There really aren’t too many downsides to spending a week in glorious sunshine in the Alentejo – a place where in a single morning you can easily spot 50-odd bird species, including so many Little Owls they were like extremely suspicious and wary pigeons, and great flocks of Azure-winged magpies. But there are some, including returning to around 1000 articles in your RSS feed, the vast majority of which you’d rather bin without further ado than read. Still, there were some real gems buried in there, so this week’s links is longer than usual; to compensate, I’ve scattered the random bits of idiocy, sports and marginalia I usually save for the final bullet throughout the e-mail today (the best one is still last, though).
1. The big news of the week was the new paper from Chris Blattman and co-authors, which found that nine years after they delivered a cash grant to randomly chosen unemployed young people in Northern Uganda, they were no better off than the control group – despite racing ahead of them at the four-year mark. Berk summarises the paper with his typical pithy precision here and Dylan Matthews discusses what it means for the cash transfer brigade. I’ll add two observations. First, even the worst interpretation is not bad: cash injections helped people get better off faster, but not ‘more better off’. Anyone living in poverty would take that instantly. Secondly, this shouldn’t be all that surprising. Most places are poor because their economies are very very messed up. Because cash grants can’t be expected to solve this directly, you probably should expect small long term effects: either those things that make the economy messed up don’t go away and everyone will, on average, struggle regardless of whether they got the cash booster or not; or the economy will be reformed and everyone will get better off, in which case it’s a good thing if a randomly allocated cash grant isn’t a permanent advantage. None of this means they don’t ‘work’.
2. Related: Vox cover USAID’s experiment with ‘cash-benchmarking’, the practice of comparing the effect of a programme to the effect of a similar amount of cash, rather than a do-nothing counterfactual. Interestingly, they cover a lot of the issues with the idea of cash as the comparator of choice, but don’t mention the possibility that it has little long-term effect.
3. Ok, there’s a lot to think about there, so just take a moment to decompress and ponder Mark Wahlberg’s completely insane daily routine. The man gets up at 2:30am and takes a 90 minute shower. Also, maybe he wouldn’t need to spend three and half hours in the gym if he didn’t snack so much?
4. David McKenzie discusses whether the art of the descriptive development paper is dying out, typically excellent. Scroll down to the comments to see the heavyweights sparring: Lant Pritchett, Chris Blattman and Karthik Muralidharan all show up.
5. Appropriately, a really excellent bit of descriptive research into how women and men vary in how they negotiate pay in a very specific Argentine setting. You couldn’t extrapolate too far from this, but it’s fascinating and rings very true. And more on gender and inequality: Francine Blau went on Planet Money to explain why women continue to earn less than men, a very easy introduction to the economics of the gender wage gap; a faintly horrifying piece by Rosella Calvi looks at female negotiating power and how it affects poverty and mortality over the life cycle – and discovers that older women face much worse outcomes; and Tim Harford on inequality across multiple dimensions and how it differs.
6. And as your faith in humanity collapses with that, read this amazing and uplifiting story about how an adopted NFL coach tracked down his birth parents; and how Joel Embiid learnt how to shoot by googling ‘white people taking three-pointers’.
7. Not only is Dietrich Vollrath back to blogging, he’s also got a book coming out! Whet your appetite with two magisterial pieces that demonstrate his ability to make macroeconomics simple: first, he looks at the evidence for a ‘new normal’ in US growth substantially below historical norms; and secondly he explains the economics behind the finding that small farmers are more productive than larger ones – which runs counter to a lot of economic logic.
8. How big is your file drawer? Apparently, fewer than half of the clinical trials registered with the EU ever report their findings, despite being legally mandated to do so.
9. More from Stacey and Cardiff (Garcia!) at Planet Money – looking at some of the reasons why free university tuition might not be such a great progressive idea. This isn’t a full treatment of the issue, but read it. This is one area where becoming a better economist really changed my views.
10. And lastly – finally! – Pitchfork rank the 200 greatest albums of the 1980s. Anyone roughly my age is going to lose a good chunk of their day to youtube after reading this. Like all lists, it’s irritating and clearly wrong at times, but it gets some of the most important stuff right: it correctly identifies Rakim as the greatest rapper of them all, reminded me of EPMD, criminally underrates Appetite for Destruction, and has Let it Be by the Replacements fully 34 places too low.
Have a great weekend, everyone!