Links round-up

Hi all,

 Though I’m technically off work today, celebrating the Queen’s birthday (I’ve spent it wearing a bejewelled hat and sitting in a gold chair, thinking about poverty), I decided to log on to write this week’s links: Sri Lanka’s not-historically-appalling start to the second test against England (anyone who mentions the first test gets cut from this mailing list – so be warned, those of you crafting clever insults) has put me in a good mood, and I’ve spent the last couple of hours in the park, lying in the sun and reading. What a day.

 1.       Since I’m in a good mood, let’s start with something happy. How often does a DFID-funded (or part-funded, I’m not hugely sure) get a glowing representation in the popular media? Well here’s Planet Money doing their thing with the YouWin! Competition in Nigeria (transcript), which has featured in these links before. To recap: David McKenzie ran an RCT giving large grants of around $50,000 to Nigerian entrepreneurs – selected largely at random – and sat back to monitor the results. They were good. How good? Chris Blattman suggested it might be the best development intervention ever (I still love David’s chuckling response to that: “ha, nooooo. That’s migration.”) The NPR guys interview David, Chris, Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala and, most importantly, one of the winners, Lariat Alhassan, and paint a glowing picture of the work (as an aside, read David’s full paper – it’s amazing).

2.       Speaking of YouWin! David has milked another brilliant paper from the data: he surveys both the competition winners and those who weren’t successful, and asks them how much additional success they think the winners got as a result of winning the competition. Interestingly, both the winners and the rest of the field dramatically overstate the gain to winning the competition. This is a nice demonstration of a broader point: firms aren’t always the best judge of what their biggest constraints are, or how constraining they are.

3.       About two weeks ago, CGD asked what the best way  to allocate refugees around the world – looking at this as an issue of equity. Tim Harford reports on a really interesting alternative approach: looking at it as a question of maximising efficiency, and reports on a really interesting idea, using matching models to allocate refugees to places. These models look at what the refugees skills and contribution might be (on an individual/family basis) and what their needs are. It then looks at what the needs and capacities of different potential locations for them are, and devises a way of matching refugees to location that maximises collective welfare. The lovely thing about this approach, as he notes, is that it is completely independent of the politically toxic question of how many to accept – and so the piece is a nice complement to Nancy et. al.

4.       So this, definitely isn’t going to end badly: an Israeli firm has come up with facial recognition software to ‘predict’ murderers, paedophiles and terrorists. I’m going to call bullshit anyway, but even if they have, I’m fairly sure a whole bunch of dystopian novels start from this premise.

5.       A really good profile of Dani Rodrik. I don’t always agree with his papers, but he consistently asks some of the most interesting questions in economics, and the profile gets it right: he’s a born dissenter, never just willing to go with popular opinion without giving it a close reading first.

6.       This week in over-sharing meets data journalism: an American blogger tracks every the time she cried over a year, noting the duration, intensity and cause of the weeping. It’s interesting in a creepy, voyeuristic kind of way.

7.       Lastly – an absolutely amazing, moving account of a Japanese translator’s mission to create a Japanese-language version of Stoner by John Williams, after being diagnosed with terminal cancer. He died after completing all but the last page. Read it.

 Have a great long weekend, everyone!


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