“If I say one in ten girls doesn’t go to school, or one in seven girls doesn’t go to school – I’m not talking about statistics. I’m talking about girls. There’s this idea that numbers are something else. No, this is reality.” Hans Rosling died this week, and if you weren’t upset about it, you probably haven’t seen enough of him. A few things were circulating on social media, with many people posting his Ted talk about the miracle of the washing machine, but my favourite is this interview on what appears to be a Danish Newsnight. What’s brilliant is not just the clear commitment to social justice and building a better world, it’s his anger at misrepresentation and willingness to fight back. People like this are rare, and needed very much now. The reach of those willing to lie and obfuscate for their agenda is wide and deep, and it takes a lot of people with a lot of fire to fight that.
1. Keeping with that theme, some Trump to start us off: Francis Fukuyama doesn’t like Trump, and like many other observers, is wondering how well the American institutional structure will stand up to the pressures his Presidency may put it under. Unlike Daron Acemoglu, however, Fukuyama is an optimist. Indeed, he even believes that the institutional structure has too many checks and balances, even in the current context and makes the case for removing them here. I don’t pretend to know nearly enough about this to arbitrate this heavyweight debate. I can, however, offer a pithy one-liner stolen and repurposed from Keynes’ attack on Clemenceau in The Economic Consequences of the Peace: Trump appears to ‘have one illusion – himself – and one disillusion – mankind’. If Trump does try and isolate the US, though, China may well be waiting to step into their role.
2. The most stunning thing about this Vox article, entitled What Donald Trump doesn’t Understand about Trade is how short it is. The main point it makes is that trade is not a zero sum game, one Tim Harford makes better here.
3. Even better is this excellent double-whammy from CGD. First, Michael Clemens and Hannah Postel report on work they did on a guest worker scheme in the US which demonstrated that it was a great development intervention, it did not steal any ‘native born’ jobs (the jobs already existed and were unfilled), and added around $4000 per worker to the US economy. Charles Kenny then elaborates in one of the best pieces of the week; protecting US workers from trade and from immigration isn’t likely to get them any more jobs – it will just accelerate the pace of mechanisation.
4. Returning to the topic of fighting with the truth, an excellent article by Michael Faye, Paul Niehaus and Joanna Macrae about cash transfers, following recent negative headlines in the UK.
5. Ever since Chris Woodruff and Michel Fafchamps’ paper ‘Identifying Gazelles’ pointed out how hard it is to identify which firms we should concentrate our efforts on if we want to encourage growth, other researchers have tried to find ways of either circumventing this problem or getting better at gazelle-spotting. Two pieces this week report progress, first David McKenzie on targeting informal firms to focus on the ones most likely to formalise; and secondly, Ramana Nanda on using trial-and-error experimentation to round up lots of firms and let the non-gazelles out quickly.
6. If, like me, you want to know more about the Congo – this WaPo blog is a good start, though it’s not going to cheer you up.
7. Ok, I’ve depressed you all enough. Two things that make me happy to close (I have no idea what makes you all happy, so you’ll have to make do with this). First, a confluence of two of my favourite things: Planet Money econogeekery and birds (transcript). And second, an epic long read about Anthony Bourdain eating around the world and appreciating all the cultural diversity it has to offer. It also talks about my favourite of his essays, My Aim is True. And if none of that cheers you up, here’s Taylor Swift dancing at the Grammys (you can stop complaining now, Danny).
Have a great weekend, everyone!