Links round-up

Hi all,

Normally as the calendar turns towards Spring, the intros to the links become easier and easier to write: I make some comment about the first rays of sunshine (I took an hour-long walk over my lunch break today and remembered what it was like not to be constricted by a woollen python around my neck to prevent pneumonia), the birds in my garden (today extending to a Jay and a number of duelling Robins) and some comment about the incipient NBA playoffs.  But it’s become harder and harder not to mention the big blue furry monster, tied up as it is (at least in one scenario) with the full turn of the seasons in early April. And that’s not the only sign of change: LeBron will not be in the playoffs this year, after eight consecutive trips to the final, no less; and we’ve lost yet another musical hero. Scott Walker was deeply odd, deeply visionary and wrote one of my favourite pop songs of all time. I’ll try make the rest of the links less depressing, but make no promises.

  1. Actually, let’s double down on depressing for a moment, shall we? Planet Money ran a pair of shows (transcript 1, 2) this week about Venezuela, interviewing an economist in Caracas (affiliated with the opposition, it should be noted). The numbers coming out of there are mind-boggling, but also mind-numbing: how do you even think about 10 million per cent inflation? A rate so high that as soon as you change your money into Bolivars (if you’re lucky enough to be paid in dollars), you have to run to the store to avoid prices rising while you shop? Where average weight has fallen by 25 pounds? Even if you think the numbers are juked, even doubled, what’s that – 5 million per cent and 12.5 pounds? I’m reminded again of Matt’s call for the designation of Economic Crimes against Humanity (I’d link it, but it’s being blocked by DFID’s firewall and I don’t want to propagate any viruses. Here’s a related link).
  2. Getting more positive: David Evans’s move to the Center for Global Development has not spelled the end for his epic, extraordinary conference reports. Here he summarises what feels like several hundred papers presented at the CSAE Conference in a line or two each. He truly is a phenomenon. He must sweat knowledge.
  3. Staying on the geeky side of things, Kathleen Beegle’s post on defining and measuring work should be required reading for all economists of Africa. Knowledge is built on good measurement, but the quality of what we measure in Africa remains substantially below optimal. As an example, depending on how you ask people, measures for productive work among farmers can vary by a factor of four. She explains that the consequences of this depend on what you want to measure, but still. That is remarkable.
  4. Going back to CSAE for a moment, one of my favourite papers (from one of my favourite programmes of work) was Dan Rogger’s work with Ravi Somani, looking at the incentives for information acquisition among civil servants in Ethiopia, the implications for their knowledge of the areas they work on, and how you can improve matters. It seems prosaic, but the welfare implications of helping a Government function a little bit better are enormous.
  5. My brother-in-law is a historian, and we often discuss China. From both a historical and an economic standpoint it’s completely fascinating: a total basket case just 50 years ago, and now one of the most powerful countries on the planet. We’ve often puzzled over the Cultural Revolution, which is just extraordinary when you think about it: a revolution impelled from the state because its own revolutionary ethos was being diluted. The suffering was extraordinary, and this piece by Alison Booth and Xin Meng demonstrates it has had a lasting impact on trust several generations later. More currently, Wei Xiong points out that the mechanism that has powered China’s recent growth – competition between regional bureaucrats to earn promotion with growth – has also led to the unprecedented stress their financial sector is under.
  6. Do we need p-values? Well, I’m definitely not leaving them out of my first paper, but I can absolutely see why researchers are worrying deeply about how we use them, the incentives they set and their unintended consequences.
  7. Lastly, I had totally forgotten how awesome 1999 was, but the Ringer is here to remind me, pointing out that both The Matrix and Go were released that year. You know how old these films are? I watched one of them on LASER DISC! Anyway, despite their age, they both induce a giddy excitement when I think about them; I’m in my late thirties and I’m still capable of having an internal argument about whether Neo or Ronna is the cooler character. Neither of these, though, is the best thing to happen this week. No, without a doubt that is this discovery: Tom Hiddleston is in a Chinese advert for vitamin supplements in which he spends every second of every shot VISCERALLY WISHING HE WAS ANYWHERE ELSE. It is the most gloriously awkward thing in history.  And on that happy note…

Have a great weekend, everyone!


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