The economic punmaker in me wants to start this round-up with a joke about 2016 being the year of ‘creative destruction’, but the wound is too sore. I was in a pub restroom last night when I got a text letting me know about Prince and I unleashed a howl of anguish (side note: howling in pain in a pub restroom is frowned upon). I was only properly introduced to him a couple of years ago (I know, I know), but because of that introduction, Starfish and Coffee will always be one of my favourite songs – and in that video, combined with muppets, well: smiles for hours. As the New Yorker put it, ‘now we begin the collective, active experience of remembering Prince’. LitHub has a piece on his musical origins, and another asking three writers to summarise what he meant to them (“his defining legacy will be his genius for individuality, and his defiance of reductive identities…”). And FiveThirtyEight crunches the numbers on his brilliance. Now, before we get into the weekly geekery, if any of my readers are in Brighton can you pop over to his house and wrap Nick Cave in bubble wrap? 2016 has taken quite enough heroes already.
1. Tim Harford was in coruscating form this week (and apologies for the bad language here). If you read only one non-Prince-related thing this weekend, make it this brilliant piece on how politicians have corrupted statistics with bullshit. Not lies, mark, but bullshit: “the liar care[s] about the truth… The bullshitter … was indifferent to whether the statements he uttered were true or not.” It’s marvellous. Harford carefully examines the language and evidence politicians use in justifying their work, and finds little that is outright incorrect or a lie, but finds that almost all of it is basically meaningless – so carefully chosen and selected, and so carefully divorced from context and nuance that it might as well be a lie. The practice is akin to being asked, “How old are you?”, and responding with “I have ten fingers”. It’s not a lie, it’s just functionally meaningless in the context. Alongside this, he assesses three claims about Brexit. Anyone want to guess what he calls?
2. Matt Collin runs Tim close this week, with a piece of rationality shot through with feeling here: he takes Chris Bertram to task on his own criticism of Branko Milanovic’s proposal to increase migration by reducing migrant rights (I heard a similar proposal made by someone else recently). I don’t fully agree with Matt – there is also a philosophical all-or-nothing case that can be made, arguing that we either protect the world we believe in or lose it, without compromise. I’m not saying that it’s the right position, but it’s a philosophically defensible one.
3. Chris Blattman had a number of great pieces this week but my favourites: one on how eliminating deadlines dramatically reduced applications for a particular grant. His theory, which I think has a great deal of merit, is that only a deadline can stir a bureaucracy to action. The other link he had which I loved: oil prices reimagined as a rollercoaster. Would you want to put all your eggs in a basket on the back of that rollercoaster? Of course not – which is why it’s so important that oil exporters diversify, and so frustrating that so few do.
4. Angus Deaton writing about Raj Chetty’s recent research into income inequality and healthcare outcomes in the US. Seriously, this does not need any further selling. It’s Angus. Talking about Raj Chetty. Why haven’t you clicked yet? It’s obviously excellent, full of the kind of points you only make if you understand something intimately. Angus understands a lot intimately.
5. Excellent piece by Dietz Vollrath considering under what conditions increased market concentration is good for innovation. It’s a complicated topic, explained as clearly as it can be, and I recommend economists read it closely.
6. I love this: in honour of the Queen’s birthday, someone told the worst story ever. Seriously, it’s worse than the story I told about me howling in a pub loo.
7. In any other week, this would be the last link – six bulldozers getting into a massive mechanised brawl, tenuously linked to an economic slowdown. It’s like Anchorman for construction workers.
8. But, let’s be serious. I was never going to end on anything but this, was I?
Have a great weekend, everyone!