What a week it’s been. It’s been quite odd to hear public figures complain that protests against symbols and statues associated with racism and oppression are a threat to the learning or protection of history; do they propose the Parthenon marbles be brought back to Athens and replaced? That we demolish all the buildings and religious monuments built over old ones? Part of the story of history is the toppling of old icons. The British Museum houses a head of Augustus, one of the most spectacular objects in the collection. If you look very carefully, you can see sand embedded in the bronze. That sand tells a story: of the Sudanese Queen Candace, blind in one eye, who led her army into Egypt and captured a number of Roman towns and forts, one of which was home to a celebrated statue of the Emperor. She punctuated her campaign by building a temple at Meroe, where under the stairs leading into it she buried the decapitated head of her rival’s statue, so that all who came to celebrate her victory would literally trample him into the dust. That is history. And it would make me extremely happy if a future historian fished from the harbour a waterlogged and rusted bronze of a long-dead slaver and learnt the depth of the contempt with which people in 2020 held those of his ilk.
- Speaking of blind in one eye, there has been a great deal of scrutiny of race in the economics profession this week. Those of you who have read these links for a while will know that I’ve got a very low opinion of the diversity of the economics profession, and the costs this imposes on our discipline’s ability to speak to matters of great social importance. Two really striking examples of that this week: first, Planet Money cover the extreme difficulties Lisa Cook endured in publishing her paper on the long term behavioural and economic effects of lynchings on black Americans (transcript). Apparently, reviewers considered the topic too niche to have broader significance. Those reviewers need to look around them; violent exclusion is a fact of life in many parts of the world. Secondly, Anna Gifty Opoku-Agyeman points out the scarcity of black academic voices in coverage of issues that disproportionately affect minority groups (often black).
- I don’t just want to dump on academia all the time (flawed, yes; irredeemable, no), so here’s a great set of comments on a blog by Andrew Gelman, on what the best scientific papers ever written are (read and enjoy the papers, but also be struck by how monocultural the suggestions are – including the one I make next). His criteria are that they should be important, fun to read and thought provoking. My candidate is a largely forgotten paper: Herbert Simon, writing in 1978, about Rationality as a Process. What makes this brilliant? First, it’s a joy to read (it was originally a speech), written clearly, with a few personal touches and clarity of every concept discussed. Second, it both looks right back into the history of economics and recognises the importance of contemporary results (he cites Kahneman and Tversky). And thirdly, the issues he raises are still relevant for economics – indeed Nobels have been won for investigating them.
- A really good blog by Samik Adhikari from the World Bank about the importance – and neglect – of the effect of Covid-19 on remittances from internal migrants. I know Mushfiq Mobarek is doing (excellent, of course) work on this in Nepal, but the blog is right to highlight that internal migrants are both much more numerous than international migrants and much less apparent in the data.
- Does migration make people turn inwards, and away from social protection and redistribution? Some studies have suggested that it may do in the short run (indeed, in one of the late Alberto Alesina’s more depressing results, he and co-authors found that even *thinking* about migrants reduced support for redistribution). New work by Paola Giuliano and Marco Tabellini offers some hope, and finds that in the longer term, migrants from places where social protection is more widespread and generous may seed more redistributive beliefs.
- Dani Rodrik and Stefanie Stantcheva argue that the post-pandemic social contract should be structured around a comprehensive understanding of the full, extended, universe of externalities arising from production, including those embodied by ‘bad’ jobs.
- NPR had a good week this week – covering the appalling influence of police unions in the US (seriously, how many locally terrible equilibria are there in the US institutional structure: the Second Amendment, tipping, police armed like a murderous Inspector Gadget…?); the history of vaccinations; and the difficulties of predicting the path of the Coronavirus in Africa (which others at CGD have just made a novel contribution to).
- Finally, we all need some good news (and it’s not coming from cricket, where Darren Sammy has discovered the casual racism endemic in the subcontinent and – rightly – blown a gasket at his ex-teammates); so let’s instead marvel at the transformation Nikola Jokic has made from adorable manatee to swole giant in skinny jeans – just in time for the playoffs. If that doesn’t cheer you up, The Ringer has you covered, with a deep dive into the iconography of Indiana Jones’ hat. And if it’s still not your bag, do what I’m going to do: spend the evening investigating wine pairings for all the different chicken wings sauces there are.
Have a great weekend, everyone!