Well, just in time for the weekend, the sky has turned a dull, heavy grey; a persistent drizzle has started to fall and there’s just enough wind to make me want to wear a jumper while simultaneously being just too humid to be comfortable in one. Oh joy. Still, it’s Friday and I’m about 15 minutes from the door, which means it’s time for all the good and geeky that I’ve seen this week – and it was very good, and very geeky.
1. Well, the weather has put me in a vile mood, so I’m going to break with tradition and start with something completely frivolous: #realisticIndianaJones. Academics and archaeologists suggest what Indy would have been like if he had to live on a planet even remotely like ours (which, while we’re on the topic, is TOTALLY MISSING THE POINT of Indiana Jones, goddammit, just look how cool he is). The best one: “Indiana Jones & the conference question that is not a question at all, but actually a really long statement, of doom”.
2. Now that I’ve got that out of my system, here’s some actual economics: Branko Milanovic and Diane Coyle have a maddeningly good-tempered back and forth on the overall welfare implications of the commodification of previously non-commercial goods and activities. Branko suggests that the extent to which we used to do for no pay, like childcare, or the assets we left idle, like our flats when we went on holiday, are now ‘commodified’ has undermined the development of deep and systemic bonds of trust. (As an aside, Tim Harford looks at this from a slightly different angle here). Diane Coyle takes aim at him, arguing that much of this commodification is an unambiguously good thing, particularly from a gender perspective. Branko listens, clarifies and responds here, making more interesting points about the depersonalisation of the economy. It’s all very disappointing. I was kind of hoping for a few insults and a Hitler-comparison, but I guess not every spat can be Sachs vs. Easterly.
3. Let’s keep to gender for a second. 538 explain very succinctly why the gender pay gap is still a thing, and a thing that isn’t narrowing nearly as fast as it used to: “Hourly pay has risen more than twice as fast over the past three decades for men working long hours [than those working normal 9-5 jobs]… Men make up a bit more than half the full-time workforce, but they account for more than 70 percent of those working 50 hours a week or more. So as wage gains have gone disproportionately to people working long hours, they have also gone disproportionately to men.” An excellent piece which makes many other good points, too.
4. We love to talk about ‘rapid growth episodes’ – what economist doesn’t get slightly hot under the collar when we see those juicy numbers in the ‘China/GDP Growth rate’ row of the World Economic Outlook database? It’s exciting. Fortunately, here’s Tyler Cowen to tell us that the world sucks and this isn’t really a thing, and we’re all going to go back to 2% growth for the next hundred years: “In the next generation, the emerging economies may return to these 19th century patterns. Either they will learn to build slowly and steadily, or quite possibly they will go into reverse.” Bah. Check in with me after a generation. I reckon he’s wrong, and there will be plenty of catch-up superstars. We just don’t know who they’ll be yet.
5. DFID’s own David Rinnert on evaluating the value of evaluation, thereby setting us off into a wormhole of evaluating the value of evaluating evaluations. I’m fairly sure this is the plot of 12 Monkeys.
6. My favourite paper of the last few years, Nick Bloom’s Firming Up Inequality is now starting to get more of the attention it deserves – setting off a bunch of follow up questions from Claudia Sahm. They are all interesting, as is her discussion, and I encourage all economists seriously interested in inequality to read both the original paper and the blog.
7. Lastly, VS Naipaul has written novels about how Indian businessmen have long travelled to remote and sometimes dangerous places to set up businesses. This article in the Caravan by Rajiv Golla explores this phenomenon in the context of the South Sudanese civil war. It’s fascinating from beginning to end: ‘“We chase the money. We don’t care if we die,” one commodity trader said, “We’ll be born again anyway, right?”’. Culture matters.
Have a great weekend, everyone!