Links round-up

Hi all,

Steve Smith is batting. In 2229, when the earth is a furnace, stripped bare of vegetation and the humans are being harvested for energy by the machines, Steve Smith will still be batting. And in 21917, when the universe has almost completed it’s implosion, and all life has been extinguished, and the only movement is the c-beams glittering in the dark by the Tanhauser Gate, Steve Smith will still be shuffling across his stumps and tucking the ball to leg and running across for an ambled single. He will still look like he’s 12. While Steve Smith is batting, here is some economics, all of which will be out of date by the time Steve Smith is finally dismissed, because Steve Smith will never be dismissed.

  1. There are few things in life as inevitable as Steve Smith’s batting, but in my darker moments I wonder whether ill-thought out and short-sighted policies about migration are another. A couple of migration links today: first, with a little hope – Japan has a policy to increase the amount of inward migration it attracts to counteracting a shrinking population. Rebekah Smith and Anita Vukovic suggest how they can achieve it; Rebecca is setting up a new organisation dedicated to labour mobility, which is definitely worth keeping an eye. It’s interesting, though, how Governments make this so much harder for themselves than they need to: rather than looking for a few thousand engineers or a few hundred something-or-others, why not just let people in and let the magic of labour economics work? We know that there isn’t a finite number of jobs, and that new entrants will lead to the creation of new jobs; and we know that the increased competition leads incumbents to move up the value chain. My colleague Adam calls this ‘magic economics’ and it really pretty much is. Less hopefully, Maggie Koerth-Baker in FiveThirtyEight points out that there are no legal norms or structures in place to deal with refugees fleeing from climatic disasters, and little hope on the horizon for any coherent set of them.
  2. While I’m on a downer, Dani Rodrik considers whether the relevant inequality to consider is between or within countries; he points out that while it’s still typically true that you will be better off in absolute material terms as a poor person in a rich country than a rich person in a poor country, the dramatic rise in inequality in rich countries over recent decades has made it closer. In the US it may not even be true anymore. Fortunately, you don’t need to choose between caring about these two problems. You can address both.
  3. I’ve had a few conversations outside of work which have really driven home how little about trade is widely understood. I’m absolutely not an expert by any means, but much like migration, it’s clear that things that seem obvious and straightforward quickly dissolve into dust with a little thought. One point I’ve found myself making repeatedly recently is that it’s not exactly the ‘price’ of trading that matters (for example, the tariff on a traded good), but the cost of it in terms of documentation, management attention and time. This piece on rules of origin is a case in point; many exporters pay tariffs rather than fill out all of the required documentation, and others may choose not to export at all.
  4. This is very cool: an experiment on adolescent girls’ empowerment in Sierra Leone was interrupted by the Ebola crisis, and the researchers discovered that their intervention substantially improved girls’ outcomes in the places hardest hit. You’d expect as much with such an amazing cast of researchers on the project, but it’s very impressive how they managed to use their data and experiment to investigate this – it can’t have been what they started off with the intention of examining.
  5. This is interesting, though I haven’t fully digested it: Philippe Aghion and co-authors propose that credit constraints can have a positive effect on productivity by removing the safety net that keeps the worst firms alive (though it also has a negative effect by making it harder to finance innovation). It makes sense to me, and has implications for our current period of prolonged cheap credit. It occurs to me that they might test it to see if the relationship between credit and productivity differs by term structure of debt, but they’ve probably already thought of that.
  6. How much rest do people need? I’m on the ‘perpetual-ball-of-energy’ end of the spectrum, and lean towards long, infrequent holidays to completely recharge – a bit like how you’re meant to let your phone die completely and then charge it up completely rather than keep topping it up. Tim Harford (and my wife; to be clear these are separate people) tell me I’m doing it wrong, and you need lots of frequent breaks. Tim Harford brings the evidence.
  7. I’ve had a few crikey-I’m-old moments in the last couple of weeks. I injured myself falling down trying to get on a bus. A friend pointed out to me that our friendship pre-dated the existence of e-mail, and now bringing a vat of salt to marinade my wounds in, The Ringer is running a 90s nostalgia week. Even worse, the Grauniad’s list of the best moves of this century has reminded me that Gladiator is almost twenty years old. On the one hand, this isn’t making me feel younger. On the other, my memory must be in decent shape if I can still recite that speech: “My name is Maximus Decimus Meridius…”

The century must be over now, because Steve Smith is no longer batting. Have a great weekend, everyone!


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