Alice Mesnard, Paul Seabright, 01 May 2020

Lockdowns imply the costly confinement of many healthy individuals for each infected person. Digital apps on smartphones can reduce this cost, but discussion has focused on contact-tracing apps. In addition to familiar security concerns, these can be exploited maliciously in order to disrupt activity or impose quarantine on rivals. This column proposes instead ‘Activity Apps’, which have modest data requirements and less disruptive potential, but can match individuals to activities in ways that may substantially reduce the costs of controlling Covid-19.

Charles R. Hulten, Leonard Nakamura, 02 June 2017

Conventional growth theory characterises innovation as ‘resource-saving’, in the sense that it allows the same output to be produced with fewer resources. This column introduces a sources-of-welfare growth model that also includes a measure of ‘output-saving’ innovation, which arises from the expanded scope and efficiency in consumer choice recently brought about by the Internet economy and smartphones. The findings highlight how various new kinds of intangible capital complicate the measurement of GDP.

Michael Callen, Saad Gulzar, Muhammad Yasir Khan, Ali Hasanain, 21 August 2016

Government employee absenteeism is often a serious problem in developing countries. One potential reason is government positions being appointed as a kind of patronage to reward political loyalty. This column presents the results of an intervention designed to address government doctor absenteeism in Punjab, Pakistan. The programme provided government inspectors with a smartphone app to streamline information flows, and improved inspection rates. The results support the political patronage hypothesis and provide encouraging support for data-driven policymaking.

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