Should-Read: Lant Pritchett: The Perils of Partial Attribution: Let’s All Play for Team Development: “There was a growth acceleration in 1993 that created 1.1 trillion in additional GDP…

…Then, there was another growth acceleration in 2002 that created another 2.5 trillion in GDP (over and above the previous). Together, relative to the “business as usual” trajectory there has been 3.6 trillion dollars in gain (this cumulative additional GDP is larger than the annual total of the UK or France of about 2.8 trillion).

What caused this additional gain? Of course, no one is really sure exactly what it was and how to parse out the factors and simplistic (e.g. “trade reform”) explanations are almost certainly, well, simplistic. But something did happen and it almost certainly had to do with deft handling of the macro-economy plus a well-executed shift in strategy towards greater reliance on markets and more openness to the global economy (which is not saying that “laissez faire” was the answer or that India turned into a “neo-liberal” state).

Who caused this additional gain? In order to achieve a national policy shift there were of course hundreds, if not thousands of people who participated in producing evidence, disputing explanations of India’s past growth, examining alternatives for the future. But let me single out one group. The ICRIER (India Council on Research on International Economic Relations) was a think tank founded in 1981 that, according to its 20th anniversary document:

The Indian Council for Research on International Economic Relations (ICRIER) was established in August 1981 as an autonomous, policy-oriented, not-for-profit, research institution. This initiative was intended to foster improved understanding of policy choices for India in an era of growing international economic integration and interdependence….

There is a narrative in which Ford Foundation, a global philanthropy provides some millions of dollars of funding that play some role in creating a think tank that itself then plays some role in providing the conditions in which good policy choices are made that then results in the creation of 3.6 trillion in additional output of Indians. Suppose the Ford Foundation gave 36 million dollars (I have no idea what it really was but I strongly suspect this was the right order of magnitude and I just make it divisible) to support ICRIER….

In a very strange turn of events the organizations and supporters of the wildly successful “team development” are under pressure to sacrifice actions that can produce trillions in gains (in the economy, in education, in health, etc.) through systemic transformation. Instead development actors are being pressured to do only actions for which “rigorous evidence” proves “what works” but that leads inevitably to a focus on individualized actions known to produce at best mere millions—but for which the donors and external development actors can take direct causal credit. But there are real dangers from the perils of partial attribution in which individual actors care more about what they can take credit for than whether there is team success.