Links round-up

Hi all,

This week I have mainly been breathless with excitement about this. Seriously, it’s been a serious disruption to my ability to think coherently about work, relate to other human beings, basically to do anything apart from freak out about the fact that there’s going to be another Star Wars film, Luke’s in it, and it’s going to be amazing ohmygod. The pendulum has swung pretty far from me worrying that the Force Awakens would be rubbish because the world is a terrible place and so were the last Lucas movies. Adaptive expectations in action.

  1. Let’s start with a rant. Having good intentions does not excuse you from using evidence properly. I’ve recently come across a couple of examples of either pandering to failures of cognition among policymakers or framing evidence in misleading ways that have particularly irritated me, because the culprits seem to think their good intentions allow them to bend the rules with impunity. Maya Forstater lays the smack down on the most recent Oxfam tax justice adverts for this reason, and spares them little ire: “… the Oxfam campaign… links an estimate of $100 billion lost to tax avoidance with eight million deaths. Is this meaningful? No.” Ouch. Even if tax justice is an obviously good thing, this is not acceptable: fudging the numbers this way will only lead to money being reallocated from other good things, not from the “killing baby seals” fund such campaigners apparently believe will finance their proposals.
  2. Speaking of evidence, Duncan Green’s blog ran a piece by two of DFID’s brightest boffins on a programme looking at how evidence is actually used in the wild. I’ve seen some of the underlying research presented by Macartan Humphreys, and it’s really interesting. Definitely something to keep an eye on. Related: Matt has resurfaced at Aid Thoughts channelling his inner Gawande discussing how policymakers’ cognitive biases might affect the ways in which evidence is used, and how to improve this, an area close to my heart (and, indeed, research).
  3. While we’re talking biases, it’s unlikely that anyone has managed to miss the absolute avalanche of popular media pieces about Richard Thaler’s Nobel win, but this Planet Money show deserves a link, as no-one quite brings the subject to life as they do. As they put it, it’s like a nerd superhero origin story.” (Transcript).
  4. Two really good pieces from Development Impact this week. First, David McKenzie on new research he’s done with Anna Luisa Paffhausen on firm death. I actually think he substantially undersells the importance of this work. Firm death is an indicator that an economy is working: the right kind of firm death (i.e. that not caused by exogenous household shocks) is an indicator that competition is working, and there is some form of productivity enhancing reallocation going on – at least, unless firm survival is due to political connections. In a separate post, Markus Goldstein summarises research into worker effort, as measured by Fitbits (one of the co-authors is Pieter Serneels, who is also at DFID part time).
  5. Charles Kenny doubles down on Lant’s piece I linked to last week – bemoaning not only arbitrary poverty lines, but also arbitrary income classifications for countries. It ends with some very useful tips for how to think about poverty and income statistics, avoiding common pitfalls.
  6. Apparently, the grammar pedants are doomed to failure – on balance, probably a good thing, because they’re insufferable. On the other hand, it means I can’t resist ending the links like this;

Have a great weekend, everyone!

R

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