Links round-up

Hi all,

Better late than never: I’ve finally got my machine sufficiently set up to send the links out from its new home! Before we dive into this weeks’ geek-out, a quick note. I could very easily fill the links with CGD content every week, especially during these Covid-relentless times, given the amount of great stuff we’re producing here. I’m going to resist that temptation, and will continue to use this as a platform to fire off rants and indulge whatever niche interests happen to have me that day. Besides, there’s already a way to get access to everything CGD put out: you can subscribe to CGD’s weekly newsletter as well as its COVID-19 work and event invitations at this link.

And now the real introduction, one which in the absence of any new basketball or cricket to tear my hair out over (as Michael said when I joined: CGD does not take institutional positions on cricket, so its lucky I’ve got a ‘views my own’ disclaimer on twitter), defaults to less happy news. This week, economics lost two giants in the field, Oliver Williamson and Alberto Alesina. Williamson in particular is a foundational intellectual influence for me, about one-third of my citations manager database, and his obit in the NYT gives a good indication as to why (and for a bonus, one of my favourite of his papers). Alesina was a political economist (in the way you might say Magic Johnson was a basketball player), and one of the cornerstones of the field, but it’s also striking how many of the tributes to him are about him personally – as a colleague, friend or mentor, as in these reflections at VoxEU.

  1. While I’ve got everyone depressed, let me pile it on. Jishnu Das and co-authors have released a working paper with distressing relevance to the Coronapocaplypse: students whose education was interrupted by the devastating 2005 earthquake in Pakistan suffered deep, lasting and inequality-enhancing effects on schooling outcomes. On average, these students were set back by 1.5-2 years of schooling, but the effect seems to be ameliorated among those with more educated mothers; this despite substantial financial assistance to reduce the impact of the earthquake (blog here, full paper here). Stefan Dercon suggests three ways in which policy now can try and avoid this playing out all over again (in many more places) as a result of Covid: keeping learning going wherever possible, investing now in remedial support for later which (Abhijeet Singh approves); and looking now for which models of digital learning can work in resource-constrained settings.
  2. If you’ve been following the news out of Hong Kong, you’ll already be in a foul mood this week, as China’s grip over the freedoms nominally enshrined in its Basic Law slowly turns them to dust. This has sparked a few calls for more liberal visa regimes for Hong Kongers, something that I’m obviously in favour of. However, there’s a second strain of thinking here, which has been to essentially argue that *all of Hong Kong* can relocate, which seems to miss something fundamental. The global stock of migrants is tiny: 3% of the human population. Yes, partly because there are all sorts of crazy restrictions that bar people from crossing borders when it would clearly be a win all around. But in large part it’s also because most people don’t want to move; more migration is both obviously a good thing and not enough at the same time. People may be ‘irrationally’ attached to home, but if you care about improving human welfare the answer is to let people move and make it better to stay, both.
  3. Trying to pick the mood up a bit (it’s really not that easy, everybody on the internet seemed to be on a massive downer this week), Tim Harford has a great piece on why a strictly policed lockdown may not be necessary at all – because most of us are quite good, most of the time, at not being a d*ckhead. Yes, there may be prominent exceptions testing their eyesight by William Telling their kids, but most of us don’t need a great deal of encouragement to consider the lives of others. Of course, he doesn’t have to be much wrong for disaster to strike.
  4. While we’re at least trying to be positive, Planet Money have a good show on three big ideas to fight the virus: one I’ve spoken about a lot, going big on vaccines (as Alex Tabarrok correctly puts it, every stock is a vaccine stock, which also neatly explains why it cannot be left to the market); the second is kind of already happening in the UK, Claudia Sahm’s suggestion that we turn Coronavirus payouts into an automatic stabilizer (actually, the key aspect which we have not adopted, is linking the payments to macroeconomic indicators); and the third is the prospect of quarantining the entire NBA and its support staff to let the league roll again. Clearly, the net welfare gain from not wasting this historically brilliant age-35 season from LeBron James is similar in magnitude to that of a vaccine. Make it happen! (Transcript).
  5. Speaking of basketball, the latest in the Hot Hand saga is upon us. A new paper, which as far as I can tell, adjusts for the incredibly subtle statistical bias that ruined previous attempts to quantify it, and… it kills the hot hand again. Dadgummit. Whatever the numbers say, we’ll always have Reggie.
  6. Not to end on too much of a downer, but Richard Baldwin suggests that hysteresis effects from Covid may well dramatically slow the economic recovery (he’s not alone). Mention of hysteresis is all the encouragement I need to link to one of my favourite macro papers ever: Dixit on Investment and Hysteresis, 1992.
  7. Lastly, rest assured, my new home does not prevent me from fully exploring the web for the marginalia none of us can survive without. My discovery of the week is that John Steinbeck’s dog literally ate his homework once. The twist is that his homework was probably a bit better than yours. It was Of Mice and Men, and he had to rewrite it. Can you imagine his publisher listening to that excuse? Though if this week has taught me anything, some bosses will believe even the most outlandish lies.

Have a great weekend, everyone!


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