Links round-up

Hi all,

2020 is so weird. Normally on a day as hot as this I’d be racing through the links like a drunk running for the urinal, so keen would I be to hit the park with a bottle of something cold and welcoming, but given the latest ONS numbers on prevalence of Covid in the general population I’m going to avoid Clissold Park today. We’re lucky: this will just displace us to the garden, but even that isn’t without risks – it’s the site of a vicious turf war between a British shorthair and a small interloper keen on using the strawberry patch as a potty and destroying what’s left of the vegetable patch. One of the great contradictions of living through the most significant global pandemic in about a century is how parochial it makes our day-to-day concerns: limited to the two or so square miles around us, not even to the next city. Still, there’s always the internet for an insight to the broader world.

  1. Of course, sometimes what’s close to home is also what affects the broader world. I promise not to turn the links into the self-promotion weekly, but the loss of DFID has been difficult for all of us who have had – at any point – a deep relationship with the organisation. As outsiders now, Stefan and I have tried to think constructively about the formation of the FCDO, and to chart what a positive vision of the new organisation would be. We’ve written a note, blog and twitter thread thinking about how to chart a positive vision for the new department, making use of all that’s brilliant about DFID and the best of the FCO to make a strategic, impact-focused organisation that really is a force for good in the world. The key point here is that this isn’t a hybrid, it’s not two animals stuck together. It’s a new creature, and the new creature needs a new mind, a new body and a new place in the world. Doing that well is what I’m sure people in both organisations are now turning their skills to. I hope this helps in some small way.
  2. Of course, institutional reorganisation is all the rage in the US, too – with the emphasis on rage. For all that those of us following US policing from the comfort of twitter feel outrage, it’s nothing compared to what it must be like for someone who lives it, constantly. Even good statistics can’t give a proper insight into this, but they might help fix it. Unfortunately doing good statistics on policing is extremely difficult; collider bias being a chief culprit. This 538 piece gives a great and clear explanation. Another, equally excellent part of their coverage looks into the very concept of police reform, and argues that the concept may not be coherent: a much deeper reimagining of the institution may be necessary. The idea of defunding the police can be hard to get your head around – but Planet Money have you covered (transcript).
  3. On a cheerier note, Martin Wolf’s summer reading list on economics is great: chock full of good new books, and in particular a plug for long-time Links hero Dietz Vollrath’s new book, Fully Grown. A major life goal is to get onto this one day.
  4. On the off chance anyone here has the life goal of getting on the links, the two best strategies are to either write a paper analysing Taylor Swift memes and their role in modern life, or write a paper on tariffs that mentions the Smoot-Hawley Act, like this one from VoxEU, since I will take any opportunity at all to link to the greatest piece of pop culture economics of all time*, the econ lesson in Ferris Beuller’s Day Off. Anyone? Anyone? The blog is good too, btw.
  5. This is one of the best things I’ve read all week: Kaushik Basu on how the pandemic is laying bare the unspoken assumptions of economics, and how our failure to adequately understand the interaction between the economy and social structures, rules and norms that inform behaviour increasingly restricts our ability to understand important problems. I feel the trend in economics, at least among the most interesting thinkers, is increasingly moving into understanding properly the kind of systemic issues Kaushik talks about here.
  6. Last week I praised how brilliantly Markus Goldstein explains economics. Of course, I should have pointed out that the entire Development Impact crew have this skill: Florence Kondylis and John Loeser have another brilliant blog here. I really admire their ability to clearly explain technical issues.
  7. Finally, some summer fun. I have no idea why The Ringer decided to run a piece that exposes the absolute insanity of the classic 1997 shoot-‘em-up Face/Off by imagining Sean Archer asking a newspaper-style career advice column how to respond when your boss asks you to undergo an experimental face transplantation so you can infiltrate the terrorist underworld, but now that they’ve done it, I realise my life was incomplete until they did so. Ditto their rundown of the 100 greatest Rick Rubin-affiliated albums, which has the correct number 1 (Johnny Cash, obviously) but seriously underrates Toxicity (Chop Suey is still the only song I’ve ever seen make an entire pub headbang). And if Armenian-inflected heavy metal isn’t your jam, here – always – is Baloji.

Have a great weekend, everyone!


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