1984 …2019

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Economics of change

Campaigners for change in the developing world have a tendency to pin commendable aims on a shaky grasp of economics. Rather than join the chorus shooting holes in their arguments, Professor Brett Inder finds support in sophisticated economic theories and techniques for such concepts as fair trade and cancellation of debt.

Brett's interest in development economics is based on the premise that change is possible. "That's the whole reason for doing it," he says.

It's not the whole focus of his attention. Brett also develops econometrics techniques that provide accurate readings of the 'messy' and complex data economists deal with as they try to determine cause and effect in everyday life.

This takes him into such areas such as the provision of services to people with mental illness, for a current project with Southern Health backed by an Australian Research Council grant. Separate research he is undertaking on mental illness and the labour market is funded by beyondblue.

"We look for nuanced ways of answering questions about, for example, whether a labour market program is effective," Brett says.

Development research has taken him to South Africa, Sri Lanka, Papua New Guinea and most recently East Timor, where he is engaged in an AusAID-funded project on improving the welfare of coffee-producing households.

For about a fifth of the country's population, coffee is the sole source of income. Most of the growers have only tiny farms and are paid once a year, at harvest time in June or July. February and March have come to be known as the "hungry months".

Brett's project, which runs for three years, surveys 800 households just after harvest, and again six months later, when they have usually run out of money. He hopes to determine the impact on health, schooling and general quality of life for families who rely on an annual payment that is subject to market and seasonal volatility.

Helping people save is a goal, but for those on extremely low incomes it may not be feasible. A bigger difference might be gained by increasing earnings, perhaps through involvement in more stages of coffee production, or by diversification into crops harvested at different times.

Experience has shown Brett that solutions are never simple.

"People are always criticising wasteful use of aid," he says. "Aid is only wasteful because development is hard. To take a bunch of poor people and move them out of poverty is a very hard thing. It's not as easy as just pouring more money in."

Part of the solution is to understand more about what does and does not work, and here researchers have an important role.

"If we want better aid, we have to have better development, and if we want better development, we have to have better research about development."

Doctors go to developing countries to contribute their medical skills, he says; engineers go to build things. "If you're an academic, you use your mind to try to improve the understanding of what's going on and try to point people in certain directions for what seems the most valuable thing to do."

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Research Output

The ET interview: Professor Max King

Gao, J. & Inder, B., Feb 2019, In : Econometric Theory. 35, 1, p. 1-36 36 p.

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleOtherpeer-review

Prevalence of psychological distress: How do Australia and Canada compare?

Enticott, J. C., Lin, E., Shawyer, F., Russell, G., Inder, B., Patten, S. & Meadows, G., 1 Mar 2018, In : Australian & New Zealand Journal of Psychiatry. 52, 3, p. 227-238 12 p.

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleResearchpeer-review

11 Citations (Scopus)

Evaluation of the Berry Street Stand by Me Program: Wraparound support during the transition from out-of-home care

Philp, J., Mendes, P., Baidawi, S. & Inder, B., 20 Nov 2017, Melbourne Victoria: Berry Street Childhood Institute. 100 p.

Research output: Book/ReportCommissioned ReportResearch

Open Access

Invisible work: child work in households with a person living with HIV/AIDS in central Uganda

Abimanyi-Ochom, J., Inder, B., Hollingsworth, B. & Lorgelly, P., 1 Jan 2017, In : Journal of Social Aspects of HIV/AIDS. 14, 1, p. 93-109 17 p.

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleResearchpeer-review

Open Access
1 Citation (Scopus)