Links round-up

Hi all,

Cricket is on free TV again! Yes, it starts at 4 am, but what on earth are you doing at 4am that’s better than watching Joe Root rack up a century or Jasprit Bumrah’s action? It’s certainly not sleep for me, with my son having unilaterally decided that play time can be instigated at any time, day or night, with the right amount of laughter. I’d like to say that I’m using this extra time productively, but that would require an expansive definition of productivity which includes zombie-like staring into the middle-distance while trying to convince a small person that rocking him to sleep is not, in fact, the most exciting game ever devised. If you’re thinking of making the obvious joke, that turning his attention to the cricket will guarantee a nap, don’t: that doesn’t work until you’re old enough to drink and to wear a bacon-and-egg blazer without self-consciousness. It’s hugely comforting to look at cricinfo today: you can almost pretend things are normal again. Pakistan are alternating feast and famine with both bat and ball, Bangladesh appear to be fielding a team of 19 barely-distinguishable spinners and England are getting our hopes up before the inevitable fall.  

  1. Economics has a generally hostile seminar culture, even compared to other academic disciplines. For some this is part of the appeal: there are no easy rides, and anyone presenting a model, a theory, a finding has to fight to prove it. It has downsides – anyone who has been in enough econ seminars has spent 20 minutes losing the will to live while the presenter and a questioner with the persistence of Fiorentino Ariza fight over the arcana of a robustness test in footnote 5 of Appendix B. Another downside is that this hostility is asymmetric, and women bear the brunt of it: an amazing new paper by Pascaline Dupas and co-authors, plus a veritable army of data coders – 97 across multiple institutions demonstrates this clearly. Women are asked more questions, and more of them are hostile or patronizing. Exhibit 23,392,191 that econ needs reform. The paper is full of gems beyond this: roughly 30-35 questions per presentation, and up to 69 (in presumably a 90 minute seminar)! A balance is needed between the kind of scrutiny that keeps methods and detail ship-shape and that which stymies any attempt to build an argument or answer the questions that matter.
  2. Of course, descending into the arcana is often what economists do well, and it matters for getting the right answers. I feel a bit like that Bernie Sanders meme (not the chair one, this one): I am once again asking you to read Dietz Vollrath explaining why TFP isn’t productivity and demonstrating why being an absolute expert in the data matters. He describes himself as a TFP agnostic, not because innovation doesn’t matter but because he isn’t sure that TFP tells us anything about it – or should, given what it does do. He goes into further detail here – the ultimate point being that not all progress shows up in the numbers we have; but if you don’t spend your time with that data, you may not know that. Read both to the very end.
  3. Everyone is wrong sometimes, but some are wrong better than others. Tim Harford tells Planet Money the story of Irving Fisher and JM Keynes, who both lost huge amounts of money in the Great Depression but Keynes rebounded and made a vast amount of money for himself and for King’s College, Cambridge (transcript). Tim’s argument here is that this is largely because Keynes approached the data with an underlying humility – a feeling that were real limits to his ability to understand it and get ahead of it, so his strategy was more humble – more long term and focusing on what he did know something about, not the underlying market dynamics over the short run, but the kind of managers who will generally be successful in keeping their firms afloat. My speculation is that something else is also at play: Keynes was born incredibly privileged and treated making money as an amusement – the challenge of the game was his motivation. For Fisher, my bet is the stakes were higher. His father died relatively young and Fisher provided for his whole family while still a student. Distance can help analysis, and maybe Keynes had more.
  4. While we’re on the broad subject of forecasting – Kaushik Basu predicts the three big growth superstars of this decade. I have less faith in Mexico by him, but would probably go with his take over mine…
  5. Meanwhile, Martin Ravallion reassesses the last growth superstar: he argues that China’s incredible growth rate is less so when you consider just how much it had hobbled itself before that – should the credit be so great when part of winning the race was simply taking off one’s blindfold? I think he’s a bit harsh by picking South Korea and Taiwan as China’s counterfactual (they were, after all, the go-to growth miracles before China really took off), but I really buy the premise – a slingshot effect from being held back is surely part of the story here. Speaking of holding yourself back, I rather liked this take on the coup in Myanmar, sent to me by a colleague working there.
  6. I talk a lot about academic poor practice and meaningless research here. In the future, I may just link this cartoon (via Andrew Gelman, who had a similar reaction).
  7. Finally, two ridiculous lists to end the week on: first an AI has attempted to put together a list of 67 books to give as a gift to a woman (list here). It’s … pretty good? Though it takes a serious points deduction for getting the title of Elizabeth Smart’s incredible By Grand Central Station I Sat Down and Wept wrong. And the Guardian select 52 comfort films, and while many fit the bill (Clueless for the win), it wouldn’t be the Graun if someone didn’t try and pretend their comfort watch was an Ozu film, no matter how brilliant.

Have a great weekend, everyone!


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