Links round-up

Hi all,

 Well it’s been a completely  manic week, so if these links feel a bit anaemic and tired, rest assured that they reflect their maker. And if they seem on the brink of absolute despair and weeping, blame Sri Lanka, whose approach to scoring might be described as binary, except that would indicate a few ones among the ducks. Now please excuse me while I go and punch a wall.

 1.       This week, Dietrich Vollrath used Spinal Tap to win an argument about economics (and trust me, this is a win. It’s the equivalent of the Cavs versus the Raptors in Game 1 – a total and complete smackdown). The argument was about whether getting better at doing business, as measured by the Doing Business Indicators can improve growth. Dietz breaks this idea apart carefully. He looks at the way in which the Doing Business scores are put together (old hat to DFID economists); then he looks at the rate of growth you can achieve even if doing business is your constraint to growth, and finally, he suggests that one of the reasons for Singapore’s success isn’t so much it’s business environment as the fact that it’s a single city – and measured against other cities it doesn’t actually look that impressive. The summary does little justice to all the wisdom in the post. Dive in.

2.       (So, Sri Lanka just lost another wicket. We should just declare now and stop embarrassing ourselves). Anyway, while I tear my hair out, read this superb discussion of inequality from Branko Milanovic. He looks at firm structure and how the decline of huge companies that employ loads of people has actually led to an increase in inequality. This seems counterintuitive – surely smaller companies should be less unequal? But no – Branko doesn’t make this connection, but one of the best papers of recent years, Nick Bloom (and co-authors) piece on firms and inequality demonstrates this: most inequality is now between firms, not within them. Basically firms are specialising more and more, and the lucky people who work for the really productive ones earn heaps – but within the firm, there’s not much inequality. For the rest of the people, though, incomes are falling further and further behind, as they are no longer hooked to their more productive peers (as a concrete example, think about the rise of outsourced security guards, who are no longer employed by the same firm as the buildings they guard).

3.       Who would have thunk it? It turns out we actually kind of need low-skilled migrants, and without them a lot of firms will find it very hard to fill jobs.

4.       Every time Markus talks about research methods we should ask sit down, shut up and listen. Here he gives really interesting tips on how to run research in conflict-affected areas. This is interesting even for those of us who don’t commission or run research projects, as an insight into the amount of thinking and care that goes into the design of a good piece of field work.

5.       Last week, I linked to Harry Enten’s piece on why it was so hard to predict Trump. This week, it’s Nate Silver’s turn, and he’s typically thorough, and proposes a good way of doing better next time, again turning to Bayes.

6.       Lastly, apropos of absolutely nothing, here are two great pieces on Sumo wrestling – which for some reason spawns really high quality writing. First, FiveThirtyEight uses a rich data source stretching back aroud 200 years to ask if Hakuho, the current top dog, is the greatest ever (the article is fascinating, even if you nothing about the sport). And older, but brilliant – Fightland on Vice break down what the heck Sumo is, for people like me who thought it was just plus-sized dudes bouncing bellies.

 Have a great weekend, everyone!


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