I’m on leave tomorrow, so the links come early. Normally this intro would be where I make a token Taylor Swift joke and a glum mention of the latest cricketing disasters (seriously – 8 wickets in 19 balls? Were they worried they’d be late to check in at the airport?). But I’ve been slightly uneasy all week at what I’ve been reading in the news and what I’ve been hearing from my friends, so here is something serious instead: on my 8th birthday I remember watching the news and seeing people climbing the Berlin Wall as it was made obsolete by the East and West German Governments (of course I didn’t understand what was happening, only that my parents’ reaction showed it was important). On my 35th I watched the votes pour in for a President whose main promise was to build new ones. I am deeply worried that those of us who are trying to use evidence and statistics to argue against policies we feel are wrong and counterproductive are misjudging both the objectives and the appeal of these policies (and polling suggests they are more popular than not there). I don’t know exactly what to do about that, beyond feeling that an alternative, positive vision is needed, not just a repudiation.
1. Before moving off the topic altogether, another consideration of the effects of trade. I said recently that trade was not really about competition between countries so much as a way of organising production and consumption across borders. This investigation of US-Mexico trade makes the point again, pointing out that “most US imports from Mexico are intermediate and investment goods… A tariff on Mexican goods is more likely to raise costs for US businesses … than to lead people to substitute American-made goods for Mexican ones.” Still, that might not stop anti-trade policies running – apparently, one of Trump’s economic advisers wants to dismantle cross-border value chains. I’m predicting that will either be forced into a stall or will end very badly indeed.
2. Another thing I said last week is that the typical middle-aged worker is unlikely to simply retrain if his job dies out in a more competitive global economy. Plane Money seemed to hear me, because they went off and ran a piece on a long-standing US assistance programme which has the explicit aim of getting these workers reskilled and into new jobs. It’s fascinating – well worth a listen: the best laid plans can run aground against the messiness of the real world.
3. Changing the subject – a great blog by Berk Ozler on the long run effects of an unconditional and a conditional cash transfer programme. Long story short: it’s complicated. Few of the short term effects of the unconditional transfer persist in the long run, while the conditional transfer may not have the full range of short term benefits, but a larger long term effect in some dimensions. Very interesting, and I recommend reading it all.
4. I mentioned this paper recently, but am only now finding time to read it: Chris Blattman on the political effects of an income generation programme. It’s only one piece of evidence, so we need to be cautious about extrapolating the results, but it’s very interesting. He finds that the programme increases political opposition, and speculates that this may be because it frees participants from the need to survive through patronage from the state. It would be amazing if more programmes asked these questions – it’s important data to understand social contracts and politics.
5. For someone who gets his unredacted thoughts and brainfades published online every week, this is pretty scary: you can never be sure your data is truly gone when you want it gone. Thought that being the case it can’t hurt to ask: when my last laptop died, I lost a note I wrote about the Copenhagen Consensus Centre and some of its research – has anyone got a copy?
6. Long-time readers will be aware that I think Kareem Abdul-Jabbar is the man. How many Hall of Fame Centres are also successful writers and cultural commentators? His New York Times book review of two recent books about Islam and identity is brilliant and timely. In it, he quotes Norman Vincent Peale: “The trouble with most of us is that we would rather be ruined by praise than saved by criticism.”
Have a great weekend, everyone!