I was thinking about a minor aspect of the Coronavirus outbreak today. What would you do if you had a 14-day self-quarantine period (don’t worry, anyone I’ve seen in recent days – I don’t, this is a pure hypothetical)? I can imagine myself going mad as I fall further and further down a youtube rabbit hole, discovering videos of obscure cricketers, jackdaws chattering and long-lost performances of country songs, having already spent hours online reading econ blogs. It’s almost disturbing how much this resembles my normal recreation. Maybe I need to reconsider my hobbies? While I think about that, on to this week’s selection of economic marginalia and random youtube videos.
- One of my friends has complained that he can’t listen to Tyler Cowen’s podcasts: he finds him far too annoying to tolerate. Even so, I think it’s worth listening to (or reading, in my case) at least the first half of his conversation with Garrett Jones, author of 10% less Democracy. It’s fascinating. You may not agree with everything here, but I think people take institutional forms for granted far too much and there is great merit in questioning them. Some of these questions are obvious (clearly, the incentives that are generated by having elected public prosecutors are slightly mad) but others are less so, and rewarding to think about. I find myself very sympathetic to the idea that expertise and technocracy is undervalued at the moment (and that popular sentiment is overvalued almost all the time), which probably puts me at odds with some rather powerful people.
- On the subject of democracy, I liked this piece by Nic Cheeseman and co on Kenya’s political bargain, which they argue is much less driven by ethnicity and much more driven by protecting the privileges of the rich than is typically understood.
- In what will be news to absolutely no-one I’ve spent more than fifteen minutes with in the last few years, I like a good argument. I also think arguing is one of the most efficient ways of improving my ideas, just so long as your mode of arguing isn’t to dig a trench and then die defending it rather than engaging constructively. Almost all of my favourite places to work have been ones where people are comfortable disagreeing with each other, and I’m happy to see that the evidence goes my way on this. Feel free to disagree.
- Of course, even an incorrigible arguer like me likes having their priors confirmed, so it’s with great pleasure I tell you that Benjamin Piper and Dave Evans at CGD have crunched the numbers and find that giving teachers support without forcing them to follow a script seems to be the best way of getting the best out of them.
- Two migration links: first, migrants are good for the economy, part 23,453,129 – Dany Bahar and co-authors find that migrants not only bring new innovations with them, but they do so in fields in which the local economy has failed to innovate successfully in the past. And secondly, depending on unstable visas can be extremely stressful and creates pressure for migrant workers to keep quiet when they disagree with their bosses. If link 3 has any merit, this is not likely to be to the benefit of their firms.
- I really liked this: Berk Ozler at the World Bank has been recruiting economists, and has written a post detailing the gender breakdown of the applicants and interviewees for the jobs he’s recruiting for. This kind of transparency is rare, and really admirable.
- Lastly, in work that must surely win the Nobel prize (or at least the Ig Nobel), researchers from Georgia Tech have codified the astonishing physics of making the perfect fried rice, a task that has always eluded me. Watching videos of Hong Kong chefs it occurs to me that part of my problem isn’t my technique, but the fact that I’m not cooking on what appears to be an upturned jet engine. These guys must have serious stamina to survive those conditions.
Have a great weekend, everyone!