This week’s links are brought to you from half-way through a leave day in my blistering-hot, sunshine-soaked garden and you’ll forgive them for being a tad cursory – as much as I love you all, you come (a distant) second to my birdwatching and pile of sunshine-reading. The only way this day could be better is if Sri Lanka were playing a test in Galle. To the links!
1. I recently linked to a Planet Money podcast about how all the garment jobs are in (distant) danger of being mechanised. Well. Turns out the danger isn’t that distant, and some companies are already investigating the prospect. I’m not a techno-pessimist – we’ll always come up with something to do or make; but there’s something about garments (one of the easiest things to make with unskilled labour in difficult economic environments) that makes this process of mechanisation feel different. Nick cheered me up last time by pointing out the timescales involved (my generally high discount rate makes most things bearable). He may have to find a new way today.
2. Anyone who’s old enough to remember Devon Malcolm going through one of those strange periods when he felt like the greatest bowler since Malcolm Marshall will probably believe in some version of the ‘hot hand’ theory – that sometimes players respond to success by becoming even better, eventually reaching a state of sporting Haal (read this, btw – best sports article ever?). It was a huge letdown when researchers debunked the idea, suggesting it was mere randomness… until recent advances in statistics and data analytics have revived the theory. The hot hand lives!
3. When Bill Clinton changed the laws about how welfare can be delivered, he promised to revolutionise the system to support the poor in the US. He did. Whether it was a good thing or not… that’s open to debate, as it appears that less and less welfare money goes directly to the poor, and more and more is only tangentially related to its original purpose. There’s a lesson here.
4. Justin Sandefur is basically an astronaut. That’s my main takeaway from this piece about measuring poverty from space, but you might argue I’m missing the point. On a serious note, that repeated thump you hear is the sound of a thousand anthropologists banging their heads against the wall – research so decontextualized a Martian could have done it. Literally. (To be clear, I think there’s great merit to this approach. But at the same time, it’s hugely important to understand the experience of being poor, not just the incidence of it. These are complements, not substitutes).
5. I recently had a discussion about Hernando de Soto with some friends. They – to put it mildly – are not fans. I see some merit in his work, especially in examining how laws and institutions evolve as part of a society, rather than as abstract universal principles (*cough*chartercities*cough*) but have had to concede that there is simply no empirical basis for most of his claims. Here’s another nail in the coffin.
6. Okay, that’s quite enough of this. Look how sunny it is!
Have a great weekend, everyone!