Let it never be said that I don’t admit to my errors (or error, as this might be the first one yet). Last week I suggested that 2016 might not have been especially fatal for celebrities and linked to a pretty middling bit of analysis to back it up. Well, it turns out a slightly deeper look at the numbers doesn’t quite back that up. It’s always good to revisit ones errors and correct the mistakes that lead to them, something that someone needs to urgently communicate to the Sri Lankan cricket team, knee-deep in yet another pathetic capitulation to the less-than-terrifying pace of a second string South African attack. It seems that a Sri Lanka tour abroad these days serves no other purpose than to aggravate me.
1. Trump has got some perverse ideas (clean your minds, I’m not referring to any unverified dossiers here). His peculiar vision of ‘winning’ at trade involves importing less and exporting more. This assumes that there are some bad, terrible people who import and must be discouraged, and some lovely, shining ones who export and are our great heroes. It turns out, to coin a phrase, it’s a little bit more complicated than that. The major exporting firms are also, mostly, the ones who do most of the importing, and vice versa. Trade isn’t a fight where one side can win and the other loses. It’s a way of organising production and consumption across borders. That doesn’t mean that everyone gets better off, or that there are no people or firms harmed. It just means that whatever type or level of trade we have (including none), some people will get better off and some will get harmed, and we need to decide which option is the best socially and how to mitigate the distributional effects. Related – what does the economics of golf tell us about who the winners of Trump will be?
2. Staying on trade for a moment: one of my favourite papers of the last few years, the Atkin et. al. experiment that shows how exporting helps firms become more profitable, more productive and produce higher quality products gets a great, easy explainer from Markus Goldstein here. The innovation of the paper is to generate causal information on the effects of exporting, and then to use logical argument and additional data gathering to prove the causal mechanism through which exporting helps firms get better. This is why Nick keeps going on about why it’s important that we help developing countries develop their export capacities (but doesn’t say they have to restrict imports to do so).
3. I’m not sure how much weight I’d put on this, but a very clever bit of research used chess analysis to test the hypothesis that women do worse than men in competitive environments. It turns out women don’t do worse in competition but do suffer when they play men, a finding not explainable by their ability. Part of the issue may be that they feel they need to do even better given negative stereotypes. But a really interesting finding is that men in losing positions resign the game later if they’re playing a woman than a man. The piece is decorated with a few spectacularly sexist quotes.
4. I’m coming late to this piece, but Max Roser’s plea that we stop saying that 2016 was the worst year ever is absolutely brilliant and full of good insights. One of his thought experiments: what would the news headlines be if we had fifty years between them? Probably not the current shrill ‘TERRIBLE THING HAPPENED YESTERDAY AND WE WANT TO SPARK OUTRAGE ABOUT IT’ that typifies our dailies, but something more like “Humanity vastly better fed, in better health and better educated than ever before. Hooray!”. Read the whole thing.
5. Thomas Piketty on productivity in Europe, the US and the UK. Apparently we have to work longer to achieve as much. Maybe we should spend less time reading blogs?
6. I love this. Vox interview Obama about the Affordable Care Act. His grasp of policy detail is just amazing.
7. And lastly, this one is different to the usual closing dose of Taylor Swift – the collateral damage of Meryl Streep’s attack on Trump at the Golden Globes included Mixed Martial Arts, which she essentially denounced as a white male phenomenon without beauty. I feel compelled to defend it, given the massive racial and national diversity of its participants. As Jack Slack writes here, whether you follow Georgina O’Keefe (art is ‘filling a space in a beautiful way’) or Andre Gide (‘Art begins with resistance’), MMA fits the bill. It’s genuinely internationalist, learning from Thailand, Brazil and Japan, for starters. So yeah, I disagree with her.
Have a great weekend, everyone!