August 20, 2003 - Berkley: Doing Fieldwork in Paraguay: Trustworthiness, Trust, and Production Efficiency by RPCV Laura Schechter

Peace Corps Online: Directory: Paraguay: Peace Corps Paraguay: The Peace Corps in Paraguay: August 20, 2003 - Berkley: Doing Fieldwork in Paraguay: Trustworthiness, Trust, and Production Efficiency by RPCV Laura Schechter

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Doing Fieldwork in Paraguay: Trustworthiness, Trust, and Production Efficiency by RPCV Laura Schechter

Doing Fieldwork in Paraguay: Trustworthiness, Trust, and Production Efficiency by RPCV Laura Schechter

Doing Fieldwork in Paraguay: Trustworthiness, Trust, and Production Efficiency

Laura Schechter received an IBER mini-grant to support her data collection and experimental testing using the Trust Game with farmers in Para- guay. Her thesis speaks to her intellectual spirit, but her field work speaks to her character.

IBER Mini-grantee Laura Schechter Laura Schechter, a Ph.D. student in Agricultural and Resource Economics, spent seven and a half months in Paraguay collecting data for her research on “Trustworthiness, Trust, and Productive Efficiency: Rural Development in Paraguay.” The project investigates the effects of trust and trustworthiness on produc- tion decisions and technology adop- tion. Schechter added a provocative twist: studying theft as a means of measuring the efficiency loss due to untrustworthiness.

With its ties to previous panel data collection and its innovative use of behavior theory and game playing, this thesis is a complex story of field research and data collection. Schechter’s research builds on previous data from fifteen villages in three rural regions in Paraguay previously collected in 1991, 1994, and 1999. In addition to the detailed information on production, income, and credit con- straints asked in previous rounds of the survey, she added new questions on theft experienced, on trust, and on trustworthiness, adapted from the World Values Survey to fit a Paraguayan setting.

She also conducted “laboratory” experiments measuring trust, trustworthiness, and risk aversion. Schechter had been a Peace Corps volunteer in Para- guay--she speaks Guarani and knows the culture, enabling her to hire two of the farmers from this period as survey takers. Her thesis examines an issue she had encountered as a volunter: the mistrust among farmers that discouraged them from planting crops that might have earned greater profits at market, but which risked being easily stolen.

Schechter’s character and sheer perseverance helped her secure funding. The World Bank had funded previous data collection in Paraguay, but the collapse of the Argentinian economy overshadowed Paraguayan surveys, and funding dried up. Schechter had to tap a network of development economists at UC Berkeley and beyond, including Jose Molinas, himself a young Ph.D. who ran a nongovernmental organization, Desarrollo, in Asuncion. Molinas told her to come to Paraguay imme- diately and knock on doors for money. Her fellowship from the Social Science Research Council paid for her flight, but her only other funds were from the Russell Sage Foundation for the economic experi- ments. She stayed with the Molinas family and used the internet at Desarrollo, trying to organize funding and a research team.

Internet and email saved her. She found financial aid from the Giannini Foundation, the Center for Interna- tional and Development Economics Research (CIDER) and an IBER mini-grant. She hired her research team: three enumerators, a Mitsubishi pickup truck and a driver. The driver came with the pickup—and it was the gas and truck that consumed most of the funding. For three and a half months the team bumped around the rugged country to the fifteen survey villages. They used the truck to bus people to the local hall for the economics games. When the truck had a flat tire, Schechter’s team jury-rigged a supplemental jack, and when the truck got stuck Schechter gained even more hands-on experience. Between villages they were forced into a two-day layover because of a tractorazo—a tractor blockade set up by farmers to protest high gas prices.

Schechter employed the Trust Game, one of the most commonly played games in behavioral economics, measuring trust and trustworthiness, and another game she invented to measure risk aversion among survey respondents. The games were played with real money—players could win a day’s wages. Before the games could commence, Schechter had to negotiate the loan of a suitable hall, usually in the church, offer to collect farmers in the truck, and invent incentives to induce people to show up on time—money prizes or the ever popular polaroid photos. Most people wanted to participate, and villagers could usually predict the one or two who would not show.

Villagers were surprisingly open: 50% of the 223 households interviewed admitted to having been stolen from. Yucca root, pineapples, corn and even cotton— surprising because it requires such time and effort to gather—had been taken either to eat or sell at market. Most knew where the thief lived. Yet thefts were met with apathy and a shoulder-shrugging fatalism. Still, Schechter holds out hope for future cooperation and trust.

We salute the donors who support the enterprise and intellectual goals of graduate students such as Laura Schechter. For more glimpses into their work, visit the IBER student web page and the closeup-on mini grants. < Mini02Proj.html>

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Story Source: Berkley

This story has been posted in the following forums: : Headlines; COS - Paraguay; Fieldwork; Social Sciences



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