Links round-up

Hi all,

You know, for all the pearl-clutching about how AI is coming for all our skills – beating Grandmasters in chess, solving Go – I can’t really find it in myself to worry when I see the results of all of Amazon’s snooping into my computer summarised as a list of reading recommendations. It includes two cookbooks (neither tempting), a series of airport thrillers, and a number of romance novels followed by a slightly desperate appeal to ‘help make our recommendations better’.  The last one included a travel guide for Easter Island (this must be one of the shortest Lonely Planets ever) and an instruction manual for a computer programme I do not own. The computers may be coming, but probably slightly more slowly and less effectively than we think.

  1. I’ve been collecting stories about learning from mistakes and recognising mistaken beliefs over the last few weeks (if you have any reflections that you’d like to share – please do!). It feels important when you work in a field where findings are constantly challenged and evidence questioned, the challenge being working out when it’s right to change your beliefs in the face of new evidence – very often the right answer is to entertain more doubt, but maybe not switch sides too quickly. That’s how I’m processing this VoxDev piece, which goes right against my priors by arguing that the institution of a steadily increasing minimum wage in a developing setting – Brazil – not only reduced overall inequality substantially but also had next to no negative effects on job creation or firm dynamism. In fact, they argue the minimum wage helped redistribute resources to the most productive firms. One to dig deeper on.
  2. This is fantastic: IPA have done a video going ‘behind the scenes’ on one of their research projects in Sierra Leone, to show us the practicalities of collecting data in poor places. It’s a nice way to show appreciation for the crucial and difficult work that is usually glossed over with a paragraph on survey response rates in a final paper. It’s also important because most people who work with data don’t collect it themselves. That distance can be dangerous: understanding your data is more than running a few tables in Stata.
  3. Even Tim Harford’s asides are good: “Economic policymaking has flaws, but an obsession with GDP is not one of them”, he says, giving voice to one of my pet peeves by pointing out that a huge amount of economic policy over the last few years has been in contradiction to consensus opinions of how to maximise GDP growth. But it is an aside, to a much more interesting discussion about how GDP growth is increasingly being decoupled from the production of physical stuff, and the implications this has for our efforts to achieve some sort of environmental balance without huge reductions in living standards.
  4. I’m occasionally accused of being something of a downer in these links (it wasn’t always thus, the world changed with the links), so here’s something happy – specifically that research on happiness suggests two peaks: youth and old age. If you’re reading this the odds are you’re somewhere between those poles, so Danny Blanchflower is here to tell you that it will get better. He attributes this to aspirations becoming real – things you once thought of becoming things you experience. As he says “And you know, life improves.” (Transcript).
  5. David Evans turns development into a choose-your-own adventure when he talks to students, and wants to know what others do. It’s been a while for me, but for younger students I’ve tried to take the Hans Rosling/Max Roser approach of realistic optimism, by giving them a few facts about the world and then tasking them with creating their own ’50-year-newspaper’ front page, reporting only the biggest stories of that time period, then talk through how economics and development work might have played a role.
  6. Kaushik Basu writes so well that his warning about impending global economic apocalypse is almost a fun read.
  7. I finally managed to bring myself to watch the last episode of the Good Place this week. I don’t think I’m giving anything away by saying that you’d better be prepared to rehydrate afterwards. I’m a hopeless softy, but it was a tough one. But let’s remember it in happier times, specifically this: 666 seconds of Ted Danson’s evil laugh at the end of Series 1 – one of the great moments in TV history.

Have a great weekend, everyone!


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