Links round-up

Hi all,

These are going to be the last links for a few weeks. I’m getting married next week, and will be on a strict no-laptop regime for a couple of weeks after that it will be radio silence until mid-July as I get over the extended process of wedding planning, an ordeal which tests emotional resilience, organisational capacity and financial reliability. Of course, all of that is rather useful information for your partner prior to putting pen to contract, so perhaps weddings are a costly signalling device, much like a long and gruelling university qualification – which makes me worry about exactly how much of my life is dedicated to signalling at the moment. It’s not all signalling though – it’s also a way of getting as many behavioural biases to work in favour of the marriage as possible. We’ve got sunk cost bias after spending so much time on the wedding. It’s deepening status quo bias. It’s a big party for optimism bias. But junk all of that – Tim Harford apparently describes a marriage somewhere as ‘rational addiction’, and I’m definitely going with that description.  And yes, I’m getting all of this out now because I’ve been banned from making econ jokes in the speech.

  1. Come for the research stay for the amazing graphics: Pamela Jakiela and Susannah Hares have a really good descriptive post looking at the gender gap in education across the world and over time. They find lots of good news (women have never been more educated, and in more educated countries, the gender gap almost always disappears) and some bad news (the gap is still there, and usually get worse before better). The graphics throughout the piece are really creative – they don’t all work equally well, but they try make complicated points with elegant pictures. And bonus women-in-economics links: the Planet Money newsletter (yes, I get the Planet Money newsletter, what of it) has a section focusing on Joan Robinson and her development of the concept of monopsony. It is always worth reading about Joan Robinson.
  2. I wish my digressions were as scholarly and thoughtful as Branko Milanovic’s. Here he ponders if being a great social scientist requires leading an interesting, full life – whether you can understand people without being among them and seeing their best and worst up close. It’s clearly not going to make a blind difference to how well you can use stata, but he may be on to something. Interesting questions come from interesting lives (and interesting times).
  3. FiveThirtyEight’s writers have such a gift for expressing difficult truths simply. I loved this piece about the difficulties of sustainability:  “It becomes a mess, because the environmental damage we don’t like is deeply embedded in our lifestyles. Even simple-seeming changes like getting rid of plastic drinking straws turned out to be much more complicated when … able-bodied Americans discovered their disabled neighbors viewed the straws … as a necessity.” The point that is that we tend to focus on those parts of sustainability that are relatively costless to implement – but most of the work requires a fundamental reimagining of life, which is why I think technology rather than behaviour change has to form most of any solution.
  4. Tyler Cowen interviews my microeconomics textbook, also known as Hal Varian. There’s a section on online journals and their ridiculous cost, an issue which I alluded to last week. It turns out that my rant was at least partly incorrect – DFID at least actually do have institutional journal access, through an E-Library anyone on the DFID system can access. Apparently, it just needs a little more publicity…
  5. This seems well-timed for all sorts of reasons:  Emily Blanchard explains why, in a world of global value chains, tariffs are particularly and multiply damaging to both producers and consumers in both countries.  Apropos of nothing (of course), I also really enjoyed this article about the roots of Brexit in the student population of Oxford in the late 1980s.
  6. Yesterday, in order to illustrate a point about how much of our life is determined by sheer luck, I pointed out to someone that just knowing their country of birth, you could probably guess their income to within around 5 or 6 percentage points of the global income distribution; given a bit more information (say gender, or parent’s educational status) you could probably narrow it to around a single percentage point. Tim Harford makes the same point from a different perspective, pointing out how much of swings in performance are simply ‘noise’, an idea I’m exploring as part of my first paper.
  7. So this last link is basically being written as I’m balanced on the end of my seat as Sri Lanka get closer and closer to what would be a ridiculous win over England – though never doubt Sri Lanka’s ability to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory. And in another case of cocking up enormously, I rather loved this, via Matt: a religious group with the faintly hilarious name The Return to Order have been petitioning Netflix to cancel a TV show… produced and shown by Amazon. And in the best news all week, researchers from Cornell have literally written a paper about detecting sarcasm. It’s obviously going to be central to human progress in the next decade.

Have a great few weeks, everyone!


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