Links round-up

Hi all,

It’s the last day of term, so this week’s links are simultaneously exhausted, demob happy and descending into a rabbit-hole of panic at the gap (or alternatively, gaping chasm) between where my research is and where I was hoping it would be at this point. Quickly, before I think about that too much, I’m going to distract myself with Luka Doncic and economics.

  1. My favourite thing this week, by a country mile, was Planet Money on the economics of the office (transcript), taking three well-known laws of bureaucratic dysfunction and examining their genesis. It starts with Goodhart’s Law, the idea that any good measure of a phenomenon ceases to be a good measure once it’s turned into a target, a law that anyone who has ever designed a set of performance indicators knows intimately (it is a close cousin of the Lebowski Theorem of Machine Superintelligence). It then considers The Peter Principle, the idea that everyone is ultimately promoted until they reach such a level that they cannot function effectively at. In equilibrium, therefore, everyone in an office is bad at their job. And it continues though to Parkinson’s Law: the idea that any task will expand to fill the time allocated to it, a law I prove every Friday with Links e-mails of varying quality. I’m always so struck by how much academic work paints offices as these dens of incompetence and iniquity. They must really hate their administrators. Alice Evans pops up at the end to propose a new law, though not one limited to the office.
  2. This is fantastic. Exploiting a massive new dataset linking Italian firms and their employment of serving political officials Ufuk Akcigit, Salome Baslandze and Francesca Lotti demonstrate the extent to which Italian firms invest in political patronage, and also the extremely stark negative correlation between their success in attracting such patronage and their level of innovation. They attempt to build a causal story using ‘coin toss elections’ and it reinforces their analysis: politically protected firms both do better in terms of growth and do worse in terms of innovation, the implication being that the payoff to political patronage is the establishment of friendly market frictions or impediments to their competition. I dread to think what this kind of analysis would show in some of the countries DFID work in.
  3. And while we’re talking about buying influence: let’s check in on what happens to aid from the US when you’re on the UN Security Council.
  4. We are quickly approaching the point where the largest source of uncertainty in our climate models is not the science of climate change, but human behaviour. Maggie Koerth-Baker (one of 538’s army of great science writers) reports.
  5. More great job market papers on Development Impact: Katy Bergstrom suggests that the conditions attached to a cash transfer programme can sometimes improve targeting to the extent that it renders them superior to unconditional programmes. And a really cool paper by Faraz Uzmani which estimates the welfare impact of rural grid electrification both in the presence and the absence of a major economic opportunity which would require a large amount of reliable power. In the absence of the economic opportunity, electrification confers minimal gains, but it generates large welfare improvements with it.
  6. The magic of migration, episode 45,301,919: remittances to Mexico act to reduce inequality and move to protect the poor faster during economic shocks, meaning that migration is good for the migrants, good for inequality at home and are increasingly pro-poor when need is highest.
  7. This year marks the fifteenth anniversary of Kal Ho Naa Ho, the film that apparently introduced Bollywood to America – and Shah Rukh Khan’s particular brand of charisma, made up of equal parts dancing ability and complete lack of self-consciousness. I’d always assumed Bollywood first hit the West with Kuch Kuch Hota Hai, in which SRK plays the least convincing teenager since Steve Buscemi. I mention this for little other reason than to link to those videos, btw, but it’s the last link and we need frivolity dammit. And from Bollywood to Hollywood: The Ringer rails against the Hollywood Handshake on Bake Off, suggesting he’s one doughnut filled with more hot air than anything else…

Have a great weekend, everyone!


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