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Prof Dieter von Fintel
October 17, 2023 @ 17:3018:30Faculty of Economics and Management Sciences
People, place and development: data storytelling through past and present
In an interconnected world, economic choices and policies can affect people at times and in places that may seem disconnected from one another. Economic development today is the result of good and bad choices made years or even centuries ago, of historical accidents, and of contemporary policy decisions that attempt to correct or respond to the past. The explosion in the current-day availability of all types and forms of data presents endless opportunities to tell the important stories about the varied faces of human existence, economic development and (spatial) inequality. Data stories provide countless clues about how to navigate an increasingly complex future – we have only scratched the surface. Recent advances have not only produced exciting new data sources, but have enabled researchers to dig up the hidden historical record that fills in the gaps to refresh our understanding about how humanity arrived to where it is today. Yet sifting through the vast amounts of information and deciding which stories are important is difficult in the age of misinformation and in an era where, as David Autor recently remarked, “computers know more than they can tell us”. In this lecture, Prof Dieter von Fintel tells one version of Southern Africa’s story, looking at some forces that have shaped economic development and the inequalities that have emerged and persisted between people and places. He weaves together empirical lessons ranging from historical discrimination and intergenerational wealth and health transmission to place-based and labour market policies. There is much to learn about where we come from and where we are headed, and new data and technologies will likely continue to change the way we think about and tackle the problems and opportunities of the day.
Prof Dieter von Fintel is a development economist and economic historian at Stellenbosch University (SU) who joined the Department of Economics in 2007. He has been an active member of Research on Socioeconomic Policy (ReSEP) and Laboratory for the Economics of Africa’s Past (LEAP) since both research groups’ inception. He completed his PhD in Labour Economics in 2014 at SU, having spent 2012 as a visiting Commonwealth PhD scholar at Oxford University. His research focuses on uncovering the impacts of historical and contemporary policies and events on agricultural, labour, food security and health outcomes of households and firms in various parts of sub-Saharan Africa. An expert in applied micro-econometrics, Dieter analyses differences in economic and human development using a combination of survey, administrative and satellite data, with a particular focus on inequalities between people and places. His award-winning work on South Africa’s long-run economic divergence (with co-author Johan Fourie) received the 2020 Montias prize for the best paper published in the Journal of Comparative Economics and was featured by The Economist in its 2020 Christmas issue. He was also awarded the 2020 best paper prize by the Economic History of Developing Regions for his work on spatial inequalities in agriculture along with Tawanda Chingozha. He is a research affiliate of the Institute of Labor Economics (IZA) in Bonn, Germany; a research fellow of the Global Labor Organisation (GLO), and is affiliated with the Pan-African Scientific Research Council (PASRC). He coordinates graduate studies in Economics at SU, including the double master’s programme jointly offered with the University of Göttingen. He teaches Econometrics, Development Economics and Labour Economics to graduate students and supervises PhD students from across Africa. He has consulted on development economic and statistical issues to the World Food Programme, the United Nations Children Fund, the Bureau for Food and Agricultural Policy, the South African Reserve Bank, and various national statistics offices.