I’ve struggled with the disjunction between my personal 2020 (quite possibly the best year since 1994 saw the release of – deep breath – American Recordings, Superunknown, Live Through This, F.U.E.L., Grace, Hard to Earn, Unplugged in New York, Welcome to Sky Valley, Let Love In, Jar of Flies and Troublegum, thereby providing the backbone to the soundtrack of my teens and 20s, via older siblings much cooler than I) and the dumpster fire of a year that it’s mainly been for the world at large. But it’s finally looking up: toxic political influences are starting recede from the scene, much like an overflowing sewer ebbing back into the drain from whence the muck arose; a vaccine seems to have been developed (and it might be more effective than we think!), with more likely to follow – migrants for the win, though I’d like the bar for migrants not to be demonised to one day fall below ‘end a global pandemic’; and AC/DC are releasing a new album, despite the fact that one member lost his hearing, another died and a third was done for hiring a hitman to kill someone. If the Peak-End rule isn’t rubbish, we may even wind up looking back at this year fondly.
- Since I’ve opened the links with some glad tidings, let them continue: it is that magical time of year when the brilliant folk at Development Impact give their blog over to econ job market candidates. Some of my favourite papers have been featured in this series, and this year has gotten off to a banging start. I absolutely love this field experiment by Muhammad Yasir Khan, who demonstrates that making the organisational mission more salient induces bureaucrats to work harder, work smarter and achieve greater positive impacts in the communities in which they are stationed. I’m simultaneously pleased that he’s proven something I’ve long suspected, and jealous of how cool his paper’s set up is. I also really like Emma Riley’s post, which demonstrates that giving women loans in a separate account enables them to use the money to invest in their own businesses more effectively. It has a very clear and easily implemented policy implication, too. All of the posts are worth reading (this one on contract design helping farmers enter new markets by relaxing multiple constraints simultaneously is great, too, as is this one on liquidity constraints and time cost). The series is continuing, and a joy.
- It’s not exactly an unusual prediction, but Raj Chetty is going to win the Nobel for economics; the only question is when, and for what (think about how wild that sentence is, and the fact that it’s barely an exaggeration). He’s done some awesome causal work, but I think it’s the rigour and creativity he and his team at Opportunity Insights bring to descriptive economics that will win it for him/them. Planet Money cover their latest innovation – a faster, more granular way of tracking changes in employment and consumer spending (transcript). In the middle of the podcast, one of the hosts just blurts out “Raj, I love you, please call me.” As you do, he’s nerding out. Don’t judge him.
- Dominic Cummings has apparently just resigned – so a good time to link to this excellent thread from January (via Sarah O’Connor) suggesting that his ambitions to ‘remake the state’ were doomed. It reminds me of a point I make when teaching about life as a policy economist: policy is hard to change, and this is a feature, not a bug. If it was easy to change policy, or indeed the apparatus of government, there would never be enough stability to actually achieve anything.
- Last week I talked a bit about the polling and how it wasn’t either as bad as it seemed, or useless. Three more entries: Nate Silver on the polls being about as wrong as they usually are, Tim Harford on the difficulties underlying the polls; and Jessica Hullman on what the alternative to using poll-based forecasting is. As she says: “What would happen if there were no professional forecasts?… A deep stillness as we all truly acknowledge the uncertainty of the situation does not strike me as the most likely scenario”. Indeed.
- This week in people are the worst: male loan officers in Chile are – if they carry pre-existing biases – much, much less likely to grant them loans than they will to otherwise identical applications from men.
- I hugely recommend this EconTalk with Steven Levitt, not just because he absolutely lays the smack down on the University of Chicago Econ department, but because he talks a lot of sense. In particular, I like the section where he complains that companies and people constantly approach him about learning the ‘tricks’ of behavioural economics and he feels compelled to advise them that there’s a lot more mileage in just getting a bit better at the basics of regular economics.
- One of the best things about becoming a new parent is getting excited about sharing your favourite things from childhood with your kids; you have a brief period where you can imagine they’ll love the same things before reality intervenes and you realise their favourite song is going to be Let it Go, not Let it Be; my son is still at that lucky age where I can play him all my favourite childhood songs and read him my favourite books without him being able to register enough displeasure to induce me to stop, so he’s been listening to Letter B, Put the Duckie Down, and Brown Sugar (spot the odd one out, but apparently it was my favourite song as a toddler). I hope they don’t cancel Roald Dahl before he’s old enough to read him, though – despite the fact that as LitHub puts it “Roald Dahl was despicable and looked like Mr. Burns. Mixed with an Egghead.” What are the best books to read to a child mere weeks old? Does it matter that I am reading him extracts from Causality by Judea Pearl? Recommendations please!
Have a great weekend, everyone!