Links round-up

Hi all,

Normally, these intros write themselves. I say something about the weather (this is England, after all, where complaining about the weather is almost a spectator sport), make a thinly veiled allusion to whatever the political farrago of the day is, and then settle into a proper geek-out on the cricket. Today has been a bit more difficult: the politics is far too eventful to comment on (without throwing caution to the wind); the cricket likely to be won by some combination of rain and dead pitch and the weather is already incorporated into the rain. It says an enormous amount about how much has changed in the last couple of years that it didn’t even occur to me until now to run with news of Mugabe’s death; his deposition from power has sucked so much of the charge from it.   

  1. This one is bittersweet: Ricardo Hausman mounts a spirited defence of economics… by unloading both barrels onto public policy schools. It’s like someone saving my childhood home from a flood by diverting the waters onto my current apartment. Hausman’s main argument is that economics has already produced much of the knowledge we need to rectify many of the world’s problems– but public policy schools haven’t actually produced a model that can populate Governments with the kind of people who can find and use them. He draws an analogy with medical schools to suggest how public policy should change, arguing that long hands-on practice should be the core of the curriculum. It’s an analogy that makes some sense, but I think it rather falls apart under closer scrutiny. Unlike medical schools, public policy departments do not have monopoly status on the production of Government staff, nor should they.  Policy schools are difficult to run because they cannot improve Government simply by churning out good graduates, they also need to identify how best to structure the incentives, objectives and apparatus of Government. I’m not sure Hausman’s suggestions would get us there.
  2. Speaking of public policy in the real world, Branko Milanovic was hanging out in Argentina and observed the culmination of their most recent economic crisis. As ever, his take on it is well worth reading, especially for those who haven’t been following this closely.
  3. This is completely brilliant and continuing on the public policy theme: Planet Money cover the Moving to Opportunity project, a great example of good public policy and research in action, and also a textbook case of how complicated it can be even know a good policy when it happens (transcript). The basic premise, that moving people into ‘better’ neighbourhoods could have long-lasting effects on their life chances was reasonable; the problem was the benefits didn’t show up until after the programme had been initially evaluated, since those benefits mainly manifested in the youngest children, the ones who didn’t enter the labour force data until relatively recently. It was sheer good luck that Raj Chetty and Nathan Hendren picked up the same people in later research; and when Chetty wins the Nobel I imagine this will be given as an example how his work has attempted to remake Government policy.
  4. If I had to guess which Nobel-winning economist would hang out at Burning Man and have fun, I probably would have picked Paul Romer (although an outside guess would be Elinor Ostrom, whom I bet would have a field day with all the collective action that has evolved). Romer apparently uses maps of Burning Man’s road layout to explain how cities can evolve around basic infrastructure and it seems somehow typical that he used these maps without ever having been there. Still, whether or not you agree with the underlying economics (long time readers will know what I think about Mr. Romer’s cities), this is a really fun read, and Romer comes off really well.
  5. Johannes Haushofer and colleagues report on an RCT investigating the impact of cash transfers on gender-based violence. There is a lot of good research on this and related topics in the pipeline, so expect much more to be added to this literature. It makes for uncomfortable reading in some places, but then I imagine writing about GBV always should.
  6. FiveThirtyEight continues it’s excellent coverage of how science works in this piece on another battlefront of psychology’s replication crisis, this time questioning whether forced smiling really can make you happier. It’s a very thoughtful, interesting piece, distinguishing between what replication tells you about a methodology from what it says about a hypothesis and pointing to ways forward.
  7. But just in case smiling really can make you happier (though it certainly didn’t seem to work for The Joker, did it?) here is a random list of that will reliably make me smile, and I hope they work for you, too: Lasith Malinga taking four wickets with consecutive deliveries (twice); The Allman Borthers Band playing Blue Sky; My Name is Aram by William Saroyan; The Big Lebowski; watching Vasyl Lomachenko box; the intro to The Muppet Show; Spike Milligan, in writing or on screen; Craig Robinson; Calvin and Hobbes; Rumpole of the Bailey – though even more so in writing; and just to bring this to a close,  every delivery Murali ever bowled.

Have a great weekend, everyone!


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