Links Round-up: Chinese import competition, the importance of numbers and the CSAE Conference

Every week, Ranil Dissanayake updates us on the latest interesting links and other readings he came across. This week’s topics: Chinese import competition, the importance of numbers and the CSAE Conference. Ranil is a Senior Economist at the UK Department for International Development. The opinions expressed in his writings are entirely his own and do not represent the views of his employer (DfID does not have strong views on Japanese Knotweed).

London can be hard. This morning, I was trying to get from Peckham up to East London and wound up on a broken-down train that was stuck on the tracks between stations for around two hours. We were eventually evacuated (by very courteous staff) down onto the tracks, with a little warning of “Don’t step on the rails, mate. It’ll fry you.” I’ve spent part of the rest of the day stressing out that the stuff sprouting unwontedly in my garden was Japanese Knotweed (it’s garlic, and I’m an idiot) and trying to do the work that should take more than one person more hours than I have in sufficiently few hours to retain a social life outside of the office. The Daily Mash had it exactly right: “You’re not even in our top five worries, Londoners tell extremists”.

 1.       Tim Harford published this after the Paris attack. I linked it then, but will link it once more because his final line is every bit as true today as it was then: “The terrorists’ best hope lies in provoking an overreaction. Too often, they succeed.”

2.       Here’s another thing that typically stirs and overreaction: Chinese import competition. David Autor, David Dorn and co-authors have published a further paper examining the allegedly deleterious effect of trade with China on US innovation (blog post here), as measured by patents issued. Their previous paper looked at the employment of the same. Once again, I am struck how few people have made the simple but powerful observation Francis Teal made to DFID when he came to speak last year: the data clearly shows that while China has had an effect, the effect is insufficient to explain the majority of the decline in labour productivity that paper discovered. In a quick read (I will examine it in more depth next week), I can’t find an easy estimate of the equivalent measurement in the new paper, but the point is a crucial one. Competition hurts primarily when you can’t compete. The real issue is why you can’t compete, and why you can’t move people, resources or, in this case, ideas, to where you can.

3.       This week in photos of women getting screwed over by a room full of men: here’s a photo of men discussing whether to remove maternity care from healthcare plans. Apparently some dude made the argument that “he’d never used it.” I suspect no women made the equivalent case about testicular cancer. And here’s the Saudi Girl council.

4.       Superb Economist article about the need, and difficulty, of doing development and aid work increasingly in fragile places. I absolutely agree with these final sentences: “Fixing places like the CAR will be hard, and many of these new ideas may yet fail. But with luck, donors will learn from them. Given the stakes, there is no excuse for not trying.”

5.       This is totally fascinating, and something you get a very small sense of reading ancient history (or listening to Neil Macgregor on the radio): how numbers came to be, and how they have facilitated the birth of the modern world: “Large nation-states aren’t really possible without numbers.”

6.       This is a story of a dysfunctional tax system, institutionalised rent-seeking on a massive scale, and a failed intervention to simplify the system and increase revenues. No, not anywhere DFID works, but America on a Planet Money podcast (transcript). A reminder that a bad system and a messed up political economy does not mean the economy can’t thrive – it depends on how bad, and (importantly) bad how.

7.       The CSAE Conference was last week, and by all accounts Macartan Humphreys (if you don’t know his work, get on google, people) gave a brilliant keynote on evidence, bias and how we can know things, or try to. Also Markus Goldstein and company summarise every paper presented here.

8.       Around 3000. Apparently, that’s how many books I can expect to read between now and my expected age of demise. For those with both a morbid and a bibliophilic bent, this handy calculator from LitHub is invaluable.

 Have a great weekend, everyone!

 R

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