Links round-up

Hi all,

I went out at this afternoon for a meeting, and walked face-first into an enormous, boisterous crowd of young people (and a few conspicuous parents trying not to embarrass their children). Rather than a Boyzone concert (am I showing my age there? My first thought was New Kids on the Block, which was even worse), it was the climate strike, all carried out in an atmosphere of generally good humour and outrage at the future we’re in the process of making. They have a point. We have reached a point where we must make trade-offs, for example between the price of goods today and the climate tomorrow. Yet we refuse to: we want to keep our goods and services artificially cheap by not pricing the emissions they embody, instead looking for some solution that will involve no pain (it turns out that a policy of having our cake and eating it is less uncommon than we’d like to believe). We are kicking the can down the road – those we are kicking it to are getting pissed off and well they should.

  1. While I’m on the subject of climate change, Nick Stern and Andrew Oswald reckon economists are letting the side down by not publishing more research on it, citing the eye-opening number of climate-related articles published in QJE, the top econ journal: zero. I’m not entirely sure they’re right, though. We might not get everything right, but economists have known for about 200 years that you need to put a price on externalities. It’s not really our fault that Governments just won’t price carbon properly.
  2. If you only look at one link this week, make it this: in 1974, Studs Terkel published one of my favourite books of all time, Working. For those of you not familiar with his approach, Studs just listened to people. He talked to them, got them to open up and then just gave their voices a platform, transcribing their thoughts for the wider world to read. Apparently, Studs recorded all of the interviews he conducted in making the book and then left them in an attic at his house. They’ve now been rediscovered by the Radio Diaries crew, who have turned them into a podcast and, even more amazingly, gone back and re-interviewed some of them. Planet Money also get in on the act (transcript). Listening to people and really capturing a voice on the page is incredibly hard, and Studs was a genius at it. I hope this leads to a rediscovery of his work. Speaking of underappreciated work, the PM show on Edith Penrose is also great, and made me realise I need to read her for my own research (transcript).
  3. Tyler Cowen suggests abolishing econ Ph.Ds. Unusually, I’m pretty much on Tyler’s side here, as daft as it sounds coming from someone in the middle of doing one (albeit in Public Policy). Being a good economist is not the same thing as being a good researcher; and I don’t see any particular reason why research skills need to be learnt all at once and intensively. Maybe I’m unusual, but I think I’m a much better economist for having worked on hard problems in practice, even if I wasn’t making an original contribution to any at the time.
  4. Back on the topic of the youth and the cans we’re kicking down the road to them – Lee Crawfurd argues for reducing the age of suffrage. He makes a convincing case, pointing out that the investment choices we make now (including in education) primarily affect those too young to have a say in them. He also makes what I hope fervently Lant Pritchett would call the Kinky Voting argument: that there is nothing special about the age 18 in terms of cognitive development, political activism or knowledge.
  5. Do you love XKCD? Why do I even ask, obviously the answer is yes. Anyway: Randall Munroe’s new book, How To… features a section on how to win an election. His answer is a little more complex than ‘ask Vlad for help’. Rather, he finds the most one-sided polling data in history and constructs a sure fire people-pleaser platform. His speech guaranteed to lose an election is a work of genius and worth reading the whole article for.  
  6. This is really cool: researchers installed monitoring technology on matatus and tracked how they changed the behaviour of matatu drivers, matatu owners and passengers. There is a lot of good economics and some very cool data here.
  7. I normally start the links with cricket, but today I’ll close with it. Cricinfo have crunched the numbers to find the best bowler of each decade for which we have proper data; a couple of weeks ago, I linked to a video of Murali’s greatest deliveries, and in case you thought that was just selection bias, have a look at the graph for the 2000s! He was truly one of the most freakish performers in history. And while Sri Lanka don’t have all that much to cheer in our teams these days, keep scrolling down. The numbers don’t lie: Kusal Perera’s astonishing 153* against South Africa this year was the greatest batting performance in cricket history. As if it wasn’t obvious.

Have a great weekend, everyone!


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