Links round-up

Hi all,

Last week I fielded a bunch of e-mails noting that my strategic silence on the cricket results was unbecoming of such a rabid sports fan. Far be it from me to make the same mistake twice: Sri Lanka absolutely hammered England this week, putting on their biggest ever defeat in one-day internationals, and did it with nary a century. I’d love to gloat more, but I’m kept humble by the knowledge that for some reason, this generation of Sri Lankan batsmen is obsessed with high-variance shots: the reverse sweeps and scoops and late, late cuts for which a matter of millimetres separates a stylish four from a humiliating return catch. We’ll come crashing back to earth soon enough. Speaking of which, maybe I was distracted by the NBA but this week’s web-based econogeekery was a little thin. Duncan Green offered some advice on how to improve blogging but missed out the cardinal rule: say something interesting.

  1. Saying something interesting is definitely not a problem for Berk Ozler. He digs in deep to the McIntosh and Zeitlin cash-vs-‘traditional’ programming paper, focusing on a less-well reported result: one arm of the study (a large transfer, not part of the strict benchmarking exercise) had negative effects on non-recipients. Why? The authors speculate it might be because the large fiscal stimulus increased prices over the time period covered by the study. Two points. First, these results aren’t statistically significant, even though the size of the effects seems large. This could be because they’re a chance artefact of the data or because they study wasn’t structured to measure these effects properly.  We don’t know, so we can’t say which is true. Secondly, the paper itself is still a goldmine, because it confronts us with a series of tough trade-offs that as policy makers we should be explicitly considering but often just ignore. Negative spillovers do not mean it’s not worth it. Just that we have to ask the question.
  2. Lies, damned lies and narrative? There’s a great quote in this Tim Harford post about the importance of statistics, from Hetan Shah, to the effect that while it’s easy to lie with statistics, it’s even easier to lie without them. Harford discusses why people disengage so readily once numbers are brought into the discussion. He concludes what we need may not be more learning, but more curiosity. Add in a dash of extra perseverance and I think he’s probably right.
  3. If we’re talking about lies and misdirection, this is a good time to mention that Michael Clemens and Kate Gough are here to point out the what the facts say about migration (and specifically, the caravan Trump seems to be getting upset about). They’re too polite to put it like this, but most of what people instinctively believe about migration is bullshit, most of the policy we’re seeing enacted around the world is bullshit, and most of the rhetoric being used to win votes on it is bullshit. Again, in more polite terms, this is what Ian Goldin and Benjamin Nabarro get at on VoxEU.
  4. Owen Barder and Andrew Rogerson lay the smack down on the International Finance Facility for Education, with good reason. The answer to every problem is not ‘throw money at it until it disappears’. You’d think that smart people would understand that, but nope. Maybe we should spend more on their education?
  5. Shahra Razavi and Silke Staab argue that the recent World Development Report on the future of work is as anachronistic as the Rivera mural it takes its front cover from. They argue it fails on gender, fails on social protection and fails on the need for intervention in labour markets. I’m not sure their positions are right on any of these points, but I do have to agree that there was a thoughtful debate to be had about a lot of this stuff that just isn’t there. Anyone, on either side, saying the answer is clear is lying to you, but ignoring difficult decisions does not make them go away.
  6. Maybe I missed the rest, but that was all I saw this week that made me really sit up and take notice, so it’s on to the marginalia (and also the only bit most people actually click on the links for): LitHub brings the pedantry and tries to make the case for using words properly, losing battle though it is. And in news that somehow managed to escape my attention until now, someone literally tried to steal the Magna Carta this week. I mean, what was the plan? Was he going to try and sell it down the Dog and Duck? Or auction it at Christie’s?

Have a great weekend, everyone!


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