Links round-up

Hi all,

By the time I actually send this e-mail out it will be all over one way or another, but right now, if you listen very carefully, you can hear the prayers of thousands of Sri Lankan cricket fans. Rangana Herath, Sri Lanka’s Mr. Potato Head spin bowler is batting for the final time in his test career, and typically, he is all that stands between the team and defeat. For someone so great at what he does, he does it with extraordinarily little fuss. In a world where sportspeople are (for the most part) venal, immoral or immature, he stands out like a beacon: a man so down-to-earth and humble despite being the greatest Sri Lankan bowler since Murali, that asked about his post-retirement plans, he explained that he would go back to his day job as a bank manager. Even at the height of his career, after winning the T20 World Cup, he went into office as normal on his return home.

  1. Well, that was a kiss of death. He just got run after reverse sweeping Rashid (the sounds of prayer have been replaced by a national facepalm). Anyway, while I’m depressed: Raj Chetty and colleagues have released the newest tranche of the epic, amazing research they are doing in the Opportunity Insights team at Harvard. And it makes for grim reading. Chetty and co. have released an ‘Atlas of Opportunity’, which demonstrates how small differences in place of birth and childhood can have massive (and totally varied) impacts on lifetime earnings, likelihood of incarceration and other outcomes. Chetty (whom I think will win the Nobel either for this or his stuff on tax) is doing things with observational data that could lead to a fundamental change in policies to address inequality. Every release deserves attention.
  2. David McKenzie knows more about firms in developing countries than almost anyone else around – so when he puts down his evidence-based musings about the trade-offs involved in aiming to support job creation and productivity versus direct poverty reduction, anyone interested in either of these things should read it. We need to know what the choices we make cost us. Also from Development Impact: David Evans summarises Oxfam’s lessons for policy impact. I have a concern he doesn’t raise – when research is designed to motivate a change too explicitly, the temptation is always there to juke the findings to maximise the impact. I think Oxfam have done this more than once, so I’m more cautious in taking this advice wholly to heart.
  3. “People like to understand things. It’s an earnest and charming quality of the human race.” Clare Malone on the US mid-terms is exactly the kind of person people on any part of the political spectrum should read. The elections were complicated, and don’t mean any one thing, and be wary of anyone who starts any sentence with “The elections proved…”. Also from 538: the gender gap in voting patter was massive.
  4. One for the economists only: I had a discussion on the sides of the DFID economics conference about discount rates, so this paper (summarised at MR) is timely. Many experts think we should not have any positive rate of time preference at all, welcome news for those worried about climate change (though, of course, time preference is not the only salient component of discounting).
  5. Apparently, I’m not the only person who immediately translates pop culture into economic theory. Stacey and Cardiff (Garcia!) at Planet Money do too, and examine the use of ‘Customer Lifetime Value using Pretty Woman (transcript). Apart from the film being appalling rubbish and the fact that they should never encourage anyone to watch it, the message that algorithmic methods of price or service discrimination might be both inaccurate and hard to argue with is good.
  6. Dietz adds his $20 dollars to the cross-country convergence debate (he’s so good, I couldn’t say 2 cents). His grasp of detail, and ability to communicate it clearly is stunning. I can only envy the lucky students who learn macro from him.
  7. And finally, not only has the NBA started up again, but so has the NCAA, which gives me cause to once again mention young Zion Williamson, an 18 year old hewn from stone and more destructive than Thor in a bad mood. He’s already doing things that properly belong on the set of Space Jam 2, and nothing will stop my posting the entire set of results for the google image search “Zion Williamson dunking people into oblivion gif.” He’s still not as cool as Herath, though.

Have a great weekend, everyone!

R.

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Links round-up

Hi all,

This week’s links round-up is on better-than-nodding terms with fatigue and mental exhaustion after a series of early starts to run up and down the country (or rather, running west and slightly further west) to attend two conferences focused on policy and policy-makers, the first at DFID and the second at BSG, my first Challenges of Government conference. I’d really recommend having a look online at any videos and write-ups of the latter. One thing I really liked about both of these conferences was the number of questions of the ‘why do we care about this’ and ‘what can we do about this’ genre. I find in academic settings those questions can be almost totally drowned out by the ‘how do we know this’ question. Of course, that’s incredibly important, but it isn’t the only thing that matters.

  1. Speaking of things that matter: it is a moral responsibility to be outraged by the lies, tone and content of Donald Trump’s speech yesterday, whatever your politics or opinions on migration. Michael Clemens bites his tongue hard and restricts himself to doing a little fact-checking of the major claims made on the CGD blog, but head over to his twitter to see what happens when an intelligent and well-informed person is made furious. Trump is obviously engaging in political posturing to try and win votes (regardless of the cost), and FiveThirtyEight checks in on whether it looks like it will work. Now I need to take five minutes to walk off my rage before I write the next paragraph.
  2. Okay, I’m back. (I’m still angry). I was talking the other evening about an old teacher I had. He had a foul temper, and used to go silent when a student would arrive at one of his lectures more than a couple of minutes late. His strategy was to do so until another student did the job of telling the latecomer that he had to leave. It always struck me as an approach which, while effective, was stupidly costly once you looked up from the immediate aim of inducing punctuality. Nadja Dwenger and Lukas Treber find a similar example in the use of public shaming of tax offenders to induce them to pay their back taxes. On the face of it, this sounds like a pretty good thing. But firstly, it seems to affect relatively few people, and secondly if they genuinely cannot afford to pay at the time of the shaming, what are we reallocating money away from? Food? Maybe they’ve gone to a moneylender? What’s the final cost of this? What’s more, does it ‘spoil’ the tax-paying relationship for the future?
  3. David Evans is something of a genius. He and Almedina Music summarise around 160 new papers in a single sentence each at Development Impact. I am continually impressed by the range of things he is interested in and his ability to summarise them.
  4. Pop culture lied to me, mark 2. A few weeks after I complained that Pretty in Pink is an inaccurate depiction of high school, I am devastated to discover that Mick Jagger could indeed have got some Satisfaction, if only he’d managed to win the lottery. Planet Money talk to the economist Eric Lindqvist (transcript), who has studied the impact of lottery winnings on life satisfaction and happiness, and discovered that winning does indeed cause a substantial and long-lasting improvement to the former. It does not, however, lead to an increase in happiness. I suspect this is because the correct musical hypothesis to check wasn’t Mick Jagger’s, but Paul McCartney’s. (While I’m linking songs I’m just going to throw in David Ruffin’s version of Rainy Night in Georgia. It connects to nothing here, but should be heard far more widely).
  5. James Heckman and Sidharth Mokton take a sledgehammer to the idea that the rate of publication in top-five journals is a good metric by which to determine tenure and professional success as an academic economist. I’d add the argument that one of the most valuable products academic economists produce is good economists, even if they never become researchers. A good policy economist is worth their weight in gold, and the teachers that help them along should be encouraged.
  6. Francis Teal writes about apprenticeships in Africa, and as ever when Francis Teal writes about labour markets, you should read it.
  7. So, the Bank of England are after a dead British scientist to be the face of a note that you most likely will never use. They’re trying to Boaty McBoatface-proof the process by accepting nominations but taking the final decision themselves. If they’d only stretch to consider economics a science, I’d suggest Tony Atkinson (despite the irony of an inequality researcher on a 50 quid note) or Joan Robinson. Any others?

Have a great weekend, everyone!

R

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Links round-up

Hi all,

Last week I fielded a bunch of e-mails noting that my strategic silence on the cricket results was unbecoming of such a rabid sports fan. Far be it from me to make the same mistake twice: Sri Lanka absolutely hammered England this week, putting on their biggest ever defeat in one-day internationals, and did it with nary a century. I’d love to gloat more, but I’m kept humble by the knowledge that for some reason, this generation of Sri Lankan batsmen is obsessed with high-variance shots: the reverse sweeps and scoops and late, late cuts for which a matter of millimetres separates a stylish four from a humiliating return catch. We’ll come crashing back to earth soon enough. Speaking of which, maybe I was distracted by the NBA but this week’s web-based econogeekery was a little thin. Duncan Green offered some advice on how to improve blogging but missed out the cardinal rule: say something interesting.

  1. Saying something interesting is definitely not a problem for Berk Ozler. He digs in deep to the McIntosh and Zeitlin cash-vs-‘traditional’ programming paper, focusing on a less-well reported result: one arm of the study (a large transfer, not part of the strict benchmarking exercise) had negative effects on non-recipients. Why? The authors speculate it might be because the large fiscal stimulus increased prices over the time period covered by the study. Two points. First, these results aren’t statistically significant, even though the size of the effects seems large. This could be because they’re a chance artefact of the data or because they study wasn’t structured to measure these effects properly.  We don’t know, so we can’t say which is true. Secondly, the paper itself is still a goldmine, because it confronts us with a series of tough trade-offs that as policy makers we should be explicitly considering but often just ignore. Negative spillovers do not mean it’s not worth it. Just that we have to ask the question.
  2. Lies, damned lies and narrative? There’s a great quote in this Tim Harford post about the importance of statistics, from Hetan Shah, to the effect that while it’s easy to lie with statistics, it’s even easier to lie without them. Harford discusses why people disengage so readily once numbers are brought into the discussion. He concludes what we need may not be more learning, but more curiosity. Add in a dash of extra perseverance and I think he’s probably right.
  3. If we’re talking about lies and misdirection, this is a good time to mention that Michael Clemens and Kate Gough are here to point out the what the facts say about migration (and specifically, the caravan Trump seems to be getting upset about). They’re too polite to put it like this, but most of what people instinctively believe about migration is bullshit, most of the policy we’re seeing enacted around the world is bullshit, and most of the rhetoric being used to win votes on it is bullshit. Again, in more polite terms, this is what Ian Goldin and Benjamin Nabarro get at on VoxEU.
  4. Owen Barder and Andrew Rogerson lay the smack down on the International Finance Facility for Education, with good reason. The answer to every problem is not ‘throw money at it until it disappears’. You’d think that smart people would understand that, but nope. Maybe we should spend more on their education?
  5. Shahra Razavi and Silke Staab argue that the recent World Development Report on the future of work is as anachronistic as the Rivera mural it takes its front cover from. They argue it fails on gender, fails on social protection and fails on the need for intervention in labour markets. I’m not sure their positions are right on any of these points, but I do have to agree that there was a thoughtful debate to be had about a lot of this stuff that just isn’t there. Anyone, on either side, saying the answer is clear is lying to you, but ignoring difficult decisions does not make them go away.
  6. Maybe I missed the rest, but that was all I saw this week that made me really sit up and take notice, so it’s on to the marginalia (and also the only bit most people actually click on the links for): LitHub brings the pedantry and tries to make the case for using words properly, losing battle though it is. And in news that somehow managed to escape my attention until now, someone literally tried to steal the Magna Carta this week. I mean, what was the plan? Was he going to try and sell it down the Dog and Duck? Or auction it at Christie’s?

Have a great weekend, everyone!

R

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Links round-up

Hi all,

 This is not a drill: the NBA is back. With the news basically being unremitting bleakness and irritation, I am seizing every possible opportunity to overreact outrageously to everything. Already, I’ve found time to seriously consider whether LeBron James has discovered a cure for aging, joined the city of Philadelphia in entering a state of rapture on the event of Markelle Fultz actually making a shot and have extrapolated from Luka Doncic’s slight puppy fat to the assertion that that physical fitness and athletic ability is no longer a requirement for being a star. This is going to be fun (until the Warriors win the Championship with crushing inevitability).

 1.       A colleague pointed me to this little nugget that I’m stunned was not a bigger deal: a few years back, when Michael Clemens was playing whack-a-mole with Jeffrey Sachs’ Millennium Village Project (smacking it on the head with a large cudgel labelled ‘no evidence of impact’ in his right hand and one labelled ‘refuses to commission a proper evaluation’ in the left whenever it popped up in discussion), Sachs’ team literally threatened to sue him for an academic paper. And it’s not a one-off: apparently the same thing happened to Nina Munk when she published her brilliant book, The Idealist. Anyone who cares about the integrity of research should be up in arms. Having said that, trust the Daily Heil to use the headline “New study proves foreign aid doesn’t work” (no, you’re not getting a link, they will not get advertising revenue from me). Funny how the failure of stop-and-search didn’t prompt a splash titled “New study proves policing doesn’t work”. Mendacious [insert insult of choice here].

2.       And now to the optimism: Dev Patel, Justin Sandefur and Arvind Subramanian check in on the state of the world 20ish years after Lant Pritchett’s massively influential paper, ‘Divergence, Big Time. Lant looked at the historical growth paths of the then-rich and poor countries and found that the rich were putting distance between them and the poor more or less consistently over time. That appears to no longer be the case – the subsequent period has seen consistent and significant convergence, even between the poorest group of countries and the richest, an effect that exists even discounting China and India. A superb read.

3.       Want a give a cash transfer, but worried it will turn the recipients into a mindless, work-shy zombie? Never fear, Sarah Baird and co-authors have your back. They explain why the standard work-leisure trade-offs might not be in play, and summarise the evidence that shows cash does not reduce labour supply.

4.       Migration is good for the poor, part 23,929,139,102: a new study uses a random historical shock to generate causal impacts of internal migration within China on household welfare. They’re good, but we knew that. Related: ending violent crime is good for business. Nice to confirm, but you’d probably guess it anyway. Well, except for gun-runners, I assume their business suffers.

5.       This could have been a very short article: Maggie Koerth-Baker on why political science research doesn’t seem to inform much actual political campaigning. It’s a variation on an old theme: what maximises academic value doesn’t always maximise practical value.

6.       I don’t know why I was surprised that Dietz Vollrath is a fan of Clifford Geertz (they both write beautifully, to start with), but his post on ‘involution’ and growth is fantastic, a treatment of how some technological and market changes generate rapid productivity growth, but others don’t. It’s probably for the growth geeks (and those who haven’t had the good fortune of encountering Geertz yet), but very good.

7.       Some random sources of happiness for the weekend: first, not only does Chow Yun-Fat look awesome in a trenchcoat and have the ability to say ridiculous things with a straight face (“save my corneas for Jenny!”), he’s also going to give around $700 million to charity. Second, LitHub are doing a series on the books that defined every decade of the 20th Century – 1920s here, and 1930s here, massively anglo-centric but fun. And lastly, Joel Embiid is still going to son you whenever you get in his face.

 Have a great weekend, everyone!

 R

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Links round-up

Hi all,

 In an effort to raise the intellectual standard of the Links round-up intros, we are going to talk about art (it also has the very welcome side-effect of distracting me from the rain-delay induced rage that characterises my life when some genius decides to schedule a cricket tour to Sri Lanka during one of our venomous monsoon seasons). When the Nobel prize in economics was announced this week, a small part of me hoped that Banksy had somehow won it. His decision to shred a work that had just auctioned for a little over a million pounds is both high class trolling and high-class economics. Not only is that particular work more valuable, but now all of his future works carries a premium generated by the possibility of some insane, unthought-of stunt.

 1.       But actually, the Nobel this year was shared by Bill Nordhaus and Paul Romer. Nordhaus’s economics of climate and resource use was and is staggeringly good and prescient, predicting the choices we are now faced with (and failing on) some fifty years ago, and he is also responsible for one of the great graphs of all time. Romer’s endogenous growth theory is something that every economist, everywhere, will be taught. VoxEU ran a hagiography of the pair here. Unfortunately, I’m of the opinion that at least some of Romer’s work might have benefited from the Banksy treatment at the time of the award. Both Matt and Rachel retweeted a piece I wrote almost ten years ago savaging his charter cities idea. I re-read it, and apart from the references to de Soto (my opinions have been updated by the evidence), I wouldn’t change a word.

2.       Speaking of climate change, let me quote Christie Aschwanden, from an erudite 538 discussion of what the latest UN report leaves us: “we should acknowledge how desperate it is to be looking at ways to suck carbon from the atmosphere. It’s like trying to cram all night for a final [exam] you never studied for.” Niels Bohr once said that anyone who wasn’t shocked by quantum theory hadn’t understood it. I’m beginning to feel similarly about people who are not scared about what is happening, and will happen, to our climate.

3.       Tyler Cowen conducts a good interview with Paul Krugman. The part I found most interesting was the discussion of how inadequate traditional notions of market failure are for thinking about big, pervasive tech companies who don’t use prices in the way we’re accustomed; but I really liked that Krugman also points out that most of the economy is still stuff for which old notions of tech and antitrust is just fine. Related: Meghana Ayyagari and co-authors argue that, correctly measured, returns to invested capital are not becoming more unequal, and this means there is not an underlying increase in inequality among firms with negative market level effects. I need to think about this more and I’m not yet fully convinced, but it is interesting.

4.       Justin Sandefur tweeted these graphs about the legal impediments to women’s engagement in the economy, and Charles Kenny followed up with a good blog here. It should hardly require repeating, but such constraints are never a good idea economically (let alone from a social justice perspective); taking one extreme example Huber and co-authors find massive negative effects from the persecution of Jews in Nazi Germany.

5.       One thing about money laundering that people don’t often think about – it induces really, really weird behaviour. People buy some incredibly stupid stuff, in incredibly inconvenient places, and it creates this odd doublespeak in which the reality of the world is not reflected by its legal status, leading to sentences like this, spoken outside a Presidential mansion on the outskirts of Kiev: “Look it up. This palace, it isn’t even in Ukraine. Look it up. It’s in England”. Planet Money investigate (transcript).

6.       David Evans summarises a nice intervention on using technology to coach the performance of teachers in South Africa, and combines it with good cost data to show that while it works, it’s not more efficient than the traditional approach.

7.       Lastly, have you noticed that Tom Hardy seems to be ashamed of his face? I quite like it, but it appears that in most of his movies, he tries to obscure as much of it as possible (in the remainder, like Warrior, he seems to get punched in it a lot). The Ringer discover that he hides his face in about 30% of his career screen time. Theatricality and deception, indeed. This surely makes him the ideal choice to play Manny Calavera in a film of Grim Fandango, surely the greatest video game ever made? Just when you thought I couldn’t get any geekier, right?

 Have a great weekend, everyone!

 R

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Links round-up

Hi all,

 The Nobel Peace Prize was announced today, and while the announcement is often a let-down (remember when Obama got it for not being Dubya? I always thought I should have shared that with him – I’m not, either), this year it’s actually gone to people who have, y’know, done something: Nadia Murad and Denis Mukwege, who have both worked to support survivors of sexual violence. I’ll admit to knowing little about either before today, but they both sound pretty amazing – one running a hospital for victims in the DRC and the other, having literally fled sexual slavery now uses her experience for campaigning. My original intro was going to be about Kamindu Mendis, who scored 61 runs against England and bowled both right arm offies and slow left armers but it kind of pales in comparison, doesn’t it?

 1.       More economics should be written like this: Markus Goldstein anchors his discussion of the really interesting new paper from Alex Eble and Feng Hu with a discussion about why his daughter thinks maths (I have to add the s, I’m British) is difficult, and how hard it is to shift that perception. The Eble and Hu paper helps unpick some of the mechanisms underlying the gender gap in maths, in China at least. They find that students in China, both male and female, are likely to believe that boys are better than girls at maths – even though the test scores don’t support this belief (at least early on). What’s more, a lot of this bias seems to be coming from the biases held by the parents of the kids the in the class – both their own and their peers’ parents. Three postscripts: the authors find that exposure to these biases leads to reduced effort and enthusiasm, and hence performance; and that this effort does not appear to be switched over into other subjects; and it appears that friendships may have ameliorating effects: girls who have enough close friends seem less affected.  

2.       Two more gender links, both on studies I’ve linked to before: Chris Woodruff talks about perceptions and actual performance of female managers in garment factories in Bangladesh (if you scroll down to the comments in the first link, you’ll see me popping up to ask questions about the Eble/Hu paper inspired by Chris’s work). And Girija Borker has a VoxDev write-up of her paper on how much women are willing to sacrifice for personal safety while travelling.

3.       With the Pathways to Prosperity launch meeting next week, Stefan has a piece on Duncan Green’s blog decrying the Luddist tendencies among those who fear technology will forestall any hope of African economies transforming (the Luddite charge is sometimes literal: we had an economist ask Francis Teal if we should smash the machines at a DFID conference a couple of years ago. I think he was joking). But with that rebuke delivered, he also attacks the mindless optimists who think our problems will be solved on our mobile phones. The main point cannot be emphasised enough: the world will change, and it’s those Governments and societies that set themselves up to respond flexibly and sensibly that will do the best out of it. Related: for those with a TLS subscription, his review of Mohamad Yunus’ new book is fantastic, centred around the danger of trying to make everyone an entrepreneur.

4.       I really can’t believe I’m about to type this, but the Guardian has two pretty good long reads on the economy. The first examines Brexit through the fortunes of the Nissan plant in Sunderland (depressing in how widespread misconceptions still are); and the second argues that the UK financial sector creates a resource curse that damages the rest of the country. There’s lots to disagree with in both, but they’re both thought-provoking.

5.       “Garbage in, garbage out” was probably the most overused phrase in my notebooks back when I worked on government financial statistics in East Africa, and it appears I chose the right years to use it. Justin Sandefur writes that in Tanzania it is now literally illegal to question official statistics. More than one person has been menaced by the new law already, and it may mean that even running a poll before an election may now be illegal.

6.       This bothered me. Jonathan Portes has a piece in VoxEU about the analysis underlying the recent MAC report into the appropriate level of migration into the UK. He reports on studies which show that migrants are a net boon to the public purse, and that they seem to have implausibly large positive effects on productivity, but completely ignores any of the evidence underlying their decision to suggest that we virtually end unskilled migration.

7.       Anyway, my anger about that has left me quietly seething. If someone in the Scottish NHS is listening, I think I really need a course of the new treatment they’re prescribing: birdwatching in the Shetlands. If they fancy financing my trip to Fair Isle, I’ll be waiting with my binoculars packed. Meanwhile, Sweden’s answer to the sword in the stone has been liberated by an 8 year old, who will presumably now lead a horde of Vikings on a rampage across Europe to the strains of Immigrant Song.

 Have a great weekend, everyone!

 R

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Links round-up

Hi all,

 This week’s links are written in a hurry, as DFID is apparently planning the e-mail apocalypse at 5pm, so if I don’t get these out soon I’ll break my several-year-long streak of getting these out on every Friday I’m in the country. I’ve kept this streak going despite severe pressure from the cricket (I once  wrote the links at 8am so I could a get a full day in at Lord’s) and by the sunshine (I fell asleep in my garden – on a non-working day, I hasten to add), so I’ll be damned if it’s going to snap because of a server reset.

 1.       The Government’s Migration Advisory Committee published its report into what it considers the ideal migration regime for the UK after Brexit recently. Owen Barder and Arthur Baker at CGD were pretty critical of it, arguing that the report, while rightly focusing on the UK’s interests, should nevertheless have at least considered the development impact of migration. If they had, it’s highly unlikely that they would have advised a basically complete shutdown of low-skilled migration. They make three sensible suggestions to relax this proposal. I’m reminded again of David McKenzie’s response when asked if his YouWin programme in Nigeria was the best development intervention he’d seen. He laughed out loud before saying, definitively: “No. That’s migration.”

2.       Speaking of Brexit, I found this very interesting without being totally convincing: Lubor Pastor and Pietro Veronesi propose a model in which rational voters who like consumption but dislike inequality can select a retrenchment from globalisation, with equality analogous to a luxury good, which is ‘bought’ at the cost of lower consumption. It’s an interesting idea (though I’m not sure I think the best model is one with rational voters), but there’s one point which jars to me: it predicts that populist movements will do better in boom times, while my (unscientific) read is that discontent with globalisation has its roots in the recession, not the recovery.

3.       Lee points out something else from the recent cash benchmarking work: that it highlights exactly how small the amount of aid provided per household was.

4.       Two gender pieces: Ilyana Kuziemko and co-authors look at how motherhood affects women in the labour market and find that not only does it have well-known effects on labour market participation and earnings, but that these effects appear to be unexpected, especially for better-educated women. I can believe this. The number of new parents who look at me with dead eyes and say: “I had no idea it was so much work” is too long to count. Also: sexual assault is more down to a culture of men being assholes than to booze, which, of course. But good to see FiveThirtyEight give us the evidence.

5.       Want to become a world-beater in your field? Stop trying so hard and take up a hobby. Tim Harford is pushing at an open door with me when he says a wide variety of interests keeps the mind in good shape.

6.       As if to prove the point, Branko characterises China’s economy as a world of Hayekian Marxists (or Marxist Hayekians?). The old joke in Hong Kong was that ‘Communism with Chinese Characteristics’ was just a pretentious way of saying ‘capitalism’.

7.       Finally, Duncan Green declares war on development jargon. Looking at the list, I think the problem is primarily with people who use words as weapons rather than the words themselves. There’s nothing wrong with the word ‘empowerment’, just some of the crap it’s used to describe. Much more egregious are the additions to the scrabble dictionary, which is the only book banned from the DPRRF (the Democratic People’s Republic of Ranil’s Flat). And, for your weekly nostalgia, a reminder of how great the soundtrack to Dazed and Confused was.

 Have a great weekend, everyone!

 R

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Links round-up

Hi all,

My traditional intro usually consists of some mild gloating about the weather wherever I happen to be sitting on that particular Friday (today, windy and miserable as I look out on a half-destroyed garden after overnight storms), chat about the cricket (today, the crushing realisation that Sri Lanka have consecutively lost to Afghanistan and Bangladesh by around 100 runs in the Asia Cup); and some comment about either birds or books (today, I’ve just watched a blackbird rip a slug into several pieces and leave half on my garden table). So with all my usual topics variously distressing, straight into the links.

 1.       I really wish I’d seen this last week when I was covering the latest outbreak of cash transfer navel-gazing: an excellent, measured and carefully judged piece by Andrew Zeitlin and Craig McIntosh which explains what you can and cannot conclude from the ‘cash benchmarking’ exercise USAID undertook recently. It’s worth reading in full and might change your mind about what intervention makes more sense – and the merits of comparing them directly. They point out that while neither intervention moved the needle on nutrition much, both had other positive effects, and different ones. The nutrition programme improved knowledge about health practices and savings; the cash led to lower debt and greater asset ownership. More interestingly, they point out that the kind of gains that the nutrition programme made were likely scale up (everyone having better health knowledge is a good thing); but there were signs that some of the cash gains might be reversed if the programme went to scale. It’s a great piece that highlights exactly how much nuance is lost in the headlines.  

2.       This week in ‘1980s Popular Culture Lied to Me’: apparently, Pretty in Pink is lies, lies, lies. You know how Andie and Ducky have a horrible time in their rich-kid dominated school, and James Spader’s character (the least convincing teenager in film history, surely)? Well, in a post apparently calculated to destroy a crucial part of my adolescence, Susannah Hares says that this just isn’t want happens. Apparently, forcing rich schools to accept poor kids increases social cohesion and pro-social behaviour at no cost to learning outcomes. This may be the case, but does all this positivity produce a soundtrack like this? I think not (yeah, I know, the video. It was the ‘80s).

3.       I know I link to Planet Money every week, but this one is ridiculously good: they go to a convention of US Central Bankers to ask them why traditional central bank levers like interest rate manipulations seem to have lost their bite. They get some extremely high quality evasion from the kind of people who know that their facial expressions are enough to trigger currency runs. But just when you think you’re getting nowhere, they strike gold, with John Van Reenan and Raghu Rajan spinning theories, much of which has to do with market concentration and the changing nature of the economy (transcript).

4.       The latest Commitment to Development Index is out and finds Europe dominating the top ten. A deeper dive into how trade features in the CDI here.

5.       This one would have kicked off a blogosphere explosion ten years ago, but will now be treated as confirmation of a widely-held view: a proper evaluation of the Millennium Village Project in Ghana has had very mixed results, with its technocratic approach to progress and its cost effectiveness particularly in question. It still really bothers me that proper evaluation was made so difficult from the get-go.

6.       This week in ‘that Guardian headline saying that the colour of your shoes can make you eat up to four portions more per meal is bad science’: a researcher at Cornell had thirteen papers retracted over academic malpractice. It’s actually a really sad story that has cost someone (probably several people) a job; but there’s a reason I don’t believe anything in the papers about the benefits of certain foods or diets.

7.       And finally, the first trailer for Captain Marvel has just dropped, and it is causing me enormous mixed feelings. Not about the movie: the movie is going to be awesome and Brie Larson is so likeable I literally cheered her punching a pensioner. Nope, the problem is that it comes out in March 2019, so I am now simultaneously anxious for and dreading that month.

Have a great weekend, everyone!

R

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Links round-up

Hi all,

 There really aren’t too many downsides to spending a week in glorious sunshine in the Alentejo – a place where in a single morning you can easily spot 50-odd bird species, including so many Little Owls they were like extremely suspicious and wary pigeons, and great flocks of Azure-winged magpies. But there are some, including returning to around 1000 articles in your RSS feed, the vast majority of which you’d rather bin without further ado than read. Still, there were some real gems buried in there, so this week’s links is longer than usual; to compensate, I’ve scattered the random bits of idiocy, sports and marginalia I usually save for the final bullet throughout the e-mail today (the best one is still last, though).

 1.       The big news of the week was the new paper from Chris Blattman and co-authors, which found that nine years after they delivered a cash grant to randomly chosen unemployed young people in Northern Uganda, they were no better off than the control group – despite racing ahead of them at the four-year mark. Berk summarises the paper with his typical pithy precision here and Dylan Matthews discusses what it means for the cash transfer brigade. I’ll add two observations. First, even the worst interpretation is not bad: cash injections helped people get better off faster, but not ‘more better off’. Anyone living in poverty would take that instantly. Secondly, this shouldn’t be all that surprising. Most places are poor because their economies are very very messed up. Because cash grants can’t be expected to solve this directly, you probably should expect small long term effects: either those things that make the economy messed up don’t go away and everyone will, on average, struggle regardless of whether they got the cash booster or not; or the economy will be reformed and everyone will get better off, in which case it’s a good thing if a randomly allocated cash grant isn’t a permanent advantage. None of this means they don’t ‘work’.

2.       Related: Vox cover USAID’s experiment with ‘cash-benchmarking’, the practice of comparing the effect of a programme to the effect of a similar amount of cash, rather than a do-nothing counterfactual. Interestingly, they cover a lot of the issues with the idea of cash as the comparator of choice, but don’t mention the possibility that it has little long-term effect.

3.       Ok, there’s a lot to think about there, so just take a moment to decompress and ponder Mark Wahlberg’s completely insane daily routine. The man gets up at 2:30am and takes a 90 minute shower. Also, maybe he wouldn’t need to spend three and half hours in the gym if he didn’t snack so much?

4.       David McKenzie discusses whether the art of the descriptive development paper is dying out, typically excellent. Scroll down to the comments to see the heavyweights sparring: Lant Pritchett, Chris Blattman and Karthik Muralidharan all show up.

5.       Appropriately, a really excellent bit of descriptive research into how women and men vary in how they negotiate pay in a very specific Argentine setting. You couldn’t extrapolate too far from this, but it’s fascinating and rings very true. And more on gender and inequality: Francine Blau went on Planet Money to explain why women continue to earn less than men, a very easy introduction to the economics of the gender wage gap; a faintly horrifying piece by Rosella Calvi looks at female negotiating power and how it affects poverty and mortality over the life cycle – and discovers that older women face much worse outcomes; and Tim Harford on inequality across multiple dimensions and how it differs.

6.       And as your faith in humanity collapses with that, read this amazing and uplifiting story about how an adopted NFL coach tracked down his birth parents; and how Joel Embiid learnt how to shoot by googling ‘white people taking three-pointers’.

7.       Not only is Dietrich Vollrath back to blogging, he’s also got a book coming out! Whet your appetite with two magisterial pieces that demonstrate his ability to make macroeconomics simple: first, he looks at the evidence for a ‘new normal’ in US growth substantially below historical norms; and secondly he explains the economics behind the finding that small farmers are more productive than larger ones – which runs counter to a lot of economic logic.

8.       How big is your file drawer? Apparently, fewer than half of the clinical trials registered with the EU ever report their findings, despite being legally mandated to do so.

9.       More from Stacey and Cardiff (Garcia!) at Planet Money – looking at some of the reasons why free university tuition might not be such a great progressive idea. This isn’t a full treatment of the issue, but read it. This is one area where becoming a better economist really changed my views.

10.   And lastly – finally! – Pitchfork rank the 200 greatest albums of the 1980s. Anyone roughly my age is going to lose a good chunk of their day to youtube after reading this. Like all lists, it’s irritating and clearly wrong at times, but it gets some of the most important stuff right: it correctly identifies Rakim as the greatest rapper of them all, reminded me of EPMD, criminally underrates Appetite for Destruction, and has Let it Be by the Replacements fully 34 places too low.

 Have a great weekend, everyone!

R.

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Links round-up

Hi all,

This week’s links are a little longer than usual, but they’ll also be your lot until September 14th as I flit off to Portugal next Friday, where matters of economics and public policy will be far from my thoughts. Instead, I shall be turning what little concentration I have to systematically testing out the Decanter guide to Alentejo (I know, it’s a hard life), eating my way through their entire agricultural production, and copious birdwatching, with occasional breaks to read Rumpole. My only remaining problem is finding a place to watch the first few days of the Oval test

  1. Is brilliance random, a habit, or a temporary state of being? In sports, Amos Tversky and co-authors prompted endless back and forth about whether a ‘hot hand’ exists in basketball, arguing that it’s purely an illusion created by our very human inability to recognise randomness when we see it; others have made repeated attempts to prove that hot streaks of above-average performance are real. A really thought-provoking article based on new research extends this idea to other areas of human endeavour: science, the arts, your career. It finds that there are single peaks of brilliance that aren’t random; instead people hit creative hot streaks that tend to account for a disproportionate portion of their best work. This isn’t just navel-gazing: it extends the Peter principle idea, since if you’re promoted due to your hot streak, you’ll likely never reach that height again. I have some doubts though: one is that this might not be due to a ‘hot streak’ so much as an innovation. If you come up with a brilliant idea or piece of inspiration that’s the backbone of one paper, or piece of music, it’s likely you’ll keep mining it before others leap in – creating a hot streak. There are other explanations, too. Entrepreneurs know that one brilliant success dramatically improves the quality of finance you have for your next project, but that your next failure resets you zero; in film one great movie has stars clamouring to work with you, but a dud makes you toxic. The jury remains out.
  2. Philip Gourevitch pulls no punches in a profile of Kofi Annan.
  3. Can football aid nation-building? This VoxDev piece argues the case for it. I have two main questions: first, is it really reasonable to say that the result of the final round of games in qualifying for the Africa Cup of Nations is ‘as-if’ random for teams with a live chance of going through or going home in the final game? And secondly, how long does sporting euphoria last? Maybe we can ask France?
  4. I think Francis Fukuyama is exactly right about this (a sentence I have almost certainly not typed before): public policy education should be more about policy making, rather than policy analysis. It is substantially easier to teach or learn the latter than the former, though – so it’s really important for schools to emphasise applied work or projects.
  5. Planet Money are doing a series of ‘economics beach reads’, which is apparently not an oxymoron. They discuss Diane Coyle’s book on GDP and a forthcoming book about why the modern office is a hellish productivity sink. One good point: cheaper and easier communication only improves outcomes if both sides of the communication are able to assess the costs and benefit of engaging before doing so. But actually, if the recipient feels obliged to respond and the initiator simply thinks of their own cost-benefit, you wind up with a whole load of socially sub-optimal communications.
  6. I liked this more for the ancillary information than the findings on migration, but this piece on what we can learn about how and why people move from studying prostitution in 18th Century France is really interesting.
  7. How strongly do people respond to the marginal return to work? Apparently, not all that strongly at all.
  8. Vijaya Ramachandran and Todd Moss have a paper categorising the different kinds of firm that suffer from unreliable energy provision in Africa; it’s based on the WB Enterprise Surveys, so there’s a swathe of firms not covered, but it’s interesting to see the different profiles that come up.
  9. An finally, the marginalia: first, an irritating new study finds that any alcohol consumption at all is a bad thing – but the only benefits and costs it considers are to health. Next Saturday, when I’m knee-deep in salty, delicious Portuguese pastries and half-way down a bottle of Verdejo, I’ll be measuring my returns in happiness, not longevity. A much less annoying study from MIT considers why it’s so hard to snap spaghetti in two. And finally, if you’ve got a strong stomach: sixty international covers of Lolita, from the sublime to the ridiculous.

Have a great couple of weeks, everyone!

R

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