Links round-up

Hi all,

 I’m away next week, so this is your last links till the 7th of October – make it last! There’s been an absolute glut of great stuff online, though, so it’s a good one – though not particularly cheerful (is good economics ever cheerful?). As with cricket, the collapses seem so much more interesting…

 1.       Let’s start with some good news, though – do you remember that great paper from a couple of years ago that used fake CVs to see if firms discriminated against people with ‘foreign sounding’ names? Rather depressingly, it did find that many firms did. Fear not, though! Alex Tabarrok reports on a follow-up paper showing that the firms that discriminate are more likely to go bust. Obviously, if discriminating against otherwise qualified people makes you less efficient by making it harder to match the right people to the right roles, your business will suffer. I’d suggest that even if this is the mechanism, we can’t rest on our laurels – it would only work in really competitive industries, not something the kind of countries we work in are known for. (Full paper here).

2.       A phenomenal (but long) post by Andrew Gelman about replicability of research findings and the political economy of academia that makes even small improvements in research practice quite difficult. He takes aim at Susan Fiske, a psychologist who published an opinion piece basically slating people who use social media to criticise research, and he doesn’t hold back [note, I am obviously not unbiased in this debate being a person who uses social media to criticise research]. It’s really worth reading if you want to have a better sense of the personal and professional politics that influences the quality of the research we use, and why it’s so important to be discerning about it.

3.       A few people have pointed this one out out to me, but I’ve only just got round to listening/reading: Planet Money did a podcast on the research of Christopher Udry and Dean Karlan on supporting farmer expansion in Ghana. Both Chris and Dean have presented this research in DFID, which makes it even more impressive to keep me gripped throughout the pod – I already knew how it was going to turn out. The Planet Money guys frame it as an intellectual death match between two theories: that farmers are credit constrained, on the one hand (what farmers say); and that they are constrained by risk on the other (what Udry observed). It’s brilliant, and a good lesson in why we shouldn’t just take what people say at face value – we’re very often not the best judges of the constraints that hold us back (Transcript).

4.       Another popular piece about a recent bit of research, but in this case I’m slightly less convinced: Eric Verhoogen suggests that labour standards can be a spur to innovation. I think his real claim is more limited: that in a specific second best world, they were in one instance. I don’t think you can generalise from his example to a universal truth.

5.       Everyone has been very complimentary of Dani Rodrik’s piece on the need to tame globalisation – but I worry about it slightly. Dani is a reasonable and thoughtful man, but I think people in power may seize on his ideas and turn them into a new form of mercantilism and retreat from cultural and economic exchange, which I think would not be what Dani intended, or good for the world.

6.       The format is hell, if you want to read the transcript, but it’s worth wading through this EconTalk (or listening to it!) with David Autor. David’s research on China’s effect on US manufacturing jobs is fascinating, and was quoted by Francis Teal in a talk to DFID recently – Francis points out that it shows that globalisation is not the main reason for the decline of certain industrial regions, and I think he’s very convincing.

7.       And lastly, to end on a scholarly (indeed, Nobel-winning!), but positive note – here’s Robert Schiller on what he describes as the next great global revolution – one against the arbitrariness of economic circumstances being decided by the lottery of where you were born. His world view is different to Rodrik’s – he sees more globalisation, not less, as the answer, so much that it eliminates the differences between countries through factor mobility. I like the idea of a more prosperous, fairer world, even if I think Schiller is hopelessly optimistic here. But I wanted to end on a positive note that didn’t depend on Taylor Swift gifs, and this is the best I’ve got.

 Back in two weeks, have a great weekend, everyone!

 R

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Links round-up

Hi all,

 Ok, so I’ve just been co-chair of a conference so I’m going to be honest: I am exhausted. I was advised to just link to every paper that was presented and post my favourite shake it off gif at the end for the nineteenth time, but I’m going to try and do the right thing. And then collapse in pile on my bed and sleep for a day (without having to shout at people to make sure they move from the coffee room to the main conference hall in time). Grrr.

 1.       One speaker from the conference I will link to the work of is Raul Sanchez de la Sierra. Raul joined us at about 5am (or something ridiculous like that) California time and his presentation on data collection was extraordinary – so far ahead of what any of us are doing that very few of us could even think of the appropriate questions to ask. His paper on stationary bandits (as opposed to stationery bandits, who were out in force in the conference, judging by the number of pens I lost) is a bravura performance of economic reasoning and extraordinary data collection.

2.       Globalisation and the forces against it came up repeatedly at the conference, so this next one feels appropriate: Tyler Cowen’s says globalisation isn’t slowing down, it’s just moved within national boundaries. This is called nation building, and if he wants to redefine globalisation like this, he also needs to take into account all the nation building that already took place over the last two hundred to three hundred years. Getting the baseline right takes him right back to square one – or worse.

3.       Dietz Vollrath, possibly my favourite growth economist currently working, writes a largely critical (highly, highly critical) piece about Eric Hobsbawm, easily my favourite historian and writer of the 20th century. Dietz strongly criticises much about him – his lack of empirics, some of his theses; but he finds one idea in particular difficult to shake off – that the sense of social disruption that economic change brings about is huge; but unevenly huge. And those who are affected (socially) least are often those who benefit the most. In the modern era, this means you: if you read this e-mail you’re probably not a blue collar worker in a declining industry, but an overeducated professional or academic, one of those people who the changes we’re undergoing is going to favour, not render unnecessary. Dietz ends with this line: “if one includes social disruption in the accounting, then structural shifts between sectors/industries/locations are perhaps the most important aspect of economic growth to consider, even more than the growth rate itself.” This is strong stuff, especially from an empiricist and economist of his quality.

4.       I have linked to the economics of David Evans many times, and have encouraged as many of my colleagues as possible to attend his talks. Here’s a totally different endorsement of my favourite economic polymath – his blog on African literature, this time looking at a “feminist mystery [that] turns the thriller genre on its head”, the Lazarus Effect by HJ Golokai.

5.       Another link about globalisation, but at least it’s a happy one. “The Census Bureau reported Tuesday that the median U.S. household made $56,516 in 2015, up 5.2 percent from 2014 after adjusting for inflation. That’s the first increase since 2007…” We spent some time grappling with the problem of earned income at the median in our conference, and the news was all bad. If only I’d read this, I might have left slightly happier. I almost never end these links on a piece of economics that makes you happy, so that’s all from me, and Taylor Swift be damned (or you can scroll back up to the intro).

 Have a great weekend, everyone!

 R

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Links round-up

Hi all,

Yes, this is a morning edition of the Links round-up, a rare event that normally means that I’m on leave and have completely forgotten to warn you all, leading to a cobbled-together mishmash or random economic geekery and Taylor Swift gifs (what do you mean that’s what it’s like every week?). I’m in sunny, lovely Newcastle and don’t intend on sitting in front of the computer for long – so excuse the brevity!

 1.       First up, my favourite piece of the week came from FiveThirtyEight, gloriously confirming my priors. Ben Casselmen points out that firms often talk about ‘skills mismatch’ and a failure to fill skilled labour positions as a very specific form of labour market failure that they face. But the evidence that this problem is really acute is actually quite sketchy – he looks at a number of indicators that firms are actually constrained in skilled workers, and finds little evidence in any. This is for the US, but the logic and approach to evidence applies to developing countries too – we too often take the word of employers and firms without thinking about their incentives to misrepresent or the possibility that they themselves misdiagnose the problems.

2.       “The fundamental problem is a person trying to diagnose his own incompetence is — almost by necessity — likely to be missing the skills needed to make that diagnosis. Not knowing much grammar means you’re poorly placed to diagnose your ignorance of grammar.” Tim Harford on a new book suggesting that trivia, or knowing a little about a lot, is one of the best ways of being able to diagnose one’s own mistakes. It’s an interesting idea – even if it means that this scene was actually an intellectual exchange by two polymaths and not an irritating bit of Cameron Crowe cutesiness.

3.       Another bit of prior-affirmation: there is such a thing as too much transparency. I don’t agree with everything Matt Yglesias says here, but I do think there’s something to this.

4.       The Center for Global Development have finally announced their new President, and it’s a name that will be familiar to DFID – Masood Ahmed, who moves over from the IMF. Masood has a strong macro focus, and moves over to lead an organisation full of brilliant micro researchers. It will be interesting to see what new hires look like from here.

5.       GiveDirectly’s Basic Income experiment has had some unexpected issues with take-up – with some Kenyans simply sceptical that anyone would transfer them cash without an ulterior motive. It’s not going to stop them from assessing what impact it has on welfare, which is the most important thing, but I would be interested to see research looking at take up rates when the Government provides the transfer directly, too.

6.       I don’t have time to do this justice – but this is masterclass in Balanced Growth Theory by Dietz Vollrath. Part 1 and Part 2.

7.       And finally – the promised Taylor Swift gifs. Be honest – you scrolled straight down here, didn’t you?

 Have a great weekend, everyone!

 R

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Links round-up

Hi all,

611666 (scroll down to Over 42). 10-0-110-0. 444-3. 275(a/o). I can translate those numbers for you: “ouch”. England are completely hammering Pakistan in the one-dayers, and one feels the need to check if this is really England playing one day cricket or if someone has genetically spliced Shahid Afridi with Virender Sehwag and put it in a dark blue uniform. Anyway, having completely lost 70% of my readership with that preamble, on to the comparatively comprehensible world of economics.

 1.       I know Ezra Klein likes the clickbait titles, but We can reduce extreme global poverty by three-fourths — right now? No, we can’t. Let me just rephrase that for clarity: NO, WE CAN’T. Andy Sumner crunches the numbers and finds that there are a number of high-poverty countries which have GDP high enough to just redistribute all poverty away in a single go. He also says that this wouldn’t be a disaster, since the IMF said that redistribution is good for growth. His main point is that poverty is political problem, which I agree with, but this is only really a step up from those Oxfam killer stats about how much we spend on ice cream compared to the cost of free education for the globe. Let’s say we redistribute to eliminate all poverty today. What about tomorrow? The IMF paper finds that some redistribution, achieved indirectly, is good for growth – that’s very different to the implication that a one-off total redistribution would have no effect on growth. It implies that inequality has emerged solely from unwillingness to redistribute, rather than economic and political characteristics that are inherent in the structure of production. Andy’s right that poverty is largely political, but it’s not primarily redistributive politics that creates it, it’s the politics around the kind of growth and the kind of economic model pursued. And cash transfers do not solve this.

2.       And moving swiftly on to a piece that I really did like: Tim Harford on whether Universities actually add any value to the world (through their education and certification function). It’s a great piece – like Tim, my gut tells me that universities are pretty good things. But I also can’t help but see the degree inflation around me (and the number of jobs which now appear to require a doctorate, few of which actually require any advanced techniques) and think that it’s become a signalling arms race. It used to be that an undergrad degree was a powerful signal in the job market. That’s not the case anymore, so people need to spend ever longer in the system, just to ‘prove’ they’ll be worth hiring.

3.       I’m no libertarian, but this Café Hayek piece is fantastic. The number of times I’ve heard people complain that pay for nurses is low compared to pay for actors is amazing. Don Bodreaux points out this is a sign that society is working, not failing: we produce loads and loads of nurses, and relatively few Tom Hiddlestones. I’m ok with that outcome. (However, I would like to see a substantial increase in the supply of Taylor Swift).

4.       This is a great blog by Justin Sandefur, about the extent to which informing policy makers about public preferences can change their opinions on policy issues. What makes it so good is that not only does it explain and visualise the results clearly, it’s also completely explicit about the shortcomings of the research it’s based on. That said, this was one of the more interesting research ideas I’ve seen for a while, and I hope it’s tried again in different places.

5.       Banking services are (or can be) a great thing for firms in developing countries. For the poor? Not so muchmany of the unbanked appear not to want to be banked. It can be more hassle than it’s worth, at least until totally different products and access strategies are designed.

6.       Every podcast from Planet Money’s five-part series on oil. They bought oil, they refined it, they sold it and told lots of great stories and slipped in some economics on the way. Really recommended.

7.       Ok, I’m going to miss the point here, but I can’t believe Lant Pritchett is an introvert – I’ve always assumed that charismatic speakers are extroverts, and Lant is definitely that. Oh yeah, and he doesn’t seem to be a big Jim Kim fan and has come up with five female alternatives.

8.       Lastly, Anthony Jay, writer of Yes, Minister (one of my favourite-ever TV shows) passed away recently. One of the obits threw up this incredible fact: the show started as a way of popularising public choice theory. Next I’ll be hearing that Rumpole was simply a vehicle for the popularisation of cheap red wine. I’ll leave you with my favourite Yes, Prime Minister quotes: “Government is not a team. It is a loose confederacy of warring tribes.”

 Have a great weekend, everyone!

 R

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Links round-up

Hi all,

This week’s links are brought to you from half-way through a leave day in my blistering-hot, sunshine-soaked garden and you’ll forgive them for being a tad cursory – as much as I love you all, you come (a distant) second to my birdwatching and pile of sunshine-reading. The only way this day could be better is if Sri Lanka were playing a test in Galle. To the links!

 1.       I recently linked to a Planet Money podcast about how all the garment jobs are in (distant) danger of being mechanised. Well. Turns out the danger isn’t that distant, and some companies are already investigating the prospect. I’m not a techno-pessimist – we’ll always come up with something to do or make; but there’s something about garments (one of the easiest things to make with unskilled labour in difficult economic environments) that makes this process of mechanisation feel different. Nick cheered me up last time by pointing out the timescales involved (my generally high discount rate makes most things bearable). He may have to find a new way today.

2.       Anyone who’s old enough to remember Devon Malcolm going through one of those strange periods when he felt like the greatest bowler since Malcolm Marshall will probably believe in some version of the ‘hot hand’ theory – that sometimes players respond to success by becoming even better, eventually reaching a state of sporting Haal (read this, btw – best sports article ever?). It was a huge letdown when researchers debunked the idea, suggesting it was mere randomness… until recent advances in statistics and data analytics have revived the theory. The hot hand lives!

3.       When Bill Clinton changed the laws about how welfare can be delivered, he promised to revolutionise the system to support the poor in the US. He did. Whether it was a good thing or not… that’s open to debate, as it appears that less and less welfare money goes directly to the poor, and more and more is only tangentially related to its original purpose. There’s a lesson here.

4.       Justin Sandefur is basically an astronaut. That’s my main takeaway from this piece about measuring poverty from space, but you might argue I’m missing the point. On a serious note, that repeated thump you hear is the sound of a thousand anthropologists banging their heads against the wall – research so decontextualized a Martian could have done it. Literally. (To be clear, I think there’s great merit to this approach. But at the same time, it’s hugely important to understand the experience of being poor, not just the incidence of it. These are complements, not substitutes).

5.       I recently had a discussion about Hernando de Soto with some friends. They – to put it mildly – are not fans. I see some merit in his work, especially in examining how laws and institutions evolve as part of a society, rather than as abstract universal principles (*cough*chartercities*cough*) but have had to concede that there is simply no empirical basis for most of his claims. Here’s another nail in the coffin.

6.       Okay, that’s quite enough of this. Look how sunny it is!

 Have a great weekend, everyone!

 R

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Links round-up

Hi all,

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!

R

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Links round-up

Hi all,

 So, I don’t know exactly what has happened, but instead of Sri Lanka doing the normal thing where they get my hopes up just a little, and then dash it into tiny pieces on the sharp rock of a batting collapse, we actually won the test last week. Not only that, but we’re absolutely *tonking* Australia in the second test.  The only logical explanation is that the end of days is upon us and we will need to settle all earthly accounts shortly. So I should probably get a move on and send these links out.

 1.       This doesn’t sound like very good news for developing countries (part 2,309,913 of a continuing series): Planet Money on a new technology to mechanise garment production. No, not a simple sewing machine. It’s a robot – one that a US Scientist has a million dollar grant to develop, which would basically allow all of the labour content of textile and garment production to be removed. The people involved seem remarkably chipper about the prospects of the millions of people in developing countries for whom textiles offers the most realistic route out of poverty, perhaps because they’re about to become gazillionaires and plan on compensating the losers. Somehow I doubt this. (Transcript, that sound in the background is Bangladesh swearing).

2.       India are about to remove a big chunk of the non-tariff barriers that reduce their ability to export (and others’ ability to import) – and with it, will wipe out a big chunk of its tax collection capacity. This has some people worried, given that people have finally woken up to my favourite pet stat – the tiny proportion of Indians who actually pay tax (most people quote that 1% of the population pay income tax; though it should be noted that the number of ‘effective taxpayers’ is closer to 3%).

3.       This is definitely one for the economists only, and even then, only the ones who want a few equations to set their hearts racing: Dietrich Vollrath investigates a puzzle in the data on US Manufacturing output, prices and share of GDP. He uses some investigative economics and equations to provide one possible solution to the puzzle, explaining it clearly at each step. I read Dietz because he’s a brilliant growth economist, but also because he helps me understand things I could not have understood on my own. He must be a great teacher.

4.       You may not have noticed, but London’s housing market is absolutely and completely nuts. Tokyo’s on the other hand (while still objectively damn expensive) is much better behaved, with prices fairly steady despite increasing populations. Alex Tabarrok whips out the red marker he uses to deface regulation and suggests a reason why (there may be other explanations, and the headline ‘Libertarian disapproves of regulation’ is hardly a shocker, but this seems sensible to me).

5.       If you can see beyond the patronising cartoons, this Vox article, drawing heavily on Claudia Goldin’s work, is a really good explainer of the root issues behind the gender pay gap. It’s very good, but doesn’t have a convincing answer to what to do when it’s not just flexibility but number or hours that need to be put in when a job is a natural monopoly (i.e. not suited to sharing due to extremely high sunk costs to achieving role-specific competence). Fairer childcare burdens doesn’t solve that problem. Anyway, we’ll be lucky when that’s the only gender-equality problem we have left to solve.

6.       Michael Clemens on migration, which is self-recommending, but the politics around this are going in the opposite direction to where he (correctly, in my book) puts the common weal. And I don’t know who has answers on that.

7.       Do a survey, help a friend! My friend Matt has a great, great idea for a fun paper, but needs your help. It’s easy and you will all get co-author credit (I didn’t clear that with him, but it’s only fair, right?).

8.       Lastly, the only real appeal of the Olympics for me is the boxing (and though we’ve lost the genius Vasyl Lomachenko to the pros, Robeisy Ramirez Carrazana has moved up a weight class to Bantam, and if he’s as good as he was last time, they may as well hand over the medal now). But LitHub have a great piece on how writers relate to the Olympics, and it’s full of little gems like “[In Syria] We write about suffering, about love, about war, oppression, hope, optimism, pessimism. But not sports.” Well worth a read.

 Have a great weekend, everyone!

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Links round-up

Hi all,

 So it’s been a few weeks since I’ve been optimistic about too much, but today, a Sri Lankan batsman hit a century! A good one! We would even be in a darn good position to give Australia a bit of a hiding in the test if we hadn’t decided it was somehow against our interests to turn the lights on when the pitch got dark. So though there’s some hope, our habit of shooting ourselves in the foot maintains. Still, we have a day of Rangana Herath, Sri Lanka’s own Mr. Potato Head, bowling tomorrow, and I cannot wait.

 1.       Let’s start with Branko. He argues that the current backlash against the model of globalisation that we have been working with over the last few decades – think Brexit and the prospect of an isolationist Trump regime – reflects an underlying unease and dissatisfaction the model of capitalism that has translated this globalisation into material outcomes around the world. It’s a tour de force of political economy thinking, tying together income inequality, development economics (he argues that the future is a world of more physical investment in the infrastructure of poor economies) and immigration. He may not be right (I suspect he isn’t, at least about development), but it’s – as ever – fascinating and educational. He is one of the most relevant thinkers for the world we live in. (As an aside, the German word for unrest is the best one. Also, an X-Files reference).

2.       Behavioural economics can be a little Emperor’s-new-clothes-y, being basically a collection of psychological observations that we could easily have built into economic models or thinking without any new label or fanfare at all. Having said that, to the extent that its branding as a new discipline had made new thinkers use that collection of psychological observations in their economic analysis better, it has been a good thing. Noah Smith here looks at a new and potentially exciting ensemble that the emperor is wearing, a macroeconomic theory that builds on psychological insights to more realistically model the effect of things like changes in fiscal or monetary policy on economic outcomes. I don’t see how this is substantially more radical than Avinash Dixit’s model of hysteresis in investment behaviour from 1992, but I like it anyway.

3.       This completely cracked me up: Nintendo got a massive stock market bump because of the success of Pokemon Go, and had to issue a statement pointing out they didn’t really come up with it, and own only a tiny part of it. This is basically the investors version of ‘all you guys look the same to me’, isn’t it?

4.       Here’s some economics we can all get behind: getting our money back. Planet Money talk about how we get our money back, and I’ll be honest – I didn’t think it was very good until I got to the third section, which is all about bonds with negative interest rates, so I suggest you just read the transcript and skip to that bit. It seems counterintuitive, that people might pay the bank to hold a big chunk of their money for a long time, but it’s got a logic to it. In fact, Tyler Cowen think it might even be a good thing.

5.       Two pieces on violence: first Dietz Vollrath makes a welcome return to the blogs by being himself and giving a very precise, ordered analysis of a controversial paper on the origins of conflict in Africa. He’s brilliant at explaining economic methods of modelling and measurement in a way that is accessible to non-economists. And secondly, a WaPo piece on how women do well in some post-conflict places, because the men have been so busy fighting that they’ve been able to seize more responsibilities and organise. This may also be true in places where men migrate outward en masse.

6.       Amazing, amazing, amazing. The birdwatcher, the geek (yes, they’re separate), the humanist and the anthropomorphist in me all love this NYT piece about the relationship between Honeyguides and certain tribes in Tanzania. The Honeyguides lead people to the beehives, and wait patiently for them to smoke the bees out, being rewarded with the beeswax while the people get the honey (there is footage of this in The Life of Birds, the Attenborough documentary, if my memory serves). “When assisted by honeyguides, Yao hunters found beehives 54 percent of the time, compared with just 17 percent when unaided.” Amazing, did I say that already?

7.       Lastly, this is my life. Giles Wilkes talks about trying to read everything in the economics blogosphere and slowly – eventually – falling in love with it. “There ought to be an ugly Germanic word for it, the anxiety at not having read enough” – and if anyone finds it, please let me know. He also says: “This is what the intellectual world looks like with no entry barriers, and much respectable opinion recoils from it.” My opinion is rarely respectable (it’s much like my appearance in that sense), but this is what I love about the breadth of reading available on the internet. I have discovered writers of brilliance in their subjects I would never have otherwise known: Jessa Crispin, Jack Slack, Kirk Goldsberry are just a few. The thirty minutes I spend disseminating some of their work every week is a small way of trying to pay them all back in kind.

 Have a great weekend, everyone!

 R

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Links round-up

Hi all,

 Well, that was quite a week, but these links signal that it’s almost over and time for relaxation (also known as backbreaking labour in the garden) and keeping an eye on the cricket – a gratifying day, with England ticking along nicely and Mohammad Amir demonstrating that he’s still got something special in that left arm (16-3-50-2 and counting). But anyway, enough of such thrilling figures and on to the only slightly-less exciting economics.

 1.       I’ve often said that every new Nicholas Bloom paper should be welcomed by dancing in the streets and heavenly singing. This one is another blockbuster, setting out his ideas in a single coherent framework. Here’s a key sentence from the abstract: “[we find] a positive relationship between product market competition and average management quality (part of which stems from the larger covariance between management with firm size as competition strengthens)”. In plain English this means that competition is important in driving up management quality in an industry, which we already know is important in generating productivity gains; it also means that bigger firms tend to be more productive, a fact which doesn’t always hold in uncompetitive environments… both facts which are particularly important for developing countries, which often have limited competition, even protecting large, bad firms. Many of our good ideas and policies will not work without competition.

2.       Nick Lea, on holiday but unable to resist the lure of economics, sent this to me: a wonderful article from the FT about how a reliance on data alone can cause us to ignore or miss some of the most important trends. My own take on this is that everything you see is a data point, biased or not, and it should all inform your view, appropriately weighted and triangulated. Ignoring any one class of evidence entirely is rarely a good idea. Related: the ever-excellent Andrew Haldane’s speech, which prompted the article.

3.       Branko Milanovic is one of my favourite economists. Here, he talks about income inequality and welfare economics, but I think the best thing about it is the second half, where he explains his three rationales for caring about inequality. He manages the difficult trick of being both radical and sensible, and that is a real rarity.

4.       While we’re on inequalities, let me just quickly high-five Adam Silver.

5.       And still on the topic, this one might be a bit controversial – but the evidence is pretty consistent that men tend to be more risk-loving than women, at least in the cultures which have spawned most of the research. The finding is replicated in a sporting context here. Obviously, nothing about this is inevitable and is likely the product of gender roles and identities constructed from youth. I would like more research on the why now that the fact is reasonably well attested (apparently).

6.       Two related posts: Chris Blattman on why ‘what works’ is the wrong question to ask (he gave this talk at DFID, but I had to leave early – a combination of a clashing meeting and the room being so hot that I was convinced I would be cooked in my seat if I remained); and Michael Woolcock on how qualitative evidence can help answer the better question ‘why did this work in this place it worked in?’ (Michael is under-read by professional economists, I find). As an aside, Chris Cramer made the same point Blattman does in a talk to DFID a few weeks ago as well.

7.       In every country I move to, my one irrational piece of chattel that never gets left behind is my massive hardback edition of the complete Calvin and Hobbes, which weighs about five kilos and takes up half a suitcase. I love it and never get tired of reading it – and I’m not the only one. Here’s LitHub on why Calvin and Hobbes is great literature.

 Have a great weekend, everyone!

 R

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Links round-up

Hi all,

I’m on a day of much-needed annual leave, but England just took the last wicket and I was logging on to check my e-mails anyway, so I thought I should deliver your weekly shot of marginalia in any case. It’s been (another) eventful week in the UK, and looking out onto the random world of internet geekery is as good a respite as any.

1.       I can’t believe I missed this, and though it’s got nothing to do with either development or economics, here is The Economist making the case for LeBron James being the greatest basketball player ever. These kinds of comparison exercises are always little more than pub-conversation fodder, but what I like about it is the way it uses both stats and narrative to make its case.

2.       Back to development for a moment – I’ve made this point before, but the World Bank’s country income classifications (lower income, lower middle income and so on) are somewhat arbitrary and a little bit odd. They might be the best we have now, but Lindsey Dolan at CGD breaks down some of the complexities nicely here.

3.       How often do you get an article about cash transfers that opens with a 19th Century painting? Damien de Walque does it, though, with a good discussion of the level of detail that we need to consider when deciding whether a cash transfer should go to a mother or a father: “While giving cash to mothers seems slightly, but not significantly, better for education outcomes, giving cash to fathers leads to significantly better nutritional outcomes during years when the harvest has been poor.” As ever, the standard wisdom masks a lot of nuance.

4.       This is very interesting: Tim Harford takes Brexit as a starting point to consider how best to influence public discourse with analysis and facts, drawing on behavioural economics and the research of a Yale law professor. Highly recommended, key sentence: “Ultimately, there is no substitute for sustained public engagement — a lesson scientists have learnt the hard way.”

5.       Bad science and tiny samples, via Chris Blattman. Important, and related to the previous link. Gah.

6.       Directly contradicting my first link this week, here’s FiveThirtyEight saying farewell to Tim Duncan, the greatest two-way basketball player in the modern era. I remember watching him as a teenager, many moons ago and being amazed. That feeling has never really disappeared.

7.       And finally, I love Letters of Note, and this one from EB White is particularly brilliant: “Man’s curiosity, his relentlessness, his inventiveness, his ingenuity have led him into deep trouble. We can only hope that these same traits will enable him to claw his way out.”

Have a great weekend, everyone!

R

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