I write this sitting in the kitchen sink. Actually, that’s not remotely true, I actually write this sitting on the bus to Oxford at ridiculously early o’clock, though the odds are I’ll actually wind up sending this e-mail out sometime this afternoon. These rare occasions I motivate myself to get up extremely early to travel to work remind me how lucky I am. There’s an entirely different economy moving in the early hours of the morning, travelling from deepest north London (where I live) to the bus terminus in Victoria. More people on the buses were coming home from work than going to it, or for the person next to me on the underground, going between jobs. Never let me complain about my workload again.
- It’s not going to surprise anyone what I lead off with today. The Banerjee-Duflo-Kremer Nobel is a massive win for development economics. I first studied development economics in the mid-1990s when I was a young economics-obsessed teenager at school (I’m older, but not much different). Back then it was considered an esoteric choice; it’s not anymore. This Nobel and the one for Angus Deaton a few years ago has put understanding, measuring and impacting on poverty and human immiseration (as well as progress out of both) at the heart of what economics is about, not an esoteric side-issue. The Nobel’s formal justification is worth reading, but I particularly liked the pieces on Marginal Revolution about Banerjee (“He was always willing to help those less advanced [in his econ class at Harvard]. Furthermore, that was literally everyone else.”), and Tabarrok’s discussion of Michael Kremer’s work, as well as this Planet Money conversation with him (transcript). Someone said to me yesterday that the idea that doing RCTs somehow limits one’s vision of economics is most elegantly disproven by reading Michael’s CV. My colleague Tom sent me a nice explainer of his O-Ring Theory, which made me dig out the original paper, here. My favourite coverage on Esther Duflo, though, was her own comments on the award: what this (should) mean for women in a male-dominated field, and explicitly recognising the hundreds of researchers they have worked with or inspired.
- On that note – the Royal Economic Society is doing a campaign to increase diversity in economics in the UK, which still showcases disproportionately few female and ethnic minority voices. This piece by Arun Advani, Rachel Griffith and Sarah Smith points out that this isn’t simply an equity consideration (though, of course, it would be fine if it was), since background does seem to affect the policy advice offered, which means that a monocultural discipline provides less diversity of thought and advice (hilariously, this means that economists aren’t disagreeing enough, which anyone who has been to an econ seminar since the dawn of time will be surprised by). More of the piece, though, focuses on the pipeline of potential economists: access to A-Level econ courses (where I first studied development) is incredibly uneven, and economists are apparently projecting an ‘unappealing’ image to young women, of ‘boring men in suits’. Though the Barney in me wants to defend the suit as an excellent sartorial choice, the bigger problem is boring. Economics isn’t boring, especially when you have dirty shoes.
- So, boring men in suits doing equations – if this is still the dominant picture of what a great economist does, we’re doing something very very wrong. Great economists look at whatever they see in the world that they think we need to understand better. That can take you all sorts of places. If you’re Steven Levitt (John Bates Clark award winner), it might mean studying cheating in exams, or playing poker with Tim Harford. If you’re Robert Shiller, Nobel Laureate, it’s trying to understand narratives – stories with emotions, morals, world views – and what their role is in determining peoples’ expectations and decisions. I don’t know if either Levitt or Shiller wear suits (they are, admittedly both men), and I know there’s a lot of data work and coding going on under the hood, but hey – they never showed Indiana Jones dusting off thousands of pointless rocks, did they? Just cut to the Holy Grail.
- Natalie Bau and Adrien Matray summarise their new paper in VoxDev, a very cool look at how foreign investment stimulates economic development, focusing in on its roll in reallocating capital towards the most productive firms.
- This one definitely tends towards the geeky, but there is now a stata command to directly query the World Bank’s povcalnet data, using any poverty line you like – though I haven’t seen yet if this will also allow us to use the median income data. Somewhere, I can hear Nick Lea laughing – he worked out how to do this in Excel years ago.
- I’m going to have to cut the links slightly short today as I’m teaching this morning and buried in Stata for the rest of the day (I’m not wearing a suit, though). But there is no way I could let you go without sharing these glorious images of Kim Jong Un on a white horse; what is it with oddball dictators and horses? Nothing will ever rival the Vladimir Putin barechested horse riding, though. It looked like an advert for a cologne called Machismo. And speaking of Machismo, here’s Zion Williamson, a man who would make Achilles quiver in fear, dunking your soul out of your body.
Have a great weekend, everyone!