Links round-up

Hi all,

Normally, the links would be starting with some reference to Sri Lanka’s performance in the cricket (after scoring roughly infinity runs this week, it’s day two and we’re eight wickets down. In the second innings. Luckily, Bangladesh are doing even worse); but I am bereft: Martin Crane died this week. Sure, John Mahoney did other things, but I’ve probably watched Frasier beginning to end at least three or four times so this one hits really hard. Even a trawl of YouTube for some of my favourite scenes didn’t cheer me up, though I did come across this piece of magnificent insanity: a fan (clearly one with more time and creativity than I) has written 107 ‘alternative’ seasons of Frasier and spin-offs he created. On that note of obsession, on to the links:

  1. Imagine an intervention that generates returns of more than 250% per week to the poor, lasting for at least ten years. You’d drop everything and invest in it, wouldn’t you? Well it exists, it’s called migration, and David McKenzie has the ten-years-on follow-up to his already seminal paper on the returns to migration that prove it (co-authored with three others). I think it was Michael Clemens, together with Lant Pritchett, who pointed out that when the returns to a policy are this high, you effectively have to completely disregard the well-being of those who don’t share your passport to value any disutility to the intervention over the total gain to humanity. Migration is more complex than that allows for, but it’s a useful thought to use as a reference point.
  2. Speaking of Lant, his recent piece on education and learning in India is excellent and well-worth reading. While the main points should be largely familiar to most of us (schooling too often doesn’t translate into the kind of learning that allows young people to apply the concepts underlying what they’ve learnt to new problems), it’s really worth considering his point about aspirations. A growing body of research looks at the impact of increasing the aspirations of the young as a way of improving their outcomes. Lant points out that while these aspirations are rising, we are neither properly equipping young people to meet them, nor loosening the constraints that make them anything more than a lottery. What’s the net effect, then? I don’t know the answer, but it’s not something that I’ve seen carefully considered anywhere.
  3. Speaking of careful consideration, this interview with Jerry Muller considers the ways in which measurement can lead to worse outcomes, or at least unintended ones. I once (briefly) worked for an organisation that assesses a major UK public service, primarily through quantitative targets. I came away from the experience incredibly sceptical that we are capable of performance metrics that optimise behaviour in any but the most simple contexts, where it’s often least important. We can do better with incentive design more generally, but even then, we should probably focus on ruling out really bad behaviour rather than trying to get people to do ever better.
  4. Markus Goldstein summarises a really interesting new paper by Nina Buchman and co-authors (including our own Chief Economist) on what works in reducing child marriage. The intervention looks at cash transfers and empowerment training and finds one has no effect (hint: it’s not the cash transfer). Paper here.
  5. Having used data from the Bank of International Settlements myself before, I really appreciate the work that’s gone into this IMF research which shows the frankly shocking extent to which developing country economies are exposed to the Chinese banking sector. When we were recently asked to consider major risks to future growth in Africa and Asia, we weren’t stressing too much about a Chinese growth collapse, but did suggest that a banking crisis could be cataclysmic…
  6. This week in ‘Oh, man, this is super awkward’: Justin Sandefur and Divyanshi Wadhwa point out that the World Bank’s claims about how India’s improvements on the Doing Business survey reflect reforms don’t stack up; and indeed, that internal messaging on the topic has been inconsistent. That stifled guffaw you just heard came from the direction of Paul Romer.
  7. Random links to end the week: I got more joy out of this oral history of the politics of The Wire than is reasonable (ever wonder how many e’s there are in a sheeeey-it? Clay Davis reveals all); and I got more annoyed by the list of songs used in the Winter Olympics figure skating competition than is reasonable. It’s not so much that all the songs suck: it’s more that it’s basically a playlist with Despacito on three times and Jeff Buckley once. Someone got something wrong there.

Have a great weekend, everyone!


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