What, you didn’t think a piffling matter like a four-day weekend would cause a break in the economist-geek continuum, did you? No, this week has been chock full of great economics and random geekery, so I couldn’t in good conscience deny you your fix (well, that and I had to log on for work anyway, and this makes it that little bit more bearable – and I’ve just finished my last task of the day, so this is going to be brief and perfunctory, but at least it’s free).
1. I absolutely loved this extended essay about the obscure economist Nathaniel Leff, his surprisingly prescient analysis of Brazil’s economic history (yes, prescient: he postulated things the data couldn’t tell him, but with modern statistical techniques, we’re finding that many of his postulates were true), and his sudden disappearance from academia. It takes in economics, friendship, religion and discrimination, with a nice excursion into the political economy of research: why do people wind up doing the research they do? There’s a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it cameo from Albert Hirschman, too, about whom one day a movie must be made: the economist who fought in the Spanish Civil War and rescued refugees in occupied France.
2. Another excellent long read about a very different character: Russ Roberts, the libertarian who lets the left talk, and gave Keynes a fair hearing in a battle rap with Hayek (no, that’s not a joke, it’s awesome). I like Russ. I’m no libertarian, but I share his belief that economics is far too important to be the preserve of a few geeks who can think in abstract mathematics; and I believe that people need to understand things, not just know them. Tony Atkinson makes the same point in his book, Inequality: facts do not change minds if those minds are harbouring a strong theoretical construct that those facts don’t agree with. You have to explain to them why the facts are what they are, and that’s the principle behind almost all of the writing I do.
3. One of the things about understanding things is that it’s not good for the ego. Getting the framing right usually involves being wrong for most of the time you think about a topic, but becoming less wrong over time. Christie Aschwanden at 538 has been documenting this process for scientific inquiry as a whole, and her latest piece has a great title: Failure is moving science forward.
4. Of course, geekery is also driving science forward, and Dave Evans applies his very special brand of concision and precision to the CSAE Conference summarising what seems like 120 papers in one sentence each (part 2). A brilliant whirlwind tour of the latest research, but don’t forget to click through on the ones that catch your eye, especially if they disagree with your priors.
5. Oh, god, it’s a sweet feeling when your priors are not only confirmed, but given a Presidential medal, high-fived by John Lennon on the left hand and Lemmy on the right, and awarded a UN pension in perpetuity (this may be an over-reaction). Cherokee Gothic reports on a potentially very significant methodological flaw in the literature on institutions in year dot and current income levels. What, you mean the number of mosquitos in 1687 isn’t the primary determinant of our incomes three hundred years later? My god, how?!
6. Speaking of UN pensions, and having once worked for UNDP (though, in my defence, I was deployed as TA to a Government), this is horrifyingly familiar. Senior UN official leaves because of the bureaucratic black hole that sucks in money, dreams and good intentions. My only comment is that he was extremely lucky if he found recruitment as quick as 213 days there.
7. Yeah, so this is kind of scary: we may already be locked in to the bad-case-scenario for climate change. I should have checked my discount rates 12 years ago.
8. Risk diversification 101, World Series of Poker edition.
9. Lastly, because I want to be a happy person and I’m about to have three glorious days off, two links that made me smile hopelessly: the Guardian has picked up LitHub’s wonderful Interview with a Bookstore series, and Hull Libraries tweets about some of the odder jobs reported in the 1881 Census. Is ‘Proprietor of midgets’ basically ‘Owner of the Golden State Warriors’?
Have a great long weekend, everyone!