Links round-up

Hi all,

They should really rename the virus Covid24/7, because it really feels like almost everything I read, work on, talk about or do is somehow related to the pandemic. This isn’t really surprising given how inescapably big all the problems associated with it are, but I do wonder what the mental health toll will be at the end of this all. I can imagine a post-Coronavirus world a little like Meg Rosoff’s How I Live Now, where the event is never really mentioned, but still seems to pervade the lived experience all the way through. Still, it’s better than The Road, so I suppose we should count our blessings. This week’s post-Easter links still retain a big chunk of Coronablether, but also a little to take your mind off it, including some fantastic Daron Acemoglu memes.

  1. One of my favourite things this week: Stefan Dercon has written a piece for CGD on no-regret policies in response to Covid in developing countries. Stefan’s key point is that given how deep the uncertainty is over both the impact of the virus and the impact of the response to it, in the context of scarce resources for developing countries it’s prudent to focus on no-regret interventions – ones which will be good investments whether the virus is as bad as the worst case scenario or relatively minor, and whether the economic costs of response turn out to be deep and lasting or shallow and short. The full note is here, and the summary blog here; I summarised the key arguments on twitter here.
  2. There’s a line in Stefan’s piece where he says “I have no answer about what the best policy is for tomorrow or next week”, given how much uncertainty we’re operating under – an important statement given how many strong opinions I’ve seen built on shaky foundations recently. Contrast this humility with Tyler Cowen’s summary of his opinion of epidemiologists. What I found most hilarious was that he asks the question ‘how smart are epidemiologists?’ and then immediately suggests that his preferred metric is their GRE scores. It appears that a lot of his criticisms were prompted by the controversial IHME modelling, which was led by… an economist. I leave you with Daffy Duck.
  3. Apropos of my rant about Covid and inequality last week, FiveThirtyEight have a great piece on how New York’s inequalities are reflected in its death tolls. The last lines are magnificent: “in New York’s epidemic, death attends to the haves and have-nots differently: For the city’s poor, it hovers closely, and when it comes, it leaves them as crowded as ever.” Related: Rema Hanna and Ben Olken on how to protect the poor from Covid shocks in developing countries. And Duncan Green has a great roundup of African coverage of the pandemic and its response.
  4. For brief relief from Covid, though not exactly cheerful, here’s Nathan Fiala arguing that micro-interventions to reduce poverty may not work in the long run. He’s correct to say that many studies show that short term gains don’t persist relative to control groups, which suggests that there may be multiple sets of barriers or systemic factors that need to be addressed for sustainable exit from poverty. But some studies do show long term effects; and the fact that one-off interventions are not necessarily enough to power continued income growth does not mean they are neither important nor part of a broader solution.  
  5. More on the global response to Coronavirus. First FiveThirtyEight has yet more excellence, with Maggie Koerth explaining why global supply chains are so tight and its so hard to source ventilators and PPE; then a couple of pieces looking at ventilators specifically – one suggesting that the market for ventilators has actively discouraged the search for cheap technologies (resulting, for example in Liberia having just one ventilator in the whole country): Project Syndicate and VoxEU. Owen Barder calls for the US’s freeze in WHO funding to be made up by other countries, pointing out less US influence in this sphere is probably  good thing (can someone explain the Love, Actually reference? I’ve never seen it). And Justin Sandefur and Julian Duggan have a truly magnificent graph on the World Bank’s response to Covid here.
  6. And, almost finally: a little philosophy to help you make sense of it all. This great piece on FT Alphaville tries to dig into what the lockdown is for, not just in terms of healthcare and the economy and QALYs but morally. It quotes Jo Wolff from BSG; and one of his students (and my DPhil peers) Vafa Ghazavi has a great, hopeful piece on how the crisis can spawn ‘radical hope’, and a reimagining of what our societies conceive as the good life, a life of worth. Vafa is a ridiculously good writer: I’ve read early drafts of his that are better-written than published, edited books, so I really recommend this.
  7. Ending this on a cheerful note still: I have discovered via twitter that there is a page full of Daron Acemoglu memes for the hopelessly geeky on Tumblr. Think the trend for Chuck Norris memes from a few years ago, but applied to an MIT professor and focusing on econometrics, modelling and general nerdiness. They are all completely hilarious – provided you’ve studied economics. For the non-economists in need of a laugh, one of my favourite cartoons ever: Bugs Bunny conducting Liszt.

Have a great weekend, everyone!


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