Links round-up

Hi all,

 When you go away for a week and come back to five hundred and eleven unread articles on your RSS feed it’s a sign that it needs some culling. Either that or you need a clone, but I’ve seen Multiplicity and read Calvin and Hobbes. That ends badly. And if I’m opening the links in a very mid-1990s way, it’s a good time to pay tribute to Kevin Garnett, retiring after approximately three thousand seasons as a generally terrifying and intense presence in the NBA. I’m old enough to remember when he was the future. The future doesn’t always seem as bright as it did back then, unfortunately. But for succour, there is always the internet.

 1.       ROBOTS ARE GOING TO RUIN EVERYTHING! ARRRGHGH! Recently an economist from DFID asked an external presenter if the best way to support the poor is to smash all the machines (complete with a quite scarily good luddite impression). Branko Milanovic is here to tell you to keep calm and not to anthropomorphise the robots. I completely share Branko’s Robo-optimism. We’re very good at discovering new things to do and to get paid for doing; very good at discovering new things we need that we didn’t know existed (or maybe didn’t exist) until last week; and we’re very good at getting more economical at using stuff that we thought would run out. We forget all three of these things with great regularity, but it’s not because we’re dumb. Keynes did, thinking that we’d run out of reasons to keep working ages ago; and Jevons apparently stockpiled paper in anticipation of the day it became too scarce to afford. For context, Jevons died in 1882. So yeah, stop worrying and love the bot.

2.       Besides, Bots do good. Haven’t you seen Robocop? Or its close relation, Statcheck? Vox reports on a clever little programme that trawls through published papers and looks for simple mathematical errors. It found a worrying number of them in psychology journals, but before we economists get too smug, I have three words for you: Reinhart and Rogoff.

3.       There might be dark side to tech, though. For example, what if all the awesome video games that exist now keep people out of full time employment and instead make them sit on their arse at home and put a whooping on M. Bison in Street Fighter 2 (and yes, I am aware this reveals both my age and my lack of technological sophistication)? My question is that even if this study is right, why does it matter. Here’s the key sentence: “The decision may not even be completely conscious, but surveys suggest that young men are happier for it” – my emphasis. Isn’t that kind of the point? Why should productivity matter more?

4.       Chris Blattman and Stefan Dercon (who may be known to some of us in DFID, or CSAE] have spent the last few years running a study about waged work in factories in Ethiopia. Blattman had the greatest elevator pitch for the study ever: ‘Can we randomize Marx?’ It turns out you can, but the results aren’t what you expect, as this Vox article summarises. This is a study I’ve had a really hard time fitting with my priors, but a hugely important one – because it finds that the direct benefit of working a factory may be small, or negative, in developing countries. Read the whole thing, because it’s complicated and worth understanding.

5.       Speaking of long-awaited economics, Tim Harford finally published his new book, Messy this week. Readers will know I’m a huge Harford fan, I recommend it highly, before having read it myself. He explains some of the underlying thinking here. It promises to be fascinating. Related, you’ll also know I adore FiveThirtyEight, and here’s a great Columbia Journalism Review about them, and specifically about Harry Enten, their brilliant (and painfully young) politics journo.

6.       Markus Goldstein summarises a load of papers from the recent IZA conference on labour economics brilliantly here, including presentations from Francis Teal and Vijaya Ramachandran, who discuss research I know a little about the background to and am eagerly awaiting the final findings of. It’s a quick read and will leave much better informed than you started.

7.       It just wouldn’t be the links if I didn’t put in anything depressing, so here’s a link about migration. First is CGD talking about Australia’s controversially high score on the migration component of their Commitment to Development Index. My only comment is that it’s worth thinking very carefully about each of the components they discuss. And, a bit better Americans think diversity makes them stronger. I agree. [The link is also hat tipped to Cardiff Garcia, which as a name both makes me happy and seems so appropriate for a link about migration].

8.       Dean Karlan is a hero for writing a book about his research failures, and so is Dana Carney for totally killing her own idea, Power Poses, when the evidence proved her wrong.

9.       There is so much more brilliance I could link today, but there’s a time limit to this stuff, and instead, here are some funny photos of animals.

 Have a great weekend, everyone!


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