Links round-up

Hi all,

I’ve just set up a little office in our new flat, in a concession to the new balance between home and office working the lucky among us are facing. Previously, my wife and I were engaged in a constant turf war over the dining table, which I would inevitably lose, ending up banished to take my meetings while sitting in bed, usually ensconced in her (unexpectedly comfortable) pregnancy pillow – such is my professional façade during coronavirus. I’d expected a burst of productivity (perhaps I’d finish a new note today?); sadly, Zak Crawley’s maiden test century, this great Economist long read on Jimmy Anderson, an empirical analysis of swearing in the NBA, and the discovery that CJ McCollum is my spirit animal have rather put paid to such dreams. Still it’s nice to have a little working space: Woolridge and Edwin Hutchins are an arms’ length away, and I finally know where the pens are. What else do I need here? As a home-office novice, I’m taking any and all suggestions.

  1. One thing everyone needs more of in their life is Michael Clemens on migration; his two new papers (one with Mariapia Mendola) confirm this is no hyperbole. I know something about migration, it being a central part of my own life and my family history, and having worked on it from the policy side, on and off, for many years. Despite this, there is a *lot* I have been wrong about. I was always sceptical of the ‘migration life cycle’, the idea that emigration increases as countries become richer, before eventually falling. Surely – surely! – as things are getting better, people are less likely to leave? A great paper is one that not only puts you right, but helps you understand why you weren’t right before and guides you towards something closer to the truth. That’s what Michael and Mariapia manage here: they not only document the empirical reality of the migration life cycle both across countries and within countries over time; they also identify the cognitive trap I was falling into: Simpson’s Paradox. It turns out that for both the low- and high-education groups within a country, migration doesn’t really increase with income; what’s happening is that development moves people from the first group – who emigrate more rarely – to the second, who emigrate more regularly, so what happens at the country level is different to what happens for each group within it. It really is a wonderful paper, and comes with further reading: a companion paper, an excellent summary blog, and a beautiful discussion relating Simpson’s Paradox to causality by Judea Pearl.
  2. Mark Twain probably didn’t say “history doesn’t repeat itself, but it often rhymes”, but whoever falsely attributed the quote to him to add some instant credibility to it had a point. Last week I talked about how research shows that the process of truly understanding and taking advantage of an innovation takes time; this week, the same principle is discussed in action with respect to women’s suffrage, celebrating it’s centenary in the US this year. Though an enormous step forward for democracy, it didn’t exert a substantial sway on electoral politics for, perhaps, sixty years. Of course, sometimes technological change burns fast and dies out – or at least that is how Robert Gordon thinks ICT has entered the productivity statistics (Solow would, of course, disagree).
  3. I really liked this study by Jing Cai and co-authors – it investigates insurance among farmers in China, and demonstrates that for farmers with low levels of financial literacy, the benefits of insurance only become salient when they actually see payouts during a bad year – whether to themselves or their peers. This shouldn’t be surprising – virtually everyone I know (myself included) makes bad – and inconsistent – decisions about the insurance they purchase, and mostly never realise it, because most of the time, it isn’t needed.
  4. I grew up in Hong Kong, and have always found it mystifying that London doesn’t have more skyscrapers, or less ugly ones; clearly, economics needs a better theory of skyscrapers, and it starts here.
  5. This is an uncharacteristically literary Links round-up; I misquoted Mark Twain earlier, and I shall now misquote Hesiod: instead of rent-seeking, it is more virtuous to compete and generate wealth through ingenuity and toil. Hesiod worked this out in the 8th Century BC (as Planet Money discuss here, with transcript); a couple of thousand years later, it’s still true that the worst among us violate his advice.
  6. To annoy Matt (if you don’t follow him on Twitter – why not? Stop wasting your online life!), with whom I’ll be – one day – launching a new podcast, VoxEU rank programming languages for economics. Apparently the hours I spent over the summer learning R were well spent. I did a control-F, Matt – not a mention of Stata anywhere.
  7. Let’s keep to the literary theme to close the links: this is best discussion of what it’s like to have loved The Catcher in The Rye as a teenager I’ve read. It perfectly captures that defensiveness that seizes on one when someone (rightly) points out that Holden Caulfield was a bit of a spanner; my own kid (eventually maybe kids) might one day read it, and loathe him. And finally, speaking of loathing, did you know Jennifer Grey and Patrick Swayze loathed each other? (and if you don’t get that reference, I’m afraid you’re a young person). The Ringer has the inside scoop on this and many other movie-set feuds.

Have a great weekend, everyone!


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