Links round-up

Hi all,

Sri Lanka have been extremely Sri Lanka-y today. In the cricket, we’ve veered from preening brilliance and unplayable spin to dead-eyed incompetence in letting England get to what is very likely a winning position in the second test. And in the shambles that constitutes Government, MPs have been literally throwing chilli powder at each other in the middle of a punch-up. It’s ridiculous: the chilli powder is almost certainly the only thing in that room that is actually useful for its primary job, and yet it’s used as a weapon. Let’s not compare things with what’s going on closer to home, shall we?

  1. One point: amidst all the chest-thumping and related political machinations this week, there is a real policy issue with real impacts over which we are collecting real evidence. And by we, I mean Nick Bloom and co-authors. Worth reading.
  2. “The key reason that poor countries are poorer than rich countries is that they see less… use of productivity enhancing technologies.” Charles Kenny, from whom that quote comes (emphasis mine, though) is a noted optimist, author of a book called Getting Better and a cheerful and pleasant person. He is not, though a blind optimist, and in this piece called ‘What Robopocalypse?’ is entirely correct. There is very little evidence that automation has thus far been a risk to jobs, and every reason to expect a spread of high productivity technology to be good for poor countries.
  3. So, it should come as no surprise that the Planet Money crew love economics. But Stacey Vanek-Smith nearly loses her religion for econogeekery over the issue  of the ‘pink tax’ (transcript), the higher price paid by women for certain goods (like razors). Some economists argue that this kind of price discrimination enables the market to function more efficiently, by allocating resources in a more precise fashion. I sit in Joan Robinson’s camp, though (I often do): it seems likely that market power has more to do with this, making it an inefficiency, designed to maximise rents. I do have to ask, though – if men’s razors and women’s razors are identical, and men’s razors are cheaper, why don’t women just buy the men’s one? Also on gender: estimating the effects of more liberal abortion policy using maternal mortality is likely to substantially underestimate the benefits. Much of the gain seems to be from reducing non-fatal, but nevertheless severe, health problems.
  4. Branko gives an update on global inequality. It seems criminal that his ability to work on this topic for lack of data, so friends in the World Bank: work out how to give him access!
  5. Does an extra thirty minutes of sleep substantially improve your life chances? This entry to Development Impact’s fantastic job market paper series suggests so, and my priors and baser instincts are begging me to accept it without any critical thinking.
  6. Are you familiar with the Lebowski Theorem of Machine Superintelligence? It posits that the true risk from AI is not that it will become supremely competent and ambitious, but rather that it will discover, as humans have, that it’s not really worth effort and instead game the system and cheat. Well, chalk one up for the Dude: Jason Kottke has found a few hilarious examples of machine sloth, including an AI that generated a population growth strategy of basically lying around having sex and eating some of the children for nourishment.
  7. In news that makes me feel incredibly old and incredibly nostalgic: this year marks the 25th anniversary or Nirvana’s Unplugged in New York concert, and The Ringer celebrates with an oral history of one of the greatest concerts ever. Fun fact: somebody from MTV had the bare-faced cheek to ask Kurt to go back on stage after he’d finished vomiting out his soul on Where Did You Sleep Last Night? And while that made me feel old, news that Stan Lee managed an innings of 95 reminds me there’s some way to go yet. LitHub celebrates his achievements as a storyteller and creator of characters, and Vox mashes up every film cameo he ever made.

Have a great weekend, everyone!


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