People of Dhaka

Oarsman, color

(Taken while riding a small ferry across the Buriganga)

While writing my thesis on two cities I love – Mumbai and Shanghai – I learned that Dhaka was the densest  city in the world, about 1.3 times as dense as Mumbai. Knowing only this one fact about Dhaka was enough to make me decide that I’d be going to Bangladesh for spring break. Cancun isn’t really my thing anyways.

I went there to understand what being the densest city in the world means, which was rather naive because I was only going there for two weeks, by myself, with no plans, and not knowing much about the development of the city. It felt just about as dense as Mumbai or like crowded parts of China, so in the end it wasn’t its density that struck me, it was the people that lived there.

In all my travels I’ve never been asked by so many people to take their picture, I’ve never had strangers buy be tea, and I’ve never left my debit card in an ATM only to have a man find me minutes later and hand me my card with $200 he had accidentally withdrawn with it – that could have ended much worse.

Anyways, here a few of the pictures from that experience.

Tree boy

On the banks of the Buriganga in Kamrangirchar, Dhaka.

Proud with age, curious with youth

I had just taken the younger man’s photo, but he was still curious about the lens.


You don’t need to be in focus to see a clear smile.

Toll collector

(A toll collector sits on the banks of the Buriganga)

Jamaat supporters

The quality of this picture isn’t great, but the moment I took it sticks with me. About 500,000 Jamaat-e-Ismali supporters had rode up from Chittagong to protest in Dhaka against “Zionist and Atheist Bloggers” and trails against some of their members for war crimes committed during the Bangladesh Liberation War. No women were allowed in the protest, they were calling for death to the “Zionist Bloggers”, and yet they were incredibly nice to me. I believe they mistook my skin color and larger camera for the telltale signs of foreign media – I was even allowed up on a bridge overlooking the protest with “other” members of the media. That’s when these three approached, shook my hand, and asked me to take their picture. They smiled, then went off into the crowd.

Boy at Ahsan Manzil

A movie fan, probably.

Bother and Sister?

This is the only female who asked me to take her picture.

The Oarsman

It cost one taka to cross the river ($1 = ~75 taka at the time). Normally the oarsman will wait to fill up his boat with passengers before crossing but as soon as I got in he pushed off. He smiled, was nice, then motioned for me to take his picture. When the lens when up a stern look replaced his smile. I was more than happy to pay to have the boat to myself just to get this picture.



IMF Forecasting Errors

Reading Superforecasting by Philip Tetlock and Dan Gardner got me thinking about, well, forecasting. The book builds upon Tetlock’s previous work on measuring the accuracy of expert predictions of the future. In a study he ran from 1984 to 2003 covering 284 experts he found that on average expert opinions were no more accurate at predicting the future than a “dart-throwing chimp.”

Being an economics nerd the experts I think of when it comes to forecasting are, naturally, economists. Twice a year economists at the IMF publish forecasts of economic growth for nearly every country in the world, and they also keep track of their historical forecasts, making it easy to judge their accuracy, which is what the graph below does.

  • Sort from underestimated to overestimated

This graph measures the average difference between actual growth and what the IMF predicted it would be one year in the future for each country. Countries in red grew slower on average than the IMF predicted and countries in green grew faster on average. For example, on average Iraq grew 3.84 percentage points slower than the IMF predicted. The map below shows the same data.IMF Errors MapMany countries in East Asia seem to perform much better than expected, while there are some darker red patches in Sub-Saharan Africa, West Africa, and Eastern Europe. It might seem obvious why some countries are performing better than expected (China) or worse (Iraq), but if some of these countries are performing better or worse than expected year after year, why hasn't knowledge of that history improved the accuracy of IMF forecasts for these countries? It could be that the economies of these countries are simply more unstable and thus harder to forecast. Or it could be unforeseen conflict or fortune. There's a lot of information that can be gathered from this data, and this graph and map only touch upon a small part of it. More to come.

About the data and graphs:

The historical IMF forecast data used was from the fall meeting before the year forecasted. For example, the fall 2010 forecast of 2011 GDP growth. This data can be downloaded on the left side of this page by clicking "Historical WEO Forecast Database". The actual values used are from the most recent IMF World Economic Outlook Database, which is on the same page as the previous link. The errors between the forecasts and actual growth values were averaged for each country to obtain the final numbers.

All data analysis was done with R, the map was made with R too. The graph was make with D3. An example graph made by slnader served as the backbone of the graph in this post, in fact, it's almost the same, so thank you slnader.