful of selfish fat cats are engaging in large-scale graft. In fact in the countries they’re trying to change everyone is breaking some rule or other, or participating in so-called ‘corruption’, because it’s the only way to get things done and always has been.

Mushtaq’s rule of thumb is that when the locals most concerned with a specific issue are invested in preserving a status quo they’re participating in, they almost always win out.

To actually reduce corruption, countries like his native Bangladesh have to follow the same gradual path the U.K. once did: find organizations that benefit from rule-abiding behaviour and are selfishly motivated to promote it, and help them police their peers.

Trying to impose a new way of doing things from the top down wasn’t how Europe modernised, and it won’t work elsewhere either.

In cases like oil theft in Nigeria, where no one wants to follow the rules, Mushtaq says corruption may be impossible to solve directly. Instead you have to play a long game, bringing in other employment opportunities, improving health services, and deploying alternative forms of energy — in the hope that one day this will give people a viable alternative to corruption.

In this extensive interview Rob and Mushtaq cover this and much more, including:

  • How does one test theories like this?
  • Why are companies in some poor countries so much less productive than their peers in rich countries?
  • Have rich countries just legalized the corruption in their societies?
  • What are the big live debates in institutional economics?
  • Should poor countries protect their industries from foreign competition?
  • Where has industrial policy worked, and why?
  • How can listeners use these theories to predict which policies will work in their own countries?

Get this episode by subscribing to our podcast on the world’s most pressing problems and how to solve them: type 80,000 Hours into your podcasting app. Or read the transcript below.

Producer: Keiran Harris
Audio mastering: Ben Cordell
Transcriptions: Sofia Davis-Fogel


Institutional economics

Mushtaq Khan: A political settlement describes the distribution of organizational power and capabilities. And I think that’s a very good and necessary map at a very rough-cut level to understand what is the society that you’re trying to analyze and describe. And I think a lot of social science analysis doesn’t do that. They just look at one side of the story, which is the rules. How much market should we have? How much competition should we have? What kinds of policies should the government have? Which policies work?

Mushtaq Khan: And then you find that actually a policy that worked very well in one country is disastrous in another country, and different countries which have successfully developed, have done so with quite different policies. And that’s a puzzle, but the puzzle becomes much more explicable when you look at this interaction: that actually the policies that work, the institutions that work, the rules that work depend on the capabilities, interests, and power of the players and how they implement and follow those policies. Because no policy can be enforced on people who don’t want to follow it.

Mushtaq Khan: The idea that a policy is a black box that the government just announces and everyone starts following it is a total mistake. A government is just one organization amongst many organizations in society. And there is an interplay going on between governments, political parties, opposition parties, trade unions, churches, mosques, the people, different kinds of agencies and forums… All of them are trying to influence this policy outcome, but also — and this is critical — implementing it on a daily basis. And if the vast majority of your organizations and society are happily violating the rules and not checking each other, then it’s not going to be an implementable policy.

Mushtaq Khan: Policies that work are policies where at least some players… And here I think we need to be very careful about what we mean by the powerful, because the powerful are not the top 1% of society. Who is powerful depends on the policy being discussed. For some policies, the powerful are people within a village. For other policies, the powerful are people who run big firms. But whoever is violating the rule needs to be checked by other people who are just as powerful as they are. And this is why, in common-law English tradition, there’s this concept of being judged by your peers. What does that mean? Judging by your peers means that at any level of society, there are other people and other organizations who are as powerful as you are. If your peers don’t check you, you will not get any rule-following behavior.

Mushtaq Khan: And we always make the mistake of thinking that enforcement always comes from above, that there is some kind of police or some kind of enforcement agency sitting and watching everyone. And if you violate rules, they come down on you. What we often forget is that this type of vertical enforcement only works if 99% — or at least 90% — of enforcement is happening without that, without what we call vertical enforcement. It is happening through horizontal enforcement, by peers at different levels of society. When we say powerful, we mean the relevant people at that level of activity who are as powerful as the people violating. Now, if all the people who are violating are interested in violating, and the only check is coming from people lower than them in terms of power, or you are only relying on enforcement from above, you’re not going to get anywhere.

Mushtaq Khan: What we are looking for always are these incremental processes where whatever policy you’re looking at, whichever level of society, you’re looking for rifts between the players, between the powerful at that level, and seeing if some of them might in their own interest support developmental outcomes in a rule-following way. And we promote that. And if you look at the history of how development happened in advanced countries and how a rule of law emerged, it was always through these incremental processes where people at different levels of society in their own interests started to follow rules and impose rules on their peers. And that horizontal process is for some strange reason not adequately examined by economists and institutional economists. We are often much more concerned about these vertical enforcement strategies, which then typically fail.

Organizational capabilities

Mushtaq Khan: In a lot of countries, and particularly in developing and emerging countries, it’s patently obvious that organizations linked to governments are extremely inefficient and corrupt. So when you have a policy which says let us try and develop infant industries by giving them subsidies or giving them access to cheaper land or industrial zones, or somehow supporting their development, these policy rents or policy resources immediately get captured by all kinds of people who are in a ‘political process.’

Mushtaq Khan: And so observers often come along and think wow, the politics here sucks, right? How can we get out of this politics? Let’s privatize, and let’s liberalize, and let’s take this away because the private sector is good and the private sector wants to make money. So the private sector will find market opportunities to do things. And what they ignore is that the private sector also has very low capabilities. The private sector also has firms that are not capable yet of really engaging at a global level in competition. And so it is not that politics is driving corruption. It’s often low capabilities driving a lot of these informal activities.

Mushtaq Khan: What happens with a lot of privatization and liberalization is you privatize these firms, and then you find that these private-sector firms are now borrowing money from banks which they are not repaying, the banks can’t collect this money from them. The banks collude with them. The private banks and the private firms collude in stealing money, which the public central bank has to then bail out, because you don’t want the system to collapse, and you’ve got another mess, but this time driven by private sector corruption.

Mushtaq Khan: This distinction is not good enough. What we’ve ignored is the distribution of capabilities and organizations, and how they’re interacting. Because the players are often the same. The players who are in politics are also in business. The players who are in business are often deeply connected to the army or in courts. And so what you have is a bunch of closely cooperating or colluding players with low capabilities. And here is the real problem: there is no quick way of raising capabilities. This is a very slow process. And the process of raising capabilities requires policy, and it requires support. The problem is that as soon as you say that our firms are actually not fit for purpose, we can’t open up trade and put them into global competition, and somehow foreign investors will invest in these companies and make them competitive… They will not.

Mushtaq Khan: What will happen is that these companies will go bust, and you will have a meltdown. So you don’t do that. But then if you say, okay, our starting point is very poor and we don’t have capabilities even to make a t-shirt, even to make a football, we can buy the machines, we can train people, but we don’t know how to put this machine and these skilled people together in an organization and actually churn out at the other end a football that can be marketed globally, that’s what’s missing. It’s very easy to actually buy the machines. It’s very easy even to train your people and have skills training. It’s much, much more difficult to put them together in an organization, which can actually produce on time a product of the right quality at the right price, which can compete against other countries that have those organizations.

Anti-corruption policies

Mushtaq Khan: A lot of [major anti-corruption strategies] sound like they’re very plausible and they should work, but most of them don’t work. And a lot of empirical studies have been done on their effectiveness. Most of it is really depressing reading. The standard anti-corruption approaches that are at play basically assume that most people in these countries are rule-following citizens. They’re going about their everyday business following the rules, and a few people who are powerful control information, or are able to violate rules for their own benefit. And so corruption is that misuse of power. That’s the definition everyone uses, that a few powerful people are misusing their power and appropriating resources from the public. If that is the case, then the obvious answer is transparency, accountability, and punishment.

Mushtaq Khan: Those three things describe the vast majority of anti-corruption measures that have been attempted. Transparency means you try to make transparent the processes through which decisions are made and the outcomes of those decisions, so that people can see who is misusing power. Accountability means you make it clear whose responsibility it was to make those decisions, so you can hold them to account. And then there is a process of holding them to account, whether through elections or through taking them to court or prosecuting them in different ways. And the final step of it is strengthening the enforcement agencies, the people who are going to do this prosecution.

Mushtaq Khan: A lot of money has been spent on anti-corruption commissions, on strengthening courts, on strengthening the police. A lot of money has been put into that. Transparency plus accountability plus enforcement capacity is describing, in a sense, the vast majority of anti-corruption efforts. And generally speaking, the efforts have not delivered results which are sustainable. So for a time, for six months or a few months, you might get an improvement, but then things revert back to where they were.

Mushtaq Khan: The question is why? And the question is very easy to answer once you understand this distribution of capabilities, interests, and power. Because what you have in developing countries is a set of capabilities across society that means that they’ve adopted the rules of advanced countries, company law, election rules, rules of property rights, rules of governance… But in fact, the vast majority of people in those countries don’t have the capability to adhere to or follow those rules. What you find is that 70–80% of society is informal. Most people have such low capabilities that their organizations do not even have the resources to register themselves as a registered organization. Forget about health and safety rules and employment rules and pension rules and other rules. They’re not even registered.

Mushtaq Khan: You have societies where 70–80% are unregistered. You also have big companies that are registered and all of them are also violating different rules. You have a political process which is not based on collecting taxes, and offering people services through the budget because the tax base is very low and the demands are very high. Politics is organized through patronage, through clientelism. All the politicians, from the prime minister downwards, are breaking rules. In other words, you have societies where almost everybody is violating some rule. When you come and say transparency, well it’s already transparent. If you go to a developing country, the taxi driver will tell you as you’re driving from the airport to your hotel, “This building belongs to that minister. That building was that minister’s, this prime minister made that much money.” It’s completely transparent, in the sense that people might not know the exact figures and so on, but they know it’s happening.

Mushtaq Khan: In terms of accountability, we have elections, we have all kinds of processes, but the powerful — remember that powerful means those who are relevant for that violation — remain where they are. The violation might be much lower down in society, but whoever is violating very rarely comes to trial and gets punished, because actually all of this is happening in networked ways. And each violator is linked with other violators, and everyone has something to lose. And so finally what happens is that your enforcement agencies are also corrupted. The anti-corruption commission becomes a tool in the hands of the government to chase the opposition and pick them up, or to threaten businesses who are not playing ball, saying that we will have an investigation of your tax. And then they start playing ball with the government. In other words, the police, the courts, the anti-corruption commission on whom a lot of money is being spent, themselves become a source of the problem.

Mushtaq Khan: When you look at that — and I think anyone who lives in a developing country will immediately recognize this — you can see that this approach from above, whether it’s transparency, whether it’s accountability, whether it’s enforcement, isn’t working. Now, it’s very important for me to make this clear: we are not saying that this should stop. I think that some of this needs to happen just to keep pressure on the system. But I think what needs to stop is an expectation that this is anywhere close to being sufficient to achieve anything. And we really need to work on the other aspects of anti-corruption, which I’m going to talk about later, which is where the action is. But it’s not that you should let these people off the hook. The point is that you might identify the corrupt prime minister. You might get rid of the corrupt prime minister, but since the system is a low-capability, informal system, the next prime minister will be just as corrupt. So we shouldn’t put our hopes on that process of enforcement from above for achieving either development or anti-corruption.

How to define capabilities

Mushtaq Khan: Capabilities can describe quite different things, depending on what kind of organization you’re talking about. Let’s take the simplest kind of productive organization in a developing country, which is a labor-intensive, very low-tech manufacturing of something of very little value and very little markup, something like a t-shirt or a football. Now, why is it that not every developing country is producing this? Why are there a few countries which produce it and most of them cannot? The answer is that to actually produce a t-shirt, you don’t just need the sewing machines, which are actually freely available, not under any kind of patent control, and you can buy them for a dime a dozen. And there are lots of people in developing countries with enough money to buy millions of these things.

Mushtaq Khan: It’s not even the question of skills, because the skills required are very basic. And really you could skill up people in a few weeks to operate these kinds of machines. And that includes electronics assembly processes. It can include making footballs and t-shirts and all kinds of basic manufacturing. Why doesn’t it happen? It doesn’t happen because the really big elephant in the room is, how do you organize this production in a factory? This includes things like, how do you deal with bottlenecks? How do you make sure that your processes are aligned so that the different inputs and outputs are aligned for the fastest throughput of materials? How do you reduce waste? How do you ensure quality control? How do you manage inventories? These things sound rather simple. And it sounds like, well, if I can hire some people with an MBA or a business admin degree, they should be able to tell me.

Mushtaq Khan: No, actually this has nothing much to do with what you learn in business school. It is to do with how you organize a whole team of people to operate seamlessly as an organic whole. And it sounds to us to be rather obvious, but this is an incredibly difficult thing to achieve. Take the example of a hospital in a developing country. Hospitals in developing countries have doctors who are very skilled. In fact, most of them would love to leave and take a job in an advanced country where they would perform perfectly well. They have all the machines that you require for a hospital. They have the drugs, or many or most of them. And yet their capacity to deliver good health services is very poor. The reason is not the quality of the people or the quality of the machines. It’s how it’s organized. Are you doing the cleaning properly? Are you managing the flow of tests so that the right tests go at the right time to the right doctor for the right patient?

Mushtaq Khan: Are you managing your entry so that the beds are kept just about full enough, but not overly full? Are you managing your quality control and your ordering of spare parts? And this is where it fails. This is where universities don’t work in some countries, hospitals don’t work in other countries. Not because they don’t have professors. I’m from a country where universities don’t work very well, but there are many people like me who are from that country who are world-class professors. But the problem is not the professor. The problem is not the machine or the desk or the whiteboard. The problem is the organization, and how all of this is put together. We really haven’t given much thought to that, from the simplest garment industry to the government itself, how the government is just an organization, the government doesn’t work because it is an organization.

Mushtaq Khan: Advanced countries are dealing with this on a daily basis. We are continuously restructuring how our universities work, how our governments work, our companies work, how factories work. It’s an endless process.

An example of effective horizontal checks

Mushtaq Khan: Bangladesh is a very vulnerable country. It suffers a lot from cyclones and rising sea levels. Hundreds of millions, billions of dollars have to be spent on mitigation activities. These include building embankments across rivers, on the sides of rivers to prevent flooding and building cyclone shelters. And Bangladesh has spent hundreds of millions, probably billions by now on that.

Mushtaq Khan: More has to be spent now. And I think some of the discussions which are going to happen now about supporting developing countries is about that. However, we also know that massive corruption happens in these investments. Transparency International Bangladesh, who is our partner in this study, estimated from a sample of studies that they did that something like 30% of the money going into climate investment projects disappears. 80% of them are badly constructed. Now this is huge. These are massive policy resources which are going into constructing these projects, which are big infrastructure projects. And a lot of money goes missing. How do we stop that? All of these have the same vertical enforcement reporting, community meetings, community boards, where all the information is put up. Transparency systems have no effect.

Mushtaq Khan: ACE looked at a comparison of embankment projects and cyclone shelter projects which had high corruption in some cases and low corruption in other cases. And this was as reported by key informants and Transparency International’s own monitoring. And our question was, why do some of these projects have high corruption and some of them have low corruption? Why are some better constructed and why are some constructed so badly when they all have the same vertical arrangements? And it turns out the difference is in the horizontal checks and balances. What we found is that in the projects that were well constructed, there was — by accident or design — a dual-use component of the investment. The embankments can be used as roads, and cyclone shelters can be used as shops, community centers, and schools.

Mushtaq Khan: Now, if you’ve designed the project properly, the dual-use benefit is quite important. And, as in a rich country, but even more so in a poor country, people are much more interested in the immediate benefits of the project than in the long-run climate mitigation which may or may not happen. When there are immediate benefits, like a road which connects up important bits of economic activity, or a school that is of benefit to the community, you suddenly find a significantly higher percentage of economically and politically more effective people in the local community becoming involved in monitoring. And so what we found is that people with above-average incomes become involved in a much greater percentage when there are immediate benefits. These are powerful at the local community level, but they’re actually, in absolute terms, extremely poor people.

Mushtaq Khan: This is another good example of how when we say powerful, it’s always in a relative sense of that community and of what is going on. In communities where lots of people are involved in monitoring, but they’re of lower-than-average power, you find highly corrupt projects. But when the more-than-average-power people in terms of landholding and economic income become involved — and remember, they are still very poor people — they are a very effective horizontal check, because the contractors and others who are making it are also from their group. They’re local people who are making these things. In a context where formal enforcement is very weak, the informal enforcement of meeting someone in a tea shop and saying, “Actually the cement you’re using, the sand you’re using is not really good, I can see that, the road will not be fit for purpose,” that threat is the really important threat. That someone in your group is saying, “This is not going to work.” And when that person starts making a fuss, then the political system, the enforcement system starts responding.

Mushtaq Khan: This is a critical aspect of reality in developing countries. That those informal networks and informal pressure are much more important. So how do you get the more effective people, the more capable people interested — and so capabilities come in, in this indirect sense — how to get more capable people interested in this? And we have, again, a very simple answer: When you’re designing your climate investments, make sure that there is some immediate benefit in terms of dual use which brings in the local community. Not just in an abstract sense, like oh we are interested in this in the long run, but in the immediate benefits. And our evidence shows that this makes a huge impact.

What happens when horizontal policing isn't possible

Mushtaq Khan: We have this fantastic project in the Niger Delta in Nigeria, where you have this problem of artisanal refinery, which is basically the local communities stealing oil from pipelines. And then they use that in local, very crude refining, which they then sell on. Now, this is a massive problem of theft, which has huge environmentally damaging consequences, and creates health problems which are very severe. You may even have seen pictures of the Niger Delta and the oil spills that are happening there as this oil is stolen. And the Nigerian government has tried year in and year out to stop this problem with enforcement. The army is sent in, and the army gets corrupted. Enforcement agencies are sent in, and they get corrupted. Sometimes they actually attack local communities, and civil war breaks out. The Niger Delta is close to or in civil war-type situations often because of these kinds of activities.

Mushtaq Khan: We went in and looked at what was going on here. And it was a really risky enterprise. We had local partners who were extremely well connected, and that’s why we could do this research. And we found that, actually, this is a classic example of networked corruption, where almost everybody is benefiting from this corruption and there is no rule-following behavior at all, because the local community has no alternative methods of employment which give you anything like the returns that they get from this artisanal refining — which is a very nice term for what is going on. And the returns that they get are often higher than even extremely well-paid jobs in the Nigerian army, for example. The local community also has lots of externalities. The service sector activities, which set up hotels and restaurants, different kinds of services run by women, you have trading activities…

Mushtaq Khan: Then the refined petroleum is sold on for generating electricity. And so it also is powering houses. It’s a complete economy, which is working in what we call ‘networked corruption.’ Now here you don’t find any insiders who are following rules. No one will report on anything. No one will support enforcement. Even though their benefits are unequal, the whole community is against any kind of external enforcement activity, and external enforcement generates violence and generates almost civil war-type issues. What do we do there? Our answer is, do not try vertical enforcement here, but try to find exit strategies from this problem. Here is a case where actually development is the answer. You have to find parallel employment opportunities for people. You have to improve health services and primary health clinics. You need to bring in solar power, so that the people who are buying this refined petroleum have some alternative sources of electricity, and so on.

Mushtaq Khan: And we could have a whole list of things which we think are feasible in that area which basically reduce the dependence of this community on this entrenched networked corruption. And so to us, that is the anti-corruption solution there, that alternative process of development, or just taking the steam out of this hothouse activity of artisanal refinery, which can be done, and is happening at the margin because some solar power is coming in, some alternatives. We want to accelerate that process. We’ll create the development, which will make it more possible for people to start exiting. This is an example. Now I think there are lots of such exit strategies which we identify as well, because a lot of activities in developing countries are like that, where the corruption is so entrenched that almost everybody in that activity is corrupt.

Mushtaq Khan: They might be corrupt for different reasons, but they’re all rule violating. And so when you come in to enforce the rules, you find no support. I think another way of thinking about it is that anti-corruption works when there are people who are violating rules for reasonable reasons, and there are other people who are violating rules for unreasonable reasons. And if you can identify the people who are violating the rules for reasonable reasons and solve those problems, then they become your allies, and then you minimize the number of people who are the true thieves, who are the small subset of people who are genuine thieves and free-riders. And when you can bring them down to a manageable number, like 10% or so, then your vertical enforcement starts working, right?

Mushtaq Khan: Because then the peers start saying, “Well actually, we are all following rules. Who do you think you are to go to the front of the queue? Go back and stand at the back of the queue.” Exactly like what happens when you break a queue in London. It’s not the police who stop you, it’s your peers who say “Hey, please go back to the back of the queue.”

Takeaway lessons

Mushtaq Khan: I think a lot of what I’m saying could be read by people in different ways. Let me boil it down to some very basic things which might focus people’s minds. I think now it’s commonplace in development policy that people will say, “Context matters. One size doesn’t fit all.” Everyone will say these things, from the World Bank, down to the Foreign, Commonwealth & Development Office, down to Oxfam. Everyone will say this.

Mushtaq Khan: The real question is, you have to ask yourself, “How does context matter? What am I supposed to do about this? What is it about it that matters?” Here is where I think all that I’m talking about has a direct relevance. Context matters in this way. You have a set of plans and policies, or you’re supporting some activities which you think will support human development. To me, that inevitably involves looking at capabilities, organizations, etc. Do you think these policies will be implemented? Do you think they can be enforced? This is where context matters. Context matters primarily in the sense that enforcement and implementation vary hugely depending on the interests and capabilities of the players themselves, and much less on the enforcement capability of some supra-agency, which is like the prime minister’s office, or the cabinet, or the police, or the anti-corruption commission, or anything like that.

Mushtaq Khan: The basic thing you should do, always, is look at the people you are working with, their capabilities, and then ask, “Here is a policy to help them do something better. Will they themselves actually support it?” Not are they saying they will, because everyone will say they will do whatever you ask them to do, because they want the money. But actually, from their past behavior and their activities, do I think this is something that they will actually be able to implement, enforce, monitor each other as peers, report back, and do the basic capabilities of policy implementation at a higher level exist to monitor and enforce this?

Mushtaq Khan: If not, you have several options. You can redesign the policy so you have greater confidence it works. You can say, “Actually, policies won’t work here, because there’s some network problem which is so integrated that I can’t break it.” Then you have to think out of the box about some exit strategy which meets the requirements of your anti-poverty or whatever that you are trying to achieve. Or you have to go back one step before, and ask, “Can I build those capabilities directly? Can I work with people to actually build those capabilities that I’m assuming exist with my policy? I shouldn’t assume they already exist. Maybe I need a policy that is one or two steps behind in terms of its sequencing.”

Mushtaq Khan: I think there are ways in which all of this makes a lot of practical sense. When you are asking yourself “Will this work here?” then of course you can refer to the work that I do and that others do. It’s all available. It’s free to access online. You can read some of the stuff on the SOAS website, or the work of Dani Rodrik, or North, Wallis, and Weingast, or Acemoglu, Johnson, and Robinson, and all the people we have discussed. Not all of it, but those bits of it that are relevant to the particular policy question that you’re addressing. I think that’s the starting point. That’s the starting point for you, as a development practitioner, beginning to refine your questions and getting down to better questions and then answers which you think might make sense there. Then, the final step is, don’t put all your eggs in one basket. Experiment with a trial, see how that goes, and only scale up once it’s working.

Articles, books, and other media discussed in the show

Mushtaq’s recent work

Videos with Mushtaq

Other links

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About the show

The 80,000 Hours Podcast features unusually in-depth conversations about the world's most pressing problems and how you can use your career to solve them. We invite guests pursuing a wide range of career paths — from academics and activists to entrepreneurs and policymakers — to analyse the case for and against working on different issues and which approaches are best for solving them.

The 80,000 Hours Podcast is produced and edited by Keiran Harris. Get in touch with feedback or guest suggestions by emailing [email protected].

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