Links round-up

Hi all,

What are the ethics of movie spoilers in the intro to a links round-up? (don’t worry, I’ve avoided them.) I finally saw Avengers: Infinity War on Wednesday and it’s been on my mind, not least because of the use of an odd mix of unreconstructed Malthusianism and a kind of repeated strategic trolley problem to motivate the film: with a little basic economics and a primer on game theory, the whole thing would have lasted about five minutes. Maybe the sequel next year will feature two new superheroes: Empirical Economic History Man (by day, mild-mannered Max Roser) and Strategic Man (a.k.a. Avinash Dixit). As an aside, I rushed out of a great seminar by Esther Duflo to make it to the cinema, the steepest slope from good economics to bad in history?

  1. Would you, too, like to be better prepared for the coming of an economically illiterate tyrant? (What do you mean, ‘too late’?) Then a pretty good place to start would be this list of the best books on economics and economic thinking, compiled by Diane Coyle, Tim Harford and others. It’s not exactly the list I would have chosen (which is kind of the point of these lists), but there are some great books selected, including Oliver Williamson. I’m disappointed that there’s no specifically development-focused book there, but lots to learn from nevertheless, and several I haven’t read.
  2. Of course, to understand much modern economics, you need to at least have a basic grasp of how statistics are used. My go-to book on this is still The Signal and the Noise, and it’s no surprise that Nate’s website, 538 carries much of the best, most accessible writing about statistics for laypeople – most of it written by Christie Aschwanden. Here, she examines the go-to statistical test used in sports science and shows that it’s poor scientific practice. It boils down to this: statistical tests basically make a trade-off between correctly rejecting ‘wrong’ results and accidentally rejecting ‘correct’ results. You want to do more of the former, but doing so increases the chances of the latter. Bad science plays around with this trade-off, increasing the chances of your result being accepted, but at the cost of increasing the chance that it should really have been rejected.
  3. Charles Kenny and Justin Sandefur argue that, after accounting for how effectively the Government spends money, taxation in some developing countries is not just regressive, it might be increasing poverty. Get the basic systems Governments fund to work and this effect might change.
  4. John Sutton explains the challenge (and payoff) of attracting FDI.
  5. And, Dietz on the rest of the Paradox of Mark-ups he introduced last week. I cannot think of a blogging macroeconomist who is both so accessible and challenging at the same time. A learning experience, every time he blogs.
  6. So, I hate Duty Free shops. I hate the way airports are structured to corral you through as many as possible, and I hate the idea that my last moments in a country should be concerned with a sort of placeless accumulation of crap. However, Karen Duffin and Robert Smith at Planet Money do something interesting with the idea of duty free: they illustrate the concepts of the race to the bottom and arbitrage by examining the history of the establishment of Duty Free shops and the effect of their spread. (Transcript).
  7. Lastly, on books: I tend to use either a bookmark or my memory to hold my place in a book (my current bookmark, a picture of The Thinker bought at the British Museum, is the most pretentious thing I own by a considerable distance). Apparently, I’m doing it wrong – bacon, a handsaw, even a piece of broccoli are all apparently bookmarks returned inside library books. And lastly, Michael Ondjaate’s favourite books to re-read. Amazingly, no sign of Rumpole or Bertie Wooster.

I’m away next Friday, so see you in two weeks! Have a great weekend, everyone!


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