Links round-up

Hi all,

This has been one of the strangest summers I can remember. Not only is England swelteringly hot and sunny, but Sri Lanka beat South Africa in both tests. Not just beat them – hammered­ them, in the manner of Thor returning to earth looking for a fight, though our Thor is small, round and bears more than a passing resemblance to Mr. Potato Head. Scroll down to the bottom and you’ll find a monk calling someone ‘an uneducated ****’. It can’t last. I fully assume that by August it will be snowing and Sri Lanka will be staring at an innings defeat to Ireland, so let’s enjoy it while it lasts.

  1. How often do you read a letter signed by three Nobel-winners and find yourself in full face-palm after two sentences? Sentence two of this letter arguing against the fetishisation of aid effectiveness reads “Global poverty remains intractable: more than 4 billion people live on less than the equivalent of $5 (£3.80) a day…”. Seriously – I have some sympathy for the argument they’re making, but are we really going to just ignore the absolutely staggering decline in global poverty over the last few decades? This is exactly the kind of crap Hans Rosling would lay the smack down on you for, and it’s really not a good look when you’re trying to argue against a form prioritising action that is explicitly about extremely careful measurement and fidelity to the evidence, whatever its faults.
  2. Two pieces on tax evasion that show what a tricky topic it is. First, Maya Forstater looks at the new proposed indicator of tax evasion, pointing out that it fails to do the work it sets out to, penalising the only company she looks at which was actually awarded ‘fair tax mark’ more than any other. However, the general intuition behind the indicator does seem to show evidence of a systematic issue: Gabriel Zucman and co use a similar idea to show that in tax havens, foreign firms report astronomically high profits relative to the employees they have in that country (far more than local firms), while the opposite is true in non-haven economies. So zoom out and this indicator shows that something is going on; but you can’t use it to reliably zoom in.
  3. David McKenzie investigates recent research on ‘experimenter demand effects’ (part two here) – the possibility that people tell you what they think you want to hear, thereby biasing your research results. It appears to be an overblown fear, at least in the settings so far studied. That sound you just heard was a massive sigh of relief from about 304,391 social scientists.
  4. Firm productivity across Europe is really widely dispersed, even accounting for the industry of the firm; a nice piece of research summarised in VoxEU investigates why. It finds that remaining limits to labour mobility, institutional convergence, and rules and regulation explain a very large portion of this dispersion. This really matters: fixing these things can make a large difference to GDP and dramatically strengthen these economies by selecting for the best, most efficient firms. They don’t go there, but if Brexit allows more convergence in Europe, it might not all be doom and gloom for them.
  5. In an apparent exception to the law of diminishing marginal returns, economics papers are getting longer and longer. I get why: papers written 50 years ago had far less econometrics and data work (partly because computing was so much more expensive and time consuming), and so focused much more on exposition of the argument. Does this make papers better or worse? I’m not sure, but I can comfortably read a 1970s paper by Oliver Williamson before bed. If I tried that with structural modelling I’d have nightmares.
  6. When the GPS goes down, we’re all doomed.
  7. For the love of words: A long read about the global spread of English, I had not known that it has turned from being a net importer of words (a very happy state to be in, adding a richness and diversity we could never achieve on our own) to a net exporter. And ten great words that have no direct English translation (they leave out iktsuarpok, somehow). And one final piece of marginalia: when monks attack.

Have a great weekend, everyone!


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