Links round-up

Hi all,

Change can be surprising. Sometimes it seems to happen all at once (hmm, any good examples to hand?) and sometimes it just creeps up on you. Today is Lasith Malinga’s final ever ODI match, and with him goes just about Sri Lanka’s last shred of competence. About fifteen years ago, Sri Lanka were rolling out bowling line ups that included Murali, Malinga, Vaas and Nuwan Kulasekera, bowling at targets set by Jayasuriya, Dilshan, Mahela and Sangakkara. There were some great moments, though, and many from Malinga. One hopes at these low ebbs that from the ashes something will rise. Let’s see.

  1. England isn’t really built for the heat (it doesn’t seem to do all that well with the cold, either, but let’s put that aside for a moment). Yesterday was one of the hottest days on record in England, and if the latest research is to be believed, a few readers might have just felt a nagging urge to engage in some wanton destruction (Brockwell Lido certainly seems to have experienced some). A new NBER paper looks a bit deeper than raw correlations and, controlling for the amount of social activity and whether schools are in or out of session, discovers a clear relationship between heat and violent crime (but not property crime). There is a clear policy recommendation here: the Government needs to urgently install some nice-looking ceiling fans in my flat if it wants to keep the peace in the greater Stoke Newington area…
  2. I have a few friends whom I can rely upon to routinely argue that I’m wrong about almost everything I say; it’s a good discipline – even on the rare occasion I’m not, it forces me to find and patch up any holes in my thinking. Charles Kenny found himself, indirectly, criticised by Rory Stewart’s book, Can Intervention Work?, and here does some erudite and thoughtful navel-gazing as a result. He looks at whether ‘best practice’ is always out of place and when – and how – it is appropriate.
  3. Speaking of being wrong, there’s nothing more likely to make me spit my tea out in rage than one of those irritating Grauniad articles that argue that economics is all wrong about the world, written by someone who betrays a sub-GCSE grasp of the subject. That said, conventional wisdom in economics has been wrong about a lot in the past, and is changing and Planet Money do a much better job of investigating this (transcript). Some of the topics are old hat (no serious economists think that the relationship between minimum wages and unemployment is straightforward anymore – most would say that it really depends on the levels considered and market structure); but it’s still worth a listen.
  4. Is Facebook a product or a production technology? Until fairly recently I hadn’t even thought about this. Increasingly, though, it’s become clear that it operates more as a way of creating virtual crowds and generating data about them; this data is where the value of the company lies. The best comparison is not a company that makes chocolate bars and sells them to people cheaply, but rather a company that creates goose down blankets – but we’re the geese in this analogy. Facebook is essentially just the comfortable location used to lure the geese. If that’s right, then we’ve been trying to value these companies all wrong; VoxEU run a techy article thinking about better ways of doing so.
  5. In development, we very often assume that the relationship between a policy and its outcome is very stable – if I keep running the policy the outcome will keep getting better. But there are strong reasons to believe this will often not be so, especially in developing countries. We often look at the effect of certain policies when the sector we run them in is at a nascent stage – once it’s developed (often because of our earlier policies), new things will be needed to keep driving improvements, and the old things might no longer work. Bottom-up accountability might be an example of this, as evidence from Uganda suggests.
  6. Via Matt – a really detailed look into how tax havens – in this case Mauritius – operate.
  7. Finally, Rutger Hauer died this week. If you were a film geek in the 1990s, Roy Batty in Blade Runner was very likely to be one of your cultural touchstones. His final scene, describing the things he lived through, was totally improvised and incomprehensible (where is the Tanhauser gate? What are c-beams?) but it’s still one of the greatest monologues in cinema history. Despite casting the guy from Kim’s Convenience, I somehow doubt Marvel’s Stage 4 (for which, yay!) will reach those heights…

Have a great weekend, everyone!


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