Links round-up

Hi all,

Greetings from Narnia! My perpetual pessimism about an endless winter has finally been borne out. I’m writing this e-mail on the bus between Oxford and London, looking out at a landscape almost entirely white, punctuated by the odd treetop and broken down car (please, take great care on these roads!). We just drove past a frozen lake. Seriously: this isn’t cool. Somebody, please kill that goddam groundhog.

  1. About a year ago, I gave a presentation discussing the likely implications of the Trump regime on global trade, and said that there was much more noise than signal when trying to actually forecast his economic policy, concluding that a serious trade war wasn’t imminent. Well, it sure seems to be now: the US has imposed substantial tariffs on steel and aluminium, and the EU has already begun making retaliatory threats. This could be the start of something very bad, but it also could also be something of a prelude to not very much. The last time the US implemented similar tariffs, they were abandoned after nine months when it became clear that the cost of retaliation and the benefits gained were insubstantial.
  2. I love food, a fact that can be easily observed by either becoming my friend or looking at a time-lapse of my waist over the last five years; crap research that scaremongers about eating or tries to turn the enjoyment of food into some sort of disorder really bothers me, especially when it turns out that it’s had the life p-hacked out of it. Stephanie Lee uncovers a litany of malpractice in the research of a Cornell academic who has done a lot of this kind of work. It prompted an uncharacteristically forgiving response from Andrew Gelman which is well worth reading. Side note: this piece of bacon-assassination is completely cack-handed, too: bacon is killing us, really? When, to increase my chances of getting bowel cancer from 5% to 6%, I’d need to eat two rashers a day for the rest of my life? That sound you just heard was me laughing into my Gino’s bacon sarnie.
  3. Tim Harford jumps on the McKenzie, Bloom et al. bandwagon, reporting on the paper I linked to last week, and investigating why so many good practices firms use don’t seem to be picked up and emulated by other ones. I’ve been thinking about this too, and it strikes me that given how much noise there is in observing firm performance, it’s unlikely that even successful firms have a full understanding of why they’re successful, let alone their competitors. In such a context, any imperfection of competition allows for the possibility of good practices going unremarked and uncopied.
  4. David Robalino, one of the World Bank’s jobs gurus, on the perils of measuring the ‘cost per job’, something DFID have had to grapple with extensively too. He uses general equilibrium modelling to come up with some very high estimates that nevertheless ring true. Well worth reading.
  5. Get smarter in three minutes, Chris Woodruff edition: Chris distils a serious amount of accumulated knowledge into a pithy summary of what makes firms improve, coming to a conclusion that economists should have tattooed on their forearms for ease of reference: competition matters. In similar vein: everyone needs to be quiet for five minutes and read Francis Teal.
  6. This week in “um… I’m going to need about three years to think about this… then maybe I can get back to you”: the conditions in which mice were conceived seem to affect their future characteristics, through an identifiable genetic mechanism. So many jokes to choose from (what the hell were Donald Trump’s parents thinking about? Were mine reading the FT?) but my thoughts are best summed up thus.
  7. Lastly, I never thought I’d say this, but screw FiveThirtyEight readers. How dare they rank the greatest song in movie history a measly 71st out of 81? Clearly, they are much more a muppet than a man (or a very manly muppet). Also, apropos of absolutely nothing, LeBron James did this yesterday. I repeat: my thoughts.

Have a great weekend, everyone!

R

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