Links round-up

Hi all,

There is a tidy narrative that gets trotted out whenever a major cricket nation appoints a new captain. The story is that the player thrives early on, enjoying the responsibility and the positive spillovers from their need to be ever-so-slightly more aware of the match situation, the state of the pitch and the relative strengths and weaknesses of their batting partners and opposing bowlers. Over time, the drudgery of captaincy begins to wear them down – they make a few bad decisions and get disproportionate criticism, or Kevin Pietersen calls them a bad word, and their batting average declines. I think there’s a simpler explanation: Captains are typically batsmen. They get appointed when they’re on a good run and benefit from the halo effect: because they’re scoring runs well, they must be a good captain. Over time, their batting regresses to the mean and the halo effect works in reverse. Can anyone better with Statsguru than I am check this out? Anyway, halo effect or no, Joe Root just scored 190 in his first innings as captain, I’m predicting South Africa will fold like an accordion.

  1. So I need to think about this one a bit more. People use the term ‘brain dump’ as a mild pejorative, but when your brain is like Dietrich Vollrath’s it more like a rain shower of gold (and you better hope you have a pocket in your stitched-up pants). Dietz looks at recent research which suggests that once one accounts for unobservable individual characteristics, there is no productivity difference between urban and rural areas. We need to be careful here: this does not mean that urban areas aren’t more productive, but that if you drop a random rural person into an urban context they don’t become magically more productive – the gap in productivity is explained by their education and ‘talent’. I feel like this is worth taking very seriously, but we need to exhaust the alternative explanations, first. There’s a lot of good research that suggests that there is something special about urban centres, too. So who to trust?
  2. A great long read from The Atlantic about how Chinese investors in American factories are getting on. We’ve had speakers at DFID who look at the culture clash between Chinese managers and owners and workers in Africa, too – there are real issues here relating to norms around work and worker behaviour. It’s interesting to note that the experience of Japanese-owned factories suggests that simply engaging with the workforce on more equal terms can increase productivity. It would be amazing to see if that effect is driven by actual improvements in production processes or simply through labour relations.
  3. I recently gave a presentation in which I suggested that so far, Trump’s bark has been worse than his bite on international trade. This VoxEU piece has a different take: Trump’s bark is his bite – his rhetoric may actually have caused some G20 members to alter their trade practices already. Also from VoxEU – data suggests that long term development might be less about being good at growing and more about being good at not collapsing.
  4. 538 asking the questions that matter: everyone knows that they will invite opprobrium by eating well-done steaks, but how many Americans really do order them rare?
  5. This reminded me a of Simon Singh’s lovely book Fermat’s Last Theorem. A profile of the mathematician June Huh, a star in the field who never really thought he had much talent and whose success seems to draw heavily on his willingness to jump between specialisations.
  6. Lastly, great news for American basketball fans: basketball magician Milos Teodosic is finally joining the NBA, and is likely to make a famous player near you look very silly indeed in the near future.

Have a great weekend, everyone!


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