Links round-up

Hi all,

Imagine how it must feel to get robbed twice, on national TV no less. Yet this is what Aaron Gordon must live with: the knowledge that this was not sufficient to win the dunk contest; a mere two years after he somehow failed to win for this dunk, which is the athletic equivalent of digging up Isaac Newton, slapping him awake, piling up all of the citations and kudos he earned for his theory of gravity and then burning them one-by-one like Chow Yun-Fat. Are we really comfortable with a notion of justice that denies Aaron Gordon? For shame. (Other sad things happened this week, too: most importantly, the passing of the man without whom we would all be approximately 90% less productive, the inventor of the cut and paste command).

  1. The big news this week was that World Bank working paper that’s been getting all the press. In case you missed it, the paper looks at bank accounts in tax havens linked to aid-recipient countries and notes that when disbursements from the World Bank come in, there tends to be a spike in deposits made in tax havens. The newspapers have picked up on this – largely on the back of what appears to be a speculative link in The Economist to this paper being held back at the Bank and Penny Goldberg’s departure – and reported that a huge chunk of aid is being leaked out to tax havens. Normally I’d blame the media for this (and I do blame Ian Birrell for his basically mendacious insinuation that because one impact evaluation of Jeff Sachs’ Millennium Village Project finds it doesn’t work, aid in toto doesn’t work) but in this case, the paper itself makes some ridiculously strong claims given the strength of the evidence it presents. For starters, read Matt Collin’s excellent thread picking out inconsistencies; for those with the time, I’d encourage a close read of the working paper itself – there is a lot to question here. I’m not linking to the media coverage because we shouldn’t encourage them.
  2. This whole episode made me incredibly annoyed, so rather than go straight into the next bit of geekery, let’s have a happier digression first: noted polymath and object of the Links’ hero-worship LeBron James has published a children’s book.
  3. I may be an incorrigible luddite, but I’m not generally a fan of online purchases: I like to hold something in my hands before I buy it. I may be one of the last people in the world with a ‘CD collection’. No doubt I’ll be donating it to the British Museum soon. So it’s no surprise that I reacted with Bruce Lee-level horror when I discovered some people order mattresses online, and even worse, are allowed to return them after they’ve been used. 538 were just as horrified as I was and did some digging, and as usual you can learn something about the economy in the process.
  4. This week in gender: first, women’s representation in politics isn’t just intrinsically important; it also changes the kinds of services available and increases welfare for other women, which given their starting level of underrepresentation seems like a win. And David Yanagizawa-Drott has a nice video summary of his cool work on norms and female labour force participation in Saudi Arabia. Related: Markus Goldstein summarises (in typically engaging and accessible style) a paper looking at how information and a self-efficacy intervention affect labour force participation in India. An interesting finding: the most effective way of getting women into work is the use of peer testimonials for both women (other women who have taken jobs) and their husbands (the husbands of these working women).
  5. Oriana Bandiera presented this at DFID about a year ago: her paper with a number of co-authors using data from BRAC’s livelihoods interventions to demonstrate the existence of poverty trap effects that a single, one-time investment can help overcome.
  6. The Prisoner’s Dilemma has just turned seventy (which means that the original participants must be just about to qualify for parole). Tim Harford breaks it down to consider why it’s so rich with insight for human behaviour. Interestingly I’m currently reading Akerlof and Kranton’s book Identity Economics, and if you take their work seriously (and I think you should), you might gain a new, more sceptical, perspective on the value of the PD.
  7. Did you ever wonder what the standard deviation of mullet length was? Did you ever think you might be able to instrument for institutional quality by the hair size of the ruling coalition? Well, the firs stage in all of this is now available. The Pudding has run a quantitative analysis of Big Hair in the US, and made all of its data and code available. This is not the first time they have answered the call of the curious. It’s ridiculous and hilarious, and makes me want to grow a mullet.

Have a great weekend, everyone!


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