I’m assuming none of you have done any work today, right? I haven’t: it is the Ashes after all, gloriously sunny outside and Steven Smith has just scored one of the great centuries of our time (and before my boss starts writing out my dismissal letter, I’m off work altogether today and my only meeting started with five minutes reviewing the highlights from yesterday). And whisper it, despite that century, England are very much in the driver’s seat. I have to apologise to the hard-of-cricket: the links will, for the next few weeks, likely start with Ashes talk each time, especially towards the end: I’ve got an entry to the office sweepstakes that might yet win.
- VoxDev has been running a series of pieces about electrification and development. Two pieces caught my eye in particular. The first, by Dana Kassem, looks at the expansion of electricity in Java and finds that extending the grid led to important changes in firm structure: in particular, it seems associated with much higher firm entry and exit. The second part of this turns out to be especially crucial: heightened competition drives the worst firms out of business more effectively and consequently leads to the reallocation of business (and resources) to the more productive ones – leading to a 40% increase in productivity. For those of you who haven’t suffered through an economics degree, that sentence is basically erotica for economists: this is exactly what we dream of when we dream of markets working effectively (what do you mean that’s not what you dream of?). The second piece stops us getting overly excited, pointing out that electricity access for households doesn’t actually achieve much at all in terms of poverty reduction.
- Women who leave the workforce after childbirth face a substantial and long-lasting penalty to their labour force earnings (substantially more than just any foregone earnings during a maternity absence). However, enforced shared parental leave appears to reduce this effect, and in an almost magical way. It barely puts a dent in the incomes of fathers, but leads to substantial reduction in the penalty faced by women, one which lasts so long that it may also be shifting gender norms. Lest you get all optimistic, however, here is a headline from our Not-the-Onion section: Saudi Arabia – Women allowed to travel without male permission.
- A super Planet Money podcast on the German experience in appointing workers to the boards of large companies (transcript). What makes this so good is that it does what very little of the economics on institutional economics does, namely focus on the cultural and historical reasons it works the way it does, and considers whether they are portable or idiosyncratic.
- This one isn’t economics but is a rare case: a private individual producing a public good. A deaf Scottish man invents new signs for extremely complex scientific terms to facilitate learning for other hearing-impaired people. As someone who has gone through lectures with a much less-severe hearing problem, the fact that he found energy to do this after the incredibly draining process of concentrating intensely through multiple hours of talking (never any deaf person’s favourite activity) is frankly astonishing. I wonder if someone’s done this in economics yet, and if so, how you sign ‘multicollinearity’?
- Tim Harford asks where the margin for better economics is – is it through ever more precise methods and ‘hardness of science’ or is it through softer approaches and synthesis? He argues that it is likely to be at the softer end of the discipline. He’s preaching to the choir with me, a committed fox, but it appears that econ journal editors may not agree: Marc Bellamare’s piece on getting published in economics suggests that the peak of the profession is occupied by those who do few things, but do those things enormously influentially.
- Speaking of the peak of the profession, I have to say I found this VoxEU piece by Stiglitz, Martine Durand and Fitoussi really underwhelming. The Stiglitz-Sen-Fitoussi commission was asked to consider how better to understand the sense of economic dislocation and deprivation that many people have even in economies that seem to be getting better. The gist of this piece is basically “don’t just look at GDP per capita”. Thank goodness we called them, eh?
- Lastly, I’m a sucker for trashy pop culture, as anyone who reads down to the last link knows. But even I have limits, and have never managed to sit all the way through one of the Fast and Furious movies, films that exist solely to celebrate the ability to push the pedal labelled ‘go fast’ on a car really hard and to flex muscles hard enough to break a cast. However, this completely cracked me up – a detailed statistical breakdown of the Fast and Furious movies, informing us, for example, that the Rock spent 90% of the first Furious movie he was in drenched in either sweat, water or baby oil. Even better, he apparently has a contract which states that he can’t get beaten up in the movie more than the other stars. I’m deeply disappointed that he needed that in writing. Surely he could just drop Vin Diesel with the People’s Elbow?
Have a great weekend, everyone!