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Explaining 10 percent of something is not usually cause for celebration. And yet when it comes to economic development, where so many factors are in play—institutions, culture, geography, to name a few—it’s impressive indeed. And that’s just what Melissa Dell has accomplished in her pathbreaking work. From the impact of the Mexican Revolution to the different development paths of northern and southern Vietnam, her work exploits what are often accidents of history—whether a Peruvian village was just inside or outside a mine’s catchment area, for example—to explain persistent differences in outcomes. Her work has earned numerous plaudits, including the John Bates Clark Medal earlier this year.
On the 100th episode of Conversations with Tyler, Melissa joined Tyler to discuss what’s behind Vietnam’s economic performance, why persistence isn’t predictive, the benefits and drawbacks of state capacity, the differing economic legacies of forced labor in Indonesia and Peru, whether people like her should still be called a Rhodes scholar, if SATs are useful, the joys of long-distance running, why higher temps are bad for economic growth, how her grandmother cultivated her curiosity, her next project looking to unlock huge historical datasets, and more.
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