Links round-up

Hi all,

This week’s links are just a tiny foretaste of a barrage of economics to come: on Sunday, the 2019 CSAE Conference on Economic Development in Africa starts. I’ll be blogging the Sunday and Monday of the conference, picking up on whatever papers, presentations and arguments pique my interest. I’ll be sadly missing the Tuesday for personal reasons (and thus, the annual highlight, Stefan’s after-party), but if you’re registered, make sure you attend the plenary on trade featuring DFID’s own Nick Lea. The Sunday panel on what automation and AI means for Africa should be fun, too. The debate has moved on a lot from the faintly disguised luddism and techno-pessimism of a couple of years ago, so I’m really looking forward to hearing what the panel have to say. I’m geekily, and giddily, excited. This week’s links are also geeky and giddy, but at least culminate with Gin and Juice.

  1. One of the best things about the conference is how it showcases the diversity of opinions, methods and interests of the economists presenting, and of course the high average quality of the work. It’s a good reminder that this is a diverse profession, dealing with difficult problems, and making progress on them even as they evolve. It gives us succour when we have to read crap like this in the media: “These are just three recent examples of how economists have dropped the ball… [E]conomists are struggling to explain recent productivity developments, the implications of rising inequality, the impact of persistently negative interest rates in the eurozone… They also failed to foresee the Brexit saga and the political explosion of anger and alienation across the west in general.” That’s from a piece by Mohamed El-Erian in the Guardian.  Um, what the actual eff? Is he writing an equivalent piece about the failure of physical science becausequantum physics is still as incomprehensible as a bag of (both dead and alive) cats? And why the hell were economists supposed to do the job of political scientists and foresee Brexit? Let me rephrase his complaint: “there are difficult things that we have not obtained absolute truth over.” If that’s the standard, find me a discipline worth saving. The worry would be if economists weren’t asking these questions. But in fact, lots of brilliant people are trying to work them out – and what they find might just make things better. Grrr.
  2. Normally, I save all the frivolity for the end, but that pissed me off so much I need something to make me smile: in one of the most American stories of all time, a court has ruled that giving someone the finger is a constitutional right.
  3. Back to the economics, Raghu Rajan is interviewed by Tyler Cowen and though the questioning is a bit scattershot at times, there are some gems in there. I particularly liked this section: “more than institutions is the political environment in which these institutions are created that matters. The political dispensation… The same institution can function very differently if the distribution of power is different”. This pretty much captures a lot of my own disquiet with institutional economics.
  4. Planet Money talk occupational segregation explaining that a large part of the disparity in labour market outcomes for men and women comes from the jobs they choose (or are able) to do, rather than discrimination within them (transcript). They don’t explicitly cite it, but they seem to refer to the Campos et. al. paper on female metalworkers in Uganda, one which has been extremely personally influential. It was an epiphany, reading it for the first time because it said something that seemed obvious after it was said, but which I hadn’t thought much of before, and which I think is still criminally underappreciated in actual interventions aiming to support gender equality in the labour market. Related: Javaeria Qureshi shows that having an educated elder sister improves outcomes for younger siblings, probably working through their household care role.
  5. Rachel goes to twitter for hypotheses on why Pakistan’s poverty rate is so low. No slam dunk answers, as far as I can see, but lots of interest.
  6. Two links on research: CGD cause a sharp intake of breath among researchers by examining whether too much UK aid is going towards research, or at least if it could be better run. Before clutching your pearls, read it: it makes a good case. And secondly (via David McKenzie’s always brilliant links), Penny Goldberg explains exactly why she, unlike her predecessor, thinks the World Bank needs a research department.
  7. And finally, two bizarre links, one hilarious and one unsettling. Let me unsettle you first: this website creates pictures of people who do not exist. It is properly creepy and can only be properly appreciated while listening to Picture This. The hilarity is much less creepy: it’s been 25 years since Gin and Juice ruled the hip-hop charts, and the Ringer celebrate brilliantly: creating an exam based on the lyrics. I got nine out of ten, and kicked myself for the one I missed.

Have a great weekend, everyone!

R

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