Links round-up

Hi all,

Rather than taking a break for the Easter Weekend, I thought I’d get the links out in any case, since so much stuff is coming out so regularly a week’s break could overload the next edition. There’s a glimmer of non-Covid stuff, and a little optimism sprinkled judiciously through the links, but it would be remiss not to start with two musical goodbyes. The last seven days has cost us both Bill Withers and John Prine. Bill Withers is not only the punchline of my favourite dad joke (“How do you turn a duck into a soul singer? Just leave it in the oven until it’s Bill Withers”) but was also one of the great soul singers of his time. Everyone knows Ain’t No Sunshine, but my favourites were both from Still Bill: Who is He (and What is He to You?) and Lean on Me. John Prine was, if anything, an even better songwriter – and some of his songs have been covered by everyone with vocal chords. Some of those covers were pretty, good too. I love Speed of the Sound of Loneliness (he sings backup to Nanci Griffiths) and Angel From Montgomery, with maybe the most damning final line ever (‘how the hell can someone/ go to work in the morning/ come home in the evening/ and have nothing to say?’).

  1. A few people have shared Emily Matilis’s anger at the ‘Great Leveller’ narrative around Coronavirus; long-time readers of the Links will not be surprised that the inequality of the impact has been a concern for me, too. How big is the inequality? Shockingly large. The Washington Post digs into the racial disparity of the death toll in America, with blacks much, much more likely to die of the disease than whites. FiveThirtyEight does the same here, focusing on the disparity within the young, and nominally low-risk group; it turns out low-risk should have an asterisk because if you’re poor, black or mixed race it isn’t that low. Abi Adams-Prassl (a brilliant economist) and co look at the economic inequality of the impact of the virus in the UK and US – again, outcomes for the poor are much worse. This is not limited to rich countries. Data is trickling through from developing countries; this tweet from Mushfiq Mobarek is really worrying. Can I add a short rant here? The inequalities we’re observing now are not deus ex machina. They are the result of deliberate policy choices and years of pursuing a kind of economy and state that leaves us vulnerable to exactly what we observe today. This is not okay. And when this is over, pretending we weren’t complicit is also not going to be okay.
  2. How to fight this a bit? Sam Bowles and Wendy Carlin foresee a battle for the narrative about the post-Covid world. They propose a more hopeful, unifying message that emphasises civic duty.
  3. Do you feel like your working from home is a bit… bitty at the moment? And does this distress you because Nick Bloom literally wrote a paper about how working from home is more productive? Never fear, via Development Impact, here’s Nick himself explaining why working from home under current conditions can be something less than optimal. Though, those of us who can work from home at all are definitely lucky.
  4. Moving away from Coronavirus for the moment: a really nice piece on VoxDev about improved cookstoves. Previous studies of clean cookstoves have found limited final impacts because the new stoves themselves were not suited to domestic use in the contexts they were designed for. This study shows that if usability is a key design aim, stoves can both improve outcomes and achieve sustained use, even when they have to be paid for.
  5. When I audited one of Vince Crawford’s classes on behavioural economics I asked him if a certain bias (I can’t remember which now) might not just be observed in lab settings because the stakes weren’t high enough. Vince, who has more knowledge about behavioural economics in his little finger than I do on my entire hard drive, said that what they knew about the mechanism suggested that this was probably not the case – he didn’t think much larger stakes than already tried would make a big difference. A new paper gives weight to his answer, finding exactly this.
  6. Laura Tyson and Anu Madgavkar on gender and the labour market – definitely not an entirely rosy picture.
  7. Lastly, what to do to mentally unwind during a lockdown? I’ve been reading – currently Zeno’s Conscience; this turned out to be an ironic choice since Zeno gets locked into an apartment by himself inside the first 50 pages, which gave me lockdown dreams – watching Junior Bake Off (so much better than the adult version!) and keeping my eye out for marginalia like the news that ancient Brits worshipped chickens and hares. I’m also playing Pandemic Legacy with my wife, apparently not the only ones, and it’s oddly comforting. Any other tips?

Have a great Easter, everyone. And stay home!


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