I promised to try and keep the links a little oasis of normality amidst a sea of change, but while today there will be links that have nothing to do with Coronavirus, there’s also still a bunch of stuff that’s Covid-focused. I’ve been keeping my eyes open and trying to read as widely as I usually do, but almost everyone online has turned their attention from normal pursuits to Coronaspouting. There has been a lot of good, well-informed comment, but also an avalanche of bollocks. I’m all for people of different disciplines pitching in here – we all know something different – but my twitter feed has been overwhelmed by people launching into strong opinions or analysis without any collaboration or sense-checking with others at all. This, coupled with the complete absence of any new basketball or cricket has put rather a dampener on my mood. Also, Wonder Woman 1984 has been delayed, thus denying us our Gal Gadot fix. Et tu, Brute?
- A lot of what I’ve been following (and commenting on, to the limits of my ability) has been the economic response to Coronavirus – not just what we do about the economic cost of distancing and lockdowns, which takes up a lot of the air in this room, but also how the policies we implemented pre-pandemic help or hinder our adaptation and how we can use economics to help generate a faster, fairer way of responding. On our ability to adapt, Tim Harford has a really good primer on the general nature of this problem: our supply chains for different things are flexible to different degrees, and some crucial supplies – medical professionals, for example – are difficult to ramp up quickly. These difficulties are made worse by policies that actively hamper useful flexibility – in the US, harsh limits on migration are going to create artificial choke points in the food supply quite soon, as Planet Money suggest on this show (transcript). Another PM show (transcript) illustrates the same point in a very different setting – poor set up of the World Bank’s pandemic bonds have apparently dramatically slowed payout.
- There has also been quite a lot of good discussion of the measures being taken in different places to limit the economic fallout of the pandemic. To properly understand how bad things might get, and for whom, we require quite a sophisticated understanding of how economic relationships are structured, as Dietz Vollrath continues to elaborate. I also quite liked these two Project Syndicate pieces, one by Willem Buiter which does a pretty good job of explaining how the monetary and fiscal responses made in the UK are coordinated, and one by Mohamed El-Erian pointing out the need for economic circuit breakers: making sure that failures or downturns in one part of the economy do not create a vicious cycle. And for a dose of well-informed economic optimism, VoxEU on why Corona is not like the 2008 crisis, and with good policy we should expect a quite different resolution. For poor countries, CGD’s call is simple: spend what it takes.
- And now, a brief interruption of normality as we return to a regular series in the links: Why humans are absolutely the worst, no-good, terriblest creatures, part 2,392,011 of a continuing series. Research into assimilation of European migrants in America demonstrates that assimilation and acceptance were spurred by the entry of African-Americans into the neighbourhoods. The mechanism appears to be that the appearance of dark-skinned people made everyone else look at each other and say “well, at least you’re white”. So reassuring when the mechanism fits your worst expectations of the human race.
- Back on to Covid: this is a difficult thing to talk about at the moment, but Amelia Thomson-DeVeaux takes on the tricky subject of how we value a human life, and how we decide whether the cost of saving it is worth incurring. I hugely recommend this one, if you’re not familiar with this topic – she covers a lot of ground and also discusses how the ‘value’ of a life varies with the income status of a country in a sensitive way. For less sensitivity, but a brutal and blunt discussion, here is Milton Friedman eviscerating a student on the topic.
- I always find Markus Goldstein so reassuring to read. This piece with Florence Kondylis is excellent, about how researchers should respond to Covid. Related, I have been extremely impressed with the CGD coverage of Covid and Education. Another good piece here.
- Penultimately, and again retreating to links-as-usual: social scientists replicate their own highly-cited study and retract the findings – via David McKenzie’s amazing World Bank links, a piece of good practice that deserves more attention than it will get these days.
- How to close, when so much pop culture has been cancelled? I could just link to videos to make you happy (it’s not distancing-compatible – Jaan pehchan ho means ‘let there be familiarity’)? Or more book recommendations? Tips for housebound birdwatching (UK, India; India wins)? Or The Ringer, still producing basketball content? Whatever gets you through, be safe and be home.
Have a great weekend at home, everyone!