Links round-up

Hi all,

“Vote early, and vote often” – and in the local council elections you can actually do it. If you’re a student and registered to vote both at your University address and your home address, you can vote in both (though not for a General election). So yesterday I woke up at ridiculous’o’clock, voted in London, then hopped on a bus, spent the day in meetings and presentations and then got to cast my second vote in Oxford just before the polling stations closed. As one of my friends said, “I still get excited that I have the suffrage.” You should, too. (and also, everyone should be extremely excited that LeBron continues to do very LeBron things; and that Shaq’s approach to saving money is to spend $20 regularly, instead of $80 rarely. Yes, it is insane).

  1. The bicentenary of Marx’s death has sparked a small flurry of activity, as well as the odd pilgrimage to Highgate Cemetary (where, irony of ironies, you are charged for admission). I really enjoyed this piece by Branko Milanovic, which emphasises just how much chance and events after his death contributed to his fame and influence. It’s always worth emphasising that Marx’s writings varied enormously, with much of the economics genuinely insightful and important, much of the history weakened by the sources he used and his rigid framework, and the social theory largely for the birds.
  2. The Economist is running a series on the shortcomings of the economics profession, and turns its gaze on the state of microeconomic research, simultaneously celebrating the rise of the empiricists and bemoaning the fact that there’s still so much variation in what they find. I’m definitely no apologist for the economics profession, but these critiques strike me as fundamentally flawed. The problem is not that economics cannot give us a straight answer about whether minimum wages are good; it’s that we want universalist certainty on things which can never have them. Economics teaches us how to think about these problems and assess trade-offs and risks – not what you should always think, always and everywhere.
  3. A friend has pointed out that virtually everything I say can be paraphrased as ‘I think you’ll find it’s a little bit more complicated than that’, and yes, I’m aware it’s literally the title of Ben Goldacre’s book. I’ve been thinking a bit about data and privacy recently, to which that really applies. Maggie Koerth-Baker at 538 wrote a fantastic piece about this recently, pointing out a fundamental regulatory challenge: “all… privacy law and policy is framed around the idea of privacy as a personal choice” but increasingly, data is network based. There may be no answer to this problem.
  4. Apparently, I did my undergraduate degree at the same time Dave Donaldson was studying for his physics degree, in the same (pretty small) college. As far as I’m aware, I never once engaged him in conversation, which now seems like something of an error. He won last year’s John Bates Clark award, but given the snail’s pace of academic publishing, only now is Daron Acemoglu’s appreciation of his work
  5. Globalization is arbitrage… constrained by three costs: trade costs, or the cost of moving goods; communication costs, or the cost of moving ideas; and … the cost of moving people.” Richard Baldwin discusses globalization and trade, using a very simple football analogy to explain why it’s simultaneously raising overall human welfare by supporting the poorest, delivering outsize benefits to a few people and eroding the relative position of those who used to be in the middle. Read it.
  6. Duncan Green reviews a new book about aid, the best bit being the part which examines its domestic (i.e. in donor countries) political constituency. As an aside, why do people feel obliged to mention Dambisa Moyo every time someone writes about aid? Dead Aid was comfortably the worst use of paper I’ve ever encountered (Matt and I once gave a copy of the book away as a prize, complete with our frustrated scrawls in the margin, annotating every missed point and inanity).
  7. Lastly, I started back at work on a very limited basis this week, and one of my colleagues was literally in meetings from 9:30am till 6pm, so this piece from the Guardian on how organisations can minimise meetings feels a good place to end. I note that Barack Obama has copied my preference for the ‘walk and talk’ option, in my case preferably through St. James’s Park, interrupted by birdwatching.

Have a great weekend, everyone!


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