Well, that was an eventful week. Has everyone caught their breath? I continue to alternate between abject terror and resignation. Alonzo Mourning acceptance, every day. Anyway. I’ll be taking a break over Christmas and the new year (which will, of course, involve vast quantities of street food, reading and birdwatching). That means no more links till January 11 or 18, depending on what my brain function is like when I get off the plane, which may be no bad thing: if things get bad enough, the links will probably descend into one long compilation of disaster gifs.
- This is, apparently, the season for giving (and often for giving novelty gifts that presumably live above ground for about three days before going into a drawer and being forgotten evermore), so it’s a good time to remember than actually, in spite of the fairly broad economic recovery in much of the world since 2008, there are still a huge number of people living in great economic insecurity. Planet Money investigate (transcript) and uncover some pretty shocking statistics from the US, including that more than one-fifth of all Americans expected to miss at least one bill payment in the month of the latest Fed survey, and that a stunning one-third would expect to do so in the case of an unanticipated $400 income shock (for example, needing medical treatment, or a car repair). With signs mounting that the next recession is just around the corner, none of this is good news.
- Dynastic succession in democratic politics sounds like an oxymoron, but actually, it’s the second and third generations of political leader in a family that tend to be the morons. A fantastic job market paper by Siddharth George from Harvard uses data from India to see what happens when fathers are succeeded by sons or daughters in positions of political power. He finds that, as theory would predict, politicians who think their offspring will also be in power might have a longer time horizon and thus make larger long-term investments, but their children face a moral hazard: because they have a core of voters loyal to the parent who will basically support them whatever they do, they do very little but self-enrich. The net effect is negative, a result that aligns with my priors and provides new and interesting evidence of how politics works.
- And in related, less surprising news, places where men have worse attitudes towards women tend to carry a ‘gender penalty’ in voting, whereby women are less likely to win votes. Since this is likely to be unrelated to competence, this is again, not good news.
- Not to make it too much of a pattern, but also to file under ‘not good news’: that dude who claims to have genetically engineered twins in China. How does this happen in a discipline that’s supposed to follow some pretty stringent ethical standards? As FiveThirtyEight point out, there are systems in place to stop rogue scientists, but they don’t always work. The most shocking thing about that article, btw, is the news that one research team wants to use a blast of calcium to make the sun less intense in order to mitigate climate change. This is not a good plan guys! Don’t any of you remember Morpheus? “We know it was us who scorched the sky”, anyone?
- I loved this: Hope Michelson and others demonstrate that one reason that poor farmers take up products such as fertiliser at what seem like sub-optimal rates is because they form incorrect opinions on the quality of the product, partly driven by media reporting. In news that will surprise no-one who lives in the UK, relentless media negativity can make people question the value of things that turn out to be rather quite good for them after all.
- Last year, I was given Messy for Christmas, and this year I’m giving a copy to someone else. It’s a great book, and Tim Harford distils some of the key lessons in this fantastic blog about the benefits of a space that isn’t too strictly regimented. Remember that the next time you see me working behind a huge pile of papers, with a dripping tea cradle and two books open. It’s my own personal Building 20.
- And lastly, because it does no good to end the year with links full of pessimism, let’s remind ourselves that sometimes things do work out better than expected: I have previously linked to Zion Williamson back when he was in high school, looking like a full grown man playing against infants, but against all odds, he’s actually exceeded the hype, and may be the best college player since statistics were collected. While Zion does it by basically being The Thing with a three-stroke, Luka Doncic might become a superstar without a single defined muscle on his body. If basketball can’t cheer you up, how about London trolling the New York Times’ twitter? And if that doesn’t work, here are the best memes of the year (American Chopper wins, obviously).
Have a great weekend, everyone!