Links round-up

Hi all,

I’m going to try and avoid turning the links into the Coronagloom Weekly, but inevitably the virus will be a part of these emails going forward. I will not focus on ranting about bulk buying (beyond this: wtf, people: bog roll does not prevent you from getting it, and Covid doesn’t give you the runs, so please calm down!) or speculating on the best course of action from my position of solid epidemiological ignorance, but I’ll try and link to some reasoned and intelligent analysis that will help us understand what’s going on better. It is also incredibly important to take care of our own mental health, especially as social distancing needs to be adhered to. I wrote a thread on twitter (yes, I’m on twitter now, see link 2) with my best suggestions for social distancing reading; and NBA League Pass has opened its doors to everyone for free for the next 30 days. The last link has a few more things to get you through.

  1. I’ll start with something that really irritated me: Arvind Subramanian immediately reaches for the foreign aid budget in response to our under-preparation for this kind of global event. I have many objections, but here are a few. First, part of his justification is that the effect of aid on growth is not that large, but this has always been a massive red herring. Aid does lots of things, and not all of it (in fact, probably a minority) is actually aimed at stimulating growth in any meaningfully short time frame (i.e. a few years). So even if aid has no impact on growth (and the final word on this should go to the Clemens’ et al award-winning paper, not Subramanian’s older work with Raghu Rajan), this does not mean that aid has a low opportunity cost – quite the opposite as we have superb evidence from many fields that a lot of aid-funded interventions do have large and meaningful effects. Even if we focus only on loans, a few successful loans (given credit constraints) are likely to have outsize effects. Thinking of aid more like VC changes perspectives. And secondly, the economic costs of pandemic prevention will be largest in the places with most to lose; surely they should then bear the brunt of funding preparedness?
  2. A side effect of the crisis has been to move a lot of academic activity online: teaching and also presenting research. The CSAE conference has moved online this year, using the hashtag #DIYCSAE, and I was an early adopter, attempting to tell the story of my paper on decision-making in the civil service in an 8 minute video; the Twitter teaser is here. And in order to participate in the conference, I’ve joined twitter, @scepticalranil. Others have also done cool threads, not least Paul Clist and Pierre-Louis Vezina.
  3. A host of good Coronareading: Branko Milanovic argues that the biggest risk is of social breakdown at Foreign Affairs; 538 show polling from the US that suggests that contrary to popular narratives, younger people are not taking Covid less seriously; Planet Money deep dive into how tests are run and manufactured (transcript); CGD critique the UK communications strategy and transparency, and investigate the uneven gender burden of the disease in poor countries and much more; and Raghu Rajan goes into how the pandemic will test our economic resilience. He also says that “Covid 19 has been quick to expose amateurism and incompetence”. Quite.
  4. There has also been a couple of pieces focusing on how Covid interacts will precarity. This is extremely important: we have allowed the economic model in much of the west to outsource risk, uncertainty and insecurity to labour through changes in firm structure and inter-relationships. This may have allowed greater expansion in the economy and stimulated innovation but it has not been matched by innovation in social protection or support for the vulnerable, and if Covid is a stress test, this is the area I fear we are going to fail most miserably. It is totally unacceptable that this is what we – myself included – have predicated our comfortable, flexible lives on. 538 look at who the most precarious are in the US; Berk Ozler at how we can quickly support the vulnerable in poor countries.
  5. Worthy of its own link – Dietrich Vollrath cuts no corners and shows us how to think more carefully about the systemic effects of the virus using input-output tables. Again, macro matters a lot, and reading Dietz can help you understand it better.
  6. Two wonderful non-Covid links. First, Sam Bowles and Wendy Carlin talk about how we can and should dramatically revise how economics is taught to undergrads. I teach econ to public policy Masters students, many of whom have no background in the subject, and I think the course convenors (I’m not one of them!) have done an amazing job of getting people into complex and interesting questions early. Consider this an advert for the MPP programme at BSG. Also, as an aside, if I could turn Sam Bowles’ brain into some kind of drug, I would mainline it directly into my veins. He is one of the most interesting thinkers in the world. Secondly, David McKenzie on learning from how tech companies use experimentation.
  7. Lastly, some more stuff to get you through the long hours of indoor life. First, and best: LitHub rewrites the first and last lines of classic novels for a social distancing world; The Ringer on how to get the most out of the newly-free NBA League Pass; more lithub: their book recommendations to complement my thread in the intro; and the link to Grim Fandango, remastered on Steam – hours to pass away with the greatest game ever made.

Now, to borrow from Dietz: wash your hands and stay the f&#@ home!


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