Links round-up

Hi all,

This week’s links round-up is on better-than-nodding terms with fatigue and mental exhaustion after a series of early starts to run up and down the country (or rather, running west and slightly further west) to attend two conferences focused on policy and policy-makers, the first at DFID and the second at BSG, my first Challenges of Government conference. I’d really recommend having a look online at any videos and write-ups of the latter. One thing I really liked about both of these conferences was the number of questions of the ‘why do we care about this’ and ‘what can we do about this’ genre. I find in academic settings those questions can be almost totally drowned out by the ‘how do we know this’ question. Of course, that’s incredibly important, but it isn’t the only thing that matters.

  1. Speaking of things that matter: it is a moral responsibility to be outraged by the lies, tone and content of Donald Trump’s speech yesterday, whatever your politics or opinions on migration. Michael Clemens bites his tongue hard and restricts himself to doing a little fact-checking of the major claims made on the CGD blog, but head over to his twitter to see what happens when an intelligent and well-informed person is made furious. Trump is obviously engaging in political posturing to try and win votes (regardless of the cost), and FiveThirtyEight checks in on whether it looks like it will work. Now I need to take five minutes to walk off my rage before I write the next paragraph.
  2. Okay, I’m back. (I’m still angry). I was talking the other evening about an old teacher I had. He had a foul temper, and used to go silent when a student would arrive at one of his lectures more than a couple of minutes late. His strategy was to do so until another student did the job of telling the latecomer that he had to leave. It always struck me as an approach which, while effective, was stupidly costly once you looked up from the immediate aim of inducing punctuality. Nadja Dwenger and Lukas Treber find a similar example in the use of public shaming of tax offenders to induce them to pay their back taxes. On the face of it, this sounds like a pretty good thing. But firstly, it seems to affect relatively few people, and secondly if they genuinely cannot afford to pay at the time of the shaming, what are we reallocating money away from? Food? Maybe they’ve gone to a moneylender? What’s the final cost of this? What’s more, does it ‘spoil’ the tax-paying relationship for the future?
  3. David Evans is something of a genius. He and Almedina Music summarise around 160 new papers in a single sentence each at Development Impact. I am continually impressed by the range of things he is interested in and his ability to summarise them.
  4. Pop culture lied to me, mark 2. A few weeks after I complained that Pretty in Pink is an inaccurate depiction of high school, I am devastated to discover that Mick Jagger could indeed have got some Satisfaction, if only he’d managed to win the lottery. Planet Money talk to the economist Eric Lindqvist (transcript), who has studied the impact of lottery winnings on life satisfaction and happiness, and discovered that winning does indeed cause a substantial and long-lasting improvement to the former. It does not, however, lead to an increase in happiness. I suspect this is because the correct musical hypothesis to check wasn’t Mick Jagger’s, but Paul McCartney’s. (While I’m linking songs I’m just going to throw in David Ruffin’s version of Rainy Night in Georgia. It connects to nothing here, but should be heard far more widely).
  5. James Heckman and Sidharth Mokton take a sledgehammer to the idea that the rate of publication in top-five journals is a good metric by which to determine tenure and professional success as an academic economist. I’d add the argument that one of the most valuable products academic economists produce is good economists, even if they never become researchers. A good policy economist is worth their weight in gold, and the teachers that help them along should be encouraged.
  6. Francis Teal writes about apprenticeships in Africa, and as ever when Francis Teal writes about labour markets, you should read it.
  7. So, the Bank of England are after a dead British scientist to be the face of a note that you most likely will never use. They’re trying to Boaty McBoatface-proof the process by accepting nominations but taking the final decision themselves. If they’d only stretch to consider economics a science, I’d suggest Tony Atkinson (despite the irony of an inequality researcher on a 50 quid note) or Joan Robinson. Any others?

Have a great weekend, everyone!


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