Links round-up

So, you’d think a switch to the ivory towers of the academic establishment would mean more time for all the reading that goes into the links and hence an earlier dispatch? Not a bit of it. I’ve discovered that the art of tortured bureaucracy is not one that the hallowed halls of Whitehall has garnered a monopoly on, but it takes different forms and is masked by different norms everywhere. I’ve spent part of the week having fascinating conversations with eminent and brilliant thinkers and part of it doing mind-numbing bureaucracy and screaming inwardly when my university card doesn’t let me in my home department. It’s pretty much exactly like my last week in the civil service. As ever, the links provide my succour.

  1. This one feels appropriate, given that I’ve spent my week surrounded by experts and budding experts: Simon Kuper in the FT on how experts can win over the general public again. One of the problems the experts have is that the non-experts who peddle ill-informed rubbish aren’t always wrong (experts are just more likely to be right, and more likely to be wrong for reasons that are consistent with good scientific inquiry); and even if they are wrong, it won’t be obvious for some time, if ever. Essentially, it’s a competition to convince the public that cannot be won by the evidence of who is right; it will be won by who is better able to convey the impression of being right. This worries me deeply.
  2. Speaking of experts not always being right, how often do you read an article that opens with an award-winning economist apologising for being wrong (well, so far)? That’s what Nick Bloom does here, as he presents evidence from firm-level surveys on the effect of Brexit. An important point that he hints at here but doesn’t fully go into: the average effect on firms will be quite different to the average effect on the economy, as some firms are systematically more important for generating the value-added that powers the non-tradable sector of the economy, where most people are employed. So read these surveys thinking about which firms are the ones that have the most general importance to the economy.
  3. Probably my favourite thing about Dietrich Vollrath is that he’s not afraid of detailed explanation. He takes us through the impact of different kinds of tax cuts on growth to explain why ‘cutting taxes’ in the way most politicians conceive of it probably won’t do much good (for growth). Essentially, the main problem is that for capital and labour, we’re just not that sensitive to marginal tax rates: we work and invest more or less the same amount either way. Innovation operates differently, but is rarely the subject of tax cuts.
  4. This week in questioning my priors: Markus Goldstein on rigourous evidence for the value of vocational training. But read it all the way through – this paper goes against a lot of the rest of the literature, and the reasons for this need to be considered.
  5. And this week in losing my faith in humanity: students taught by women do just as well as those taught by men for the same amount of effort, but nevertheless rate the men as better teachers. This happens for both male and female students. This paper and the Woodruff paper on female garment factory managers both work with fairly old people – young adults at least. Is this replicated among children? If so, exactly how early are we screwing up the way we construct our worldviews?
  6. I loved this: “evidence-informed policymaking is about truth, justice, equality, creativity, and love of others.” Ruth Levine on the moral case for evidence.
  7. And finally, last year the Nobel committee decided to irritate the piss out of me by giving their prize for literature to Bob Dylan; this year they’ve returned to giving it to a y’know writer in Kazuo Ishiguro. Here he is on songs, writing and films, from 2005.

Have a great weekend, everyone!


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