The All-Star Weekend is upon us. For the uninitiated, every year the NBA breaks for a few days to have a massive jolly, with semi-competitive games, prize-giving, and absurd skills tasks – basically, it’s a village fete, attended by some of the most speular and well-paid athletes in the world. It’s completely pointless, but serves as an inflection point in the season and occasionally provides a moment to savour – like Vince Carter’s dunk contest win in 2000, quite possibly the greatest physical feat the human race has achieved to date. Increasingly, I feel like real life should mimic the NBA more: economists need something like the All-Star Weekend. Maybe we can repurpose the AEA Annual Meetings? In lieu of a dunk contest (though it might provide its own – very different – amusements) we can have people to compete over who can write the most unrealistic model in 90 seconds? However it works, economists need some time out from all the crazy we have to attend to these days. (If you need some immediate relief, go straight to the end for the Clueless reference).
- Maybe we’re the cause of the crazy, though? Paul Romer thinks we may well be part of the problem (dropping Alan Greenspan with a pretty strong one-two on the way) in this piece about the influence of economists in public policy. He focuses on the US, but I’ve heard similar arguments made about the UK many times. It’s well-written and worth reading but I disagree with Romer’s take on two grounds. First, he seems to conflate the condition of ‘being an economist’ with that of ‘being a free-marker idealogue’; this is far from the truth. Economists cover a diversity of views, opinions and takes on the evidence. That a group of economists had the ear of a set of policy makers for a time says as much about policy makers and politics as it does about economics. Secondly, Romer argues that economists have started to talk too much about what ‘should’ be done, rather than the impact of different possible policies. Again, I’m a dissenter (more controversially here): I think economics has a lot to say about what a better world might look like. We just need to be clearer in dividing thinking about what from how.
- Just to ram home the point about the diversity of worldviews and approaches that economics can comfortably house, here’s Brank Milanovic’s latest, on the concept of wealth and its application to power. Branko points out wealth is not at all an obvious concept once you start thinking about it carefully, and then discusses how the manifestation of wealth as power varies dramatically with different political systems. I do think that economists can sometimes take concepts for granted, and one of my favourite things about reading Branko is that he never does.
- I found this really interesting and thoughtful: an African student at the LSE on how the discourse around Africa in international development feels to her. Related: Tim Besley, Thiemo Fetzer and Hannes Mueller argue that a negative skew in media coverage can have macroeconomic implications as well as just painting a false picture of the world.
- Arkebe Oqubay lays the smack down on the UK Visa system and it’s treatment of Africans.
- Tim Harford is pretty much my favourite economics writer out there (edging out Michael Lewis on the grounds of being more prolific) – and this podcast with Tyler Cowen is a pretty good insight into his ideas and how he thinks and writes. He – like me – is fascinated by the role of mistakes and errors in progress (and obligatory reminder: please send any stories of things you’ve changed your mind on – I am collecting them for a note on the topic). Related, but more research focused, Ben Olken on some of his epic failures – a great read for any mildly depressed DPhil student (or, more parsimoniously, any DPhil student).
- Seema Jayachandran on what we know about supporting microenterprises, carefully evidence-based. Anyone with money to spend in the private sector development area should definitely read this.
- Unusually for an economics-obsessed uber-geek who spends his spare time mainlining cricket statistics and watching basketball highlights, I’m not much of one for Valentine’s Day. It’s an excuse for restaurants to juice the mark-up on Prosecco and set menus, and for terrible movies to debut at the cinema. So I’m fully on-board with The Ringer using today to launch its list of the 50 greatest break-up songs of all time. A few quibbles: did they just forget Caitlin Rose’s Own Side, or are they actually tin-eared? And, in a similar vein, that scraping sound you hear is David Ruffin turning in his grave, because HOW DID THEY LEAVE THIS OUT?! And if you’re going to see a film tonight, remember: the book is always better. It’s now proven. (Except for Clueless. Clueless is way, way better than Emma).
Have a great weekend, everyone!