I’ve been suffering from two productivity sinks today, which are killing my attempts to make some sense of the results of a survey I ran last year in the hopes that there’s a paper lurking somewhere inside it (I know, the bar for distracting me today is even lower than usual). Firstly, a blackcap <https://www.rspb.org.uk/birds-and-wildlife/wildlife-guides/bird-a-z/blackcap/migration/> has taken up residence in my garden, the first one I’ve seen there. It’s a violent little bugger, too, having a pop at everything else that dares come close. It reminds me of Joe Pesci in Goodfellas <https://uproxx.files.wordpress.com/2015/12/pesci-goodfellas1.jpg?quality=100&w=650> . Meanwhile, Sri Lanka are currently 25 for no loss chasing 197 to become the first Asian team to win a series in South Africa, while Kagiso Rabada and Dale Steyn are bowling fireballs like they’re characters on Street Fighter II <https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2DT3quU5xh0> . My plans to learn how to draw confidence intervals on my bar charts in Stata this morning were looking in tatters before I realised that Emma Riley had already done all the hard work for me on Coders Corner <https://www.csae.ox.ac.uk/coders-corner/coders-corner> , a fantastic resource for the hard-of-Stata like myself.
- It’s been a while since I’ve opened the links with a proper bit of lunacy (well, apart from my barely-veiled political allusions <https://i.gifer.com/8di.gif> ). But this makes up for the long dry spell: USAID are considering <https://www.devex.com/news/usaid-mulls-proposal-to-train-aid-workers-as-special-forces-94321?fbclid=IwAR3wzNMzQPudSn0–vnXEeyqQ66Ooiu8Yy7P_5hl62EDza12I5cdf0teK30> rolling out a team of development worker – Special Forces hybrids, called RED Teams, trained in both social development and ass-kicking. The idea probably isn’t as cray-cray as it sounds in a headline – or at least I hope it isn’t – but I’ve got some recruitment ideas. There are a couple of people in DFID who definitely fit the bill, and surely Stephen Chan <http://soasspirit.co.uk/features/humans-of-soas-stephen-chan/> OBE (SOAS political scientist by day, black belt in Karate by night) must be on the list.
- A few years ago, you couldn’t throw a rock in DFID without hitting someone in the process of saying ‘evidence-based policymaking’, a phrase that used to crack me up. One of my friends used to manage to keep a completely poker face and talk about policy-based evidencemaking regularly, and it was actually pretty rare that anyone would pick it up. Anyway, the most obvious objection to the phrase is that policymaking is never based on just one thing. But Lars Peter Hansen makes a further point: there is no single reading of any evidence <http://review.chicagobooth.edu/economics/2019/article/purely-evidence-based-policy-doesn-t-exist?fbclid=IwAR2HTbrcYJpeW79fDb7XzJNdoK9C1Rr7RKWly9qKl85_bCrw4OC7N6EkPGI> . Even the construction of data requires some theoretical scaffolding, and while that might not always be controversial (though it can be, viz. last week’s ruckus about poverty measurement), the interpretation of what the data means almost always requires some theory too. In a sense this is obvious, and the answer links to Tim Harford’s blog this week <http://timharford.com/2019/02/blue-monday-pseudoscience-should-teach-us-to-be-more-curious/> : that it is not that policy should be evidence-based per se, but that policy should be constructed through the questioning of evidence and competing explanations. It’s not about evidence or no evidence, it’s about good evidence and good interpretation.
- This one is going to get Nick Lea’s heart racing: Guzman, Ocampo and Stiglitz summarise a new paper on the role of the real exchange rate in economic development <https://voxeu.org/article/real-exchange-rates-economic-development> , and how it can be mobilised as a policy lever for public welfare. They distinguish between tradeables with positive spillovers and those without, and suggest how support can encourage the former without pushing the latter. Worth a read.
- Why does tipping suck so much? Well, I could just refer you to Mr. Pink <https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Z-qV9wVGb38> and the rest of the Reservoir Dogs, but the only slightly-less brilliantly monikered Cardiff Garcia (and Stacey Vanek Smith) bring a bit more economics into <https://www.npr.org/sections/money/2019/02/20/696426869/why-americans-can-t-quit-tipping> it at Planet Money. In a further sign that people are the worst, the discretionary functioning of tipping seems to bring out prejudices: women corresponding to traditional norms of attractiveness (that’s me trying to find a less depressing way of saying ‘thin women with big breasts’) get better tips than others; meanwhile black waiters get tipped less than white ones for the same assessment of service quality. People suck and economics can prove it (transcript <https://www.npr.org/templates/transcript/transcript.php?storyId=696421086> ).
- David McKenzie thinks a lot about the process of doing research, so it’s always worth reading his particular brand of introspection. This time, he’s looking at whether development economists tend to focus on their home country more than they should <http://blogs.worldbank.org/impactevaluations/should-we-worry-about-home-bias-development-research> , and if that might be a problem (it might not be, even if they do: they may think of better questions and better ways of answering them than an outsider might, and especially early-career that might lead them to develop expertise that leads them elsewhere). Related: David, Francisco Campos and Markus Goldstein on the (limited) gains to formalising firms in Malawi <https://voxdev.org/topic/firms-trade/costs-and-benefits-helping-firms-formalise-malawi> . I’m pretty sure I’ve linked to another version of this before, but it’s a good write-up and a very good demonstration that the gains of a policy are often not automatically realised. They may need more help than we think.
- One of the greatest bits of observational comedy I’ve ever seen has a geeky, put upon software engineer break off in the middle of a conversation while standing at the office printer to spit out the words: “PC Load Letter? What the **** does that mean? <https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5QQdNbvSGok> ” If you’re too young to remember office printers that would pronounce incomprehensible errors messages every second use, you probably don’t remember Office Space, which is now 20 years old. The Ringer’s oral history of probably the greatest comedy about work <https://www.theringer.com/movies/2019/2/19/18228673/office-space-oral-history> in history is a massive nostalgia trip for anyone whose reaction to the name Michael Bolton is “I celebrate the man’s entire catalogue <https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_BaMx_n2_hM> ”.
Have a great weekend, everyone!