Links round-up

Hi all,

If this week’s links have the tired air of a drunk trying to clean their apartment the day after a party, it’s for a reason (and no, it’s not because I’ve been tidying my apartment after a drunken party); rather, I spent about 8 hours on the road today , with the aircon on the blink, trying to follow England’s progress towards respectability in the third test (how sad when a floor for performance becomes an aspiration). The consequence is a pounding headache and an enormous craving for the glass of wine that is some seven or so paragraphs away from consoling me. Forgive me while I race through them.

  1. Most of my career has been spent as a kind of professional sceptic, employed to look askance at research, funding proposals and policy, to work out why its wrong, or at least can be improved. As a result, I’ve spent a large chunk of my waking life disagreeing with people (my wife might say that this is not confined to work). I found this piece by Andrew Gelman about why frustrated negativity is better (in some senses) than positive disagreements. He argues that to agree with someone, you don’t need to put them through any scrutiny; but to say someone is wrong about something you need to be able to articulate what they’re wrong about and why.  I have a lot of sympathy with him: being the person in the corner going “Can you take me through that massive gap in your logic that you just skirted around” isn’t easy. But I think he’s wrong in one respect: if your aim is change what someone is doing (rather than simply expose their wrongness to third parties), you can’t simply go around with an arched eyebrow and a death-stare. You have to build some common ground and rapport before you can push them in uncomfortable directions.
  2. Of course, sometimes the objective really is to just publicly lay the smack down on someone, as the Economist does here to Tanzania’s growth figures, which might be better suited for the fiction shelves than the World Economic Outlook. Shockingly, it turns out, the country that tried to make questioning official statistics a crime may be cooking the books a bit.
  3. I’ve generally tried to avoid making this e-mail Now That’s What I Call CGD Blogging compilation tape, but some weeks you just have to bow to the inevitable. Three pieces I particularly want to highlight: first, Charles Kenny’s Manifesto for Globalization. It’s brilliant. I particularly like his point that the ‘sign’ of globalisation with respect to welfare has changed from being overwhelmingly negative to being positive for developing countries; efforts to curtail it are in some ways an attempt to bake in historical inequities, as well as being counterproductive. Charles co-wrote another piece, with Prashant Yadav and me, looking at the ways in which the attention paid to supply chains post-Covid is getting things wrong, and suggesting DFIs could be part of the answer. Charles doesn’t often say that about DFIs, and this third piece of the week, with Vijaya Ramachandran and Scott Morris makes the case for their reimagining. I used to think I was productive, before I started getting alerts every time he publishes something.
  4. I mentioned Covid, so I’ll lean into it, briefly. This brilliant piece from Maggie Koerth looks at the muddy terrain of individual decision-making during Covid. There’s not much about biases, not much about how we calculate payoffs, just consideration of how it’s incredibly hard to work out what’s right and what’s not when there is so much grey and so little black and white. Also on FiveThirtyEight, because it’s not the links without some depressing facts about inequality, check out the stunning racial disparity in the availability of testing in the US.
  5. This week in Planet Money’s Econ summer school: how a drug running operation teaches us about prices, market structure and organisational theory. Very The Wire, and I mean that as a deep compliment (transcript).
  6. Remember aid fungibility? It was the subject of massive amounts of discussion when budget support was all the rage, and always negatively: if we fund X, then a Government can just misspend domestic funds equivalent to that and the world is no better off. A clever lab experiment suggests such fears were largely overplayed. Aid is fungible, but doesn’t wholly crowd out ‘good’ spending.
  7. So, as mentioned, I’m exhausted, and I need bubblegum for my brain. Whenever I feel this way I now go World Birds on twitter, clearly the best thing the internet has ever achieved (and I’m including the Spongebob gifs). If you’re still in a bad mood after this, I can’t help you.

Have a great weekend, everyone!


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