Links round-up

Hi all,

2020 has been a brute, right? Although personally it’s been an extremely exciting (new job, new home, new baby, new coding language), and I’m one of the lucky ones who rather likes getting locked in with my family, it’s fair to say that for the world at large, this year has been a dog’s dinner. I joined Twitter in February, mainly for the memes, but 2020 has been the year of doomscrolling: you get up in the morning and watch the world burn, one tweet at a time. If it’s not the slow breakdown of an overwhelmed healthcare system, it’s confirmation that the learning effects of coronavirus have been truly devastating. So when you find something that cheers you up, share it. For me, it’s Marcus Rashford’s twitter feed. If you need a bit of optimism, read it: even if it doesn’t quite sit right with me that the private sector is having to provide social protection in place of the government – more than a whiff of Victorian social policy here – it’s  is stunning to me that the most admirable public figure in Britain right now is football player, not a group generally know for their good taste or altruism. And if football cheers you up, it’s Pele’s 80th birthday, and 15 minutes of his greatest moments is quite a thing to see.

  1. I wanted to open the links with something cheerful because the rest of the way is pretty gloomy. A couple of weeks ago, I linked to Sarah O’Connor’s optimistic piece suggesting that the pandemic might force a remaking of the economy, with a move towards better provision of childcare and other support to make it easier for women to enter and stay in the labour force. Well, if it’s going to happen, now would be a good time to start, as Planet Money point out: in the US, at least, women’s labour force participation has dipped to its lowest level since 1988 (transcript). And while we all love to dream of V-shaped recoveries, there is a lot of evidence that once women leave the labour force it’s especially difficult for them to get back in. This is such an obvious source of inefficiency that the fact that its persistence is almost – almost – shocking.
  2. The sheer breadth and depth of the knowledge of economics Michael Kremer displays in this interview with Tyler Cowen is deeply intimidating. He moves from talking fluently about RCTs to discussing theories of growth and technological change to peer effects… it’s quite amazing. Highly recommended.
  3. One of my favourite, geeky, recurring segments of the links is the occasional series ‘This Week in Rainfall Instruments for Everything’, but it’s beginning to look like I’ll have to retire it. After a couple of decades of economists heroically and shamelessly ignoring violations of the exclusion restriction provided by every other paper that uses rainfall as a instrument in a growth regression, Jonathan Mellon has finally put the rainfall IV out of its misery. He identifies 137 separate violations of the exclusion restriction (it has instrumented for everything from income to cycling), which is a surprisingly small number given how many rainfall papers I’ve seen. Even better, not only is the title of this paper a pun, so is every sub-heading, from Throwing Caution to the Wind, through Results of the Rain Check to The Tip of the Iceberg? That’s real commitment to the bit. More excellent geekery, with fewer puns: Ryan Cooper and David McKenzie on dealing with oddly shaped clusters.
  4. Apparently, 360 feedback isn’t just an excuse to anonymously tell your boss that they make your teeth itch: it also improves productivity and worker retention, as this cool experiment by Jing Cai and Shing-Yi Wang in China shows. I’m more surprised by the productivity result – the occasional vent definitely works to keep people from exploding and storming off.
  5. There’s a section in this Tim Harford piece which suggests that we generally overestimate our ability to explain things, think we understand the world better than we do. We think we know how a zipper works, but asked to explain and draw a diagram, quickly realise the limits of our knowledge. He also suggests that asking questions that expose this lack of knowledge helps moderate the views people hold. I’m a little dubious – I often ask for details and examples when I disagree with someone and its typically required that I duck thrown stationery than we reach a reasonable détente.
  6. For those of us working on economic development, credible estimates of the job creation effect of foreign direct investment are the holy grail. This paper by Gerhard Toews and  Pierre-Louis Vezina is the equivalent of the dusty clay cup in Last Crusade.
  7. My sister has a superpower. Within the first fifteen minutes of any movie, she can identify both if there will be a plot twist, and what it is. It’s uncanny. This is someone who never recognises an actor (to the extent that I once convinced her that Peter Falk was Robert De Niro), sleeps through about 30% of anything she watches, and yet within seconds of standing in front of the Sixth Sense, said “that guy’s dead, you know?” I thank my lucky stars I didn’t watch The Good Place with her. Anyway – The Ringer have a great list of the best twists in movie and TV history. Number 1 won’t surprise anyone – at least there’s no twist there – but the rest is great fun.

Have a great weekend, everyone!


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