We’re coming to the end of the year, but these aren’t quite the last of these you’ll get – I’m still working next Friday, and I’ve been lobbied to do a ‘best links of the year’ post. I like the idea, but it’s going to test my record keeping to its limits, so if any of you remember a link you particularly liked, jolt my memory and it might get a rerun. I realise I’m depending on people remembering anything I write for more than five minutes, which is a pretty heroic assumption, as we economists say. I’m also quite possibly going to discover that everyone’s favourite links were the Taylor Swift gifs, in which case next week’s links will be amazing. Anyway, this week, no Taylor and lots of economics:
1. THE ROBOTS ARE GOING TO STEAL OUR JOBS! I’ve suggested a few times that we aren’t the first generation to have this particular fear, but it’s always been one of those unsupported-but-plausible-sounding statements that politicians are so fond of making until I found this article, via Dietz Vollrath: a timeline of jobs technophobia, stretching back to the 1920s. The Luddites should probably get a shout-out here, too, but I’m not a DJ.
2. What happens when an elephant falls in the woods, and no-one is around to hear it? Branko Milanovic tweeted an update to his famous elephant graph, using the new 2011 PPP conversion figures (basically the way in which we standardise incomes to account for different prices in different places) and extending the data up to 2011. As my boss pointed out to me, it looks more like a tortoise now, and some of the power of the original graph (demonstrating how the Western middle classes have been hammered for 20 years) has been diminished. Should this change what we think about globalisation and its discontents? That’s a discussion far longer than this e-mail but it has to have some effect.
3. “The candleflame and the image of the candleflame reflected in the machine as it whined to a halt. He took of his hat and thought upon the declining productivity. The returns to scale were not increasing. They were not increasing.” Apparently a famous article about increasing returns to scale was edited, pro bono by Cormac McCarthy. As a great believed that all economic writing should be clear and jargon-free, I can only imagine how much it was improved for it. (I also kind of hope there’s a sudden burst of violence that comes out of nowhere, but leaves you shaking for days, because that’s pretty what happens in every Cormac McCarthy book).
4. I have been lobbied hard to include my now-annual link from Tim Harford about why no-one should buy presents, and why they’re inefficient, even though I don’t fully agree with it myself. But anyway – this is the season to be Grinchy, so here it is; and related, Sheldon explains the same thing in the Big Bang Theory.
5. Having said that, I’ve been dropping some pretty heavy hints about what I want for Christmas. And, alongside a top-of-the-range Tesla Michael Lewis’ new book is high on the list. Here he is, in conversation with Nate Silver about it, dropping wisdom like “People are drawn, people want to make the world a more certain place than it is. They’re very uncomfortable thinking probabilistically. And they’re very uncomfortable turning to someone for advice or leadership and having that person be at all diffident, at all unsure. They want that person to seem totally certain. So, they want, in a weird way, idiocy from the people who give them advice.” The friend I most often ask for advice, during my 3pm coffee time, puts a confidence interval on almost all of it, which sums up why I ask him, and why modern political discourse gives me a bad case of the facepalms.
6. Ok. I’m bored of the Worm Wars. I forgot about them. They’re not a thing anymore. But when David Roodman talks statistics and the interpretation of evidence, I’m duty bound to tell you all to listen.
7. And lastly, for the festive season, what more could you ask for than fewer photos of Donald Trump’s hair? A google extension has been created to turn all photos of him into pictures of kittens, and I think we can all agree that this is a welfare-improving innovation, even if it puts all the manual Trump-Kitten-Painters out of work…
Have a great weekend, everyone!