Links round-up

Hi all,

The All-Star Weekend is upon us. For the uninitiated, every year the NBA breaks for a few days to have a massive jolly, with semi-competitive games, prize-giving, and absurd skills tasks – basically, it’s a village fete, attended by some of the most speular and well-paid athletes in the world. It’s completely pointless, but serves as an inflection point in the season and occasionally provides a moment to savour – like Vince Carter’s dunk contest win in 2000, quite possibly the greatest physical feat the human race has achieved to date. Increasingly, I feel like real life should mimic the NBA more: economists need something like the All-Star Weekend. Maybe we can repurpose the AEA Annual Meetings? In lieu of a dunk contest (though it might provide its own – very different – amusements) we can have people to compete over who can write the most unrealistic model in 90 seconds? However it works, economists need some time out from all the crazy we have to attend to these days. (If you need some immediate relief, go straight to the end for the Clueless reference).

  1. Maybe we’re the cause of the crazy, though? Paul Romer thinks we may well be part of the problem (dropping Alan Greenspan with a pretty strong one-two on the way) in this piece about the influence of economists in public policy. He focuses on the US, but I’ve heard similar arguments made about the UK many times. It’s well-written and worth reading but I disagree with Romer’s take on two grounds. First, he seems to conflate the condition of ‘being an economist’ with that of ‘being a free-marker idealogue’; this is far from the truth. Economists cover a diversity of views, opinions and takes on the evidence. That a group of economists had the ear of a set of policy makers for a time says as much about policy makers and politics as it does about economics. Secondly, Romer argues that economists have started to talk too much about what ‘should’ be done, rather than the impact of different possible policies. Again, I’m a dissenter (more controversially here): I think economics has a lot to say about what a better world might look like. We just need to be clearer in dividing thinking about what from how.
  2. Just to ram home the point about the diversity of worldviews and approaches that economics can comfortably house, here’s Brank Milanovic’s latest, on the concept of wealth and its application to power. Branko points out wealth is not at all an obvious concept once you start thinking about it carefully, and then discusses how the manifestation of wealth as power varies dramatically with different political systems. I do think that economists can sometimes take concepts for granted, and one of my favourite things about reading Branko is that he never does.
  3. I found this really interesting and thoughtful: an African student at the LSE on how the discourse around Africa in international development feels to her. Related: Tim Besley, Thiemo Fetzer and Hannes Mueller argue that a negative skew in media coverage can have macroeconomic implications as well as just painting a false picture of the world.
  4. Arkebe Oqubay lays the smack down on the UK Visa system and it’s treatment of Africans.
  5. Tim Harford is pretty much my favourite economics writer out there (edging out Michael Lewis on the grounds of being more prolific) – and this podcast with Tyler Cowen is a pretty good insight into his ideas and how he thinks and writes. He – like me – is fascinated by the role of mistakes and errors in progress (and obligatory reminder: please send any stories of things you’ve changed your mind on – I am collecting them for a note on the topic). Related, but more research focused, Ben Olken on some of his epic failures – a great read for any mildly depressed DPhil student (or, more parsimoniously, any DPhil student).
  6. Seema Jayachandran on what we know about supporting microenterprises, carefully evidence-based. Anyone with money to spend in the private sector development area should definitely read this.
  7. Unusually for an economics-obsessed uber-geek who spends his spare time mainlining cricket statistics and watching basketball highlights, I’m not much of one for Valentine’s Day. It’s an excuse for restaurants to juice the mark-up on Prosecco and set menus, and for terrible movies to debut at the cinema. So I’m fully on-board with The Ringer using today to launch its list of the 50 greatest break-up songs of all time. A few quibbles: did they just forget Caitlin Rose’s Own Side, or are they actually tin-eared? And, in a similar vein, that scraping sound you hear is David Ruffin turning in his grave, because HOW DID THEY LEAVE THIS OUT?! And if you’re going to see a film tonight, remember: the book is always better. It’s now proven. (Except for Clueless. Clueless is way, way better than Emma).

Have a great weekend, everyone!

R

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Links round-up

Hi all,

You know, for all the pearl-clutching about how AI is coming for all our skills – beating Grandmasters in chess, solving Go – I can’t really find it in myself to worry when I see the results of all of Amazon’s snooping into my computer summarised as a list of reading recommendations. It includes two cookbooks (neither tempting), a series of airport thrillers, and a number of romance novels followed by a slightly desperate appeal to ‘help make our recommendations better’.  The last one included a travel guide for Easter Island (this must be one of the shortest Lonely Planets ever) and an instruction manual for a computer programme I do not own. The computers may be coming, but probably slightly more slowly and less effectively than we think.

  1. I’ve been collecting stories about learning from mistakes and recognising mistaken beliefs over the last few weeks (if you have any reflections that you’d like to share – please do!). It feels important when you work in a field where findings are constantly challenged and evidence questioned, the challenge being working out when it’s right to change your beliefs in the face of new evidence – very often the right answer is to entertain more doubt, but maybe not switch sides too quickly. That’s how I’m processing this VoxDev piece, which goes right against my priors by arguing that the institution of a steadily increasing minimum wage in a developing setting – Brazil – not only reduced overall inequality substantially but also had next to no negative effects on job creation or firm dynamism. In fact, they argue the minimum wage helped redistribute resources to the most productive firms. One to dig deeper on.
  2. This is fantastic: IPA have done a video going ‘behind the scenes’ on one of their research projects in Sierra Leone, to show us the practicalities of collecting data in poor places. It’s a nice way to show appreciation for the crucial and difficult work that is usually glossed over with a paragraph on survey response rates in a final paper. It’s also important because most people who work with data don’t collect it themselves. That distance can be dangerous: understanding your data is more than running a few tables in Stata.
  3. Even Tim Harford’s asides are good: “Economic policymaking has flaws, but an obsession with GDP is not one of them”, he says, giving voice to one of my pet peeves by pointing out that a huge amount of economic policy over the last few years has been in contradiction to consensus opinions of how to maximise GDP growth. But it is an aside, to a much more interesting discussion about how GDP growth is increasingly being decoupled from the production of physical stuff, and the implications this has for our efforts to achieve some sort of environmental balance without huge reductions in living standards.
  4. I’m occasionally accused of being something of a downer in these links (it wasn’t always thus, the world changed with the links), so here’s something happy – specifically that research on happiness suggests two peaks: youth and old age. If you’re reading this the odds are you’re somewhere between those poles, so Danny Blanchflower is here to tell you that it will get better. He attributes this to aspirations becoming real – things you once thought of becoming things you experience. As he says “And you know, life improves.” (Transcript).
  5. David Evans turns development into a choose-your-own adventure when he talks to students, and wants to know what others do. It’s been a while for me, but for younger students I’ve tried to take the Hans Rosling/Max Roser approach of realistic optimism, by giving them a few facts about the world and then tasking them with creating their own ’50-year-newspaper’ front page, reporting only the biggest stories of that time period, then talk through how economics and development work might have played a role.
  6. Kaushik Basu writes so well that his warning about impending global economic apocalypse is almost a fun read.
  7. I finally managed to bring myself to watch the last episode of the Good Place this week. I don’t think I’m giving anything away by saying that you’d better be prepared to rehydrate afterwards. I’m a hopeless softy, but it was a tough one. But let’s remember it in happier times, specifically this: 666 seconds of Ted Danson’s evil laugh at the end of Series 1 – one of the great moments in TV history.

Have a great weekend, everyone!

R

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Links round-up

Hi all,

Normally this intro paragraph is the hardest thing to write each week, but today there’s almost too much to say. The 2010s took a whole load of my cultural touchstones away – there was a two or three year period in which we lost Bowie, Prince, Chris Cornell and Lois Lane for goodness’ sake – and the 2020s have started in similar fashion. Last Sunday, it was Kobe Bryant, who for most of my life was the most inescapable basketball player on the planet, and not without some seriously troubling aspects anyone thinking about his life needs to confront; and tonight begins the really long goodbye – also troubling, also complicated, with much left to confront still. It’s all quite grey around here. Even preposterous highlights from Zion Williamson’s first few NBA games aren’t cheering me up.

  1. Regular readers will know that I think inequality is a serious problem, most likely a growing one, and one which lends itself to really good twitter putdowns. Still, this piece on Duncan Green’s blog sticks in my craw: essentially, the authors (not Duncan) are arguing that because inequality is important, being careful about the evidence we use and the data underlying our approach is of secondary importance. Worse, they describe those that do care about these things as engaged in a phony war, implying that the purpose is to deflect attention from inequality. This is, not to put too fine a point on it, pretty irritating. It does matter that we measure these things correctly, and that we know exactly what we’re measuring and what the idiosyncrasies of our measures are because they will ultimately inform the policies we pursue. For example, what’s the right level for the top rate of income tax? Or a wealth tax? You might say that the answer is ‘obviously higher than it is now’, but even if that’s true, it’s not exactly the basis for setting policy carefully, is it? Being accurate is not a side-issue to policy advocacy – it is of central importance.
  2. Now that my rant is over, let me hand over to Justin Sandefur and Charles Kenny. They take aim at the World Bank’s Doing Business Survey again, this time pointing out how much of an outlier it is in the way it treats tax: much the same way Thor treats Thanos, so without much temperance, subtlety or concern for the future.
  3. 538 are at it again, this time with a brilliant look at how the US electoral system penalises women, and how some states are going backwards, not forwards. Their whole series on When Women Run is fantastic, as befits what remains my favourite source of proper data journalism. Related: Planet Money play Ms. Monopoly, an attempt to make a version of Monopoly that reflects the reality of how gender and the economy interact (transcript). Two problems: first, Monopoly sucks. And second, Ms. Monopoly still seems pretty sexist, which chance cards that include women having to hide on the fire escape to get out of a bad date.
  4. I desperately needed this post two years ago, but I’ll take it late: Florence Kondylis and John Loeser on doing power calculations quick and dirty.
  5. A really cool new paper uses data from past experiments to investigate what exactly is going on when investments in women’s businesses seem to have no effect on productivity. It turns out that women often choose to invest that money in the most profitable household business they have access to – which is often the one the husband runs. This isn’t a failure of the intervention, it’s a case of the recipient being smart enough to realise what is best for them.
  6. One for the organisational theory geeks (again, this should be many more of us): Tyler Cowen’s reading list for the Industrial Organisation course he teaches at GMU. It’s rammed with great papers, and worth a look for anyone interested in firms, markets and organisations.  
  7. Finally, one last goodbye we’re having to make this week: The Good Place is coming to an end this week. I’m not sure I can cope with three endings so soon after each other, so I’ll be watching the last episode next week, but The Ringer have chosen to celebrate the show appropriately: with the only form of news in hell, the online listicle. And for those of you who care about such things: 538 have built an algorithm to predict J-Lo’s first song at the Super Bowl. But it doesn’t matter, because nothing will ever match this.

Have a great weekend, everyone!

R   

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Links round-up

Hi all,

Last week, I was doing rather a lot of navel-gazing as I wrote a presentation on being wrong better, but it turned out to be one of the most illuminating exercises I’ve undertaken. Thinking through the things I’ve gotten wrong in the past (spoiler: there was a lot) also made me think much more about what I might be wrong about now, always a sobering exercise. Anyway, after a couple of whatsapp conversations with friends I’ve decided there is a lot of mileage to this topic. So if anyone is feeling brave, please e-mail me and tell me your best ‘being wrong better’ story: what have you believed in the past, but have changed your mind on, and what made you change your mind. It was really striking to me that many of the biggest changes of opinion I’ve had have been driven by arguments with friends, people whose beliefs or worldviews I have something, but not everything in common with (there were relatively unexplainable reversals). If I get enough responses, I’ll write something about them (anonymised of course). Who knows, maybe we’ll learn something.

  1. Looking for a gift for that one incorrigible economics geek in your life? Never fear, there is now a coffee-table book of portraits of famous economists. Tim Harford uses the occasion of its publication to ponder the many ways economics has and hasn’t changed over his career (I’ll give you a hint as to what hasn’t changed much: it starts with a ‘d’ and ends with ‘iversity’). Still, it’s not only econ that struggles here – Planet Money cover the extreme disparity in prices paid for male and female artists (transcript). If I had more money and faith in humanity I’d say the correct response to this is to by female art now and sell it at a higher price when we stop being so basic. But I’m not sure my time horizon is long enough for that particular bet.
  2. It’s kind of weird that a discipline as materialist as economics doesn’t often study the welfare implications of having more choice over what to buy. This deprecation of the value of choice is one of the reasons why it’s so hard to sell the importance of importing to politicians (seriously, why are they so convinced that selling stuff is better than buying it?). Jan Willem Gunning, Pramila Krishnan and co-authors look at the cost in human welfare of low choice in Ethiopia, where the poor transport networks make remoteness particularly costly in this regard.
  3. Two bits of glorious geekery: David McKenzie, who can apparently explain almost anything elegantly, goes deep on one of the key assumptions of Difference-in-Difference estimation. Typically, he keeps the discussion tight and keeps relating things back to actual research choices you might have to make. And secondly, Andrew Gelman trains his sights on regression discontinuity designs, arguing that they’re a lot less robust than we think or wish. I can’t be the only person who gets slightly petrified every time he clicks ‘publish’ for fear he’s taking down one of my methods.
  4. Arvind Subramanian and Josh Felman question whether developing countries (specifically India and China) have the institutional wherewithal to generate a domestically-grown philosophy of development. They are not confident.
  5. Even as someone who has studied and does research involving behavioural economics, it does get quite annoying when people start using it to bury rationality alive, as Sigal Samuel does at Vox here. They’re going to find it harder to keep down than a Deadite if they keep ignoring the flip side to all the cognitive bias research: that for most things, including some very complex calculations, rationality is still the best starting assumption we can make.
  6. Anne Krueger extensively accuses Trump’s economic policy of cutting off its nose to spite its face, pointing out that while it has reduced imports from China (though, see point 2), it has also massively increased imports from Vietnam. It turns out people want stuff, and they’re going to find a way to get it.
  7. Finally, this is amazing: a maths teacher has taken a class from one of the most deprived areas of Cardiff and somehow helped them all reach A* grades in their GCSE maths exams – despite sitting them several months early. I’m sure there’s going to be some serious regression to the mean next year, but that’s pretty amazing, and rather heartwarming.

Have a great weekend, everyone!

R

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Links round-up

Hi all,

I’m giving a talk on How to be Wrong on Monday, a topic I know intimately. The idea behind the talk is simple: most of us are wrong about most things for a large chunk of our lives, and that consequently there’s a high return to being actively open-minded about our views, and to learn what kind of mistakes we make most often (there are more Wile E. Coyote’s in this world than there are Road Runners). As part of this, I was thinking about what the most persistent mistakes I’ve made were. I immediately thought about Michael Jordan. I must be one of the only fully sentient people in the 1990s who didn’t believe that Michael Jordan was the greatest basketball player of all time (at least to that point). Part of this was sheer contrariness – wanting to find a flaw in an accepted argument; another part was conflating aesthetics with results (I would still watch highlights of Magic Johnson over Jordan any day). There was more to it, but I still worry about these tendencies. Even after scoring a century, again, and a year of consistent brilliance, I still can’t convince myself that Ben Stokes is the best all-rounder England has produced. Am I wrong?

  1. Right and wrong feel like binary categories, and in a deep philosophical sense, it may be that they are. But in practice, for most things that matter, we are unlikely to ever have certainty of right and wrong. Tim Harford argues that this is partly because the distinction is less clear cut than it seems – the Salvator Mundi problem, as he describes it – and partly because we may only observe one outcome. His answer is to embrace and be explicit about uncertainty and probabilities. It isn’t perfect, but if the alternative is to pick a side and fight for it, it may be preferable.
  2. I’ve written a lot about the navel-gazing that the economics profession has been doing recently; Dani Rodrik picks up this theme in Project Syndicate. He argues that increasing the inclusiveness of the profession will also widen the topics we are interested in and understand well – and bring them closer in line with the things that matter to the wider world, beyond the economic mainstays of productivity, growth and trade. I’d argue we’ve already done a lot outside of these fields but I do like the focus he puts on the moral and ethical content of economic policies – an area that I think is deeply under-rated. Related: I very much like Berk Ozler’s rules for better seminars, though I note that DFID seems to have already adopted many.
  3. Economics isn’t all bad, of course, and this Planet Money episode is a great way to remind yourself. They go to the AEA conference in San Diego and ask a bunch of eminent economists the same question: what is the most important idea in economics? They ask some brilliant people: Emily Oster, David Autor, Betsey Stevenson… and for the record, I think Lisa Cook’s answer is the best one (transcript).
  4. Two good pieces on migration. First Rebekah Smith on a really clever idea: using outcome-based financing to better connect potential migrants to jobs. The mechanism bears some similarity to new ways of funding higher education (essentially buying a small percentage of the future earnings of a student you fund). I really like the careful consideration of the underlying economics: they have clearly thought this through as a principal-agent problem, and thought about alternative contracts to solve it. Related: Lant Pritchett on the predictable big problem of the future in rich countries: aging populations, and asks why there is so little policy traction over it.
  5. Related: Marginal Revolution on a new paper that uses the lottery for assigning high-skilled visas to companies to show that even in the US, the returns to domestic firms of higher migration appear massive.
  6. Two good pieces on gender: first a study in Tanzania looks at the role of men in optimising gender outcomes, demonstrating that engaging both men and women lead to better outcomes (an effect driven in part by poor communication between spouses). And secondly, a good piece from the Florence Kondylis and John Loeser on female labour force participation and what can be done about it.
  7. Lastly, I went down a musical rabbit hole while writing this. I started when I was writing about binary knowledge, thinking about how pointless it is to argue about who the best guitarist in the world is… before thinking it was probably Christone Ingram, before discovering that he’s recorded a song with Rakim, easily the best news of the day so far… and then that led me to this brilliant Vox video about science of rapping – which, obviously, starts with Rakim. I’m back to Ingram now, and I hope you are too.

Have a great weekend, everyone!

R

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Links round-up

Hi all,

Welcome to the future. I have to confess it didn’t even occur to me that we’d be soon starting a new decade when I last sent out the links (yes, pedants, I know: the new decade ends at the end of this year, but there comes a point where you just have to stop fighting); the last couple of years have, after all, felt less like Back to the Future and more like Groundhog Day. Still, to start the year off and in concession to the new page in the calendar, I thought I’d have a go at structuring the links around a few predictions for the future.

  1. Let pessimistic Ranil start. The 2020s will not, in the advanced economies, see a reversal of the ‘disappointing’ growth of the last ten years. It might creep up a bit, but we should get comfortable with the idea of (often substantially) sub-3% real GDP growth for a while. Why? I think there is a lot to the arguments Dietrich Vollrath has been laying out over the last few years, and has collected in his forthcoming (must-buy) book, Fully Grown. It is not a sign of failure that growth is slowing, but of success: we have accumulated so much, and made so many gains to productivity and material well-being, that much of what we have turned our attention to is no longer designed to feed us and make more stuff we need – instead we want to make life more liveable, and attention is turning to increasing choice. Meanwhile innovations are not necessarily marketed and hence do not show up in the GDP numbers – at least not directly – think of Wikipedia. Dietz writes here about why slowing business dynamism may, too, be a symptom of a successful economy, rather than a harbinger of doom. The negative side of this argument is Tyler Cowen’s who argues that we have exhausted all of the easy gains to productivity, and those that remain (like open borders) appear beyond the limits of our social preferences.
  2. And as an antidote to that, a ray of sunshine: deep and entrenched structural inequalities will be substantially eroded in the next ten years. You might ask why I’m optimistic here, when in the last few weeks, I’ve read (deep breath): about the way the econ profession has a particularly deep blind spot on black women; that women are less likely to rate their own performance in maths as competent, even when they observe their own high test scores; that female authors of research are less likely to claim that their results are important or unique and both male and female referees hold women to higher standards; that the AEA meetings show a discipline making small steps, not big strides; that discrimination against minority candidates in jobs may be underestimated by many studies; and that single women do substantially worse in the housing market than single men. But this itself is one reason to be optimistic: I have never in my life read so much about these problems as I do now. Brilliant people are thinking about the world differently, and this is a first step towards change.
  3. I also predict that in the next ten years, the Technocrats will Strike Back. It won’t be nearly as cool as Star Wars Episode V, I think the value of independent advice or actors will become increasingly apparent. Garret Jones’s forthcoming book, 10% Less Democracy has a provocative title, but if you read this e-mail you probably already believe in an independent Central Bank, and that evidence has a place in policymaking. As the world becomes more complex and our problems more difficult, does this become more or less true? Diane Coyle suggests intervention may become more necessary – it is likely to also be harder.
  4. My last prediction is this: that the best people will still get lots wrong. 538 revisit the biggest mistakes they made this year in their political commentary, and Michael Spence discusses the changes he never saw coming. Unfortunately, those who are most transparent in their work are probably going to be shown up the most, too, but I hope that doesn’t serve as a disincentive. I think my biggest mistake last year was to underestimate the resilience of zombie ideas: things I thought were dead kept coming back, and unlike the Janets, they don’t improve. I need to call Ash.
  5. I don’t have a prediction around these two, but I do recommend reading them. First, Markus covers a new paper which shows how intra-household inequality traces through to mortality among women in India. And secondly, a VoxDev piece raises the bar beyond poverty, suggesting that a healthy diet, rather than one that keeps you alive, may be a more appropriate aspirational target.
  6. Finally, The Rise of Skywalker was a massive disappointment (as Matt said, my god it felt like it was written by an algorithm in Disney studios), but it did prompt this: what does the Resistance need to do in order to govern effectively after defeating the First Order? Pop culture has never bettered Deadwood as an investigation of state building, but I’d watch a Star Wars movie about economic policy and governance. Yes, I am a geek. I predict this will not change in the next decade.

Have a great weekend, everyone!

R

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Links round-up

Hi all,

It’s kind of stunning how little and how much changes in a year. I was reading through all of the links emails I sent out over the year (40 so far – one every week, with a couple of gaps to get married – hooray! – and go on holiday) to pick some of my favourite ones for today’s email, and my preoccupations and concerns have barely evolved. In January, I started by first links of the year talking about political ructions and said that, and I quote, “I just hope my go-to 2019 gif isn’t this.” Between politics and the various stages of cricketing grief, I can imagine that 2020 will bring many of the same emotions – and the same gif in constant use. And whatever else it brings, I can predict there will be a lot of good writing, analysis and economics; great analysis is borne of curiosity and chaos – as Harry Lime would say, stability only brings the cuckoo clock (transcript). 2019 hasn’t exactly been smooth sailing, and look what we got:

  1. Crisis drives us to ingenuity. When I mentioned to a friend that I’d do a round-up of 2019 today, he immediately picked his favourite link of the year: NPR’s coverage of the amazing elephant census that uses sound recordings and an algorithm to develop an accurate count of how many forest elephants – notoriously difficult to count from either air or land – remain in the wild (transcript). This is such a great piece because it brings in so much about what goes into good research. The original idea came years ago, but until recently technology hadn’t advanced far enough to try it. Then, once it was tried, researchers discovered they had much more to do: to build what was essentially a neural network so that the computers could learn their own way to recognise elephant calls. And finally, they discovered that there was something else in their data: poachers, and their idea for a census may evolve into a potent anti-poaching tool. Great research is unpredictable: you never wholly know what you’ll learn from it.
  2. Reflecting my own research interests, I also linked to a bunch of stuff throughout the year on the enormous welfare implications of the structure of firms, markets and contracts. This stuff sounds really dry, but once you dig into it and realise how much of what we care about ultimately derives from these imperfect transactions and institutions, it becomes mesmerising. I loved this piece about the impact of monopsony on economic outcomes in the UK and its regional variation; this is one of the most underrated issues facing UK public policy right now (bonus reading: Joan Robinson and her development of the monopsony concept). In a completely different context, Rocco Machiavello and Arthur Bluoin show how much poor contract enforcement can cost developing countries: in this case completely undoing any good from linking to global markets. And on a similar theme, this VoxDev piece focuses on how the slow movement of complaints through the courts in India causes firms to sacrifice productivity for reduced risk of getting fleeced.
  3. I also absolutely loved the podcast series that uncovered Studs Terkel’s original interviews for his book, Working. No-one illuminated ordinary lives better than he did.
  4. My interest in Studs probably reflects that I think a lot about inequality and discrimination, and how we can improve these things. To the extent that the econ profession turned its gaze inwards in 2019 and examined its own performance on these fronts, it discovered some very ugly truths. The NYT reported on widespread sexual abuse and gender and racial discrimination in the discipline; and shone a light on the treatment of black women in particular. The AEA, whose survey uncovered all this, also produced a report that should make us very uncomfortable.
  5. That said, though our house is in some disarray, economists have also done some amazing studies of inequality and what to do about it. Planet Money (again!) cover Raj Chetty and Nathan Hendren’s amazing work on the Moving to Opportunity project (transcript). And I absolutely loved this paper by Eliana La Ferrara and co-authors which finds both that Italian teachers were biased against migrant children, and that revealing this to them helped them reduce this bias. Sticking to education, the graphics in this piece by Pam Jakiela and Susannah Hares about gender gaps in global education are amazing.
  6. It’s annual, but the Development Impact Job Market Papers series always throws up little gems from younger researchers. I loved this one by Asad Liaqat about how little Pakistani politicians know of their constituents and how information can change their policies. And though I didn’t link to it earlier in the year (it was published a few days ago), this is another great one, by Susannah Oh about how caste identity shapes what kind of jobs people will accept in India – even huge wage premia do not overcome this.
  7. There is so much more I could mention – I haven’t talked about the coverage of this year’s Nobel, such as this herculean summary of Michael Kremer’s life-work by David Evans – but I’ll add just one more series to read: Dietrich Vollrath’s series on the deep roots of economic development. Dietz is an amazing macroeconomist who reminds us at every turn why all economists should still care about macro and how it’s possible to be careful, interesting and important in the field.
  8. There was a huge amount of happy geekery over the year, too, to end the links on a frivolous note. I was alerted to the brilliance of the Bank of Jamaica’s twitter feed, displaying how you communicate to the public. The BBC uncovered the greatest Principal-Agent problem of all time, one so amazing I structured a lecture around it. The Ringer developed a standardized test to measure what really matters: our knowledge of the lyrics to Gin and Juice. And finally, they answered the question we all had going into The Rise of Skywalker: what is the monetary policy of the First Order?

I won’t be doing the links again till the New Year, so have a great Christmas and New Year, everyone!

R

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Links round-up

Hi all,

It’s getting very Christmassy now, isn’t it? I find my inner Grinch becoming less inner and more outer with each passing day. Though as an economist I should enjoy the spiritual aspects of a frenzy of consumer activity, illiquid asset exchange and (if you’re lucky) some redistribution of the wealth acquired over the last year, it’s amazing how quickly it dissipates when I have to fight my way through rioting customers of John Lewis to find the ‘perfect’ novelty corkscrew.  In all seriousness, though, this season is a good time to remember that the choices we make – especially our consumption choices – can nevertheless have substantial welfare implications. And if you don’t believe me, Michael Schur, the genius behind The Good Place may yet convince you, describing how Peter Singer helped him  become less of a forking shirtbag.

  1. Christmas can be a difficult; elections can be excruciating. Tim Harford is here to tell you how to get through the silly season without mortally offending relatives and strangers (unless they really deserve it) or exhausting yourself fact-checking every bit of mendacious rubbish you read in the news. Related: do polls report voting behaviour or shape it? Worth reading just for Nate Silver’s cameo at the end.
  2. This might be my favourite Job Market Paper so far: Asad Liaqat reports on an amazing experiment which looks at how providing information on voter preferences can affect the policy choices of politicians. It is fascinating: at baseline, these politicians know almost nothing about their constituents, which may not surprise you. Giving them information finds a larger effect on elected officials (unsurprisingly), but also that information on the preferences of female voters moves preferences more. The mechanism is apparently that politicians think they know more about what men want than women, and so are more responsive to information about women. In a sense, being aware of your own ignorance is the first step to correcting it, and the ignorance we acknowledge is selective. Another cool JMP (by Antonella Bancalari) looks at how a public health programme in Peru actually increased mortality rates, apparently because implementation was usually abandoned before complete.
  3. Macroeconomics is important (this opinion is both so true as to be trivial and worryingly underrated). And in celebration of macro, Dietz Vollrath has stuck his head above the parapet to investigate the Kaldor facts; a series of ‘stylised facts’ about the economy that Nicholas Kaldor first observed in 1957. What’s stunning about them is that they have largely remained true over the interceding 60 years. Yes macroeconomics is hard, and our evidence on it is less causally robust; but much is consistent and remains important despite being well-known. (That which we are, we are, as Rumpole might say, quoting one of my favourite poems).
  4. Imagine being having written a book so compelling that Branko Milanovic compares it to Maradona’s football; Francis Fukuyama has achieved it. “It is like Maradona lulling his opponents to sleep just in order to strike a more improbable goal.”
  5. Christopher Pissarides joins the techno-optimistic bandwagon. Well, I say he climbs on the bandwagon, but his argument is basically that it’s not technology that we should worry about but frictions in labour market adjustment. So in a sense, he built the bandwagon, won a Nobel prize for it and then arrivistes like me clambered on board.
  6. Here’s some basic economics: pandering to the lowest common denominator is often a winning strategy. Tumblr took the high road and banned p*rnography; while a dip in demand probably won’t surprise you, the fact that visits declined by 20% and usage by 50% might do.
  7. Life is a simplified metaphor for cricket. I think we can all agree on this. In case the Good Place and Peter Singer wasn’t enough philosophy for you, Anthony McGowan wrote a piece in The Nightwatchman about how the main schools of classical philosophy would resolve the Walking problem: do you do the right thing, even if it comes at a personal, or team-wide cost? [Of course, the correct answer here is to take the sandpaper out of your pocket and focus on the real issues]. And just in case you’re one of the few readers who isn’t here for the cricket chat, here’s Alan Taylor remembering the year they gave James Kelman’s How Late it Was, How Late the Booker – and the cost to his career. Kelman should win the Nobel for literature, and never will, the fools.

Have a great weekend, everyone! Next week will be the last links for the year, and will include a brief round-up of my favourite ones of the year.

R

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Links round-up

Hi all,

Remind me never to make cricket predictions. No sooner had I finished predicting the collapse of the England cricket team in New Zealand than they proceeded to fold like origami – if origami came in the form of spineless amoeba. Clearly, this was a causal relationship, and I spoke the collapse into life (just in case this is true, I’m hereby predicting an anonymous millionaire choosing to make a large lump sum transfer to my bank account by the end of the day). Anyway, with Tom Latham unbeaten on a century, I’m not going to tempt any further fate. Straight into the links:

  1. If it’s true that the best economics comes from the hardest times, we should be in for a bonanza of economic thinking soon. Barely a day goes by that I don’t faintly bruise my forehead facepalming at the latest bout of economic insanity proposed by some politician somewhere in the world. Kaushik Basu is surely right that what will come next for economists is almost certainly a better understanding of how our economic interactions are shaped by norms and values – an interrogation of the assumptions in the woodwork of our models. This is what Sam Bowles, George Akerlof and others have been recently investigating and I am increasingly convinced of their importance.
  2. There is a fantastic quote from Thomas Schelling in this piece by Tim Harford on why we should all play games: “One thing a person cannot do, no matter how rigorous his analysis or heroic his imagination, is to draw up a list of things that would never occur to him.” I’m a big believer in letting your mind and attention wander: part of understanding the world can only come from being in it, and being surprised by it.
  3. Every year, my friend Paul texts me to ask when the Development Impact crew will start their Job Market Papers series. Well, it’s kicked off, and from the first few entries, it’s going to be another fun season. First, Jeffrey Bloem looks at the massive negative effects of the Dodd-Frank Act on conflict in the DRC (that’s negative as in more conflict, not the good kind of negative). He starts with a great first line, pointing out the reader is most likely using a conflict mineral to read it. And another post (by Julian Dyer) looks at the impact of crime and insecurity on agricultural productivity.
  4. Vox have a really good write-up on the latest paper on GiveDirectly’s basic income experiments in Kenya. This paper, by Ted Miguel and co-authors, finds large general equilibrium effects from their transfers. It appears that the demand stimulus creates a supply response and essentially creates a rising tide. I haven’t read the underlying paper yet, but these are really big results.
  5. I like to argue with people. (Note: This will not be news to anyone whose ever expressed an opinion in my presence). With Thanksgiving in the US yesterday, both Vox and 538 ran pieces this week on how to argue better; I have to say I find 538s more convincing. But if you don’t agree, that’s ok: we can argue it out.
  6. CGD look at the manifestos for the forthcoming elections are discuss what they mean for international development.
  7. Finally, are you a cat person? If you are, there are few things I can recommend more than this excerpt from Bohumil Hrabal’s book about his cats. Hrabal was a genius; who else could turn a single run-on sentence by a boasting drunkard in the pub into a novel (Dancing Lessons for the Advanced in Age), or an extended attempt to hide his short stature into a history of his country (I Served the King of England). His skill for plausible exaggeration is on full show here. If you don’t like cats, maybe you like rap? A man of similar talents, Rakim, has a new book out; it doesn’t take too much squinting to see the links between I Ain’t No Joke and Dancing Lessons…

Have a great weekend, everyone!

R

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Links round-up

Hi all,

It may seem like nothing ever changes: the seasons still follow one another with grim inevitability (in England, Winter follows Autumn, and then Winter comes back to annoy us after a mere insinuation of Spring or Summer); LeBron James continues to school fools and the Gods of Cricket find ever-more inventive ways of crushing dreams (England look good now, but I await the inevitable Trent Boult double century, followed by Ben Stokes getting out hit wicket, tying his shoelaces). Occasionally, though change shocks us into uncharacteristic action. Specifically, climate change can shock us to act out of character: I know many people who joined the climate protests whose previous heights of rebellion were to send back a lukewarm tea in a café. And now, that venerable institution, the Oxford English Dictionary has revealed its word of the year: ‘climate crisis’. Yes, that’s the word of the year. The end of days is upon us, verily.

  1. Well, this is awkward. What do you do when a senior World Bank Official goes off on one, calling you a Marxist (“committed or uncommitted”, as he puts it) because you run a piece of analysis and post your code for transparency’s sake? Well, if your Justin Sandefur you clap back, and point out that whatever name you call him, the analysis is still up there, and still not proven wrong.
  2. What do you remember from 13 July, 1994? If you’re anything like me, you remember Roberto Baggio running circles around Hristo Stoichov’s Bulgaria to send Italy into the final of the most boring World Cup ever, towards a mouth-watering confrontation with Romario. Silvio Berlusconi guessed that would occupy most other football-crazed minds (which covers about 88% of the Italian population), and used the day to sneak out the news that he would, by emergency decree, absolve hundreds of Italian politicians from corruption allegations. Can you keep a straight face while saying “I’m sure it was just a coincidence?” If not, then this paper is for you – Milena Djourelova and Ruben Durante show that the political news cycle is carefully choreographed to bury bad news, surely shocking news to anyone in the civil service.
  3. This is great: a David McKenzie twitter thread reviewing the migration and trade chapters of the new Banerjee-Duflo book; he considers a dissonance in how they handle the two topics. And on the subject of migration, this is fantastic: Planet Money look at how a small town in the US has turned itself into a refugee hub and is reaping the benefits (transcript). And on the benefits of migration (how often have I written these words here over the years?), this VoxEU piece sets out some of the benefits of returning migrants on growth in their country of origin.
  4. Daron Acemoglu and co. have produced a model of the data economy to illustrate the myriad ways it can generate inefficiencies. My go to analogy for Facebook and the like has for a while now been that of the Eiderdown farm, but they’ve extended the analogy: they point out that by providing free services, Facebook is in effect paying for our data, but also that they can use data collected from users to infer knowledge about non-users.
  5. Two good pieces about urban mobility, though very different. First Ricardo Hausmann discusses why it shouldn’t be surprising that a small metro price rise has generate such a large backlash in Chile. And then this VoxDev piece looks at the genesis of long journey times in India, finding that it’s not traffic but ‘uncongested travel times’ that is the biggest contributor time spent in traffic. Something to think about while I sit on the X90, cursing my way through the journey to London.
  6. Vijaya Ramachandran has done a survey of tech entrepreneurs in Nigeria, and reports some of the results here; they’re interesting and worth reading in more detail. I particularly like how she unpacks their responses on the perennial problem of credit. Read it carefully and it sounds like a banking system working well (even if that means not funding many firms) than one doing its job badly. As I never get tired of telling people here: fix the problems, don’t try and force yourself through them.
  7. Star Wars and economics collide in a supernova of geekery: the Ringer run a surprisingly economically literate analysis of monetary economics in The Mandalorian and the broader Star Wars universe. They consider what might be behind the multiplicity of currencies the Mandalorian operates in (surprisingly, they omit to consider currency hedging as an important part of the Bounty Hunter’s economic toolbox); they look at exchange rate volatility and relate it to incessant conflict; and finally, they ask if the failure to establish a single currency and unify trading standards was cause, not consequence of the Rebellion’s fall and the rise of the New Republic. Can you tell how much fun I had with this?

Have a great weekend, everyone!

R

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