Links round-up

Hi all,

Normally this intro paragraph is the hardest thing to write each week, but today there’s almost too much to say. The 2010s took a whole load of my cultural touchstones away – there was a two or three year period in which we lost Bowie, Prince, Chris Cornell and Lois Lane for goodness’ sake – and the 2020s have started in similar fashion. Last Sunday, it was Kobe Bryant, who for most of my life was the most inescapable basketball player on the planet, and not without some seriously troubling aspects anyone thinking about his life needs to confront; and tonight begins the really long goodbye – also troubling, also complicated, with much left to confront still. It’s all quite grey around here. Even preposterous highlights from Zion Williamson’s first few NBA games aren’t cheering me up.

  1. Regular readers will know that I think inequality is a serious problem, most likely a growing one, and one which lends itself to really good twitter putdowns. Still, this piece on Duncan Green’s blog sticks in my craw: essentially, the authors (not Duncan) are arguing that because inequality is important, being careful about the evidence we use and the data underlying our approach is of secondary importance. Worse, they describe those that do care about these things as engaged in a phony war, implying that the purpose is to deflect attention from inequality. This is, not to put too fine a point on it, pretty irritating. It does matter that we measure these things correctly, and that we know exactly what we’re measuring and what the idiosyncrasies of our measures are because they will ultimately inform the policies we pursue. For example, what’s the right level for the top rate of income tax? Or a wealth tax? You might say that the answer is ‘obviously higher than it is now’, but even if that’s true, it’s not exactly the basis for setting policy carefully, is it? Being accurate is not a side-issue to policy advocacy – it is of central importance.
  2. Now that my rant is over, let me hand over to Justin Sandefur and Charles Kenny. They take aim at the World Bank’s Doing Business Survey again, this time pointing out how much of an outlier it is in the way it treats tax: much the same way Thor treats Thanos, so without much temperance, subtlety or concern for the future.
  3. 538 are at it again, this time with a brilliant look at how the US electoral system penalises women, and how some states are going backwards, not forwards. Their whole series on When Women Run is fantastic, as befits what remains my favourite source of proper data journalism. Related: Planet Money play Ms. Monopoly, an attempt to make a version of Monopoly that reflects the reality of how gender and the economy interact (transcript). Two problems: first, Monopoly sucks. And second, Ms. Monopoly still seems pretty sexist, which chance cards that include women having to hide on the fire escape to get out of a bad date.
  4. I desperately needed this post two years ago, but I’ll take it late: Florence Kondylis and John Loeser on doing power calculations quick and dirty.
  5. A really cool new paper uses data from past experiments to investigate what exactly is going on when investments in women’s businesses seem to have no effect on productivity. It turns out that women often choose to invest that money in the most profitable household business they have access to – which is often the one the husband runs. This isn’t a failure of the intervention, it’s a case of the recipient being smart enough to realise what is best for them.
  6. One for the organisational theory geeks (again, this should be many more of us): Tyler Cowen’s reading list for the Industrial Organisation course he teaches at GMU. It’s rammed with great papers, and worth a look for anyone interested in firms, markets and organisations.  
  7. Finally, one last goodbye we’re having to make this week: The Good Place is coming to an end this week. I’m not sure I can cope with three endings so soon after each other, so I’ll be watching the last episode next week, but The Ringer have chosen to celebrate the show appropriately: with the only form of news in hell, the online listicle. And for those of you who care about such things: 538 have built an algorithm to predict J-Lo’s first song at the Super Bowl. But it doesn’t matter, because nothing will ever match this.

Have a great weekend, everyone!


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