Today, I have been thinking about shifting goalposts. The computers I’m working with today (yes, plural: I’m doing some mind-numbing data work that requires two screens) are light years away from the machines I used as a teenager, but my emotional responses to them have hardly budged. Rather than celebrating the fact that I can look at two websites at once, I find myself barely suppressing a sense of fury at the sluggish pace at which they work, and my suspicion that a malevolent gremlin is operating them with the sole purpose of driving my blood pressure up and my vocabulary to the gutter. Are our expectations forever doomed to stay one step ahead of our capabilities? Perhaps the paralysed man who today is walking a few feet using a mind-controlled exoskeleton (try convincing teenaged Ranil of that in the mid-90s) will one day be reduced to sputtering rage by his Pacific Rim suit taking too long to charge up its weapons? Humans: never satisfied.
- That said, dissatisfaction is important, even in the face of progress. We should be pissed off when things aren’t improving quickly enough, or where will the motivation to change them come from? Fortunately, the world is quite good at providing us with reasons to be furious: our exhibit this week is the AEA’s report on the diversity and inclusion in the economics profession. It is grim. I really recommend you take a moment to look at the original report: there is a lot in there that should make us feel uncomfortable, not least the responses from those who felt that there wasn’t any problem at all – going so far as to label it a ‘politically correct waste of time’. (Exclusive footage of this respondent here). For those who prefer their information in tweet-sized bites, Ben Casselman comments here; and this op-ed in the NYT focuses on the experience of black women specifically. Surely we can do better than this.
- This week in updating my priors: A VoxEU piece focuses on the limitations of home-building (via regulatory change at least) as a way to combat inequality. One of my go-to responses on inequality has always been ‘build more’ – it simultaneously reduces the value of the wealth that the rich hold and can transmit to their children, and reduces the cost of moving to higher productivity areas. But apparently, it doesn’t work quite so well in practice, with local markets being rather segmented and investment tending to focus in the already-rich areas – though it is possible that this is a US-specific result. Also giving me something to think about: Erica Field and Rohini Pande mount a (partial) defence of microcredit. It’s not that it will suddenly unlock growth in developing countries, but it can at least be delivered better and with better results than those that have been observed to date; though whether this should dramatically change our position on it is still open to question.
- Dan Honig knows more about how organisations can torpedo their own best intentions than most; this piece suggests that by relinquishing control (especially in the messiest places to work, where the temptation to exert a closer grip is often greatest) they can achieve better results. Much in the vein of his (excellent) book, it’s the kind of message big donors need to take more seriously.
- Depending on what newspaper you read, you may well have diametrically opposed views of the same factual events. Why is it that people can look at the same facts and come out with such completely different views? It’s not just the editorialising that’s to blame: our own brains play tricks on us, with a number of biases affecting how we interpret new information. FiveThirtyEight investigate and focus on the poisonous effect that partisan affiliation can have on our ability to interpret the world.
- This was one of my favourite things this week: The Economist ran an essay competition asking for submissions on the topic of what economic or political change is needed to effectively combat climate change. One of the entrants to this competition was an artificial intelligence, an algorithm that was trained to write essays. They published both the algorithm and how it was judged by their panel of assessors. It’s creepily rather good, if a bit odd stylistically. After all, who on earth likes rhetorical questions that much?
- As my working calendar reveals, I am much more of an Arnie than an Elon; or rather an Arnie in the body of an Elon…
- My earliest memories of watching sports are of Magic Johnson’s Showtime Lakers and Diego Maradona. There’s more in common between them than you might think – both were absolute geniuses who had their fair share of off-court troubles, and turned out as absolute failures on the managerial side of things. This long read about Maradona is brilliant: it absolutely captures the sense of chaos you had watching him play, the sense that none of this should really be happening. It’s also chock-full of barely-believable stories, the ones that are actually true almost more ridiculous than the myths. And he really is a mythical figure: there were articles recently celebrating the 30th anniversary of his warm-up before a game against Bayern. What a genius.
Have a great weekend, everyone!