It’s getting very Christmassy now, isn’t it? I find my inner Grinch becoming less inner and more outer with each passing day. Though as an economist I should enjoy the spiritual aspects of a frenzy of consumer activity, illiquid asset exchange and (if you’re lucky) some redistribution of the wealth acquired over the last year, it’s amazing how quickly it dissipates when I have to fight my way through rioting customers of John Lewis to find the ‘perfect’ novelty corkscrew. In all seriousness, though, this season is a good time to remember that the choices we make – especially our consumption choices – can nevertheless have substantial welfare implications. And if you don’t believe me, Michael Schur, the genius behind The Good Place may yet convince you, describing how Peter Singer helped him become less of a forking shirtbag.
- Christmas can be a difficult; elections can be excruciating. Tim Harford is here to tell you how to get through the silly season without mortally offending relatives and strangers (unless they really deserve it) or exhausting yourself fact-checking every bit of mendacious rubbish you read in the news. Related: do polls report voting behaviour or shape it? Worth reading just for Nate Silver’s cameo at the end.
- This might be my favourite Job Market Paper so far: Asad Liaqat reports on an amazing experiment which looks at how providing information on voter preferences can affect the policy choices of politicians. It is fascinating: at baseline, these politicians know almost nothing about their constituents, which may not surprise you. Giving them information finds a larger effect on elected officials (unsurprisingly), but also that information on the preferences of female voters moves preferences more. The mechanism is apparently that politicians think they know more about what men want than women, and so are more responsive to information about women. In a sense, being aware of your own ignorance is the first step to correcting it, and the ignorance we acknowledge is selective. Another cool JMP (by Antonella Bancalari) looks at how a public health programme in Peru actually increased mortality rates, apparently because implementation was usually abandoned before complete.
- Macroeconomics is important (this opinion is both so true as to be trivial and worryingly underrated). And in celebration of macro, Dietz Vollrath has stuck his head above the parapet to investigate the Kaldor facts; a series of ‘stylised facts’ about the economy that Nicholas Kaldor first observed in 1957. What’s stunning about them is that they have largely remained true over the interceding 60 years. Yes macroeconomics is hard, and our evidence on it is less causally robust; but much is consistent and remains important despite being well-known. (That which we are, we are, as Rumpole might say, quoting one of my favourite poems).
- Imagine being having written a book so compelling that Branko Milanovic compares it to Maradona’s football; Francis Fukuyama has achieved it. “It is like Maradona lulling his opponents to sleep just in order to strike a more improbable goal.”
- Christopher Pissarides joins the techno-optimistic bandwagon. Well, I say he climbs on the bandwagon, but his argument is basically that it’s not technology that we should worry about but frictions in labour market adjustment. So in a sense, he built the bandwagon, won a Nobel prize for it and then arrivistes like me clambered on board.
- Here’s some basic economics: pandering to the lowest common denominator is often a winning strategy. Tumblr took the high road and banned p*rnography; while a dip in demand probably won’t surprise you, the fact that visits declined by 20% and usage by 50% might do.
- Life is a simplified metaphor for cricket. I think we can all agree on this. In case the Good Place and Peter Singer wasn’t enough philosophy for you, Anthony McGowan wrote a piece in The Nightwatchman about how the main schools of classical philosophy would resolve the Walking problem: do you do the right thing, even if it comes at a personal, or team-wide cost? [Of course, the correct answer here is to take the sandpaper out of your pocket and focus on the real issues]. And just in case you’re one of the few readers who isn’t here for the cricket chat, here’s Alan Taylor remembering the year they gave James Kelman’s How Late it Was, How Late the Booker – and the cost to his career. Kelman should win the Nobel for literature, and never will, the fools.
Have a great weekend, everyone! Next week will be the last links for the year, and will include a brief round-up of my favourite ones of the year.