Links round-up

Hi all,

I know I’ve said this before without being right, but I feel sure we have reached the end of days: apparently Rough Guide have listed Newcastle as the number one destination in the world in 2018. I’m aware that mocking this decision is going to invite some domestic strife, but I have a friend who’s just putting the finishing touches on a move to Fiji and I think he’s probably not regretting his decision. I’m going to be in Newcastle over Christmas and probably now need to buy some sort of disguise. In addition to about ten layers. Luckily, if we’re frozen in, there’ll be crushingly inevitable defeat in the Ashes to keep us warm.

  1. Jokes aside, I actually really like Newcastle, after extended exposure shifted my prior beliefs. I have much stronger, more hardened priors about the value of training programmes for employment and firm success – namely that there doesn’t seem to be any, at least in developing countries. That said, this Markus Goldstein piece has me questioning this. His team at the Gender Innovation Lab have found that if designed to make them accessible for girls and implemented before they make really long lasting decisions like marriage and child-bearing, the effects can be substantially larger. He also makes the oft-neglected point that men and boys are an important constituency to engage to make sure effects for women are positive. As one of my bosses once put it: men are the most obvious constraint to gender equality.
  2. A couple more good gender links: first, Planet Money’s Stacey Vanek-Smith teams up with Cardiff Garcia (still the best name ever) to investigate the evolution of sexual harassment training videos in the US, pointing out that the early, incredibly unsubtle ones made a point that modern ones neglect: that men use positions of power to get away with this crap (transcript). Secondly, Karlijn Morsink (full disclosure: an old friend) has her job market paper on the Development Impact blog, one she presented at DFID recently. The premise is really interesting and intuitive: that unless you consider the power dynamics that determine decision making, you can’t select what technology can best support women’s final outcomes. She illustrates this with data on use of male and female condoms.
  3. Grudge theory: Tim Harford coins a phrase for using nudges to further a malign intent. What he gets at is that most ‘benign’ nudges work by taking loosely held opinions and moving them relative to some decision threshold, so only people who really care take the trouble to move back to the original position. What some of the more malign examples do is different: they take a loosely held opinion and make it salient (either before or after moving it slightly) – so after the nudge, it becomes a strongly held opinion. You don’t have to look hard to find that effect in other contexts, either.
  4. A very nice new paper by Angrist and co-authors uses an experimental design implemented on Uber drivers to suggest that the famous ‘reference dependence’ theory of Camerer, Thaler and others might be illusory (the theory suggested that cab drivers work up until they meet a target daily income and no more, which Angrist finds no evidence of). He does, however, find support for a certain kind of loss aversion, so Thaler probably shouldn’t throw the Nobel in the bin just yet.
  5. Nick is going to love this: a paper on the asymmetric effects of real exchange rate movements, suggesting that currency appreciations have a worse effect on exporters than depreciations can help them. The novelty of this paper is that it accounts for the skewed distribution of firm productivity in estimating these effects – hugely relevant for developing countries.
  6. Brilliant article by Christie Aschwanden, 538’s amazing science writer, on how the inherent uncertainty of scientific results can and has been weaponised against it by vested interests. The basic plan was discovered by Big Tobacco: emphasise the doubt and ask for better research – there will never be anything completely free of uncertainty.
  7. And finally, because it’s Friday and we deserve it: Tom Cruise running. Every single time.

Hope you had a great weekend, everyone!


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