Chris Blattman, Assistant Professor of Political Science & Economics at Yale, is conducting exactly such a randomised controlled field experiment in Ethiopia on the impact of low-skilled assembly-line-style investment on poverty and development:
An Ethiopian venture capital firm, Access Capital SC, plans to open
several medium-size firms in 2010 in different sectors and regions of
the country, creating hundreds of low-skill jobs. With thousands of
applicants to these positions, Access Capital has agreed to select its
new hires randomly from the pool of qualified applicants, allowing the
first control trial of formal sector wage labor.
They are also including control cases (i.e. equivalent areas where no such investmnet took place) in order to compare differences.
- What are the effects of formal and informal sector incomes on consumption, risk, stress, health, and politics?
- How do these effects spill over into the household—to labor supply, agricultural productivity, and child health and education?
- What is the short and long term impact on child labor in the household?
- What is the effect of industrial work on political organization and consciousness?
The difficulty and cost of such experiments implies that these will always be thin on the ground in comparison to traditional approaches. However, a few well-researched and pursuasive results from randomised controlled field trials should still provide a useful steer to the theory.