Links round-up

Hi all,

I feel like I should be doing something more productive with my time, given the apparent imminence of a nuclear showdown, but I still find myself reading random econogeekery and statistics, watching cricket and searching the term ‘Shawn Kemp dunks Alton Lister’s face off’. I take this to be a sign that my life is well-lived. It’s important to start on an optimistic note, because…

  1. There’s an animated graph in this NYT piece on income inequality that has to be seen to be believed. It’s based on data from Emmanuel Saez, Gabriel Zucman and Thomas Piketty, and it shows how increases in income were distributed across the entire income spectrum in each year from 1980 to 2014 in the US. Long story short: in the 1980s, the poor and the middle classes saw their incomes rise more quickly than most of the rest of the population, a situation which has been entirely reversed over time – to the extent that the closer you are to the bottom of the income distribution, the closer your income gains are to zero. The message is much the same of Branko Milanovic’s famous elephant (now tortoise) graph, and the implications remain troubling.
  2. Speaking of inequality, this triggered a discussion with a colleague much more interesting than the original article, but I can only share the article, sadly. A café in Melbourne has instituted a ‘man tax’ in response to the gender pay gap there. The tax is economic madness (in that it does literally nothing about the underlying economic problem it’s aimed at), but is possibly far more astute politically, as my colleague pointed out. It’s a useful publicity stunt so long as people keep sharing the actually good research when the topic comes up. Related, and incredibly depressing: the timing of welfare payments relative to the exam cycle in the US has a material effect on the attainment of poor students. It made me think of Sir James Munby’s recent rant.
  3. Tim Harford consistently takes topics that others have wrung dry and finds new life in them, this time looking at the gig economy and the changing nature of work. Harford’s key points are firstly that a subset of workers will be potentially so empowered by the same forces that reduce the agency of the less-skilled that inequality may be sharpened; and that the machinery for organising much of our social protection (the firm/corporation) may become increasingly ill-suited to the task.
  4. The primary challenges of automation and robotics are likely to be institutional (how we respond to new phenomena and ways of organising work), and South Korea seem to be ahead of the curve. They’re considering a tax on income generated by robots.
  5. A new AEA paper has prompted me to suggest an alternative tagline for the movie Wall Street: “Investors – they get the price right, but only after being wrong for most of the time, and with sometimes catastrophic consequences.”
  6. I’m not sure how much I like this article, but it makes one point that really resonated with me: “It takes an astonishing amount of effort to get people to hear a thing… John Lilly’s rule was that he had to say a thing three times more often than he thought he should… [and] I suspect he’d agree that number’s still low.”
  7. And lastly, The Undefeated teamed up with Survey Monkey to rank the fifty greatest black athletes of all time, generating a substantial amount of data with which to speculate about our biases (the Undefeated’s take is here). It’s amazing how split people were on Serena Williams (objectively surely one of the greatest athletes ever). The skew towards US sports also left out some who would have featured in my own list, not least Sir Isaac Vivian Alexander

Have a great weekend, everyone!


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